Driving with crocodiles

| October 01, 2006

John Latta, Executive Editor
jlatta@eTrucker.com

Shame about Steve Irwin. The Aussie daredevil naturalist and conservationist, television’s “Crocodile Hunter,” took one chance too many, and it cost him his life. He was hit in the heart by the poisonous barb of a bull stingray’s tail in the warm, shallow waters of the Great Barrier Reef. The chances of that happening to anyone are millions to one, but Steve had wandered out in front of dangerous wildlife a lot more likely to kill him and enjoyed himself.

Here was a man who championed the ugly and the dangerous in nature, the crocodiles and the snakes, the scorpions and the toxic toads of this wonderful world.

At first I didn’t really take to him. He seemed a bit over the top, a bit too loud and maybe just a bit exploitive, using those creatures to build his audience. But I came to enjoy Steve, to feel his passion and understand the genuine affection he had for those fascinating, deadly animals. And to envy him a little, I suppose.

It seemed to me that Steve, a former diesel mechanic, hadn’t simply picked a career that would bring him world-wide fame. He just did what he wanted to do. I’m pretty certain he’d be working closely, too closely, with crocodiles even if no one outside his hometown had ever heard of him. He did what he did with unbridled gusto, full throttle, worry about the details later.

Endless fictions and rock songs are built around the free-wheeling character, the man who can’t be fenced in or tamed, the man who is true to himself, etc. But Steve Irwin was just being himself. There was no script to tell him how close to get to the croc’s jaws; he just did what came naturally. He was a city kid until his parents pulled up stakes and bought a rural zoo in tropical Queensland, Australia. Young Steve loved it and knew this was to be his life.

How many of us get the chance to do that? More than we think, I’d guess. A lot of us could do something like follow our hearts and see where it leads, but we don’t. Our way of life, determined by our education system, banks, families, mortgages, car payments, retirement, football tickets and child support, grows over us like vines and hold us to more mundane courses.

I suppose there are youngsters out there determined to be certified public accountants, but usually a career settles on you like dew, arriving quietly in the morning and squelching the last few embers of a childhood desire to be a rodeo cowboy. There are endless internal discussions, mostly silent, where we gradually decide that a career at the XYZ Company is what we, in our maturity, really want.

The system actually doesn’t offer too many chances to be a Steve. But driving a truck may be one of them. The trick is finding a way to let yourself take center stage. You have to let the constraints of the job determine your actions (Steve made sure the snakes and crocs were out of range, even if only by inches, and you don’t run red lights or run fast on ice) but not let who you are get buried by the requirements of your employment. So you need a job that doesn’t demand you conform, with an outfit that isn’t looking to scrape off a little more of your original paint so that you can wear the company logo.

You have to think like Steve Irwin if Steve was really a Harold Snoad, a complete unknown who lives as if life was someone to dance with every day. Unknown Harold gets up every day and thanks God he’s alive, looks forward to whatever life will bring to his door that day and sets out looking for something to be joyful about. And if some people don’t take to him or his work, that doesn’t bother him. And whether he makes one dollar or a million dollars today won’t change a thing.

You’d be doing it right if Steve was to look down and notice you, and shout, “Crikey, what a little beauty, would you look at that?”

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