I realise I’ve been giving myself (and this blog) over to a lot of rants recently. Sorry about that. Sometimes you just need to, you know, vent.
But today I’m going to remedy that. See, yesterday when I got home I saw to my great delight that my neighbour had returned. His name is Elmo.
Actually, I’m not sure if he’s name is really Elmo, or even if he’s really a he. But the wife and I named him Elmo because we like Elmo from Sesame Street (who doesn’t?), we have a friend named Elmo and it’s fun to say Elmo the emu. Oh, yeah! Elmo’s an emu. Meet Elmo.
Emu’s are large, flightless birds indigenous to Australia. They are the largest birds in Australia and second-largest in the world after the ostrich. Emus are farmed in Australia, the US, Peru and China for their meat, leather and oil made from their fat. I’ve never eaten emu. I have eaten ostrich (note: not “an ostrich” – that would be impossible).
You have a question? How is an emu my neighbour? Oh, I guess I should explain that. I live next to an “animal park”.
The road you see in the photo, on which my building is located, is known as Riverfront Drive (they thought long about that one) and used to run all the way along the north bank of the Vals River that runs through town. (Quick fact: the river was named Valsch (Dutch for false) by early explorers because especially the section that runs through town is incredibly treacherous with hidden rocks and maelstroms under the water – not the type of river you go swimming in.) The entire north bank used to be a public park. As a kid we often went for ice cream on a Sunday afternoon and would come eat it in the park. It was a favourite spot for picnics, people practising for their driving tests, loud (unsanctioned) parties on New Year’s Eve, and engaging in backseat-of-the-car activities even in the middle of the day.
A few years ago part of the north bank was sold. The people who bought the land turned it into an “animal park”. I put “animal park” in quotes, because all they’ve really done is stick a bunch of cows, horses, donkeys and goats in there. Supposedly the public can visit it by appointment, but they don’t advertise their number, making it rather difficult to get an appointment.
When we moved in there was also a couple of ostriches. They caused us hours of entertainment with their shenanigans, like when the female managed to get her head stuck behind her own wing (in case you don’t know, ostriches are rather stupid). The ostriches were removed at some point, and last year Elmo arrived. He’s not quite as entertaining as the ostriches, but still, not everyone can say they live next door to an emu. (He has broken out a few times, of course. Emus are nomadic by nature and can run quite far and quite fast. Chances are Elmo is not really even Elmo, but his replacement, and that Elmo is halfway back to Oz by now.)
By the way, living on the river bank has other perks aside from having an emu as a neighbour. For example, this is my view right now:
While I’d love to have a yard so I could have a dog and a garden, while living in such close proximity to my neighbours can be taxing at times, while I don’t have a space where I can do woodwork and while couples still rendezvous in their cars (and on one occasion outside their car) in broad daylight right in front of our building, this view makes staying here completely worthwhile. We have big front windows that face east, looking out over the caravan park and holiday resort across the river. The view in the photo is literally what I see while sitting behind my desk. I can birdwatch without leaving my chair. I see the sunrise every morning. It’s dry now as it’s winter here, but in summer all you see is green. It’s glorious.
Of course, it’s not all fun and games…
Two months after we moved in, Southern Africa (South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe) experienced a massive inland low pressure system leading to heavy rainfall and severe flooding. The Vals River overflowed its banks and within hours was three times its normal width. (The White Jellytot also died in the middle of a thunderstorm during after-school traffic. The wife had to push it off the road while a bunch of mannerless idiots hooted at her instead of helping her.)
You know Riverfront Drive? The road on which my building is located? It runs just to the left of the fence in the photo and at this point is about waist-deep under rapidly-flowing water. When we saw the water rising we removed our cars from the parking area below the building. We have a smaller parking area at the back with access from another road, so at least we weren’t trapped inside. (Towards the end of that year we had another, smaller flood. The wife and I were visiting the parents that time, so we missed all the drama.)
We (the tenants) dealt with the flood by having a braai behind the building. The English go to the pub or drink tea when things get tough. In SA we braai.
This flood actually wasn’t that bad. With the flood of ’88 (when I was in first grade and living in another town) the water rose to a level just below the top of the street lamp shown here and the entire building had to be evacuated. A repeat of that flood is unlikely, though, as it involved two dams breaking upstream and a natural dam forming downstream when debris got stuck under a bridge (which has since been redesigned) preventing run-off. As it is, this flood took two days to subside and a week more before the deposited silt was dry enough to shovel out of our parking area.
I will admit to having had some second thoughts about our new home, but then there’s that view again.
And I realise again how lucky we actually are to live here. It’s quiet. It’s safe. Our neighbours, for the most part, are very nice. We have a very roomy apartment for very reasonable rent. We live next door to an emu. I really don’t have a reason to complain. Especially not when I regularly get to witness something as awe-inspiring as this…