TRUE STORY: Being a city kid, born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, I had few opportunities to interact with animals, domestic or wildlife. OK, the occasional teenage party. Anyway, growing up we had a greyhound briefly. She ate off the kitchen table so my father shipped her off to Florida. We did ‘have’ pigeons congregating on subway platforms. They could be very bold. Prance right up to you. I fed them cracker crumbs. There was a small zoo in Prospect Park. Went there once or twice. Remember being startled by the long, gray ‘hose-like’ thing that poked out between metal bars. AND the monster it was attached too: Tiny eyes, big floppy ears. Being four or five I called it a “phant.” Its large, concrete abode sure ‘smelled’. Not as bad as the lion and monkey ‘houses’. Couldn’t wait to leave. The only other ‘animal experience’ I remember was when Gary W. brought a small snake to school. In a shoebox with holes in the lid. I was in the 5th grade. Gary had to show it off to me. Asked me to hold it. “No!” But I did. It bit me. Not bad really. But at the time fear, tears and revulsion all came together as I dropped it. No problem for Gary who picked it up and laughed. Later he ‘showed it off’ in class. Big man! That reminds me of one other trauma: I was bitten on the nose by a yapping little brown dog when I was 8. Rabies shots followed. In the stomach. Not fun!! Except for the ice cream cone my mother bought me afterwards.

So, as you can imagine, I was not enamored with creatures of any sort. For many years. Fast forward. At thirty-nine I was living with a potter in a small Central Florida town. She ‘threw’ vases. I glazed. We decided to take a six-week course at a zoo that would enable us to become docents. We became well acquainted with ‘wild’ animals and conducted tours at the zoo. I stayed on for six years. Not only did I learn more than I had ever imagined about hundreds of species but I brought animals from the zoo to schools, libraries and nursing homes. Great fun. Was pictured in the newspaper twice. Even made a television appearance. I could go on and on about my experiences. Like the time I was holding a baby alligator by the tail. A zookeeper had brought it to me during a 96-degree day. We docents would stand behind a small wooden fence and display various animals to the public. After two hours with this very quiet twelve-inch gator, I was ready to be relieved. No zookeeper to retrieve it though. I walked through the zoo searching for him. Decided to enter the reptile house, the only public, air conditioned structure on the grounds. Zowee! The gator went bonkers! I had all to do to keep its head from chomping down on my flesh. I wore shorts so you can imagine the predicament. Quickly running outside, the dangling, dancing reptile finally relaxed. Never forget that these are ‘cold blooded’ creatures. Like my all time favorite: A docile, Eastern Indigo snake, America’s longest. I enjoyed displaying it to public. People were invited to touch it. Of course some would recoil in horror. As of course I may have done in years past.

Well, I did learn to love animals. Some more than others. Particularly memorable was a baby spider monkey, Tina. Awfully cute. I recall my fist encounter with her. Just before setting out for a grammar school my boss gave me a fluffy towel. Told me to sit in the van’s passenger seat. Moments later he placed Tina on my chest. I cannot tell you how excited I was. What an honor. This cuddling monkey holding on to me, a proxy parent for the day. I gazed at the sky and said “Thank you God.” And meant it from the depths of my being. Of course, on the way back to the zoo a dose of reality: Tina peed on me. Oh well, a small price to pay.

Since those zoo experiences wonderment of nature’s offerings has been with me daily. Birds most especially. I have breakfast with a lively cockatiel each morning. He whistles constantly. I join in. The joy I have received from opening my heart to all God’s creatures has been priceless. Hope you are enjoying them too.

NOTE: For more on Wonder read UNIQUE ABILITIES



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