You've heard of the s'ghetti eating rhino, right?

The Rhinoceros Is Eating S'ghetti

Saturday, September 1, 2001 :: Life

The Rhinoceros Is Eating S'ghetti

This is how it begins. We are driving to San Diego from Colorado. The trip has taken two and a half days, leisurely and fun. Surprisingly, our twenty-month-old daughter has spent most of her back seat time singing ("Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" and "Ring Around the Rosy"), looking out the window, and asking for her coloring books. Or rather, book--she has her favorite and the others don't pass the test. Her speech has grown exponentially over the past fortnight. Her vocabulary, it seems, doubles each hour. Still, it surprises us that she can form complex sentences at such a young age. "No, Mommy," she says when handed the Toy Story coloring book. "I want Tubbies." Eventually, we arrive in San Diego and settle in for a brief holiday with family.

Two days later we are walking through the San Diego Zoo. It is almost Thanksgiving. We've seen the bears, the Brown up close, and glimpsed the Pandas. We've seen the gorillas, the orangutans and the spider monkeys. We've had lunch close to the seals and walruses. And we have just passed the elephants, one from India and one from Africa. Now we've come upon the rhinoceros, a white rhinoceros, in fact (ceratotherium simum).

”What's that?” our daughter asks. I explain it to her and move on.

But the explanation isn't nearly enough, a couple of words that name the animal. My daughter twists around as we walk away, trying to get another glimpse. I think about the large animals, the predators, the grazers, even the scavengers. They are disappearing, all of them, including the rhinoceros.

The White Rhinoceros, like all rhinoceros species, is endangered. There are a few of them remaining on preserves in Africa, and a few in zoos around the world. The White Rhino we have just left is typical of his kind. He has a big head, two horns protruding, solid and uncompromising like the rest of his build. He uses his horn to dig bulbs and tubers out of the ground. The White Rhino weighs one and a half tons on average, though he is generally a quiet animal and will only attack if he is provoked. He is endangered, this giant beast of nature, because it is believed there are special qualities within his horn and some of us would rather harvest them and wipe him off the face of the earth than protect him.

We move through the zoo, to the petting zoo for children. Our daughter, tentative but fearless, pets the sheep and lamb, feeds them straw. On the way out we stop to pet some bunnies, but they frighten her. She is more at home with the larger animals. Within moments we are on the gondola ride crossing over the zoo.

From the gondola we can see the layout of the zoo. Flying like the eagle or peregrine falcon we are above the canopy of trees and asphalt paths, above the throngs of people. From the gondola we can see that there has been no rhyme or reason to our trek through the zoo. Our guide has been desire. We have missed much in the morning's walk through this small sample of earth's animal evolution. In the afternoon we backtrack somewhat to see the things we've missed. I wonder, as we approach the bats and other nocturnals, what memories will be taken from this place, what lasting impressions will be made upon my daughter.

The aviary is closed and the line to get to the pandas is still too long. We find the cats are not so active today but the reptiles and amphibians are. Eventually, we come upon the elephants and rhinos as we make our way back to the entrance of the zoo. Once again we pass the White Rhinoceros. He is eating hay and standing not more than fifteen feet from us as we pass.

"Rhinoceros is eating s'ghetti," our daughter says. And my wife and I laugh, like we did as kids, like our daughter does when tickled.

The rhinoceros is eating spaghetti. Moments will pass, then days and years. Miles will fly by under foot and tire. Experiences will wedge their way into my synapses, into my being, and some will fade over time. But the rhinoceros will always be eating spaghetti. I will not be able to escape how it has become woven into my personal lore. There will be no escaping how it has become linked to every part of my life. I will laugh about it at odd times, like when my daughter is sleeping in the back seat during the long drive home. And at other times the rhinoceros will raise its head and become a part of my conversation and thinking. I will tell my friends and family, of course. They will laugh, all of them, but they will forget within minutes. They cannot be incorporated into the emotion. The rhinoceros is alive within me, like my daughter's laughter. It is imprinted in my cells.

Twenty years in the future I will visit with my daughter. Perhaps she will be married, perhaps in college or starting a new job. Perhaps we will be midway out on a hike, up in the high country, having lunch and drinking in the scenery. Regardless of the situation, something will be said that will trigger a cascading flow of memory and I will be reminded of the spaghetti eating rhinoceros. I will tell my daughter of the day at the San Diego Zoo, and in her laughter I will relive it again.

And this is how it will end, if it ever shall. I will sit in the afterglow of shared laughter and I will realize, again, that the reason for moments like those at the zoo is to weave together parts of my life, to connect me. Memories will cascade down and rain upon me a warmth for family, children, shared experiences, and the intense satisfaction of laughter and love. Finally, I will thank God that the rhinoceros was eating spaghetti, that he will always be eating spaghetti. In my laughter and memories the rhinoceros will never disappear.

Tags for this article
rhinoceros, family, extinction

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JACK MCDANIEL :: AGENTS OF THE UNDERTOW