One of my favorite family memories is from a trip we took to Arbuckle Wilderness when I was about 8 0r 9 years old. Nestled in the Arbuckle Mountains (these are considered mountains in the midst of the flatter-than-a-flitter Oklahoma plains remember, not to be confused with actual mountains, of course) of South Central Oklahoma right off I-35, this exotic 7-mile drive-through safari is a family favorite and successful tourist attraction. It is comprised of over 400 acres and the owners have done a wonderful job at recreating life-like habitats for the animals, my favorites being the zebras and giraffes, but I digress. This is a story about an ostrich.
Arbuckle Wilderness had long been on my childhood “to-do” list. My favorite commercial on TV was for Arbuckle Wilderness and every time it came on I was entranced with the idea of such a place. I knew the words to the song and I would sing and sway to the music, incessantly reminding my parents that I wanted to go there. They would promise “some day we’ll go there” and so at the end of each commercial I would utter the words dreamily: “some day”. At the time, they couldn’t afford to take me there, but they kept their promise and years later we were able to finally go.
We had moved to Alaska the year before and were visiting family in Oklahoma for the first time that Summer. My dad was attending a class for his job with the FAA and so we turned it into a family trip. I was beside myself when they told me we were going to Arbuckle Wilderness!
When we made the short drive from Oklahoma City that morning, I was so excited I could have jumped out of my skin with anticipation! You see, it’s not just the type of place to see animals in cages like you would see at a zoo, but since the animals are free-roaming, there are multiple opportunities to see the animals demonstrating more natural behaviors (and some not-so-natural, as you will soon read). Also, the major draw for me was that customers are encouraged to feed most of the animals (but only with the pricey feed available at the front entrance). You are always supposed to stay in your car, but you can open windows and doors (well, you’re probably not supposed to open your doors, but last year when we went again we did and we didn’t get bit, only chased by herds of things like zebras and goats) to reach the animals better. The animals flock to the cars because by now they know that vehicles equal food and some animals are even willing to entertain for their meals. Others are lazy and just want the food. But that’s okay with me…they’re so cute I can’t help but want to give them what they want. It’s pretty funny to see the fattest animals run faster towards your car than the others just to get some food. Interesting. You’d think all that running would help with calorie expenditure a little more.
One such animal entertainer, as I referred to above, is the ostrich. If these animals were people, they would be the most hilarious dancing performers. And yet unlike most popular human entertainers and performers, these animals are actually what I would consider downright ugly! But that’s beside the point.
As we came upon the particular ostrich that this whole story is about, we weren’t too excited. We had fed tons of animals at that point and were somewhat tired from the day’s events. Dad slowed the rental car down (which, I might add, was a beautiful white Cadillac with plush interior…not exactly what you might imagine driving through a safari park, but we were on vacation!) to give us a good look at the gargantuan bird that was sitting on the dry ground. As our vehicle slowed, the ostrich became more lively and stood up on it’s awkwardly long, twiggy legs.
Just the sight of him was comical; a fat, round body covered with feathers sitting on a pair of sticks for legs and a spindly neck with a tiny head on top. He started strutting back and forth alongside the car, bobbing his head forwards and backwards. We were already laughing. Then he turned to face us head-on and began flapping his wings while continuing his strut and head-bob. He was shaking it so much that feathers here and there would flutter to the ground with his comically berserk moves.
We finally decided we better feed the poor animal before he shook all his feathers to the ground, so mom pushed the button to lower her window. He ran swiftly to her window where she was holding a bucket of feed and that little head began violently darting in and out of the bucket so fast she almost dropped it. The feed pellets were flying everywhere; outside on the ground, in mom’s lap, on the floor of the pretty Cadillac. Dad, my brother and I were laughing so hard we had tears running down our faces! Mom was screaming at Dad to hurry up and close the window. So daddy did, but being the prankster that he sometimes was, he closed it almost all the way and then opened it again! Of course, mom had already set the bucket in her lap thinking the feeding was over, but the ostrich stuck his head all the way in the car and the hilarity of the predicament continued while mom shouted at dad some not-so-nice-words.
Well, he did finally close the window all the way and gave her some relief from the crazy bird, and as we drove on down the road that ugly ostrich chased us for quite a while, all the time persisting with his entertainment for us. Happily, mom did not suffer any bites or other bodily harm, although you would have thought so with her screams, and she did speak to Dad after the fact.
That whole first trip to Arbuckle Wilderness was unforgettable and the ostrich is still a topic of family conversation all these years later!