The Giraffe

Mon May 11, 2009

We took Henry to the local zoo today. At one year of age, he seems to have no instinctive fear of snakes, large carnivores, or even baleful maras (“Patagonian cavies,” according to the plaque, which also amusingly suggested that they could run at over 65 mph for an hour. They very much had the aspect of creatures who wouldn’t hop a yard to piss on you if you were on fire, as the saying goes, but who am I to judge?)

I suppose I haven’t seen a giraffe in person since I was eight or nine years old, and I had forgotten just how improbable they are. I half-expected an automaton of Jean-Baptiste to pop out, as in Wolfe’s “House of Ancestors,” and explain incremental stretching’s effect on the germ plasm. The gracile, almost dainty, beast several times stretched its head plaintively to the shorn branches of the elms in its temple. Of all the ruminants, I can most easily imagine worshipping the giraffe. It has the half-mad mien I would associate with an early fertility cultus. I also can’t imagine how one could kick without falling over, but several lionesses have undoubtedly met a quick end this way (if WIGWAM isn’t betraying me). Livingstone, quoted in OED, informs us that seeing a giraffe means water within seven or eight miles.