So we needed an adventure. There are places where all feels right with the world. And sometimes we all just need to go there. Blow the stink off, relocate your spirit, align your body to other meridians. Spend a Saturday doing more than laundry or grocery shopping.
Two hours away, near Arcola, Illinois, there is a wildlife sanctuary. It is owned and operated by the Aikman family; now in their first full year of operation. Last year the Kaskaskia River limited their grazing lands. There are 150 animals from 50 species native to 6 continents living here in a peaceable kingdom. They are not caged. The limited predatory species, hyenas and serval cats, have their own enclosures.
But here the buffalo really do roam. Alongside zebras, Watusi cattle, camels, elands, draft horses, miniature horses, donkeys, alpacas, Scottish highland cows, et. al. They are loved and they are well-fed and each one has a name and a story. Although native to other climes, they were born here in the Midwest. They are all part of a conservation effort.
Those are the facts. And now for the feelings:
Wonderment. Joy. Happiness. Inspiration. Pleasure.
We sat on the wagon, tractor pulling us through the paddocks, going to wherever this diverse herd may be enjoying their morning. Fabio, the Bactrian camel (see above), was my immediate favorite. Although he was in the process of shedding his winter coat, he was still a very handsome and photogenic boy.
We were given small bowls of feed to scatter by our feet in the wagon. We stopped, we scattered the feed, and then they came. Bison, cattle, blue wildebeest, elands, elk, zebras, alpacas, horses, and emus. There are groups of ducks, geese, pheasants, peacocks, guinea fowl.
Then there are the emus. Our guide told us that emus are both curious and ill-tempered. They will not attack four-legged creatures, but the will come after humans because we walk upright on two legs like they do. So why have them around? Because they act as guardians for the smaller four-legged species who appreciate them. Emus own “hangry” as an expression. They have zero manners, large pointy, pecky beaks and giant three-toed claws. They remind me of Petyr Baelish from Game of Thrones. And yes, I love them. How has an emu never been a Disney villain?
In the midst of the herd, I was suddenly 8 years old again. Mrs. Huber handed me the lyric sheet for “Free to Be” by The New Seekers. I would learn it and sing it and forget it for 40 years. Then today, I would remember the joy I felt when this wide, deep blissful adventure fit neatly into the ideals of a song written in 1972.
We walked the path through the other enclosures. Cavies, potbellied pigs, tortoises, goats and sheep. A miniature horse and cow and deer – all the same size – all living together in harmony. Different but equal. Different but not in competition. All amazing in their own little way. Like us, without ego. Like us, without the fear of our perceived differences. Free to be You and Me.