Part Two: Karson and the Donkeys
The journey to find a farm animal for Mule Springs continues with part two of Sher’s visit to Schreiner’s Exotic Animal Farm.
As we walk out of the yard, I thank John for taking the time to acquaint me the camels. John doesn’t ask me how I feel about having a camel; instead, he says, “Would you like to meet Karson and see the rest of Shreiner Farms?” I’m a bit relieved because right now, I can’t see myself buying a camel, so I quickly say, “Yes.”
But I only have forty minutes left before I need to call my friend, Sylvia, in Germany. She and I have been pen pals for four years, and we make an effort to speak on the phone once a year. I had this phone call planned before I made the appointment to see the animals at John’s Farm. I hope forty minutes will be enough time to visit the giraffes and the Sardinian donkeys.
John and I load up into his six-passenger four-wheeler, and we roar down the farm road. We pass a fenced area, and I see a baby giraffe grazing in the meadow. John yells, “Karson, Karson . . . come on . . .hurry up . . . hurry up.” To my surprise the giraffe lifts its head, and begins trotting in our direction, but John doesn’t slow his machine. The wind is icy, and it stings my ears. I wish I had worn a headband. We approach the huge steel warehouse and the four-wheeler jerks to a halt. John jumps out of the vehicle and bounds up the steps. I follow close behind, and we enter a large room. The room is filled, almost to the ceiling, with pallets layered with one hundred and fifty pound beige colored bags. I smell fresh grass hay in the air, but John says it’s the special feed manufactured to his specifications for the giraffes.
He jogs up another flight of stairs at the back of the room. I’m right behind him, and we walk out onto a fifteen-foot high platform. The platform has been built high, so visitors can stand on the platform and interact with the adult giraffes at head-level, instead of knee-level, which is what would happen if a visitor stood on the ground. Karson, the baby giraffe has just entered the hall and is walking toward us. The ceilings in the spacious hall are at least nineteen feet tall, so the giraffes can come inside for shelter during winter. John points out the surveillance cameras attached to the walls and tells me, he can “travel throughout the world and look in and see what’s happening with the giraffes at any time.”
Karson glides over to us as we stand looking down on him from the platform. He’s only fourteen feet tall; his eyes are enormous, dark pools. Each eye is rimmed with long black eyelashes. What an exotic beauty! Karson is almost close enough for me to stroke his downy nose. John pulls out a tan monkey biscuit, used in zoos as treats, and he offers it to Karson.
John says, “Watch the tongue.”
I am mesmerized as Karson’s eighteen inch black tongue slides out of his beak-shaped mouth and coils around the monkey biscuit. Karson doesn’t simply take the biscuit he wraps his tongue around the treat like a spider wrapping its prey in gossamer.
John says, “I thought some of the other giraffes might follow Karson in, but since they haven’t let’s go outside, and I’ll show you the adults.”
Another stairwell leads down to the floor of the giraffe hall. I follow John and once we reach the dirt floor Karson follows behind me, and the three of us enter the giraffe yard. We are standing roughly forty feet from the hall entrance. John continues to feed Karson monkey biscuits from the container, as he points out each giraffe and tells me its name and a little bit of the giraffe’s story.
Although Karson is over twice the height I am; the adults seem farm removed like skyscrapers. A head eighteen feet in the air is a long distance, if one wants to try and talk to a giraffe. I can see the need for the platform in the giraffe hall. Though the adults seem quiet, slow, and gentle, I get a big surprise. I didn’t see her coming, but Karson’s mother has approached us from behind. A dinosaur of the African savannahs I look up to see her snake like neck and her rectangular head floating above us. John is alarmed and he is already moving back toward the giraffe hall.
He says, “Move, now! Watch the baby, watch the mother, watch in front and watch behind.” I’m wary too, because John’s mood has changed, and he’s tense.
With their long neck and long legs and the body perched in between, the giraffe’s body is so gangly and out of proportion to me, I wonder how the mother will hurt us. The spindly legs don’t seem capable of delivering a maiming kick like a mule can. And the narrow mouth hovering high above doesn’t frighten me. John says, “She may still be protective of Karson, and the workers say she’s been acting weird lately.” John relaxes as we reach the hall and, one more time, he rushes up another flight of stairs. I learn later a giraffe can deliver a powerful and deadly kick. Plus they can run thirty miles per hour, if they need too. This reminds me of our previous home in Southeast Alaska. A black bear ambling through the dense rainforest moves deceptively slow. Yet, if it decides to charge, the bear can be upon you within seconds.
As John and I get back into the four-wheeler he tells me Karson has been sold, and “soon he’ll be going to Texas.” John will be traveling with Karson by train or UPS cargo plane. I ask John “What are the people like who buy giraffes and your other animals? They must have money. Are they interested in the animals, or do they want unusual looking animals to roam their estates?” John assures me the animals are well taken care of and “loved.” Still, for me, the question hangs. I’m not sure I understand how love is measured when it comes to human relationships with giraffes and other animals of Africa when these animals are kept as pets.
Again the cold wind is biting into my ear canals, as we whizz toward the donkey paddock. John opens the dark wooden gate, and we walk into a corral where ten small donkeys are picking up strands of grass hay from a pile at their feet. These are miniature donkeys, originating from the Mediterranean islands of Sicily and Sardinia, and in the corral next to them is a group of miniature mules.
John points to a donkey, and he says, “my family was Catholic, and we didn’t use any cuss words. When I was a kid, It was always so much fun to say “ass” for donkey. That’s the only time I ever got to cuss.”
I smile and say, “Can I go over and spend some time with them; I still have a few minutes left.”
“Sure, these are the males, and the females are on the other side. You’ll have to climb the fence to see the females. Both are real gentle, go on over – they won’t hurt you.”
One of the little donkeys, a black one, has already left his feed, and he’s coming toward me. I walk to meet him. I slowly reach out my hand toward his muzzle; he doesn’t flinch, so I start petting his head in between his long ears. He moves closer to me, and I’m able to stroke his neck. The donkey is only three feet tall, so I’m able to drape my arm over his neck. He leans his furry, dusty body into me, and I relax–melt. Nothing exotic here. It’s wonderful to have the little black donkey leaning up against me. Soon all the donkeys have come over, and they are patiently standing nearby—waiting to get some attention. They remind me of the mules at home with their soft muzzles and inquisitive nature, but they are not pushy like the mules. Round bellies, shaggy coats, and extra long ears make these equines adorable. It’s the first time at Schreiner’s I have felt completely at home. Calypso the camel and Karson the giraffe have been fun to meet, but the donkeys are enchanting. I feel like staying with them all day, and then hitching up the horse trailer and taking one home. Perhaps I’ll take this black donkey or the gray donkey whose muzzle is pressed into my waist. He has a black cross draped across his gray withers in the fashion of the mythical donkey Mary rode into Bethlehem. I wonder what John will say, because I think he’s still hoping I will buy a camel. I’ll have to deal with this question later, because I need to call Sylvia in Germany. I whisper, “See you soon,” to the little black long ear, and I almost make it back to where John waits when the air moves and I hear an incredible bellow from behind. I turn and see the black donkey’s lips are peeled back, and he is hee-hawing in full form.
“John, what is he doing?”
“He’s telling you he doesn’t want you to leave.”
My smile is wide, and I feel like laughing. “I’ve never heard a sound like that in my life. I can’t believe how loud the little guy is.”
John laughs and says, “Yeah, I know, I just love these little donkeys. I’ll sell you one for five hundred dollars, if you want. Our donkeys are old and a little fat. You’d probably enjoy a young animal you can train. We have some donkey breeders in this region—look them up on the Internet.”
“Thanks John, I will do that.” As we drive back to my Jeep, I glance over at John. I’ll admit I’ve felt a little pressured to buy a camel, because John thinks a camel would be “perfect” for me, but, now, something has changed.
John seems to have realized I am sold on the donkeys. That even though Calypso is “amazing,” and Karson is “so neat,” John has seen the donkeys have captured my heart.
Author’s Note: If you would like to read Part One of the story –Riding a Camel to Reach the Donkeys click here part-one-riding-a-camel-to-reach-the-donkeys