Monday, June 11, 2007

Zebras and rhinos and ostriches, OH MY!

Last week daughter Jeana invited us to join her and her family for a couple of days of their vacation, which we were very excited about. I mean, really, how many people's kids actually *want* them to come along on vacation! We were delighted to accept, especially since it was the day on which they were going to Fossil Rim exotic animal park.

If you have never been to one of these places, it's sort of like a zoo, except that instead of the animals being in cages, they are running loose, and you drive your car through the park to see the animals. When you buy your tickets, you have the opportunity of also buying a bag of food pellets (they look like pressed cardboard, and smell vaguely like graham crackers--they taste awful--and yes, we did taste them).

As you drive through the park, you can entice many of the animals to come right up to the car, by offering them these pellets. Apparently they taste better to the animals than they do to humans.

Since there were too many of us for one car, we took two, and divided the kids between us. The girls rode with us, and we followed the car with the boys in it. A good deal of our time was taken up with the kids waving, shouting, and squealing at each other from one car to the other. This was a show in itself.

One of our first encounters was with a large ostrich. Ostriches tiptoe like giant, fluffy, feather dusters in toe-shoes. Their long, muscular legs are a sharp contrast to their dainty steps, like ballerinas on pointe.

This ostrich stood right by the road, exacting a toll from each car that passed. The girls told us to put the pellets in the groove of the window, and the ostrich would take the food from there. The girls were right.
The huge bird pecked the food from the window groove, bit by bit, and then looked for more. I reached into the paper bag for more food, but the ostrich was too impatient to wait for me to deposit it in the window groove. He stuck his whole head through the window, his huge shiny eyes intent on the bag of feed, and his huge hard bill much too close to my face.
When I reacted by screeching, waving my hands wildly about my head, and making shooing sounds, the little girls in the back seat dissolved into giggles.

Knowing that we had a couple more hours of animals to feed, we reluctantly left him waiting for the next car, and drove on.

We saw many kinds of small deer, antelope, kudu, gazelles. Many would come quite close to the car, waiting for us to throw a handful of food, which they eagerly lipped from the grass. Lolly worried about them getting bugs in their food, but as Katoushka pointed out, they probably eat a lot of bugs on the grass when no people are around to feed them.

One highlight of our drive was the giraffes. I had never seen these tall, graceful animals so close before. One, a baby, was probably only about six and a half feet tall, and was very curious about us, bending his long neck to peer at us through his amazingly long and thick eyelashes. They remind me of sunflowers, on long, slender stems.

Another was the zebra, who ate food pellets out of my husband's hand, and allowed him to pet his soft nose, just like a horse.
Just twenty feet before we saw the sign that said, "Warning. Do not feed zebras by hand. They bite."

About half way through our trip, we stopped at the gift shop/picnic area for lunch under the shade trees. Since we forgot paper plates, napkins, or paper towels, we had to make our sandwiches on our palms, and eat the chips directly from the bag.

For Big D, I think the highlight of our lunch was the grapes. He had been hungry for fruit the night before, and asked if he could eat some. Jeana told him no, the grapes were for our picnic. He asked if he could have some strawberries. Jeana said no, those are to put on Katie's birthday cake. And the bananas were for breakfast. Finally he sighed dramatically, and asked, "Is there any fruit here that I can actually eat?"

A-man, our budding naturalist, told us many facts about the various animals we had seen. Near the picnic area there were large open-air cages of birds, which were fascinating. We ate a leisurely lunch, looked at the birds in the cages and the ones flying free around the picnic tables, and toured the gift shop, which was filled with all kinds of stuff, ranging from hugely expensive wood carvings and decorated ostrich eggs to games that promised to add to our knowledge of the animals in the park. I looked at the walking sticks, and seriously considered buying one, which I thought was eminently sensible, considering my past history.

However, I just couldn't convince myself to spend that much money for what was, after all, basically a big stick.

Since we had to be back in our home town in time to pick up Frankie the Pomeranian, we had to take leave of our babies at that point, and finish the drive alone. We left the remains of our feed bag with them, so that they would have more to offer to the other animals they might encounter. We did not anticipate that either the ostrich from the beginning of our trip, or a close relative, would be waiting for us around the bend.

He was standing in the middle of the road, wings spread to make himself look even larger than he was already. The road is too narrow to drive around him, so we a crawl.....and finally had to stop, because the ostrich clearly had the right of way.

He held his head high, making eye contact through the windshield, and obviously waiting for us to offer some food. Wick and I looked at each other and shrugged. We didn't have any food. So we sat there, waiting for him to move.

He didn't.

He bobbed his head up and down.
He examined each headlight.
He inspected the front bumper.
He looked over every inch of the hood, the windshield, and the wiper blades.
He made the kinds of noises a large, impatient bird makes when people don't cooperate by paying their toll of food pellets.
He did not move out of the road.

We had been warned not to honk at the animals, so we couldn't honk.
We couldn't drive around.
We couldn't take another road, since there was only the one.
We waited.
And waited.

Finally, I rolled down my window and waved my hand gingerly at the ostrich.
Who assumed that I must be offering food, finally.
He stuck not only his head but his whole impossibly long neck through the window.
My previous squawking was nothing to the panicked gestures with which I tried to shoo this bird out. Finally he stepped back and allowed us to pass.

As we drove past, I could see him staring us down, and muttering to himself about people who trick birds by making them think food is being offered, and then stiffing them.

That's the first time I have ever been given the bird by a bird.


Kelli said...

And yet, they look so sweet and delicate from afar.


Shalee said...

Now that is a classic ending...