Lions and tigers and—birds? Oh my!

My husband, parents, sister and I recently took a family trip to the zoo. We loaded up on caffeine, drove about two hours to a nearby small town, and paid the fee to wander around the park and view a few of God’s most creative creations.

I was ecstatic from the moment we reached the ticket booth. A homemade sign announced they were feeding the penguins at two p.m. I hadn’t realized this particular zoo had penguins (my favorite animal!) so I was jumping up and down like a preschooler being offered a giant rainbow-swirled lollipop. Then I checked my watch—almost two hours until feeding time.

No problem, we’d do that last. We began our trek down the walking trails, kicking leaves as we meandered past the buffalos, monkeys, zebras, giraffes, elephants, warthogs and anteaters. We snapped pictures of the animals and each other, crunched acorns under our feet, laughed and teased, and had a wonderful time.

It was nearing two o’clock, so we decided to bypass the bird exhibit and go check out my fine tuxedo-ed pals. But my father insisted we view the brand new bird walk-about first, stating his desire to “see everything” and “miss nothing.” Father knows best (and there was time before the penguin feeding) so we dutifully followed him toward a bright yellow and green building, walled by wire like you’d see on a cage. I figured the bird walk-about was like any other zoo building, such as the snake room, where you viewed God’s handiwork from the other side of several inches of thick, possibly bulletproof (certainly anaconda-proof) glass.

Oh no. I opened the caged door (which, really, should have been my first clue) walked inside, and froze. Literally. My husband smacked into the back of me. My sister cringed.

Birds. Like something from an Alfred Hitchcock movie-gone-bad. Flying everywhere, freely, amidst dozens of other brave (or stupid?) zoo patrons. They’d land on branches of trees, on people’s shoulders. They’d circle overheard, perch on the ruts in the walls, cling to the wire on the ceiling. One woman held a bird on her finger while her child looked on with delight and awe.

My first thought, as I viewed the flying terrors soaring willy-nilly over our heads, I voiced without censor. “What if I get pooped on?”

My father laughed. My husband smirked. Only my sister looked as if she understood and shared the same concern.

We had yet to venture farther into this feathered house of horror. My dad suddenly says, “Hey, cool—look”! At that exact moment, I see my sister duck, hands thrown over her head, into a vertical version of the fetal position. I screamed. I didn’t want to look at what my dad thought I should, rather, I wanted out.

This desire was confirmed when a zoo worker, wielding a broom, stepped into the cage-room. “Sam!” She yelled at a particularly large, squawking white bird who appeared as if he’d sincerely enjoy the taste of human flesh. She shook the broom. They squared off.

Time. To. Go.

I whirled around to leave. Big sign on the inside of the doors where I entered the cage—NO EXIT. I gulped, as the room closed in, and spun around again. This time I whacked into a child knee-high who was apparently quite oblivious to the danger around him.

I started yelling cautions, as if one would when rushing a pregnant woman through the hospital. “Panicked adult needs to leave!” I rushed for the exit on the other side of the now seemingly endless room. Small children were bouncing off my knees as I forged a path through the chaos, my sister on my heels. I heard the laughter of my family behind me as I blazed my purposed trail, but I didn’t care. Freedom lay just on the other side of the yellow caged doors, and it would be mine.

Then - my sister and I stumbled out into the World of Humans. We dusted ourselves off, shaking, trembling. I bent over so she could view the top of my hat and make sure I hadn’t been pooped on unaware. Then, almost simultaneously, we replayed the last forty five seconds in our minds and how we must have looked -- and burst into laughter. The hysterical, doubled-over, crying, can’t breathe type of laughter.