A blackboard sign leaned against tall golden cornstalks, fat pumpkins and a pot bursting with magenta mums. I paused at the chalk writing. Petting Paddock. The words instantly filled me with youthful glee. Then I squashed it back down inside.
“You coming?” Mike asked. My husband and I were visiting the apple orchard on a mission to pick up a bushel of our favorite sweet, crisp, Macouns. Okay, I admit–it was a mission to pick up cider donuts. But we were getting the apples, too.
I lingered at the sign. Although I never lived on a farm, I grew up in Vermont, and I’d always loved farm animals.
Anytime I ever came across a petting zoo at a local festival, county fair, or other event, I would run through the gate, scoop up a handful of feed, and follow the critters around for as long as anyone would let me.
“Do you want to go to the Petting Paddock?” Mike asked. He knows me well.
“But that’s for kids,” I sighed.
“You can go if you want.”
I wanted to. I really did. But I’d feel foolish, walking around the pen amongst toddlers, competing for fur time. “It’s okay,” I sighed.
Instead, we strolled down aisles of rosy tomatoes, pint containers of blackberries and baskets of bright green peppers, artfully spilling out onto the table. We paid for our apples (while munching warm sugary donuts just out of the fryer) and returned to the car.
Mike started to back out.
“Wait!” I called.
“I really do want to go to the petting paddock.”
Mike laughed gently and stepped on the brake. We followed the aroma of hay to a barn with a large enclosure. I purchased a paper cup of animal feed. Mike leaned on a post outside the fence while I passed through the gate, following a freckle-faced boy and a girl in pigtails.
I walked up to a baby goat and threw my arms around his neck. I fed a donkey and a sheep, held a baby duck and a downy soft bunny.
Trustingly, the animals took food from my open palm and allowed me to cuddle them close. I totally forgot my inhibitions about being too old for the petting paddock as I traipsed around with the kiddie brigade.
At last I was ready to go, and we returned to the car. I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face. To think, I’d almost missed out. The softness of the fur and feathers and wool remained on my hands.
We can’t fully interact with animals just by watching–sometimes we have to touch, to feel, to make a connection that goes deeper. A chance to connect with animals isn’t only for the young. It’s out there for all of us. We just have to open the gate.