New Zealand’s indigenous people are called Māori. They migrated there around 700 years ago from Polynesia. Due to their isolation, they developed a very rich culture and distinct social customs. Their myth about why the Kiwi doesn’t fly also features the Pūkeko (also known as the purple swamp hen or pook) is a lesson about not being whiney:
A forest god asked a bunch of birds to eat the bugs on the floor of the forest because the trees thought the bugs were gross. “Will you come down from the tree tops and eat these bugs?”
The Pūkeko was like, “No way, Bro. It’s all wet and yucko down there.”
After a long silence, the Kiwi said, “Ok. I’ll eat the bugs.” Kiwi was rewarded for his generous spirit with losing his colorful feathers and the ability to fly, but became the most well-loved bird in the land.
And because of his reluctance to help, the Pūkeko must now forever live in the yucko swamps.
In 1985, I moved from a small suburb outside Pittsburgh to South Florida. It turns out, South Florida is a swamp. To live there, people must de-muck the land and build canals for the water to flow into, otherwise, their homes get sucked into the ground. Humans have to fight back Mother Nature at every corner. The heat, the humidity, and the rain are all the perfect ingredients for flamboyant flora and fauna.
In Pittsburgh, I enjoyed the zoo: a healthy distance and cold steel bars separated you from the wild animals who wanted to eat your face off. You can imagine my horror upon seeing my first palmetto bug, “WHAT. . .is THAT?” My first alligator (which was sunning itself on my neighbor’s stoop). My first armadillo (squished on the side of the road). And my first Coral Snake. It took a while (about five years of living in Florida) before I saw you. But I knew who you were immediately. You see, when you move to the swamp, they teach a little rhyme that goes:
Red touch yellow:
kill a fellow.
Red touch black:
alright for Jack.
That means if you see a snake with black and red and yellow bands, it could be a Kingsnake or a Coral Snake. A Kingsnake is not poisonous. You could have it over for frozen yogurt or play 4-square in your drive way. But a Coral Snake is the Howard Hughes of snakes. In other words, it doesn’t like to be around humans and when you encounter one, you are both TOTALLY FREAKED OUT. The only difference is: the Coral Snake can bite you and deliver a dose of a powerful neurotoxin which can paralyze breathing muscles resulting in respiratory or cardiac failure. BUT: these bites are rare because the Coral Snake hates people, they just want to be left alone to do their own snake thing. BUT: because the bites are rare, production of the anti-venom has ceased. WHAT? You heard me.
BUT: you would literally have to step on one for it to bite you and even then, it has small teeth and has trouble biting through, lets say jeans, so it would have to CHEW on you to get enough venom in your body to kill you. AND THEN it can take like 12 hours for you to see symptoms.
Anyway, I was riding my bike around my gated community, there were only a few houses and mostly undeveloped land and swamp times. I saw one. We were both like, “Oh ma gerd,” and bolted outta there. I’m sure that Coral Snake tells the tale of seeing that human person on the sweet blue bike all those years ago with the same terror that I relate this story to you, my dearest Samuel. It. Was. Crazyscary.