Some time ago, I wrote about seeing a group of camels grazing in a field in rural central Pennsylvania. I was quite puzzled, to say the least, and despite searching Google for a couple of days, I was never able to come up with a definitive answer.
Since then, I’ve seen other most-unexpected creatures gracing the sides of roads from Pennsylvania to Florida. Some are wild, some domesticated, but the sight is always somewhat jarring. I’ve seen alligators in Florida, wild boar in Georgia, and most recently, a zebra and a zonkey in Maryland. True stories, every one.
Back to the beginning. A few years ago, driving home from an amusement park in central Pennsylvania, I was daydreaming my way home. Suddenly, Husband called out “Did you see those camels?” Now, I know he has some vision problems, but he’s still ok to drive during the day and it was only around five o’clock. He was stone-cold sober, and he’s not the kind of guy who has wild flights of fancy that would explain why he would say something so crazy. I was, to say the least, a bit skeptical. I was so incredulous that he turned the car around and backtracked to where I could, indeed, plainly see a group of camels grazing in a field. They were just hanging out on the farm, the way cows do. I couldn’t wait to get home so I could search the internet to find out just why there would be camels in Pennsylvania. But my search was in vain, nothing informative came up. Husband and I bandied about some theories—they had been retired from a circus, or rescued from neglect, or maybe were being domesticated for milk. I liked that last one the best. I couldn’t bear the thought that they had possibly been mistreated. We live in a rural area where there is a lot of emphasis on locally sourced meat, produce, and dairy products, so I convinced myself they were milking camels. I went on about my life, although every once in a while I still wondered.
Thanks to a newspaper article by Cindy Stauffer of the Williamsport Sun-Gazette a few months ago, I finally know why there are camels in Pennsylvania. I was so happy to learn that the camels are, indeed, being used for milk and other dairy products. According to Ms Stauffer’s article, a growing number of farmers across the country, including Pennsylvania, are using camel’s milk for drinking and making yogurt, kefir, and soap. Mystery solved.
This year, I’ve seen several animals along the interstate that I never would have expected. It’s so common to see deer that they don’t often register in my mind. And the remains of road kill of raccoons, opossums, and the occasional cat are as common as the other cars on the road. But every once in a while, there is something that jumps out at me, figuratively speaking, thank heaven.
Most recently, I saw a zebra and what I now know is a zonkey on a farm along route 15 in Maryland. I did a double-take when I first spied the zebra, and then saw another animal that while looking very much like a zebra, was slightly different. It was light brown where the white should be and the stripes weren’t quite as dark. That was a puzzler at first. Surely they’re not using zebra milk these days, but who knows. A short time later up the road, I passed Catocin Wildlife Preserve and Zoo, so I assumed that maybe some of the animals that aren’t ready for life at the park were being cared for on the farm. An internet search proved that my assumption was wrong. According to an article in The Catocin Banner, the zebra and her offspring with a donkey are the domesticated companions of a family in Thurston, Maryland.
Less jarring but still somewhat exotic were the miles and miles of alligators I saw driving on either route 41 or I-75 in Florida. Well, Husband was actually doing the driving, the gators were just lying about and occasionally slithering back into the swamp. At first I did a double-take, but then I saw the signs along the way saying that we were driving through the Everglades, so it seemed natural that there would be gators. Natural, maybe, but still a unique experience for me. At least that was one sighting I had an immediate answer for; no need to wonder until I could search up an answer.
Perhaps the oddest group of critters on the side of the road was the trio of wild boars I sighted driving along I-95 in Georgia last March. Next to the shoulder of the road was a ditch, then some grass, then a chain-link-type of fence. Three large, dark grey, pig-looking creatures were standing in the grass on the outside of the fence. All that separated them from the road were the ditch and the shoulder. It took me just a split second to realize what they were. I was glad I was in a car and not walking for some reason. They were very scary-looking. To paraphrase Bill Murray’s character in the Ghostbusters movie, they were ugly little spuds.
It seems I don’t need to visit a zoo to see exotic animals. All I have to do is drive along the highways and byways of this great country to catch sight of all sorts of creatures. No matter how routine or mundane my trips are, I’m guaranteed to see something to break up the monotony of long-distance driving. Hmm, I wonder what’s next…