I have to admit I was not a huge fan of Steve Irwin until Duckie got old enough to really love animals. Despite one graphic episode showing the unsuccessful rescue attempts of a kangaroo and a sea snake (turned off after they provided the requisite warning), we both loved the Crocodile Hunter diaries. If we watched TV in the evenings before dinner, we watched the Crocodile Hunter. Brian and I agreed that he was terribly cool – probably because he was completely nuts. We also agreed that when he did finally die, it would be due to an accident with an animal – and that there was a 99% chance that it would be caught on videotape.
We had that conversation less than a month ago.
Duckie and I were home yesterday due to the holiday, and Brian went to work. He called me around 9 and said, “Steve Irwin just died. He got stung by a manta ray and died.”
Who? I couldn’t place the name – seriously, I couldn’t. Obviously it was important, otherwise Brian wouldn’t have called. But for some reason the first person who came to mind was Steve Earle (of Copperhead Road fame). It took a while for it to sink in.
“Steve Irwin? You’re shitting me.”
He wasn’t. Apparently he was filming a new series called “Ocean’s Deadliest” – no need to point out the irony there, I’m sure – and a stingray got spooked and stabbed him through the heart. The barb on the end of a stingray is sharp and serrated. He pulled it out.*** I wonder if that’s what did it, maybe – maybe if he hadn’t pulled it out, they might have been able to do it surgically and save him. Or maybe he knew it was fatal, knew it was his time to go, and didn't want to bullshit around about it.
Addendum: Of course he pulled it out. It didn't occur to me earlier - but I had thought of the stingray's barb as something that detaches from the tail - maybe it doesn't. Maybe that's why be pulled it out - so the ray could get away. Oh, shit. I'm gonna cry again. Damn it.
****“Oh my God,” I said softly. “Terri. His kids. Oh my God.”
We didn’t watch much TV yesterday. I had another hormonally-induced downshift yesterday afternoon, so I was tired and cranky and weird when we picked up Brian. We started talking about it – he knew I would take it hard, which is why he called me instead of letting me see it on the news.
Brian wondered whether his kids would carry on after him, like the Cousteau clan. I wondered if such a thing could ever have happened on land, where his crew were rigorously trained and experienced in preventing such an unthinkable tragedy. I wondered how Terri managed it. She was usually around, you know? Maybe to make sure she was there if anything insane happened. Maybe there was always the understanding between them that anything could happen, given his passion and profession. Turns out I wasn’t completely off the mark. (Scroll down for quote if you like.)
I said it was like losing a member of the family. In some ways I know more about Steve’s life than I do about my own cousins.
Like a complete idiot, I drank off the rest of the caffeinated diet soda left over from the family visit this weekend. Surprisingly, I didn’t have much of a problem getting to sleep. But a storm passed over us around three in the morning, dumping a couple of inches of rain and filling the sky with lightning and thunder.
I got up to let in our dog Sheba, who’s notorious for destroying property when running from a storm. I wasn’t sleepy. I turned on the TV to check the weather. Local on the 8s was still down. I clicked over to Animal Planet.
They’re running a week of programming for Steve. It was the episode when Bindi was born (she’s 8 now.) She had been cleaned up and was in Terri’s arms, Steve leaning in to touch her face, so filled with joy and pride he could hardly speak. More of the same followed – a montage of pictures with Bindi as a baby, then a gorgeous low-light video of him laying next to Bindi as she sleeps, picking up her tiny hand with a big finger, staring with complete and joyful wonder at this little girl, his daughter.
I turned it off, and tried to go back to bed. I fought tears for a while before giving up and going onto the sofa to tend my broken heart.
Our world has been so sadly diminished. I know that he’ll come back – I know his energy isn’t lost to us. But the individual being that was Steve Irwin won’t be coming around again for a while – and he’ll never be back in this form.
He left thousands of hours of videotape for us. He left an enormous legacy of knowledge, responsibility and his boundless momentum to keep that legacy alive. He called himself a wildlife warrior, working to maintain the diversity of wildlife on our planet. Maybe he was a poacher in a previous life, and his destiny in this life was to balance that out. If that’s true, I think he’s done it.
If Steve’s not a bodhisattva, I don’t know who else is. He reminded the rest of us what it means to be a steward of the earth and her animals. Maybe there is really no higher calling than to preserve and protect and revere those who are less powerful (humans included), even if they look ugly and toothsome and dangerous. Steve taught us how to revel in the beauty of creation, shamelessly joyful, proudly exuberant.
So you know, if Duckie says, as she often does in the afternoons, “Wanna watch Teev [steve.] Wanna watch cawkadiles,” you know I’ll turn on channel 56, even if I do hide in the kitchen and cry.