The Ostrich and the Rhino
Copyright 2015 by Lisa Rehfuss
Honorable Mention--2018 Animal Nonfiction
I see a mass of feathers on top of spindly legs coming my way. It takes a moment to realize it’s safe, it’s an ostrich. A wall of feathers rests against my driver’s side door. I lower the window halfway. The ostrich screws its neck down to put its small head through the opening. Up close, its beak is intimidating. Images of prehistoric times come to mind and soon I can’t see that beak as anything more than a weapon of impalement.
I want to roll the window up, but his little head and vacant eyes the size of large black marbles, stop me. I push the bucket of feed under its beak. It drills for food. Each beak thrust, nay, assault, is like the punch of a jackhammer. Hearing something it steps back, straightening its neck to look left, then right. Quickly, I roll the window back up.
The ostrich pokes the glass, then the convertible top looking for a way in for more food. I hand the feed bucket to my brother, Peter, and tell him maybe this wasn’t a good idea after all. He opens his window wide and shakes the bucket. Dutifully, the ostrich sprints around the car to his side. It’s legs hitching up, wings that don’t fly spreading a bit. After it grabs more food, my brother starts to slowly raise the window. “You’re done,” he says. And, just like that, the ostrich trots off and we’re ready for our next animal adventure.
It’s early morning and we’re the first and only car in the drive-through animal park. We talked about enjoying ourselves, taking it slow. Now all I want to do is get to the exit quickly.
For some weird reason, this reminds me of roller coasters. It always seems like it’s going to be fun until the car inches up the 60-incline slope. It’s not the fast ride down on the twist and turns of the track; it’s the butt-lifting-feel, like I’m going to fall out of my seat catastrophe on that climb that I expect will get me in the end. It’s not fun. It’s not funny. It’s not.
Neither is driving through an animal park in a convertible.
Most of the animals stay a respectful distance away. My brother coaxes a couple of llamas, a giraffe and something in the deer family over to eat. The feed in my bucket is gone. His is half filled.
I keep my window closed and try to calm the rabbit thumping heartbeats in my chest.
We come around a curve and straight ahead, as far as the eye can see, are about 30 rhinoceroses. A baby rhino that doesn’t even reach its momma’s knee is in front of the pack. All of them are in the middle of the road.
They aren’t doing anything more than standing in the middle of the road so there’s not much to watch. It’s like staring at a still photo.
“What do we do?” I ask Peter.
“Let’s just sit here for a minute.”
Thunder rumbles. I look up to see clouds move swiftly against the early morning sky. Another rumble, this one louder, comes forth.
The rhinoceroses separate and run (running for a rhino is more like a trot) to the side of the road, onto the grass. The baby rhino stays put and so does the father of all rhinos. It's back, about 100 feet from the baby, but there’s no mistaking – this is one highly ticked off rhino.
It stomps its feet. That thunder rumble we heard earlier? It was the rhino.
It stomps its feet again.
Another rhino runs to the middle of the road and pushes the baby rhino out of the way. Now there is nothing standing between the father of all rhinos and my car.
“What do we do?” I was able to finally gulp out, looking behind to see if anyone else had come into the park. It was one-way only, but with no car in sight, I’m thinking a U-turn and a race back to the entrance is in order.
“Go forward,” my brother says.
“What? Are you nuts?”
“We have to show that we’re not afraid of it. Go forward.”
Admittedly, if someone else had said this to me I would have said ‘you’re bonkers’ and taken the U-turn. Yet, this was Peter. He is one of those people who has an innate ability to register a situation and calmly come up with solutions. He’s quite impressive in a crisis.
I put my faith in his opinion and start to drive.
“Easy,” he cautions. “Not too fast.” He slowly rolls up his window.
It seems to take forever before we are five feet from the father of all rhinos. That rhino is not moving from the center of the road, so I have a choice. Go to the left of it or go to the right of it.
Out of the corner of his mouth, Peter says, “Don’t say anything, don’t look at it. Just slowly drive by.”
I pull a sissy move and veer to the left, so the rhino is on our right. Right by the passenger door. Right by Peter.
Driving no more than 5mph, we pass the massive beast. Shear power comes off it in waves. It huffs, leaving snot on the passenger side window and all the way down that side of the car. I shift my eyes once and catch one small, beady black eye tracking us.
Up ahead there’s a slight curve. I continue to drive slowly. Barely breathing, not saying a word.
“Hit the gas.” Peter says as the car eases around the curve.
Just as he said ‘hit’ a pounding so loud, so fierce it shook the car, erupts.
I hit the gas.
Expecting to see the father of all rhinos coming around the bend, I keep an eye in the rearview mirror. It never comes around the corner. Yet, right at the curve in the road, there’s a small ridge and down that ridge come two rhinoceroses, kicking up dirt and running as if the devil himself were after them.
Instead of charging down the road after us, they go the other way. I can only surmise they were off doing something when the fun started and they were racing back hoping not to miss the show. I’m sure there was much huffing and puffing after we left. “Did you see that little green convertible? Thought it could get one over on big poppa here.”
Another 500 feet and there’s a huge sign.
DO NOT STOP. DO NOT STARE AT ANY BABIES.
RHINOCEROSES SEE BOTH ACTIONS AS A SIGN OF AGGRESSION AND WILL RESPOND WITH AGGRESSION.
DO NOT STOP!
When we get to the exit, I tell the guy that they may want to move that sign up.