A Miniature Girl and Two Anxious Reindeer

IMG_3934When I heard that two reindeer would make an appearance at Swansons, our local garden store, I knew this was an opportunity not to be missed. “Reindeer!” I told Dubsie, who looked at me blankly, owing to her never having heard the word before. “You’ll get to feed reindeer! Aren’t you excited?”

We parked in the lot and followed the stream of children and parents entering into the nursery. To the left past the thickets of Christmas trees for sale was the reindeer pen, strewn with hay. The duo of reindeer had matching red bridles, and a sign outside that said their names were Dasher and Blitzen. This morning they appeared to be neither dashing nor prancing, but rather sulking, on the extreme far end of their pen away from the children.

We arrived just in time for the orientation talk from a Swansons employee, a cheerful blonde a red beret cap, who told the children some surprising facts about reindeer, such as that their horns fall off at the end of every year. She let the kids stroke the reindeer pelt that draped her podium. It fell to her to break the bad news that there would be no feeding of the reindeer today. Dasher and Blitzen had been fed by a few too many children in the last few days, she said, and too much food had made them grumpy. And that’s why, she added, the reindeers’ poops had been prodigious and spectacular of late.

As a consolation prize, she said, today’s visitors could feed the Curley, the Christmas camel. I had been so excited at the sight of the reindeer that I hadn’t noticed the enormous beast loitering in the next manger. Our blonde master of ceremonies grabbed a loaf of bread and the children lined up to feed Curley.

I let the other kids have their go at Curley and carried Dubsie over to have a closer look at the reindeer. Just as I plonked Dubsie down on the ground, one of them broke from the huddle on the far side of the pen and cruised right by us. Dubsie shrieked and ran into my arms.

Now, to be fair, reindeer are a little strange looking. Their horns are long and baroque, bristling with sharp tips like a thorn bush, and their eyes have a wild staring quality. Dasher, or maybe it was Blitzen, cocked his head and ogled Dubsie from the far corner of his eye, with the white showing, which made him look over-caffeinated or maybe terrified, which perhaps he was, being obliged to snatch food from so many small grubby hands. Or perhaps pulling an overburdened sleigh piloted by a hollering old fat man carries a psychological toll about which carols are not written.

IMG_3919So my daughter is terrified of reindeer. Merry Christmas. Maybe she’ll do better with the camel. Camels, as it happens, make excellent feeding-zoo creatures, because they have extremely long lips that can pluck bread crust out of a child’s hand with great gentleness and dexterity.

The children had all fed their strips of bread to the camel. Now it was Dubsie’s turn. The woman handed the bread to Dubsie, who looked for a long moment at the gentle beast above her, and determined there was a wiser course of action. She politely handed the bread back to the professional camel-handler, who gave it to the camel on Dubsie’s behalf.

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