When my shift is over and I don't have to get home immediately, I take my camera below the gate to see what I can see. I'm able to think about the hows and whys of things (mostly about the whys) and just Be, without obligation or promise.
The herd of sheep, a few goats, donkeys and a mule or two gather around a large round hay bale or just hang and ruminate. I always wonder about these guys. They travel from one end of the sanctuary to the other, sometimes in single file, sometimes in twos and threes, trotting to another round hay bale. I don't think anyone has quite figured out if there's a timetable or if it's just one sheep's whim that starts the procession. However, when they do migrate, they do so with their tails wagging behind them.
I find that I want to meld with them, to become part of the herd but I know with only two legs I am forever denied entry into their club. Within the group I find silence save for the sounds of hay being ground by ovine molars. Many pairs of eyes watch me as I stand and watch. They know all of the secrets of the pastures. They know who comes and goes. I am just passing through their world.
They disperse as soon as I walk through, watching.
I wander towards the lemurs. They are a fascinating bunch and I have to say that the animators of Madagascar really captured their mannerisms. I sing the "move it, move it" song under my breath as I watch several sit on their haunches, arms resting on knees, facing the afternoon sun, slowing closing their eyes in meditation.... so very cool.
The black and white ruffed lemur boys watch me approach and silently decide who will greet me. Inevitably one will greet and the other will sulk in the back ground. The guy pictured here is the one who did not greet me. Instead, he hunkered down on a platform and watched as I photographed the group. (click on any of the images for a really huge look).
The young mountain lions are doing well. They've calmed down considerably and now have two rooms in which to live. It took them several minutes to come out from hiding when I arrived but with some snarling from brother and crouching from sister, they realized I wasn't going to do anything but watch so they both stood up, side by side. They will soon have access to the smaller mountain lion yard beside all of the resident mountain lions and eventually will be part of the family.
This is the male african lion.
When I first arrived at the enclosure I didn't see either him or sister girl at first. I walked along the side of the enclosure and came upon a turtle. The top of her shell was covered in dried mud and dirt (from our almost year long drought) and it looked like she had hauled herself up a rocky incline from below. I picked her up and noticed the underside of her shell and the sides were a gleaming, polished mahogany color. She withdrew into her shell, compact and tight. She was light to hold and I bet she dug herself out of hibernation to find water. I left her where she was so I could visit with the lions. I knew she wouldn't go very far very fast. I knew exactly where water was for her.
I found the female african lion beside the water trough. She was looking into the brush. She gave me a cursory glance and the directed her gaze back into the brush. It took me a minute to see what she was intent on watching.
He was guarding a meal and though wasn't actively eating the meal, he wasn't going to give it up either. And she wasn't letting on (much) that she was interested. She came over to where I sat and laid down not 2 feet away. Her large hands reached out and touched the fencing. She is so much more personable than I originally thought--direct eye contact, not really threatening but seeing where my boundaries were. We were eye to eye (as much as one can be outside an enclosure, she inside, and a sturdy fence and live wire between) and when I thought our souls had connected, she opens her mouth wide and exhales... not quite a growl, nothing near a roar, but it sits me up straight and breathless.
We continue watching one another as the male got up and retired from his meal. Oh she wanted what he guarded so badly but she continued to lay in front of me.
She eventually sauntered around his cache, behind, around, and ended up beside him. She rubbed her head beneath his chin, wanting attention, and he couldn't be bothered. She laid down not far away and eyed his left overs. What a girl that one.
My afternoon taking pictures came to an end. I left with an inner peace I rarely find elsewhere. I have been allowed to see a bit into the lives of animals. No one animal was lording over another; not one was pressuring another how to believe, what to believe, how to act... there was an unspoken harmony, an acceptance, among and between breeds and species.
I figure that is why I am so drawn to working with animals. I am who I am and that's ok.
What a breath of fresh air.