Monday, February 1, 2010

encounter with a giraffe

Nearly every morning I take a long walk. It's cooler than in the afternoon, the animals are usually close to the road awaiting their food, and I need to walk off all the good food they feed me (more on that another day).

Often I go by the lions' enclosures and have a chat with Elsa, the oldest female. She's a good listener and, even though she yawns frequently (what a sight!), I don't think I bore her too much.

Yesterday I didn't make it that far because as I passed one of the guest houses (Baloo), I saw Klippie, our friendly 2-year-old giraffe. (Her name means "stone" in Afrikaans, referring to the shape of the marks on her body.) She's often out where I can greet her, but this time she was sitting down, so she was about 5 feet more accessible.

I think the most dangerous part of a giraffe is her legs--which she can kick out if she is defending herself. She could also easily trample someone without really trying to or even noticing. But this time those legs were tucked under her nicely, giving me full and safe access to her head and neck.

I walked through the grass to reach her, calling her name to alert her that I was coming. She bowed her head and let me start scratching her nose, jaw, and neck. She bobbed her head a little and our eyes (one of hers, two of mine) came within an inch of each other. Hers are brown and huge and about the size of one of those big gumballs we all bought as kids. And her eyelashes are at least an inch long.

Then she did something wonderful: she put her whole head across my shoulder and rested it on me. And then she let out this sigh--kind of like a horse but more from her lungs than her nostrils. And she closed her eyes.

I spent the next 20 minutes rubbing her neck, her hair-covered horns, her jaw, under her chin, and her soft mouth. It was an encounter that left an immense mark on me. She completely trusted me and gave herself over to a good massage.

Of course I couldn't have taken a picture even if I had my camera with me. Her head was pretty heavy and had me rooted. So I just closed my eyes and tried to memorize every part of the experience so I could recreate it in my memory whenever I want. I'll include instead a short clip I took of her earlier when she was scratching her back and then gazing into the camera. It's these moments that make me fall in love with Harnas all over again.


  1. Tell me, Barbara. How do you go back to teaching English composition to bored 19-year-olds after this?

  2. Good question. I can relate to that.. when I return home after my extended visits in Borneo.. everything here seems so trivial.. I usually become a hermit for the first few weeks back cause I don't feel like participating in the normal routine.