I have a bucket list. Right now, it’s probably eight pages long. That’s because life interferes and all the things that we mean to do or want to do get pushed to the end of the priority list. This year, in particular, real life took over my schedule, leaving very little time for a bucket. Frankly, there wasn’t even room for a Dixie cup. Sometime in March, a post to my Facebook news feed showed a picture of a giraffe named April. I barely gave her a glance, but she continued to haunt my feed for several days and finally, I read her story. She lived at Animal Adventure Park in Harpursville, New York, and it seems she was knocked up. Yup, pregnant. Oliver, a much younger giraffe, who shared a barn with April, was guilty of a little giraffe canoodling and the result was he left her with child. Technically, he left her with calf as baby giraffes are called calves.
Jordan Patch, the owner of the park, ingeniously decided to live stream April and Oliver while they waited for their calf to be born. April got fatter and fatter as she walked her stall in circles and we waited and waited and waited some more. Word traveled fast and viewers by the hundreds of thousands turned on their computers to see if “today was the day.” Well, like many mothers, April was going to have her baby when she was good and ready, and not a moment before. As the weeks passed, I found myself inexplicably besotted with both of them. Then, on Saturday morning, April 15th, I casually turned on my computer and there, on the live stream, were a pair of hooves poking out of April!! I screamed, I cried (I literally cried), as for the next hour I watched her baby boy, later named Tajiri, make his way into the world and take his first tenuous steps. I held my breath as he stood for a few seconds and promptly face planted into the floor. I wanted to reach through the computer screen and steady his little body, and shield him from everything wrong with the world.
It was at that moment that I decided I would go see MY giraffe family. My partner in crime would be my sister and this would be our pioneer adventure, just the two of us. Thankfully, she agreed and we filled the car with luggage, coolers and selfie sticks and off we went. We checked into a nearby hotel and made plans to be at the park before it opened the next day. I wanted a good parking spot and to be one of the first inside so that I could really spend quality time with MY giraffe family. While we waited, a huge silver pickup truck roared into the lot and came to a halt behind our car. As I turned my head, out of the truck jumped Jordan Patch. I was star struck! Here was the man I had watched for months on the computer, in the flesh! So I did what any normal person would do and I screamed to my sister “THERE’S JORDAN!!” while simultaneously diving under the dashboard. I have no idea why I felt the need to hide; maybe I thought the scream was a little stalkerish?? Well, after driving more than five hours to see MY giraffe family, I was not leaving without a selfie with Jordan. “Come on.” I grabbed my sister’s hand and silently told myself there was no time for decorum or dignity. It was Jordan, after all! I’m happy to report that he couldn’t have been more gracious and I got my picture.
We entered the park, purchased a bright orange plastic cup filled with feed pellets and headed straight for the giraffe barn. Oh, wait a minute, who were these cute, furry things in front of us as began our walk? Turns out they were Gobi and Kara, Bactrian camels (meaning two humps) and they wanted our pellets. They even said so or at least that’s what I was guessing as they snorted and snuffled at us. We obliged their demands, because they were irresistible, and then, after a few handfuls of pellets, we went on our way. The giraffe barn is huge and has two pens; one for April and Tajiri and one for Oliver. We peeked inside and came face to face with Oliver. First order of business, we purchased handfuls of carrots to feed him. As I lifted a carrot stalk high into the air, Oliver leaned over the pen and took it right from my hand. I was inches from his face and I can tell you this with certainty; giraffes have the most beautiful, mile long eyelashes that frame the most exquisitely, gorgeous eyes and their coats are softer than velvet.
After bonding with Oliver and promising to exchange Christmas cards this year, we headed outside to see April and her baby. There is a viewing deck where we purchased more carrots and standing right at the deck fence was the star of the show. April ate carrots from our hands and I shared with her my best parenting tips. Tajiri, I learned, was sometimes interactive and sometimes kept to himself, depending on his mood. On this day, he followed his mom and gobbled up the carrot sticks. If you look at the picture provided, you can tell I was smitten. Just call me the giraffe whisperer. I want to note that when we were there, Tajiri measured 8’6” and weighed 350pounds.
When we finally pulled ourselves away from the giraffe barn, we spent the next three hours bonding with all the other animals. I caught my breath when we got to the Sicilian donkeys. There, before us, was a two day old baby girl, who looked like a fuzzy steel wool pad balanced precariously on four legs the width of a clothespin. I wondered, briefly, if anyone would notice if I hopped the fence and tucked her in my purse. Her mother was having none of it, as I watched her give the stink eye to the rest of the herd when they got too close. I cut my losses and moved on.
Black bears, goats, wolves, zebras, monkeys, deer…..the list goes on and on. It was the most enjoyable day! My sister wants me to be sure to tell you that water buffalo get a bum rap. The park has two, and they stood shoulder to shoulder at the fence, big soulful eyes staring at anyone who was willing to stop, looking for a little love. The problem was, they really should be called mud buffaloes because they live in water and dirt. So, while she extended her hand filled with pellets, she was slimed for her efforts, her palm and wrist coated in mud.
We left, after purchasing t-shirts and raving to the staff, with a profound sense of happiness and fulfillment. On the ride home, we relived every interaction. While I have nothing but wonderful things to say about Animal Adventure Park, this was really about checking something off my bucket list. It made me realize a couple of things. Don’t wait; life goes by really quickly and complications hide around every corner. No one has a crystal ball. Most importantly, it’s about shared experiences and for my sister and I, for reasons that are dear to our hearts, it was everything.