We went to Busch Gardens a few weeks before the COVID-19 quarantine. It was a sunny day, but cold and windy. Even I, with my superheated bloodstream and hyper-insulated body type, sported long pants, socks, and a puffy quilted jacket. I was very comfortable, although I did draw the line at flying through the air in an open sky ride gondola.
We went to see the sloths when we first got to the park. In the best of circumstances, a sloth is not exactly what you would call a perky animal. Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE sloths. They are sweet, gentle, cuddly, kind, warm, and smiley. How could anyone not love sloths? They are big bundles of furry adorableness. Vivacious, however, is not a word that comes to mind.
While sloths are not exactly energetic on a normal day, the cold temperatures on the day we visited lowered their metabolisms to a near standstill. Most of them hung from tree branches by their extremities- little paws nearly touching each other on the limb. They curled the rest of their bodies tightly in against themselves. They nestled heads and tails in an unkempt meadow of body fur, obliterating them from view. The effect was that of a bucket made of fur hanging on a tree limb by a sinewy handle. Honestly, if the sign had not said there were sloths in the enclosure, I would have been hard-pressed to identify any living, breathing animal.
I was still pretty smitten with the beasts and we noticed there was an opportunity to participate in a sloth encounter, for a rather large extra fee. I thought it was way too much money, but Max thought it would be super cute to video me interacting up close and personal with a sloth. We went to the customer service counter to see about scheduling that interaction. We found out that the cost was even more than I thought and, besides, there were no spots available. The lady explained that they only allow six people to participate each day and people book their sloth appointments a year ahead of time. No sloth-cuddling for me.
We went on enjoying our day. Later, we decided to visit the sloths again before going home. The temperature was warmer, but still pretty frigid for Florida. I expected to find the sloths pretty much in the same bundled, bucketed positions they occupied when we left them earlier. I was in for a surprise. The sloths had moved about fourteen inches in the five hours since we’d first visited them. They were no longer crumpled up, recycling their own body heat. Instead, they were spread-eagled, clinging to the wire forming their enclosures. I noticed a red glow oozing from beneath their bellies. I looked harder and saw that each enclosure was equipped with an individual space heater roughly the size of a sloth abdomen. Those sloths looked like big, furry starfish stretched out over heat lamps built into the enclosure walls! Basically, our sloth friends had their own version of tanning beds. As I watched, one of the sloths turned his head and smiled at me in that slow, warm, slightly stoned-looking way that sloths have. He looked like Jeff Spicolli at a tanning salon in a San Fernando Valley strip mall.
(If you don’t understand the Jeff Spicolli reference, google Fast Times At Ridgemont High. You are missing out on an iconic figure of 1980s American pop culture.)
My time with the sloths taught me a few lessons, which I would like to share with you as a public service announcement.
You don’t have to jump up the minute someone else expects you to.
I’ve always been sensitive to other people’s needs and expectations of me. There isn’t anything wrong with that. I’m happy to help other people. It makes me feel good. I love building and nurturing close relationships with the people I love. It is relatively easy for me to maintain those relationships by behaving in a generous way with my energy, time, and money. On the other hand, sometimes I don’t really want to leap out of bed in the morning heaven-bent for leather. I would much rather curl myself into a slothy ball and keep to myself for a while. My day with the sloths taught me that there is nothing wrong with that. It also taught me that, if I honor that desire to vegetate and give myself some time, it is likely I’ll eventually unfurl and face the light of day.
Sometimes six people a day is enough.
Most people don’t understand this, but I am about as extreme an introvert as one can be. Based on every personality, disposition, and emotional preference survey I’ve taken in my life, I fall somewhere in the “hermit” zone. It isn’t that I don’t like people. Most of the strongest satisfaction I have in my life derives from people and relationships. I count it a huge blessing to have my family and friends from all walks of life all over the country. I cherish living in and nurturing those relationships. Without them, I would certainly wither. The thing is, all that relating can wear me out if I expose myself to too big a dose at one time. Before our trip to Busch Gardens, I had been feeling more tired than usual. People could look at my schedule and all the activities I was pursuing. They would not find it odd at all that I would be tired. It was not really the activity that was wearing me out, though. It is was engaging with so many people so often. I had to opt out of a few events just to give my introversion a bit of a rest. I felt a little embarrassed about missing these events and trying to explain my absence without hurting anyone’s feelings. I really did want to attend, and I really did want to spend time with these people. After my day with the sloths, I realized there is nothing wrong with skipping a few events and, if any explanation is required at all, the truth is perfectly fine.
Catch some rays.
I may not have my own personal heat lamp built into the wall of my house, but I have other options. When life seems cold and unfriendly, I know it is time for me to catch some rays and jump some waves. When the going gets rough, this sloth goes to the beach!
What have you learned from animals? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a slothful day!