Where the gulls go, and watching giraffes spar

By Jayson Jacoby June 08, 2012 09:33 am

I saw more seagulls while I was driving through Bowen Valley the other afternoon than I saw in three recent days at the Oregon Coast.

And Bowen Valley hasn’t been within the reach of the tides for something like 200 million years.

This is the sort of avian discrepancy that can happen because the weather at the shore is better suited to filming an episode of “Deadliest Catch” than to letting a toddler get sand in his hair for the first time.

I have no doubt that gulls, which seem unperturbed by the nastiest of gales, were as ubiquitous as ever during our beach trip.

It’s just that we mainly avoided the beach, where the gulls tend to gather.

(Those that aren’t in Bowen Valley, anyway.)

I have no great affinity for getting soaked just so I can listen to the birds’ unique screech.

(And I forgot to pack my waterproofs.)

The clouds never completely retreated during our visit, most of which we spent in Coos County.

Specifically, inside some sort of structure — ideally one where goods were for sale — or an enclosed, leak-proof vehicle.

Unfortunately, the rubber seals around a car’s windows and doors that keep the damp out also keep in the aspirin-defying cacophony of two kids battling over sippy cups and DVDs.

The low-hanging stratus ceiling did briefly raise enough on a couple occasions so that the aforementioned toddler and his older (and much less patient) sister could run squealing as the tide rushed toward the shore (and their little feet.)

And naturally both of them got drenched by the frigid North Pacific — below the knees, anyway.

The lousy weather notwithstanding, we had a respectable amount of fun looking at lighthouses (mainly through rain-pelted windows lowered just long enough for picture-taking), eating various species of deep-fried sea creatures, and visiting a most excellent candy shop in Bandon which offered copious samples of pretty much every confection (Olivia dreams of the place still, I suspect.)

I was impressed, as always when I tour the seaside, by just how many surfaces can support a mat of moss, and by just how little unoxidized sheet metal is needed to keep a pickup truck on the road.

On our way to the coast we toured one of Oregon’s more renowned tourist attractions: Wildlife Safari just southwest of Roseburg.

I went there a couple times when I was a kid, but neither my wife nor our kids had been.

Wildlife Safari is sort of a hybrid of Jurassic Park and the zoo of a minor city, only without self-driving Ford Explorers and velociraptors.

Besides being much larger than a typical zoo, at 600 acres, Wildlife Safari differs in that the animals — at least those less likely to devour all or part of the paying customers — roam with relative freedom about the sprawling grounds.

It’s an attractive setting, too, with hills that roll in proper poetic fashion, plus the copses of oaks and Douglas-firs that characterize much of our state’s southwest corner.

Visitors drive through the park in their own cars via a network of gravel roads. It’s quite possible, if you ignore the frequent warning signs and leave your windows down, that an ostrich will unlimber its curiously dexterous neck, poke its beak inside and turn on the AC or fiddle with your radio presets.

We saw one ostrich pecking away at the hood of a sedan with what seemed to me sufficient force to leave shallow dents, as a hailstorm might do, or at least scratch the paint.

And we watched the park’s pair of male giraffes engage in a bout of sparring that, typical of the gender (and, apparently, the species), quickly escalated.

I started calculating whether, if their pushing came to shove on our Buick, I could drive between their legs to safety. There was plenty of head room, but I wasn’t sure about the width.

Anyway, a fleet of park rigs showed up, and they separated the giraffes with the efficiency, if not the grace, of a blue heeler plucking one cow from the herd.

A bit later we noticed that a rhinoceros was standing next to the road (if any creature as massive as a rhino can be said to do something as trivial as stand; it’s more that a rhino dominates any patch of ground on which it decides to rest).

A Prius was creeping along toward the rhino — perhaps operating in quiet electric mode so as to sneak up on the beast.

I wondered what would happen if the rhino took a dislike to the Toyota.

In particular I wondered, if the rhino upended the Prius, would the rhino even notice?

It turned out the Prius driver heeded the signs, though, and rolled past the rhino without pausing.

Notwithstanding its “wild” name, while driving through the park I was struck by that sense of wildness stifled that pervades any place where animals can’t come and go as they please.

It’s true that the brown bears, although confined to an area by means of what I devoutly hoped was an immensely strong fence, frolicked in a pond as though they were being filmed in the Alaskan outback for the kind of program they show on public television.

But just down the road a lone cheetah paced the fence of its enclosure with that mindless, robotic gait of a city-bound Lab. Such a sight is slightly depressing when the animal is a domestic dog, but almost acutely painful when the subject is a sleek cat capable of pacing traffic on the freeway.

I don’t mean to disparage Wildlife Safari.

The park has an estimable reputation for its cheetah breeding program — 168 of the cats have been born at Wildlife Safari since 1972. And as we watched an employee smile at a pair of 12-week-old cheetah cubs as they gamboled in the grass (Khayam and Mchumba were born Feb. 29), it seemed clear that the staff has a genuine love for the animals that goes beyond their profit potential.

Jayson Jacoby is editor of the Baker City Herald.