Yes, it was less than fifteen degrees outside. Yes, we knew that meant it was going to be bitter cold. It didn't matter to us. Audrey was turning 24 and she wanted to go to the zoo on her birthday to see the polar bears. And so it came to be that on January 23, 2003 we went to the Baltimore Zoo. We were the only ones there. We had the entire zoo to ourselves. It was fabulous.
The tigers were grumpy. The snow leopard slept all day. The praire dogs, fluffy with their winter coats, came out only after the sun had warmed the dirt at least a little. The polar bears basked in their well adapted glory. Much to my personal delight the giraffe house was heated.
The three of us waddled up the path towards the giraffe house painfully frozen. Then we saw them. Large faces gazing out of the windows at us with what I can only describe as "giraffe happiness." They had spotted us walking up to the building long before we noticed them. As we entered the building we were hit by a wave of hot, humid air. We all let out a grunt of thawing satisfaction as we looked at the educational write ups on the walls. I looked up and saw two giant brown eyes looking down at me from between the slats of the covered entry way. I began to realise that the giraffes were just as happy to see us as we were to see them. No one comes to visit them during the winter.
We walked around the corner and into the center of the exhibit house to see several giraffes all focusing their attention on us. Their faces inches from the glass exhibit windows waiting eagerly for us to come closer. I felt overwhelmed by curiosity and put my hand against the glass. A thick black tongue licked the window on the other side. We all laughed and watched in amazement. Then the long neck of the animal raised into the air and disappeared for a moment before stretching over top of the exhibit wall to look down at us. Twisting his head from side to side as if looking for the best angle to view us from. They were beautiful and seemed so intelligent and graceful. We talked to them, played peek-a-boo, and laughed while we sucked up the African warmth needed for the giraffes to survive the winter.
Then it was time to head on our way to the next exhibit. I suppose in a way I wanted to say goodbye. I walked up to the wall standing on my tippy-toes and stretched up a hand to the giraffe looking down at me. He hesitated for a moment, then stretched his neck out as far as he could towards me. His tongue trying to reach me. Seperated by three inches I giggled with delight. Then I was damn near drooled on. As we exited into the cold in search of penguins we all turned around and waved goodbye to the giraffe faces looking out at us. It was a little sad how happy they seemed to be to get visitors.
Going to the zoo in the middle of January turned out to be the best birthday idea yet. We all can't wait to go back. Something tells me it will be before spring gets here.