In the early days, it’s a little-known fact that giraffes’ necks used to be longer. Oh, yes. Much, much longer. It’s because they had so many spots. And the spots are what held their necks up. Giraffes’ necks used to reach as high as the lowest clouds and the only part of them that the other animals could see were their feet.
Giraffes also loved to dance in those days. And you could see them from very far off when they were having a romp. You’d see those brilliant, spotted bodies kicking and tapping their hooves and jumping up and down with one another like enormous gazelles. And they were all excellent at dancing. Except for Gemma.
Gemma didn’t dance. Mostly because she only knew one move. She made it up one day all on her own because the others kept calling for her to join in. She felt clumsy kicking up her hooves. She felt silly tapping. And, I won’t mention it after this once, but a time or two, she’d trip and fall on her back and have to roll and roll until she’d heaved herself up. So, in order to stay on all fours, Gemma marched rather stiffly. But her neck. Oh, her neck as she marched looked like an enormous spiral staircase twisting and twirling in the air.
She got along just fine with the birds because wherever Gemma swayed her neck, she’d swirl up a good set of thermals to help the birds fly higher and higher, and they’d call out to one another providing her with the perfect soundtrack to keep dancing. So, even though she couldn’t keep up with the other giraffes, Gemma still had plenty of company.
One day, when Gemma had marched pretty far away from her herd, she ended up in a grove of orange trees. She was still tall enough to see over them, but she decided to have a snack before heading back. She bent her neck until her eyelashes brushed over the leaves at the top of one of the taller trees, and she munched and slurped those juicy oranges, spitting out the rinds a few at a time.
Not long after her third or fourth orange, a very small monkey swung up to the tip top branch and called, “Hey, there!”
“Hey, yourself!” Gemma said after she’d finished swallowing, which took a very long time, mind you. The monkey waited politely for around five or seven minutes—he had had very good home-training.
“Say,” said the monkey, “I was wondering if you could help me out!”
“What’d you have in mind?” asked Gemma. It wasn’t everyday she got to speak to anyone other than the birds and other giraffes.
“Listen,” the monkey leaned in, confidentially, “I’m having a really tough time trying to find a way to get these oranges to my kinfolk down there. I’m the only one who can climb this high. Would you mind picking a few and dropping them down?”
Gemma blinked. Well, why not? she thought.
There were plenty of oranges on this tree alone to go around—more than she could ever eat. “Sure thing,” she said.
“My name’s Flip!” the monkey said and did a cartwheel on his branch.
“I’m Gemma!” she said before dipping her neck and breaking off some of the limbs heavy with oranges.
“You do that so fast! It would have taken me all day to climb all the way up here to bring down so many!” Flip squealed.
“My pleasure!” Gemma told him. And the monkey chattered very quickly at her which is a monkey’s way of saying, “Thank you,” and he swung himself away.
Gemma and Flip met at the orange grove often, and Flip would tell Gemma all about the goings on way down below where giraffes’ necks wouldn’t permit them to see. And Gemma would tell Flip all about the marvelous romps she’d seen and what it looks like way, way up in the lower clouds.
“I sure wish some of the animals down there could see more than just your feet!” Flip said one particularly lovely afternoon.
“I do too!” Gemma mused, wondering not for the first time what it might be like meeting other animals who were as nice as Flip.
“Didn’t you say once that those spots of yours are what’s holding up your neck? Maybe you could take a few off and shrink down for an hour or two? Then you could come visit my kinfolk and see how everyone just loves these oranges!” Everyone down below knew by now that Flip found the sweetest, juiciest oranges.
“Oh,” Gemma’s spots glowed—back then, that’s how giraffes used to blush. “Maybe, for just an hour,” she said, “Help me peel some of these off!”
And so, one by one, Flip helped Gemma pull off the spots on her neck and little by little, her neck began to shrink until her head was below the lowest limb of the highest orange tree. She gazed at the gorgeous canopy that looked just like green clouds and at all the glittering jewel-toned birds and whirring insects.
Gemma could hear the symphony of this lower world, the monkeys howling and hooting and the jaguars and tigers roaring like low thunder. It was just about the best sound she’d ever heard.
Flip swung around a limb and began to jump up and down on each branch, so excited, and shouted, “This way, Gemma! This way!”
Now, I don’t mean to sound cruel, but when Flip got a little over-excited, he didn’t always watch his step. And just then he was very excited.
His left hindfoot slipped on a slick branch that was extra slick because a rather large snail had just finished making its way across it not two minutes before.
“Oh, no!” Gemma shouted, and her long slender neck slid over like an arrow through water just in time to catch him.
Flip clung to her neck trying to regain his balance, but in the process, dozens and dozens of Gemma’s spots fell down below into the brush. Into the shadows they scattered and were carried off by swiftly moving little legs and feet scampering around looking for something soft to line their nests and hollows.
Gemma’s spots were gone. Just like that. Never to be seen again. Her neck shrunk down, down, down, down until her head just barely grazed one of the lower branches.
“I’m sorry, Gemma!” Flip sobbed into what was left of her long, gleaming neck.
And Gemma was sorry too. After all, she didn’t know when she woke up that morning it would be the last day she’d ever see above the clouds. But Gemma was not as sorry as you might think. After all, she’d never seen this view before. It was so vibrant and colorful unlike up in the clouds. Up there Gemma mostly only saw—well—clouds and birds and other giraffes’ heads.
Down here the world was so alive and pulsing and loud and—fun!
She couldn’t help herself. Gemma started to dance. She wasn’t just marching. Gemma was kicking. And leaping. And tapping. And skipping. And whirling. And it was her very own dance.
Gemma’s neck swayed in time to the sounds. She barely noticed how the butterflies and hummingbirds surrounded her like a rainbow and how the rest of her spots had begun to glow. She felt so good in that moment she actually didn’t mind having lost her height. Not when it allowed her to move like this!
Gemma pirouetted after Flip, glowing the whole way. She couldn’t wait to show the other giraffes how to have the best of both worlds—how to still be tall but move through the world without your head above the clouds.
As for Flip, having fully recovered from his fall, he swung alongside her at top speed, chattering on and on about everyone she was going to meet.
What Flip didn’t say just then—but he got around to later—was that he thought Gemma was just about the most beautiful creature in all of Creation.
Flip grinned a monkey’s grin to himself, “Wait until they get a look at who’s coming to play!”