I started working at Conner Prairie Interactive History Park this spring. Having been born and raised on a farm, knowledgeable about spinning and weaving, and being passionate about living history it seemed the perfect fit for me. I thought it might allow me an opportunity to fulfill my desire to preserve a little of our farming heritage that is rapidly disappearing from today’s society by teaching others.
I also thought it would be a good learning experience for me; Conner Prairie is home to many rare breeds that I would not otherwise have the opportunity to work with, as I can’t exactly just walk out and pick up a pair of oxen or working steers at my local farm auction. Even if I could, I wouldn’t know how to work them. I used that excuse to easily justify my one hour commute to and from work.
The Animal Encounters barn is set up as a nursery of sorts where guests can interact with baby animals and their mothers up close and personal. It is our job as animal specialists to help facilitate that encounter and provide the guests with knowledge about the animals and their different breeds. Our goal is always to make a meaningful connection with our guests, that’s why most of us work there, we love to watch what we call the “ah-ha” moments. However, on the really busy school field-trip days, it is sometimes difficult as the human kids are in and out of the building so quickly it is hard to have much of a conversation. We figure if we get a few sentences out while they are petting and walking at the same time, they are at least learning something. We estimate we talk to about eight kids a minute.
It was on one of those days last week that I was standing next to our Shorthorn heifer calf when a developmentally disabled young man calmly approached me. He knelt with me next to her as I explained that she was a calf. While all the chaos continued to swirl around us, he slowly outstretched the most gentle hands I’ve ever witnessed. He cupped her face, drawing his cheek to her forehead, as he did so he softly whispered, “I love you calf.”
I wept, because I immediately realized that I had just witnessed the purest form of love known to man.
He couldn’t have touched my heart any more if he had reached his hand right inside my chest. It was beautiful. It was powerful. It was beyond words.
As you can imagine, since Conner Prairie is a non-profit organization, the salary for this position isn’t exactly stellar. I joke that with the price of gasoline this summer, I’m hovering somewhere above breaking even. After an experience like that though, it became clear that I’ll have to work there until a ripe old age to repay them for allowing me the opportunity to do this job.