Kathy and I spent a lovely afternoon at the Racine Zoo with our good friends Kris Capel and Dan Coyle – their daughters Anneka and Amelia – and Jeff and Anneka Barrow as well. (Kate had another obligation and had to slip away after we all had lunch together.) We hadn’t been to the Racine Zoo in quite some time, and we were delighted to see with our own eyes some of the nice improvements which have been made which we had heard about. We had such fun seeing the rhinos, giraffes, spider monkeys, orangutans, lions, tigers, and meerkats. . . but I think the highlights for me were when we got to feed some baby goats in the petting zoo – and then got to step into the zoo’s beautiful new Aviary. It’s a good-sized cage with all kinds of beautifully-colored parakeets flying around freely and landing right on you without any fear whatsoever. The birds especially come around if you have in your hand one of the feeding sticks – basically a popsicle stick with some sort of flowering seeds attached to the tip of it. (They were $2 a piece – I would have rather paid “tuppence a bag” as the song in Mary Poppins goes.) If you had one of those, you would only have to wait a second or two before one of our lovely feathered friends would alight on it and begin feeding. (For some reason, I kept attracting feuding birds to my sticks. One bird would land on my stick, begin eating, and then suddenly have another bird land right next to them and start trying to muscle them off. It was like the Sharks and the Jets on a popsicle stick.)
One neat thing about this was that it basically a great equalizer. These parakeets didn’t care who you were or what you looked like or what was in your wallet. All they cared about was what was on the end of that stick, and it didn’t matter one bit to them who was holding the stick. Even our four-year-old goddaughter Amelia could stand there holding a feeding stick and attract a bird without any problem at all. And you can imagine how delightful that was for someone her age.
I said the birds played no favorites, but that really isn’t true. The champion bird feeder among us was my wife Kathy, who most of the time had two, three and even four birds on her at any one time. . . and they weren’t just drawn to her feeding sticks. The birds seemed to enjoy just landing on her hands and forearms – and then they started landing on her shoes, as though she had sprinkled bird seed on them. I’m pretty sure she didn’t.) It was really amazing and even complete strangers in the aviary seemed to take notice of my wife’s exceptional attractiveness to those birds. (Just to be safe, I’m being extra vigilant today to see if we have any unusual birds hanging around our house – and especially if they seem to be gathering in large numbers on our neighbor’s backyard swing set. And if you don’t know what I’m talking about here, you need to rent Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds.”)
We also had fun at the Petting Zoo feeding the young goats who were sticking their cute little snouts through the farm fence. One of the most fun things about that was how little Anneka Coyle (Amelia’s seven-year-old sister) was really really anxious to feed the goats . . . and terrified too! I would put some of the goat feed into her little hand – she would stand there all but paralyzed and then finally extend her hand to the goat, only to suddenly pull it away and wail “I’m scared!” I would quietly tell her that there was no reason for her to be scared, to which she would reply “I know- but I am!” Sometimes when people are scared to do something, they also have no interest in doing it. . . but this was a classic push/pull scenario in which Anneka so badly wanted to do this and yet couldn’t quite bring herself to do it. This went on for quite some time. At first the closest she could come would be to hold her little hand underneath mine as I let one of the goats feed from my hand – and eventually she started warming up to a black and grey goat that seemed to be especially gentle. But then when she would get close to feeding it, she would be scared that one of the other goats would crowd in and interrupt the proceedings. I am not exactly the King of Patience – nor am I particularly good with young children – and there was this tiny part of me that was tempted to scream at the top of my lungs “WHAT ARE YOU AFRAID OF?!?!?! JUST FEED THE GOAT SO WE CAN GET ON WITH OUR LIVES!!!!!!!” But much more of me was really intrigued and even enchanted by the tug of war between her eagerness and reluctance. Eventually, eagerness carried the day and that moment when Anneka first allowed one of those young goats to feed from her hand was the best moment of the whole day. . . even if it took 6 handfuls of goat food (at 50 cents a crack) to finally break down her fear and give her an inconsequential yet maybe very important little thrill.
pictured above: Kathy with three of her feathered friends. You’ll maybe notice that the bird to the far left of the picture is eating off of a Feeding Stick . . . but the other two are on her other arm just because they seem to like the neighborhood- or is it that they like the company?