Being single on my birthday this year, it was once again up to me to decide what I wanted to do. And, for some reason, whenever faced with that decision for myself, I completely shut down.
I've got all the ideas in the world for a friend's birthday... but my own? I'm apt to just stay home and stew in my own pudding.
Fortunately, a birthday that lands on a Saturday—as mine did this year—affords a few more opportunities than those that have fallen on weekdays.
And that meant I could finally do the ranch tour and monkey experience at Animal Tracks in the Santa Clarita Valley (literally down the road from Vasquez Rocks).
I invited a couple of friends to join me on the animal encounter, but after receiving two declines and having already waited until the last minute, I snapped up the single last ticket available—just for me, myself, and I.
After all, I wouldn't be alone on my birthday at Animal Tracks, what with the diaper-wearing capuchin monkeys (a female and a neutered male, who live as siblings)...
...and the spider monkey.
Of course, as is the case with goat yoga, all we animal tourists want is for these animals to jump up on us. And it'll happen, but you can't grab them because they'll think you're a predator. After all, monkeys—especially the smaller ones—end up being prey for lots of different species in the animal kingdom.
Instead, you have to ignore them and sit very still—just like a tree—because that's when you're safe to climb upon. But even then, don't bother trying to pet them. You'll send them off screaming.
The baboon is a little less agitated when it comes to human contact—but, with her, there's also a trick to making contact with her.
Instead of stroking her fur downwards as you would to pet a dog, you've got to rifle through the hairs as though you were grooming her. If she likes it enough, she'll lie down on your lap.
At Animal Tracks, it's such a hands-on experience, with most of the creatures—like a juvenile fennec fox—coming out of their enclosures to greet you, even if you can't hold them in your arms yourself.
Sometimes, you wouldn't want to (even if the skunk's scent glands have been removed).
Unlike most sanctuaries, it doesn't feel so much like a zoo, with all the cages and gates and enclosures and tiny confinements.
And for those that are kept behind bars, it's for your safety—since emus, for example, do bite and will chase you)...
...and the alligator's jaws were designed to clamp down on anything it deems as meat.
Either that, or it's for the animals' safety and comfort.
They don't force the animals to do anything they don't want to do.
And when some of them come out (like the serval or the Bengal cat), they're allowed to hang out (on a leash) until they're ready to go back in.
In fact, some of those animals seem to love the interactions with visitors.
It's just mind-blowing that you can't reach out your hand to a monkey, but you can give scratches to a kangaroo...
...an albino Burmese python...
...and a giant lizard whose skin feels like the surface of a basketball (a.k.a. the Argentine tegu).
But no matter how fuzzy some critters may look, snuggling is the last thing they want—or need. "The only reason Rosie is OK right now," our guide said, "is because she's touching me—I'm not touching her."
I can relate.
I think it's selfish to think that all your overtures—no matter how well-intentioned—would or should be welcomed by all those they're aimed at. So, I was happy to keep my distance and let those that would come to me do so.
I've got plenty of love to give, but no time to give it to something that doesn't want it.
And likewise, I've got no time to take it when I don't want it.
Photo Essay: Hollywood's Wildest Stars
Photo Essay: The Gentle Barn, Healing Hearts in A Forever Home