A Tall Story
The TALE: Tehachapi Art, Literature and Entertainment
June 10, 2023
Lions and tigers and bears, plus magnificent elephants, giraffes, monkeys and the wonders of the sea are within range of day trips to most Californians. In San Diego you find both the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Wildlife Park ... plus SeaWorld. The Los Angeles Zoo provides good views of your favorite wild animals, reptiles and birds. Fresno has the Chaffee Zoo and is worth the trip as it even has a few dinosaurs in the mix. The Santa Barbara Zoo cannot be beat for its location. One can see a variety of animals plus an expansive ocean view while visiting giraffes and meerkats. They also share a flamboyance of flamingos.
Closer to home we have CALM in Bakersfield that shelters and heals injured animals and birds, and various animal venues in our hometown. Along with regular farm animals, you might spot an ostrich or two, and I hear Windswept Ranch has camels. People are drawn to animals. Both big and small; exotic and of the farm variety; in big zoos and smaller petting zoos. It's been that way for a long time. But there was a time when zoos did not have giraffes.
Giraffes are native to the African continent and today most giraffes are found in Namibia or South Africa. They enjoy moving through grasslands, grazing on leaves, shoots, buds and fruits. They eat leaves on the highest branches, letting the sun reach the ground where food for other animals can grow. Nature is like that, one species helping another.
In 1938, a true story revolved around a big ship, a hurricane, two giraffes and a world war looming in Europe. "West with Giraffes" by Lynda Rutledge relates the adventure of bringing the first two giraffes to the San Diego Zoo. Traveling the Atlantic Ocean from Africa, they were then hauled in crates on a truck bed across southern routes from New York to California.
It was not easy to move animals with such long legs and necks. Keeping them healthy was a daily challenge but zoo director Belle Benchley was determined to bring the giraffes safely to the mild climate in San Diego. That is where this true story ended, notwithstanding much drama along the way.
Rutledge embellished her novel with hearty characters. Seventeen year old Woodrow "Woody" Wilson Nickels, devastated by the carnage left by Dust Bowl storms, hitched rides on the rails to New York City only to barely survive the terrible hurricane of 1938. Old man Riley Jones mapped out the route and checked every bridge and tunnel east to west to be sure the tall giraffes could safely pass through. Red (Augusta), an aspiring young photographer, follows them across the miles taking photos while hiding a difficult personal story of her own. Jones with a gnarled hand can only give directions but not drive the truck. When the first driver goes on the run, Woody takes over the hazardous job.
The giraffes were affectionately called Wild Girl and Wild Boy and "the darlings" on the road. As often as possible, the truck was parked under groves of leafy trees for the two giraffes to stretch their necks high to nibble leaves. They also ate bags of apples and big round onions, which were often used to lure them away from dangerous situations,
Major and minor newspapers across the country printed stories of the giraffes and their guardians Riley and Woody. Transporting the giraffes, driving through numerous towns, they were greeted with great enthusiasm by both children and adults. Their appearance and ongoing adventure was relished by a country whose worries about war, Hitler, dust bowl tragedies and a lingering Great Depression needed a lift.
Riley tells Woody as they start out, "You need to see a giraffe, you just don't know why yet... Animals know secrets to life... Animals are complete all on their own, living by a voice we don't get to hear, having a knowing from beyond our paltry ken. And giraffes seem to know something more... You should be asking them about those secrets while you got the chance."
What profound wisdom does Woody find? Can we as well, standing before the magnificence of tall and majestic giraffes, gazing deep within their eyes? It's worth a try!
Good Books. Good reading.
*Midge Lyn'dee is a fictional character used for the purpose of entertainment though the reviews are real and sincere.