Growing up in New York, I was a frequent visitor to the Bronx Zoo. I thought all zoos had to be the size of a small town and that a visit would not be complete without a safari, a camel ride, and a human-sized spider web. Today, I was proven wrong when we visited the small, yet delightful Santa Barbara zoo.
Set amidst the rich, succulent gardens of California’s central coast, this hidden treasure kept all members of the Diamond family happily entertained for the greater portion of the morning. Elias ran through the labyrinth of habitats stopping to watch the otters play, the condors spread their wings, and the gibbons hang from the trees. We watched visitors feed giraffes, whose long tongues reached out to grab pieces of romaine lettuce. Elias was less impressed by the reptile house but thought the marching flamingos moving in synch around the pond were truly fascinating.
Back at Cachuma lake, we are surrounded by weekend warriors, campers who flock here on Friday evening then pack up to go home on Sunday. There are dozens of kids here, and they run wild with an energy made only for children twelve and under. They bound up slides, jump over benches, and laugh wholeheartedly. Elias wants to be in the middle of it all, but when he gets there he freezes, unsure how to handle the action.
This evening, next to our camper, is a party singing a bad acoustic version of Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours” on a ukulele. I write this post while ignoring the accompanying bongo drums. As the group moves on to its next top 40 hit, their kids run through the darkness with glow sticks. Outside, we see only the swirl of neon green and yellow with the backlight of a campfire.
“I wish we could let Elias run around with them,” Alex says.
But, he is passed out, asleep under piles of warm blankets, dreaming of dancing otters and pink flamingos.