In which Newt attempts to speak with Keeper Karl
Newt had spent all last night thinking. And thinking. And, thinking. He was trying to figure out where Keeper Karl went every evening, but was having little luck.
Each morning Newt would try out a new plan. One morning he tried talking to Keeper Karl, but the kind, tall man just stared down at Newt and hooted in a clumsy, quasi-bearlike fashion.
Newt loved the times, at breakfast and again at dinner, when Keeper Karl would sit in the bear house with Newt and chat with him. Of course the chats were one-sided, as neither of them spoke the other’s language. Human was hard enough for a bear to learn to speak, but bear, especially the polar bear dialect, was all but impossible for a human to master. Keeper Karl could fairly well copy the basic vowel sounds that Newt was teaching him, but the man had absolutely no idea that the sounds were actually the start of language classes. He was just repeating what he thought were random bear noises.
Newt understood nearly everything Keeper Karl said, but he was unable to produce a sound anything like human. The closest he ever got to human was a few light grunts and a whine, which as you know means nothing really concrete in human. The only response Newt got from this was a kind smile from Keeper Karl who had absolutely not a clue that the little bear had just tried to say, “Fine weather we are having today, don’t you think?”
And so there they were – at an impasse that Newt thought might be insurmountable. Newt desperately wanted to know where Keeper Karl went each evening, and in order to do that he needed to communicate with Keeper Karl. That meant talking to each other, which was not working.
One morning when Newt had nearly given up talking with Keeper Karl about where he disappeared off to every night, the kindly zoo keeper pulled a red leather lead and collar out of his pants pocket. He said to Newt, “All right little one. How would you like to go on rounds with me today? It is wonderful weather out for a polar bear today.”
Keeper Karl was right; it was gray and cold and everything in the zoo was wonderfully soaked from the thunderstorm that had raged through the night before. Newt was elated and eagerly hopped up and down just as a small child does when going to the “big kids” playground for the first time. His world was about to get much bigger and much, much more exciting!
Keeper Karl opened Newt’s cage and fastened the collar and lead about his neck. Then Keeper Karl clucked his tongue like a chicken a few times and said, ”Off we go little one,” and Newt bounded out of the cage, out of the bear building, and out onto the path that winds its way about the zoo grounds.
The new sights and sounds, and especially the newly-accessible smells were so exciting that for the moment Newt forgot all about his plan to find out about Keeper Karl’s life. Instead his eyes feasted on the brilliant blues and greens of the peacocks parading along the path, the brownish reds of squirrels chattering in the trees, and the brilliance of Keeper Karl’s big red beard gleaming in the daylight, which Newt had never seen glow so.
“We are headed to feed the wolves first,” said Keeper Karl, picked up the bucket filled with chopped meat that he had stashed outside the bear house before going in to retrieve Newt.
They walked along the zoo path, over a gentle hill, around and down to the left past the giraffe house. As they passed the giraffes, Keeper Karl called out, “Good Morning, Constantine!” to the big daddy giraffe and threw him an apple.
“Aha,” thought Newt triumphantly, “Now I know at least one thing that giraffes eat: apples!”
Now Keeper Karl and Newt moved on, continuing on the path past a few more buildings and enclosures until he came to a beautiful large wooded enclosure. There Keeper Karl opened a small hidden pass-though to reveal a feeding tray, much like the dumbwaiters in fancy old houses (if you don’t know what they are just ask your parents about it). Then he emptied the chopped meat from the bucket he had been carrying into the tray and closed the panel to secure the pass-though. Newt watched all this with utter fascination as being a bear, and a young bear at that, he had not had occasion to see a hidden pass-through or a dumbwaiter before. He was so fascinated that he nearly forgot to look for the wolves.
As Keeper Karl led Newt around to the front of the wolf enclosure he said, “Now little one, I have to go clean up some fallen branches that fell on the path last night during the thunderstorm over there. I will leave you here to meet the wolves and will be right back.” Then he tied Newt’s red lead to a post near the front of the wolves’ enclosure and walked away humming to himself.
Newt sat down, as he was still a little bear and the walk had been a long one. He looked around the wolf enclosure and wondered where the wolves were. He had just convinced himself that they must be invisible wolves when he heard the sound of eating over near the food tray. “Ah,” he said to himself, “the wolves must be all over there eating.”
“Not all of them,” came a deep, and very near, voice.
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