There is a sweet 1834 painting by Edward Hicks titled The Peaceable Kingdom showing animals of every description relaxing together, and I have a book by the same title, which is about the various animals at the Philadelphia Zoo.
In the preface to that book, a noted author wrote, “In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlines, they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth.”
Certainly, at this time of year, when peace of any kind remains elusive and violence and discord seem to rule, any peaceful destination is welcome.
Searching for that peace, we arrive at wonderful wrought iron gates decorated for Christmas and centered with the word “Peace.”
We have reached just such a Peaceable Kingdom on 170 acres maintained by Sue and Bill Davidson on Route 62 just west of Salem.
Motorists often slow and even stop to convince themselves they did indeed see camels — yes, camels — grazing in the pasture or coming to the fence to socialize with visitors.
In the distance can be seen grazing horses and a number of Scottish Highland cattle, and if one listens carefully, the playful barking of dogs can be heard.
In fantasy, had the Three Wise Men needed extra camels, they would have found 18, even a Bactrian with two humps. All are fat and furry and friendly, and pay no attention to a number of dogs galloping around their huge feet.
They drool happily as they munch stale bagels, which Salem area grocers contribute and they also consume astronomical amounts of hay — one semi-trailer load per month — although they actually prefer to eat straw.
In the summer, if you happen by at the right time, you’ll see 3,000-pound camels and horses swimming together in one of the large ponds. It is a very good thing that they are friends, as a camel using its powerful neck can easily pick up a horse.
Because Sue is the licensed humane agent for the City of Salem, she is too often called upon to rescue abused animals, primarily dogs, and a visitor is overwhelmed by the number of tail-wagging, fat and friendly dogs who have been lucky enough to end up here.
Amazingly, they know to “stay down” — better than my Winnie! — and run happily along with us as we slog through mud left by the melting snow. It was a gray, chilly day, and there were dogs enjoying a rest in their houses if they didn’t want to join the parade.
One is actually curled up on the dashboard of one of Bill’s big trucks. Another, a darling white pit bull with the temperament of a poodle plays on the bed of another truck. A one-eyed Rottweiler leans against me, wanting a pat.
How Sue and Bill, both 69 and grandparents of 21, manage this tremendous labor of love is because it is labor of love. Both are semi-retired. Sue drove school bus for 43 years and Bill has had Davidson’s towing since 1960.
All of the dogs have been spayed or neutered and have their rabies shots, and all have names! How many? Sue has stopped counting. But they eat 5,000 pounds of dog food a month. (Each one would surely hope to be adopted into a “single family” home. With all the milling around, there was no squabbling!)
Statistics on how many and how many different species inhabit this Peaceable Kingdom are impossible to record on one short visit. But there are elk, a yak, a bear, pot-bellied pigs, guinea hens, chickens, goats and aggressive tom turkey, an ostrich, emus, foxes, a peacock, Clarence the tiger, and I may have missed a species or two!
The Davidsons’ grandchildren help with the feeding duties — it takes three people plus Sue and Bill all day. With the tremendous number of “subjects” in this kingdom it is impossible to be tidy, but more important is the time spent in love and care.
At the sound of either Bill’s or Sue’s voice, every animal they address comes for attention and a pat, and even the camels come to nuzzle — even I got nuzzled — and Clarence’s purr was as big as his swinging belly!
This Peaceable Kingdom is not open to the public and it was a privilege for me to enter it.
One week from today will be Christmas Day, and may you be blessed with the love of the season, the greatest gift of all.