I drove up 83 North en route to meet an emu, a white peacock and a miniature zemu, a South Indian cow, on a farm just over the Pennsylvania border. When I turned from a winding road onto a long rocky driveway through a cluster of woods, I bounced in my little Golf and wondered where exactly I was going and whether driving so far out was a good use of my time. Then the woods cleared and the path smoothed to a dirt road. Before me lay an expansive family farm bustling with life. I took my last swig of coffee and grabbed my camera and was quickly greeted by a german shepherd. Zoony, I learned his name later, ran to my car and almost jumped inside he was so eager to see who had pulled in.
What you'll glimpse here is a shocking run-in with the jurassic period (an emu), the surprise of finding a ginormous blue speckled emu egg (the male incubates the egg), that emu playing with his best friend, a white-tailed hand-fed deer, Vicki feeding that deer a marshmallow by mouth, a miniature Zemu who loves chocolate chip cookies, cows, spotted pasture-only horses (not for riding) and a fabulous display of white plumage from a rare white peacock. And that's not even all. So while this family does not live in Baltimore I'm making this my one exception. Oh but I'll need to go north for one more animal - Kelsey's albino donkey.
One thing I’m learning over and over again in my Unusual Pet Project is that there’s no rule to one kind of animal or group of animals. Each creature has its own rules, its own values. Fears and strengths, anxieties and playfulness, and points that tremble with danger. You can touch this python on the head; don’t ever touch another one there. This emu will peck your shoes, but any injury will only be surface level. This peacock has no beak because the others pecked it off… “because he’s white….he’s different…they don’t treat him like the others.” This cat likes being pet but needs to come to you; this dog won’t leave your side, this one could bite your arm off, this one just wants to eat carrots. The macaw sisters get cold and need hoodies. These parents let their animals roam the property; this one stays inside. This project help me build a way of understanding animals and expanding a worldview that includes not just their needs but their wholly unique experience of the world into it.
And that’s what I like about art and what I like about animals: they are open to interpretation and each piece of artwork and each animal has its own set of rules, ways to approach it, ways to understand it more deeply. The have a origina story, a language they speak ,a way it likes to be treated, a way it can play or be good company, can teach or be taught; it’s a way in, the animal kingdom….like the art kingdom…it’s a way to further explore who we think we are and what our place is…not to be above or below but to be a line…a single hair right through the middle of our vision saying look look look see see see. Understand me. See me. I’m right here and I’m yes unique and individual but more important… I’m just interesting. I’m wild. I’m weird because I’m not like you and you’re not like me. I’m a picture of you; you’re a picture of me.
Back to the farm in this shoot: After Zoony ran up to greet me, he was followed by his best friend, a little bright blue eyed boy with rosy cheeks. After him his mom (Kelsey) greeted me. Kelsey had a long pony tail as long as a horse’s tail. It was a hot morning and the little boy was running around on the farm. In the back I heard someone behind the house and it was Vicki, Kelsey’s mom, the farm owner putting finishing up with some garden work. I looked inside the gate beside me and was startled to see an emu and a deer looking at me. These two incongruous faces next to each other was enough for me to spend time studying and photographing for the afternoon to capture their relationship.
But Kelsey said, "let me show you around." And that’s how I spent the next two hours that hot early April morning - meeting an odd mix of animals by people who have always had an odd mix of animals. They used to have wolves. Kelsey grew up with wolf pups and you’ll see in a photo how they bonded with the wild animals loved and cared for on the farm. Vicki said “the price of llamas is up but I want a llama. Was $600 now and it is $1400. I could also get a camel. The Lebanon Animal Expo has those for sale. But also…” she said, turning to me. “You want a zebra? I could get you a zebra.” I reminded her that I just want to see what she has, not to get me zebras (though I was intrigued to see that of course…but not in the best interest of zebras I take it.)
To note: Vicki is the one who purchases these animals. And she is serious about taking great care of them. I saw only great care. Since she’s recently had back surgery, Kelsey helps her out with the animals and the house since she and her husband and son live within 20 minutes of her mom. But it’s important to note that everyone has their own level of diligence with their animals, and Kelsey’s family is adamant about providing a safe and nurturing place for their creatures.
When I asked Vicki why she has so many animals and continues to collect and care for them, she said “I’ve always had animals. Lots of animals. The things I saw in the next two hours would astound anyone, much less a photographer with an extreme interest in and passion for the lives of animals.
Note: "White peafowl have a genetic mutation called leucism. This causes the inability of pigment to be deposited into their feathers which results in a white appearance." (https://mymodernmet.com/white-peacock)