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Above the Trees

By , Holden, MA
I was so high. As we arose from the pack and made our way towards the track there was nothing I could do but hold on and hope to maintain a steady balance throughout the ride. It was past the point where screaming and begging not to go on would make any difference; my life was no longer in my hands for the next two and a half minutes whether I liked it or not. Instead, it lied on the slouched back of the giraffe.

It was St. Patrick’s Day. I remember my teacher Ms. Lipka gave my entire kindergarten class our own little plastic green fedora hats that read, “Lucky the Leprechaun” in large writing across the front. I attempted to explain to Ms. Lipka that I was neither Irish nor Protestant, therefore had no desire to war a leprechaun themed fedora. However, the message must have not been communicated clearly enough as she simply gave me a dum-dum and reinforced the chinstrap on the hat. Her mind was clearly else ware. As she hurriedly reinforced a few more kids’ hats she requested that everybody return to their assigned seating. Once all chaos was neutralized she addressed us.

“What is your favorite animal?” she asked us. The class then bursted out in interruption, as kindergarteners sometimes do, naming every abstract zoo animal known to mankind. However, I remained silent. I seemed to be one of the only kids who did not have a favorite zoo animal. Ms. Lipka proceeded to tell us that in the following month we would be embarking on a field trip to the Roger Williams Zoo in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. At the zoo we would then be split up into groups based on which of three animals we had chosen to ride. The options were horseback, elephant, or giraffe. I, being somewhat of a kindergarten scaredy cat, had no desire to hop aboard any of these beasts. It was quite a dilemma. A month passed quickly, and it was time to face my demons.

The bus ride to the zoo was a very anxious and quiet one. It became clear to me then that perhaps I was not the only one who had second thoughts about the field trip. I began to jumble the pros and cons of each animal if I were to ride them. I had very little desire to ride horseback. I had done so once before at a friend’s birthday party and the horse was very quick to launch me off his backside. An elephant seemed out of the question. I could not picture myself remaining calm throughout a ride on top of an animal that could break me in half with its tusk. That left only one option, the giraffe.

As signs for the zoo began to approach on the highway, I knew we must have been getting closer. Sitting in silence on the bus, you notice a lot of things about the scenery that you would not normally. As the large, “Roger Williams Zoo,” sign approached off in the distance there was one particular thing that grabbed my attention. It was the trees. All throughout Pawtucket we had not seen a single group of trees. It was all cement, sidewalk, and store. But as we approached the zoo the trees grew taller and thicker like one of those flipbook cartoons. Why would this be? I didn’t know for sure why the trees were there but at the time it seemed really obvious to me. The trees were there as an allusion for the animals. It was the cut off point between everything that they think they know, and everything we do know. Perhaps the trees were there so that the animals may still believe they are in their natural habitat. Perhaps they were simply there for decoration. I didn’t know, but I did know that these trees gave me a very uneased feeling. We evacuated the bus and made our way towards the zoo entrance.

It was time. All the anticipation; all the anxiety; was for this moment. I saw Ms. Lipka standing over by the giraffe group and I approached her
“Do we have to ride one?” I said. She gave me a very confused expression and then responded to me by saying,
“No David, but if you choose not to you will be the only one to do so” and she quickly moved on to the next worried child. I waited very anxiously to enter the zoo and get the ride over with. I figured maybe once I actually saw the giraffe it would ease a lot of my worries. I was wrong. The giraffe was massive. I had never seen a living creature like it. Its neck must have rose 20 feet from its massive torso. I had a very difficult time picturing what a real giraffe would look like in person, but now it had become very clear. What stood out to me was the general demeanor of the giraffe. He was content. I expected that the giraffe would be fighting with all its strength to protect its back from being sat on by strange people. But it just sat there, chewing some hay and looking from side to side every now and then. How could it be so calm? I know that if someone was trying to ride on my back and tie collars around my neck I would be anything but calm. A few rides came and went and before I knew it was my turn to ride the giraffe.

I must have stood at its rear for a good 2 minutes just examining the giraffe from head to toe. It was truly a remarkable creature. Its brown misshapen spots covered his body, with one spot fitting perfectly around its left eye. Its snout must have been a foot long at least. This seemed logical since giraffes need their long snouts to reach their desired fruits and leaves in trees. Its hooves were immense. Each was probably about one and a half times the circumference of my head, with a slight tear in the middle of the hoof that acted like a toe. I climbed up on top of the harness on his back with the help of a few zoo workers and all the anticipation was thrown out the window. I was now one with nature.
The giraffe arose from its crouching position and sprang up on its feet. I let out somewhat of a shriek, as I was really not prepared for the actual height the giraffe ascends to. I was terrified. I looked back to see how far we had gone and noticed we had not even began to walk. The giraffe made its way towards the track the rides go on and I shut my eyes in fear. After a minute or so of cringing in fear a sense of ease came over myself. I had not fallen off yet, the giraffe was calm, so I should be too. I opened my eyes and what I saw I will never forget. I saw the trees. The same trees which were bugging me on the ride to the zoo. I thought the trees were there to give the animals a sense of the wild. But no, what good could that do if these giraffes could so easily see beyond these trees into what their world really is, a lie. Day after day these animals are treated as if they are our slaves. We ride them, point at them, make observations, even mock some of them. What gives us the right to do this? How would we feel if animals used us for their amusement? My mind was full of confusion.

We approached the end of the ride and I was amazed at how quickly it happened. In a matter of mere minutes my opinion about animals changed 180 degrees. The animals are not the ones doing the harm. It is the humans. In a world where we are brought up to believe that all of “God’s” creatures are equals, we contradict that on a constant basis. No human believes it is equal to the animal, which is funny since all humans are in fact animals too. We try to sugar coat these thoughts by telling ourselves we are taking good care of them and treating the animals with respect, but it’s only a lie. To see the truth all you have to do is look above the trees.





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