Each person in my family is famous (among ourselves) for some characteristic that sets them apart from the rest of us. For instance, Hannah is famous for being able to oversleep her alarm, sometimes by several hours. Tom is famous for breaking into endless streams of spontaneous haiku. I’m famous for my hair. And Jules is famous for her special way with animals. Oversleeping is boring, haiku is painful, and I’ve already talked about my hair, so today I’m going to tell you about another in a long line of animal encounters with Jules.
Last Sunday was brilliantly sunny and warm—a remarkable event in the Vancouver area. I had a free afternoon and was looking for entertainment, so I asked Jules if she wanted to go to the zoo. She accepted.
You know how you go to the zoo, and the animals are always hidden in the foliage or lying flat out, looking dead? Not so for Jules. The first time I took her to the zoo (she was two years old), it was like the animals’ Second Coming The bald eagles flapped their wings and shrieked at the sky. The monkeys launched themselves from branch to branch, calling out and throwing things at each other. The snow leopards prowled restlessly along the chain link fence. The otters gamboled along the glass walls of their enclosure, paralleling our progress as we passed by, and stopping to look at us when we stopped to look at them.
At the time, I attributed all this animal activity to the weather. A storm had just blown through, and the sun had broken through the last sprinkling of rain. But now I know better. The animals were excited because Jules was there.
The last time we went to the zoo, a little over a year ago, the cheetah fell in love with Jules. It followed her as she walked along its enclosure. When she stopped, it rubbed against the chain link, purring loudly. Yes, purring. I didn’t even know cheetahs could purr. We stayed by its enclosure for ten minutes or more, moving up and down the fence, while the cheetah played and ran circles, always returning to the spot closest to Jules.
Jules’ animal encounters aren’t always so positive. There was the time, when she was five, that she captured a bee with her bare hands. After all the shrieking and crying was over, her hiccupping, wounded response was, “B-but I wasn’t going to hurt it!”
And then there was the time she tried to pet the gyrfalcon. The scar has mostly healed.
But most of the time, Jules’ animal encounters are wonderful. Magical, even. So it was with much anticipation that we headed to the zoo.
The visit started a bit dull, at least by Jules’ standards. The lions and the lynx were hiding, though we did see the caracal, which had remained invisible in previous trips. Jules thought the collared peccaries were cute and wanted to hug them, but they held their distance. We did finally see the ever-elusive bull moose. (As big as they are, I had never managed to see one at a zoo. I think they hide behind trees.)
But the fun really started when we got to the guanacos. Unlike the housing for the more ferocious critters, the guanaco enclosure is a single low fence, like you’d find caging someone’s back yard. Zoo guests can easily reach an arm into guanaco territory. Guanacos are like small llamas, one of Jules’ favorite animals. She thought this more diminutive version was cute and fuzzy. She wanted some one-on-one time, so she offered a snack of random weeds to one of them. It approached, undoubtedly hoping for something delicious. Apparently those particular weeds weren’t on the diet plan, though. It sniffed at them, dodged a pat from Jules’ outstretched hand, and wandered off, emitting a ginormous sneeze. Good one, Jules, offering the camelid version of ragweed to the beastie. Still, there were other animals to see….
The lemurs were huddled en mass, so you could hardly tell where one started and another began. The squirrel monkeys sprang around their cage like, uh, well, like squirrels. And so our zoo visit continued, the animals performing for Jules, but nothing as extraordinary as purring cheetahs.
Eventually we looped back and found ourselves next to the guanaco pen, again. Jules approached the fence for another try at making friends. This time, one of them (the same one?) came right up to her without any enticing. She held very still, not wanting to startle it away again. It eased closer, lifting its nose toward her face, nostrils flaring and ears back, like a cautious dog sniffing at a stranger.
As the guanaco stretched its neck as if to give a friendly nuzzle, I mused about guanacos, how they are so similar to llamas, and isn’t it strange that llamas and camels are so closely related even though they come from completely different continents? You can see the similarities in the face and feet…I wonder what other similarities they might have. Say, I thought suddenly, aren’t camels known for, well, don’t—
“Ppphhhhhttttttttt!!” said the guanaco.
“Oh, argh, yuck!” shrieked Jules as she doubled over, clawing at a sudden, sticky mess on her face. “Blech! Gross! #@*!!*# guanaco!”
I reacted the best, most caring way I could under such circumstances. I burst out laughing. (There goes my mother-of-the-year award—again.)
Squinch faced, Jules whipped off her sweater and scrubbed at her eyes. “#@*!!*# guanaco,” she repeated. “I hate guanacos. Guanacos are bad.”
Did I mention that guanaco loogies stink?
We headed to the car, our visit cut short by another animal encounter. I couldn’t help feeling that a lesson could be learned from all of this. That, somehow, the incident could be molded into some metaphor about life. The best I could do is this: DON’T EVER GO NOSE TO NOSE WITH A GUANACO.
By the way, here is what the zoo sign had to say about guanacos:
The Guanaco is very close in appearance to what are thought to be its domestic descendants, the Llamas and Alpacas. Guanacos live in Peru and parts of Chile and Argentina where they can be found all the way from sea level to elevations of 4,000 feet where their woolly coats help keep them warm. They are herbivorous, feeding mostly on grasses and small plants in the open lands they inhabit.
Do you see anything here like: WARNING–GUANACOS SPIT?
Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about guanacos:
The article does mention the spitting, but is a bit nonspecific. For example, it doesn’t mention that “spit” is not the thimbleful of moisture that most people can muster. Picture a garden hose plugged by your thumb. Now, move your thumb to allow a high-powered, narrow spray. Imagine the hose is filled with pungent, viscous goo riddled with partially masticated grass. And now put your face in the line of fire, about 6 inches from ground zero.
Yeah, it was like that.