Today marked the first time I have been to a zoo in nearly fifteen years. It was free admission day at the Denver Zoo, an opportunity my frugal boyfriend and Jewish self couldn’t pass up. I rediscovered animals and exhibits I know I had seen before, since I used to frequent the zoo quite regularly as a child. I didn’t remember most of them, however. There was only one area whose location and layout I still knew by heart, and I eagerly dragged my boyfriend over there as quickly as possible: the Northern Shores Arctic section.
I was obsessed with Arctic foxes when I was a child. I learned everything I could about the adorable little predators. I pored over pictures in books. When I discovered I could see my favorite animals of all time live and in person, I’m sure I ran around the house and peed myself in excitement.
It became a routine father-daughter day. Sure, we’d make cursory visits to see the other animals, but as soon as we got to the Arctic foxes, I wouldn’t budge until closing time. My dad was quick to spot a pattern as well as an opportunity, so he soon started bringing the patient charts he had to review for the weekend. I’d park in front of the foxes, he’d park on a bench; I’d get to squeal over teh cute, he’d get work done and be able to chalk up quality bonding time in one go. It was a win-win situation.
One winter day when I was six (I know it was winter because the foxes had white coats–they’re gray in summer. Props for smug six-year-old geekdom!), I stood at my usual post. My dad was absorbed in his charts. One of the foxes did something particularly adorable, which in six-year-old terms, probably meant licking itself inappropriately. I squeed like the little fangirl I was and thrust myself forward to take a better look. Alas, I thrusted a bit too hard and toppled over the fence and headfirst into the prickly holly bushes that filled the barrier between humans and animals.
The other patrons who were, unlike my father, actively watching the foxes started murmuring and clucking their tongues in dismay. When no one instantly appeared to retrieve me, the disapproval became more audible. “How awful,” they tsked. “Abandoning that sweet little girl and letting her get hurt!”
It took a few minutes for my dad to realize that all was not quiet on the Arctic front. It took another few seconds for him to scan the crowd and realize I was not among the disapproving onlookers. It took another few seconds for him to take a deep breath and stride over to the barrier, where he found that his daughter was the cause of all this commotion. He leaned over and braced himself, preparing for the wail of pain I was certain to unleash in his ear.
“Daddy! I got real close to the foxes!” I exclaimed instead as he yanked me out of the prickers.
“You sure did!” he replied nervously, giving a shaky grin to the glaring tongue-cluckers. “Let’s not tell Mom about this, shall we?”
We went over to the bench to retrieve his charts. I glanced longingly at the foxes, who were napping obliviously. “Okay,” I sighed.
Of course I couldn’t keep an event that exciting to myself, so of course my father got an earful about irresponsible parenting. In my defense, I think my mother would have noticed the scratches and prickers still stuck in my hair and started asking questions eventually.
I managed to stay on the right side of the barrier nineteen years later, a tough feat considering the foxes are still adorable. My dad has to do work on his own time now, but I will still remember that time I got really close to the foxes with something like fondness.