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Raphus Cucullatus

I only saw my grandfather on my mom’s side of the family ever draw one thing, but he drew it a lot. I must have asked him to draw it for me at least 50 times growing up. Each time he drew it, and as he did, he told me the same story, always with the same ending.

“Can I borrow a pencil and a piece of paper?”

“Sure. Want two sheets?”

“No, I draw so ugly that I only need one. Here goes nothing,” he said. He rubbed his hand across the paper a few times to smooth it out, then he outlined a basic shape and began to talk.

“Raphus Cucullatus is the Latin name, but we know it as the Dodo Bird.” He always started by drawing the bird’s large, uniquely shaped hooked beak.

“It sure is ugly,” I always said.

“That’s because I’m not a good drawer like you are,” he always said back.

“No I mean the Dodo bird. It’s an ugly bird.”

“Let’s just call it different.” This was as close as my grandfather ever came to correcting me.

After he had a rough outline of shapes, he started filling in details.

“The Dodo lived off the coast of Africa. The bird was fond of flying between the coast of the Indian Ocean and the island of Madagascar.” On the Dodo’s over-sized body, he drew short thick legs and long toes.

“Island of where?”

“Mad-a-gas-car.” He added short stubby wings to the body, and attached them in reverse, at the rear instead of at the front of the bird’s breast.

“You’re drawing the wings on backwards. They can’t fly that way.”

“That’s why the Dodo Bird is extinct. They flew backwards.”

“If they flew backwards, how did they catch food and eat?”


“So the Dodo starved to death? That’s sad.”

“No, they ate, because they were friendly birds.” He added eyes and feathers. “When they landed in Madagascar, the people would catch the Dodo birds, and one-by-one, turn them around, and feed them.”

“The people didn’t eat the Dodo birds?”

“Of course not. They loved the friendly Dodo, and the friendly Dodo loved the people.” He drew a few pieces of food behind the bird.

“But you said they became extinct because they flew backwards.”

“The Dodo,” he said, “became extinct because they tried to fly backwards too far. They kept trying to go backwards to a better time.”

“I don’t understand.”

“The Dodo didn’t realize that there was no time better than right where they were made to be. That’s why they’re extinct,” He wrote in block lettering, “DODO BIRD,” at the bottom center of the paper.

“Just like the best times for me are right here, where I am now,” he said. “We were made to be right here together, you and me. That’s why we exist.”

He pushed the paper toward me and asked me what I thought.

What do I think?

I think, if I could, I would risk extinction and try flying backwards to a better time, a time when this 52-year old kid could ask his grandfather to draw Raphus Cucullatus just one more time.

dodo bird–   .   –   .   –