It was the last day of vacation. I felt very strongly that we had to squeeze in one more particular activity before the day ended. We managed to get to the local petting zoo before they closed, got the scooter unloaded, and I took off at full tilt to soak up critter-time. Greg followed with camera.
I always miss Faulkner so badly during our vacation, and so I’m always hungry for vacation dogtime. (The timid dog I had befriended and helped tame, at the first camping stop, just hadn’t “done it” for me. Oh, those “borrowed” dogs seldom do, but at least I can feel fur to hold me over!) So I thought the zoo might give me some reminders of old Pleasant Valley days, volunteering at the demonstration farm. It did, and then some!
As I careened past the empty ticket booth, I saw a sign for an otter show– just started. I managed to slow down enough to arrive at the middle of that, and hung over the rail with the other “kids” watching my cousins play and oodle their way thru grass and pool. The presenter answered ALL our questions. I thought this was what I had come for. It would have been “enough.”
But the show ended, there were still about 20 minutes of time before closing, and I had my camera. It had been pix-pix-pix all day– so off I went. I met deer, llamas, emus, and more, in quick-mode– chirping and whistling to them for good camera shots, and communing briefly. The lesson I’d learned earlier that day– slowing down if I want to try to catch butterfly pix– combined well with “farm sense” about not coming up on critters faster than each one can comfortably handle.
I was able to adjust that farm-sense to scooter-speed management. So, ‘Whee!!!! What else lives here?’ was well tempered with, ‘Those peacocks don’t seem to like this speed….’ And it was then, just after noting their drab peahens camouflaged in the bushes, that I fetched up suddenly in front of a caged timber wolf.
I knew at once what it was, before I saw the sign, tho I had not at all expected to see a wolf at this facility…. he gave me a good look at I paused but he didn’t stop pacing restlessly. And I read unhappiness there. I can’t capture all the cues I read, but the bottom line was clear. On farm chores, those cues would have prompted me to set down the pitchfork, delay the chores pending, stop for a visit to see what was needful, and address the need.
On a farm the contunnuum of the visit-check includes stepping in to run a hand over the critter. ON someone else’s property that’s not good manners unless dire injury indiocates immendaite intervention…. and oh yeah, this was also a wild animal. All I could do was sit, make sound and ody language, and look with attention. My picture-taking plan suddenly slowed to nature-time speed like a scooter’s holdback brake kicks in as soon as the power lever is released. I had slipped thru to the the spirit world, one leg in each reality, as surely as sometimes happens in ministry moments with human beans. A smooth mental skid to just the right speed of knowing.
During that l o n nn g g g moment while my “inner tourist” collided with my “inner whisperer,” there was time to realize that I wasn’t sure if I should even take out the camera. It just seemed wrong to take a picture of unhappiness. It seemed like disrespect to catch him (I somehow knew it was a male) at a weak moment in his life. But there he was…… and he wouldn’t look me in the eye again….. but he was whining a little, softly, as he passed….I paid out the line of attention, trying to understand…
In an effort to preserve that moment for my failing memory– to be able to see him as he was and not in imagined recollection– I snapped a few shots. I didn’t stay long. I looked around to see his setup– it’s a large, quite roomy enclosure with some natural features…. didn’t see any company with him…. I left his area resolutely, out of an uncertain but strongly directive respect.
I haven’t been able to look at the pictures yet. It was that kind of restlessness you see in the lion house at even the best zoos, from the ones who have been there too long. And this IS a GREAT little zoo.
Well, before we left I encountered the zoo owner, and learned that this is a knowledgable fellow-student of animal behavior, whose zoo is there to teach families a better way of being with animals and their environment. It’s not a “petting zoo.” It IS a “touching zoo.” From the fingertips, all the way down to the deepest part of the heart. So despite the urgency of closing hour, the owner was quite pleased to discuss the wolf.
I learned that he does have a companion wolf I hadn’t been able to see, and regular playtime. When I mentioned the unhappy whining, the conversation stopped cold. For a very brief moment he looked a tad gobsmacked. (I thought I had offended him.)
He said, “That sound wasn’t unhappiness. That was wolf talk for ‘I like you and I want to be with you.’ Something in you touched him. That doesn’t happen very often, even here.” He kindly gave us some extra time before closing up, to talk wolves. He said that when the wolf’s companion beats him to the cool den on such a hot day, it makes him unhappy.
But I awoke the next morning full of understandings from that last-day activity, which had come to me in sleep. The whole time we were rush-packing to get on the road for home, I was standing against a gale of emotion pushing me back to the zoo. It was much stronger than the sterotypical Chicago street-corner gale-fight one sees on the Weather Channel!
I took a few stolen minutes to whip out the laptop and send a quick email to the owner about a return trip. My view was that since his wolf had invited me, I would have to be allowed in. Even on my crazy schedule, and maybe outside zoo hours. I would have to accept the invitation to continue the wolf’s conversation– with the owner present to interpret (and maybe learn from) my interaction with this wolf. A sense of incompleteness– a work to finish.
I was not looking for this. But when the wolf Calls you– and you hear it– believe you me, you cannot shut it up again.
I already know what my next reply to him must be. And it needn’t wait till I can drive back there. While wolves don’t do email, I bet they read scent messages quite clearly. :~) Maybe I can Skype with him, too!