Welcome to the Zoo

Today is not going to be an ordinary day. Today is the day you discover Camp Hollow - and Camp Hollow is no ordinary place. It is the world’s first virtual zoo, complete with mythical beasts and adorable little critters, living and creating side by side with their human brothers and sisters. Once you’ve visited, you’ll never be the same. Your soul will feel as light as a feather. You will be amazed by the infinite wonders at your fingertips. You’ll spend endless blissful hours exploring art, nature, and spirit. And best of all, when you leave, you will be able to take as many mementos from paradise with you as your heart desires.

Put in its most simple terms, Camp Hollow is a place designed by a group of artists who chose to throw off the shackles of modern society and disappear into the wilderness. There, far from the chaos of the modern world, away from all the shouting and vitriol, this tribe of creators spends their time crafting some of the finest jewelry, art, and collectibles imaginable. Animals and human beings live together here, in perfect harmony, seeking to make the world a happier, more artistic place for all.

We welcome all dreamers, artists, nature lovers, old souls, poets, and explorers to come and join us. There are mysteries to explore around every corner. There are treasures to be sought after, prizes to be won, and stories to be told. There is no telling what you will find when you enter our little world. It is almost time to begin our journey. But first, allow me to introduce myself…

 

Chapter One: Meet Your Dream Guide - JK Dreamer

Welcome friends! My name is JK Dreamer, and I will be guiding you through the strange and wonderful world of Camp Hollow. Step aboard my dreamboat, leave your cares behind, and enter a world where the impossible happens every minute of the day.  

The place you will be visiting took years and years to create. People called me crazy when I first had this idea. Some people still think I’m crazy! But a handful of my closest friends and family members believed in my impossible idea. Without their loving support, none of this would be possible.

So away we went. I left my steady job, and along with my companions, set out into the wilderness of Utah, traversing the wide open spaces of this majestic land in search of an uninhabited, unspoiled piece of paradise where we could bring our vision to life. 

We wandered for many long weeks, trying our hardest to keep our hunger and exhaustion at bay, quietly wondering if our quest really was crazy. But despite the hardships, we persevered. Our old lives seemed like far away dreams. With aching feet, we trudged forward, hoping against hope that we would find what we were searching for.

One night, we all watched in quiet awe as the largest rain cloud we had ever seen came slowly floating over a nearby hill. Like a giant gray party balloon, it blocked out the sun, threatening to burst at any moment. Recognizing the oncoming downpour, we all jumped into action. Driven by pure adrenaline, we began setting up camp, desperate to take shelter before the storm broke.

There was a loud crash of thunder, louder than any I’d ever heard before. Then, the rain came down with an almost mythical fury. Without a second to spare, we all dove into our hastily constructed tents, zipping the door shut just as the first drop landed above us.

We were safe. For now. The storm showed no signs of letting up anytime soon, so we decided to settle in for the night. The events that followed would forever alter the course of our lives.  

As I slowly drifted off to sleep, I found myself having unimaginably vivid dreams. In the distance I could hear a cacophony of animal sounds, like you might hear in a zoo. But these animals seemed to be wild. I could hear their roars and shrieks and hoots and howls growing closer. And yet, I felt strangely calm. As if their wild noises contained a message of benevolence, that we need not be afraid.

First, came an elephant. He swung his majestic trunk joyfully, singing as he approached. Behind him was a herd of zebra, dancing towards us in unison. What followed may as well have been a scene from Noah’s Ark. Every creature I’d ever imagined began to surround us. And finally, with a halo of moonlight above his head, a grand lion appeared. The other animals parted to clear a path, allowing the Lion to slowly walk up to me and my companions. He looked each of us in the eye, and then, with a grin, he spoke in perfect English.  

“Welcome,” he said.

 

Chapter Two: The Birth of the Dream

Maybe we never woke up from that dream. Maybe the events of the dream became a part of our reality. All we know for sure is that something magical happened that night. Our quest was over. We had found a home.

After conferring with the animals, we decided to dub our new dream world Camp Hollow. And we got to work on building a self sustaining community. Every man, woman, child, and animal did their part, and they all shared in the rewards. Once we had built permanent shelters, planted crops, and done all the little things that go into building a utopia, we were free to begin pursuing our true goal - to create art.

Naturally, as a band of nomadic artists who had wandered into the wilderness in search of a new life, we have all always been enthralled with nature. It is at the root of everything we do. So we were exuberant when our animal companions asked us if they could help take part in our artistic process.

It was quite a sight to behold. Giraffes posing for pictures. Hippopotamuses explaining how to perfectly capture their features. One time, I even saw a chimpanzee giving drawing lessons to one of our children. I have to admit, it was pretty impressive.

This is how the items in our gift shop came to be. Every one of them, down to the tiniest trinket, has a little bit of magic embedded in it. Once our journey is complete, you will have the opportunity to bring as many of these glorious creations home with you as you would like. But now, it is time to finally begin our journey into the depths of Camp Hollow. Please keep an open mind and an open heart so that you may fully appreciate all that we have to offer. 

 

Chapter Three: The Dream Boat Takes Flight

“Cast away!” JK Dreamer shouted. And with that, the majestic ship took to the sky. Like a great blue heron, it slowly made its ascent, seemingly defying the laws of physics as it steadied itself into a slow glide through the air. It disappeared into the clouds. There, JK expertly piloted the ship, despite the fact that neither he, nor any of his passengers could see more than an inch ahead of them.  

“Please remain in your seats, folks!” JK beckoned with a grin. “Things are about to get…bumpy.”

With that, the clouds started to glow and shake, as if they were opening a strange portal to a place where the rules of time and space have no authority. Some of the passengers were too nervous to be excited. Some were too excited to be nervous. They all stared in awe as the clouds around them flashed in every color of the rainbow. There was a charge of electricity in the air and the hairs on everyone's arms stood on end.  

“We are about to begin our descent,” JK roared from the cockpit, “Hold on tight!”

The passengers all did as they were told, clinging to each other as the great dream boat began to sink out of the clouds and towards the ground. After what seemed like an eternity, the boat gracefully landed in a slow moving river. The passengers who had closed their eyes during the landing slowly began to open them again. They could not believe what they saw.

The ship had landed in a river so peaceful that its gentle movements could lull even the crankiest baby to sleep. As they recovered from their hectic journey, the passengers began to pinch themselves, wondering if what they were seeing could possibly be real. Every animal from nature’s kingdom seemed to be present, even if only for a fleeting moment. The animals were going about their business, swinging from branches, disappearing into bushes, and soaring above the tree tops. Out of the mist, there appeared a giant arch over the river. Embedded in solid gold lettering and written in the finest cursive were the words:

Welcome to Camp Hollow.

 

Chapter Four: Welcome To Camp Hollow

The boat continues to float down the river, as light as a grain of sand, hovering over the water. This strange land has an immediate effect on you. Your cares and concerns seem to have vanished up in smoke. You’re not worried about money, politics, rivalries, or any of the other trivialities that have so often bogged you down.

Instead, you are as serene as a butterfly carefully perched on the top of a cattail. Your elaborately decorated wings are ready to be spread at any moment. You feel a surge of infinite possibilities within you. For a moment, you even struggle to remember your name…what was it again? Steve? Chris? Linda? I guess it doesn’t matter while you are here.  

You have no text messages to respond to. No group chat, no work e-mails, and no awkward zoom calls. You don’t need to go grocery shopping, do your homework, or file your taxes.  

This is an unfamiliar feeling. Your mind is like a blank canvas, patiently waiting for a masterpiece to be painted upon it. You feel what could be described as trust in the universe. Whatever is about to happen, you’re ready for it.  

In the back of your mind, you know you can’t stay here forever. Although the journey has just begun, you already begin to think that you’d like a memento to take with you when you go. Didn’t your guide mention something about a gift shop at the end of the tour? Well, that can wait I suppose.

With one hand on the ship’s large, antique steering wheel, JK turns around and faces the crowd. A hush falls over the passengers as he begins to speak.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he begins. “Camp Hollow was created by countless creative individuals. To show you all the creations we have here would take a year. So today, we will focus on a few of our favorites. While every artist here has his or her own distinctive style, we are united by an unwavering love for mother nature, and all the gifts that she provides us with.”

Up in the distance, you see a small tributary trickling out, leading you away from the main branch of the river.

“This brings us to the first stop on our tour,” JK says as he turns the grand wheel towards to tributary. The branches around you begin to grow thicker. A heavy mist fills the air. Suddenly, the sunlight disappears. You look above you only to see a vast latticework of heavily leaved branches. It’s dark. Spooky.

With a comforting grin, JK addresses the crowd:

“We have arrived in the rainforest.”

 

Chapter Five: The Rainforest

Rainforests are amongst the richest habitats on earth. No one can tell exactly how many species of plants and animals can be found there, but top scientists estimate that number to be over three million, with new species being found almost every day. You’ll find big cats, such as jaguars, leopards, and panthers here. You’ll see many different types of apes and monkeys, behaving almost the way that humans do, building societies, and learning to live side by side with each other. There is a seemingly infinite array of bugs, birds, frogs, and lizards, each one with its own unique lifestyle and appearance. They all come together in this mysterious, hidden world to engage in activities that we know very little about. Fortunately, thanks to our dream boat, we are able to explore them like never before.

Even though they cover less than 10% of the earth’s surface, rainforests also play an essential role in maintaining the planet’s harmony. They help to maintain the delicate balance of oxygen and Co2, which makes sure that we have clean, healthy air to breathe. The moisture in the air is absorbed into the sky and turned into clouds that eventually travel all over the earth. Water absorbed from a rainforest in South America could very well become the drops of rain that fall in places as far away as Seattle or New York.

Needless to say, rainforests are a major source of inspiration to all of us. One could spend an entire lifetime studying them and still only learn one percent of what lays hidden beneath those lofty canopies. It is the perfect setting for art to be created. In fact, many of the animals that inhabit the jungle serve as direct inspiration for Camp Hollow’s designs. One such animal is the gorilla.

With only a few hundred thousand remaining in their native, wild habitats, Gorillas are coming perilously close to extinction in the real world. But here in our dream world, they are as abundant and ever. They are particularly fascinating because of how closely their bodies resemble ours. In fact, they share about 98% of our DNA. Let us observe them.

The dream boat gently finds a landing place on a nearby bank. An anchor is put down, and a ladder is dropped, so that you can step off of the boat. After being assured of your safety, you slowly descend down the ladder, one wrung at a time, until finally, your foot sinks into the muddy earth as you touch dry land. Looking down, you see the warm, coffee colored mud between your bare toes. Weren’t you wearing shoes when this journey began? Your memory is hazy. Accepting your barefooted state, you cautiously follow your party onto dry land.

“Right this way!” JK calls as he disappears into the endless variety of trees. Sensing his calmness, you follow closely behind. He pulls back a branch and reveals something that amazes you right away. It is a full family of gorillas. One of them is chewing on a bamboo shoot. Two young ones are engaged in a playful, but intimidating wrestling match. A mother is lovingly tending to her new born child. And in the corner, you see a table with several adorable little gorilla-inspired works of art here. Could the animals have done it themselves? Impossible. And yet, other than your companions from the dreamboat, there isn’t a human to be found. Oh well. Who knows where exactly they came from. You take a moment to admire the little work of art before shifting your gaze back to the huge apes going about their business. They are so fascinating that you could stay all day, just watching them. But JK is beckoning again. It is time to board the dream boat again. A silverback, likely the elder of the group smiles and waves as you turn to leave. Still in awe, you board the boat. The anchor is lifted, and you return to the main branch of the river.

“Next stop,” the captain yells, “the desert!”

 

Chapter Six: The Desert

Deserts cover about one third of the planet’s surface. From the Mojave in the United States to the Sahara of Africa, these vast and imposing landscapes have ignited the imaginations of artists for generations. The animals that live here have to be crafty and creative, just like the artists of Camp Hollow.  

One of the desert’s most interesting creatures is called the desert fox. While many of us have seen foxes in the wild, few will ever get the chance to see this specific type as it scurries about the endless sand dunes that it calls home. As usual however, the dream boat will allow us to see things previously unimaginable.

-

JK puts his hand on the wheel and pulls it back towards him. The bow of the boat lifts out of the water and aims for the sky. Suddenly, you are airborne again. As you leave the rainforest behind, a sloth waves to you from a tree. You wave back as the ship ascends above the tree line and hits full speed. Within minutes, those dark trees are far aft of the ship.  

The sky begins to clear. It is the brightest, most vibrant shade of blue that you have ever seen. There isn’t a cloud in sight. You peek your head over the rail and see a hypnotic series of gently sloping sand dunes. The warm desert air flows through your hair. You feel like you’ve travelled back in time, and are visiting a foreign kingdom, maybe somewhere in Africa, China, or the Middle East. And then, the ship lands silently in a wide open space, next to a Joshua Tree.

You see a benevolent snake slither by. A falcon soars overhead. A roadrunner scuttles past you with a grin. And then, peaking out from behind a rare shrub, you see the desert fox.

It is a remarkable animal to look at. You take an immediate liking to the little creature. There are foxes all over the world, but this one is something special. Like every other creature in Camp Hollow, it seems to have the ability to mystify and inspire. He notices you and glances back with a grin. He seems to have a clear air of wisdom about him. You start to think that you’d like to take some of that wisdom back with you. He reads your mind. He gestures with his head for you to follow him. You do. He leads you across the warm white sand to a small oasis, where his family is drinking some much needed water.  

And there, they have somehow assembled a small gallery where you can see artwork depicting them. They are so lovely. You remember the gift shop, and with your mind, you ask the fox if that is the place where you can find these trinkets. He assures you, there are many of these items available. Suddenly, it occurs to you that you don’t know how to get back to your party. How long were you following that fox for? You are close to panicking, but the fox seems to understand your worry. He looks at you reassuringly, and gestures again for you to follow him.  

He begins to race across the desert, and to your astonishment, you keep pace with him. Did he bestow you with his seemingly magic speed? No time to think about that. Following him requires your full attention as he darts and leaps and bounds across the terrain. Finally, you see the ship again.

“Oh there you are!” JK says, from his typical position behind the big steering wheel. “Don’t worry, we wouldn’t have left with out you. Now come aboard!”

You climb onto the ship and rejoin your party. You look out over the starboard side to thank the fox for his help, but he is gone. The sweltering wind has erased any footprints he might have left. As the ship takes to the sky again, you begin to wonder if you ever really saw a fox at all. Don’t people sometimes hallucinate in the desert? Before you have too much time to ponder this troublesome yet entertaining question, your train of thought is broken.

“I’m sure after our little desert excursion we could all go for some water,” JK says. “Next stop - the ocean.

 

 

Chapter Seven: The Ocean

 

It is famously said that we know more about the surface of the moon than we do about the surface of the ocean. And there is a good reason for that. Over seventy percent of the surface of the planet is covered by ocean water. When the average person stands on a sandy beach, they only see a tiny fraction of the wonders the ocean contains. They don’t see the strange creatures that spend their time silently scuttling around the dark ocean floor. They don’t see the endless cycles of life and rebirth, the colorful reefs, the fearsome sharks, the rainbow colored schools of fish who exist in a constant state of motion.  

Maybe that is by design. Maybe we humans aren’t meant to fully grasp the depths of the seven seas. In the old days, sailors thought the waters were filled with dragons and other fantastical creatures. Some of those monsters have proven to be figments of our imaginations. Others have proven to be very real. Can you imagine being on a schooner and spying a giant squid lurking beneath the water? One might be tempted to think they were hallucinating. And yet, the giant squid has proven to be as real as you or me.

Over the past hundred years, we have gathered significantly more information about the ocean than we ever thought possible. Submarines and self piloted, camera-welding robots have shown us glimpses of the impossible. But that is all they are - glimpses. So much is left to our imaginations.

Fortunately, JK’s magic ship has the ability to transform itself into a giant submarine. Prepare to witness the wonders of the world’s oceans like you never have before.

-

You feel a few stray grains of sand being blown out of your hair by the wind as you leave the Serengeti behind. The dream boat rises above the clouds, floats there for what seems like an eternity, and then begins a descent. As you emerge from the pillowy white clouds, you realize that you are surrounded by a vast blue ocean, with no sign of land in any direction. You see some icebergs off in the distance.  

An albatross flies by. You’ve heard of them, haven’t you? Those giant seabirds with twelve foot wingspans, capable of flying five hundred miles in one day? Don’t they spend most of their lives at sea, often going over a year without touching dry land? Wow, you must really be out in the middle of nowhere to encounter this bird.  

For a moment, the albatross begins to fly parallel with the dream boat. He looks over at the captain with a knowing glance, as if to indicate - “Yup, this is the place.”  

The great bird looks back at you now. He winks, as if to tell you to prepare for something incredible. Then the bird alters course, swinging off 90 degrees to the starboard side. He doesn’t look back. Soon, he has disappeared into the place where the sky and ocean seem to merge into one. A sense of calm comes over you as the captain begins to speak.

“We have arrived,” JK says with a grin. “Welcome to the center of the ocean. Which ocean? That I’m not entirely sure of. All I know is that it is awfully cold in there. We’re going to have to take a few precautions to ensure that we stay warm.”

He presses a button, and a large, transparent sheet of rounded glass begins to cover the boat, making the vessel appear as a giant oval.  

“That’ll be helpful for keeping us dry. You see, we’re not just exploring the surface of the ocean today, we’re exploring its depths. And we will do so in style and comfort, thanks to the amazing capabilities of our boat! Oh, that reminds me…Is anyone thirsty?”

As he says this a mug of hot chocolate appears in your hand.  

“Aw, isn’t that nice?” You quietly think to yourself.

You take a sip. It is the best hot chocolate you’ve ever had. Possibly the best beverage you’ve ever had, now that you mention it. You feel warm and fuzzy all over, open to any possibilities.

“And I have one last surprise for you before we begin our next journey,” JK says with a sly grin. “I’m not exactly an expert on the deep sea, considering I can’t breathe underwater and all. So I’ve hired an old friend who can breath underwater to be our guide.”

Deep beneath the surface of the water, a massive shadow appears. As it ascends, the shadow grows larger and larger. You and your companions stare in awe as it comes close enough to the surface to begin making ripples.  

Then…a large horn appears. The horn continues to emerge out of the water as the shadow nears its final destination.

Then, the great animal appears. It looks like a whale, but the ten foot horn that protrudes from its head makes it look like some sort of aquatic unicorn.

“What was in that hot chocolate?” You quietly wonder to yourself.  

 

“You’re not seeing things,” JK says, as if he could read your mind. “This is my dear friend, the narwhal. And I assure you, he is as real as you or me.”

“Narwhals are mysterious creatures that inhabit some of the coldest, darkest corners of the ocean. They can dive over one mile deep beneath the surface of the sea. They are fast, strong, and intelligent, making this fella here an ideal candidate to guide us into the depths of the sea.

The narwhal lets out an incomprehensible, but benevolent shout. The captain responds with a nod. It occurs to you that your captain seems to speak the whale’s language.

A strong, heavy rope is produced. The captain ties a bowline knot and tosses it out to the whale, who catches the loop around its great tusk.

“Hold on tight!” The captain says. And with that, the narwhal began its descent into the depths from which it came. The rope pulls the boat with it, and before you know it, you are underwater.

First come the friendly animals that dwell near the sunlight. A giant sea tortoise swims by. He looks peaceful and content, moving along at his own pace, without a care in the world. No wonder they can live to be one hundred years old.

A school of dolphins appears. Aren’t they one of the most intelligent species in the natural world? They sure look like they’re having fun. They dance around your magic submarine, laughing and shrieking like children during playtime. And just as soon as they appeared, they’re gone.

The narwhal continues to dutifully lead the ship into ever deeper waters. You notice the water around you becoming darker. Almost sinister. You’re suddenly very grateful for the layer of glass separating you from your surroundings.

Suddenly you feel as if you are being watched. You sit with this feeling for a moment. Then, coming straight towards you, you see a pair of hollow, ancient eyes. Behind those eyes, you see the swinging of a great fin. The creature begins to take form. You recognize it immediately.

“That my friends, is the famous great white shark,” JK says, with a calmness that seems inappropriate for the occasion.

“Oh don’t worry, you’re safe. Shark attacks may make the headlines on the rare occasions that they do happen, but most sharks go their entire lives without encountering a human being. This one is just curious about the strange visitor to its home.”

Despite JK’s dismissive attitude, you find yourself more than a little nervous. I mean, it’s a shark. You have a right to be nervous. But you’re confident in the ship’s ability to keep you safe. You watch the terrifying beast as it circles the ship, butting its nose against the glass occasionally. And then, without warning, the shark turns around and disappears into the distance.

“I told you it’d be fine,” JK says with a smile. You’re just happy that the encounter is over.

“Now is where things get a little weird…” He says.  

“Uh-oh…” You think.

“We are now arriving at the ocean floor.”

Darkness surrounds you now. You can no longer see the narwhal. All you see is black.

“Now I warn you, the things you will see here are strange, and possibly even a little disturbing. But I assure you, you have no need to worry about your safety. Now, let’s take a look shall we?”

With that, he flips a switch, and a light outside the vessel illuminates your surroundings. It is eerie. You feel as though you are surrounded by ghosts. As your eyes adjust to their new conditions, you are immediately aware that you are being watched, but this time, it is by countless eyes.

There are glowing eels dancing in ritualistic patterns. There are fluorescent jellyfish. There are frightening fish with skeletal frames exposed, and strange antennas protruding from their bodies. You see impossibly large crabs with awful and imposing claws. You try to determine whether you are terrified, in awe, or both.

“We are now over two and a half miles away from the surface of the ocean,” JK explains. “This is a world untouched by sunlight. A bizarre place that most humans will never experience.”

“Maybe that’s not such a bad thing…” You mutter.

“I disagree!” Your guide responds cheerfully. Yes, these animals may not be as cute and cuddly as some, but they are no less important to understanding the vast scope of beauty there is to be found in our oceans and on our planet. After all, without darkness, how could we have light? Spending time in a place like this will give you a new appreciation for the warmth and sunlight we get to experience every day on dry land.”

You take a moment to let his words sink in. Maybe he has a point. You look out across the ocean floor again, this time with a new perspective. A spectral white animal that you don’t recognize looks at you and smiles, as if to say “You are welcome with us.”

You know, in its own way, this place really is beautiful isn’t it? What a blessing it is to be able to see these wonders with your own eyes.

It occurs to you that we are always uncomfortable, even afraid of things we don’t understand. But when we take the time to get to know these things, suddenly, they don’t seem so frightening. Maybe you could make friends with anyone, given the opportunity. Maybe that’s what life is all about.

“Well my companions, take one last look around. You’ll never see anything like this again! And we still have one more stop to make before our journey is complete.

You feel bittersweet as the narwhal begins to lead you towards the surface. You’ve barely experienced a fraction of life in the ocean, and yet, your perspective has broadened immeasurably. In the distance, you can see the sun beginning to reveal itself - bright, full of life giving energy. You determine that you won’t take it for granted again.  

Meanwhile, your narwhal guide’s job is almost complete. He pulls with all his might, until the vessel is back on the face of the ocean. The sky is clear and beautiful above you. JK removes the glass apparition that allowed your trip underwater, and you feel the fresh air on your skin.  

The narwhal sits next to the dream boat. With a smile, he uses his great tusk to toss something in your direction. You reflexively reach out your hand to receive his offering. It is a tiny, beautiful silver necklace with a charm of a narwhal. In fact, it looks exactly like your guide. You gratefully wrap it around your neck. You feel good in it. You look back to water to thank your guide for the gift, but he is nowhere to be seen.

“We best be on our way now,” JK says. “Next stop, The Himalayas.”

 

 

Chapter Eight: The Mountains

 

The famed Himalayan Mountains - home to the highest peak on earth, Mt. Everest. It is as close to heaven as Man will ever come during his lifetime. The lure of these peaks is undeniable. Countless explorers have come here from all around the world to test their spirits against the most forbidding environment on the planet. Many of those explorers will spend the rest of eternity there.

The animals that survive here are amongst the toughest species in the world. There are diverse species of birds, legendary wild cats, and a unique array of bugs and plants. As you reach the highest levels of the mountains, above the tree lines, life becomes scarce. But even at the most remote peaks, if you look carefully, you will find signs of the ever present miracle of life.  

Since the fifteenth century, this land has been inhabited by the Sherpas - an indigenous people known for the kinship with the earth. These brave, wise men have often served as guides to foreigners looking to avoid the countless dangers that await explorers. We are lucky enough to have one of these kind souls with us here today. We have saved him a seat on the dream boat, where he will tell us about this awe inspiring land and the animals who make it so special.

-

You open your eyes. Did you fall asleep on the long journey from the center of the ocean? You must have. Suddenly everything feels different. The air is thin. There is a chill around you. And then it occurs to you that you are not alone. A new character has entered the story, and he is sitting right next to you.

You look at him out of the corner of your eye, trying to be as inconspicuous as you can. He is adorned in intricately designed sheepskins and pelts. There is an aura of wisdom about him. You feel calmer just for being in his presence. Although you think you are being subtle in observing him, he knows that you are curious about his sudden and unexplained presence.

“My friend,” the stranger speaks. “Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Tashi. I am native to this land. My ancestors have dwelled in the shadows of these mountains for hundreds of years. Our mutual friend JK has invited me along to show you the dazzling beauty that can be found here in this remote corner of the world.”

“Tashi?” You ask. You’ve never heard this name before.

“Yes,” he responds. “It means ‘Good Luck.’”

“It’s good to meet you Tashi. How long have you been sitting beside me?”

“Several hours. You’ve been fast asleep. JK stopped his dream boat in my home village at the base of the mountains about an hour ago. Since then, we’ve been floating upwards, towards the peaks. Do you know about the animals that live here?”

“I’m afraid I don’t.”

“Well then,” Tashi says, “You are in for a treat.”

-

JK begins distributing warm winter attire, very similar to what Tashi is wearing. Everyone in your party is given an elaborate winter coat, a thermos of hot tea, and a variety of lovely gloves and hats.  

“This is the pinnacle of our journey,” he says as he continues adding layers to his outfit. “But we’re going to have to go by foot. The air up here is so thin that even our dream boat won’t be able to fly up here. Fortunately, my dear old friend Tashi the Sherpa is here to ensure that we safely reach the summit of the mountain. And what’s more, he has agreed to show us where the sacred animals of this mountain live. With that, I turn the floor over to him.”

“Thank you, my old friend,” Tashi says. “Please follow me, and watch your step. The land is icy and perilous. Step lightly, and be ever mindful as you go.”

With that, a giant rope ladder is dropped. You and your companions climb down into the elements. An anchor is dropped to keep your vessel in place, floating like a great balloon above the snow white mountains.  

“Right this way.”

You feel the cold of the ground moving through your body, but the heavy coat you have been provided with prevents you from being uncomfortable.  

We already have our first guest. Out of the snow in front of you emerges a Himalayan black bear.

“This is one of the many wonderful animals who calls this mountain home. I know it looks ferocious, but as long as you respect its personal space, you have nothing to worry about.  

The bear acknowledges you with a wave, but it quickly becomes distracted by a nearby patch of fallen acorns. He begins to gorge himself, quickly eating all the nuts and then beginning to scavenge for more food.

“This bear is preparing for hibernation,” Tashi explains. He will eat as much food as he can to sustain himself through the long winter ahead. Then, he will take a long long nap.”

You begin to think about a long long nap. This journey has been amazing, but you can’t deny how weary you’ve become. The bear waves goodbye, then turns around into the mountains, presumably to find more food. You start to notice your own hunger. When is the last time you’ve eaten? How are you still on your feet?

“Come come, no time to rest yet!” Tashi says. He and JK begin to lurch forward into the shrouds of snow. You follow close behind.

You continue your ascent into the peaks of the mountains, laboring with every breath but eagerly awaiting whatever surprises your guide has in store. You’re becoming a bit dizzy from the altitude, but you trust your feet as you steadily continue to climb.

“Here,” Tashi says. He points to a small collection of bushes and shrubs. You are nearing the tree line - the place where no more plants can grow. You’re not there yet, but you’re getting very close.

From behind the bush, you see a shade of dark reddish orange moving about. You recognize this animal instantly - it is the rare red panda. You think you may have seen one of these adorable critters at a zoo back when you were a child, but you can’t say for certain. Maybe you’ve only seen them in those nature documentaries you used to fall asleep to. Either way, the animal is a familiar and welcome sight.

“He is harmless,” Tashi explains. “Look closely at him. His features become more beautiful the more you study them.”

You nod in agreement.

“There aren’t many of these left. Human activity tends to scare them out of their habitat. Fortunately, we are learning to respect their space, so that we can live side by side with them in harmony.”

The animal is frolicking about, getting a little exercise, and looking for whatever food it can find - nuts, berries, etc. He looks at your group with a giggle, wags his tail like a dog, and then darts off into the forest. You know you’ll never see him again, but you’re happy to have shared a brief moment together, no matter how fleeting.

“Now it’s time for our main event,” Tashi says with a chuckle. “There is one elusive animal that even I have never seen with my own two eyes - the mythical snow leopard.”

“You’ve never seen one?” You ask. “How do you think you will find one now?”

“Well,” Tashi responds, “I have a favor to call in. Let me introduce you to another one of my friends…” 

As Tashi speaks these words, a snowy owl, white and majestic, lands upon his shoulder.

“This is my good friend the Snowy Owl. Perhaps you’ve seen them in the movies? We’ve been friends and occasional fellow travelers for years. Every time I come up into the mountains, I can count on him to show up whenever I find myself in a time of need. It’s true what they say about owls - their wisdom is unquestionable.”

“And he can help you find the snow leopard?” You ask.

“Of course I can!” The great bird interjects.  

You’re slightly taken aback, but given the incredible things you have witnessed today, a talking snowy owl is hardly a reason for concern.

“There are a few things you should know about the snow leopard,” the owl continues. “This is no ordinary animal. The people of this land worship it. Many thought it was just a figment of some hikers’ overactive imagination for years. But recently, we’ve learned that it is a real, living, breathing being.”

“That’s fascinating,” JK says. I sure hope we can find one.”

“We can,” says the snowy owl, “but it will not be easy. There is but one of these beasts living on this mountain and she lives…up there.”

With that, the owl points forlornly towards a treacherous cliff. You feel a jolt of adrenaline at the inevitable prospect of being asked to climb to those imposing heights.

“The snow leopard is the rarest of all the animals that inhabit this mountain. In order to have an audience with her, you must prove yourself to be brave of heart and noble of spirit. Those of you who have persevered through today’s journey are off to a great start. But that isn’t enough to win favor with the snow leopard. You must dig down deep into your spirit, and find the courage to ascend past the tree line and find the lair where she dwells.”

“You will help us of course?” You ask.

“Of course,” the owl responds. That is what I’m here for. I know the way. I will fly and lead you from the air for as long as I can. Then, it will be up to you and your companions to go the rest of the way. If you do, your reward will be incalculable.”

Your heart pounds in your chest. Even the unflappable Tashi seems to be a bit nervous at the prospect. But you share a mutual desire to finish your quest in the proper way. You agree to do as the owl says.

“Right this way.”

The owl leaps into the air and begins gliding in the general direction of the distant cliffs.  

For what seems like an eternity, you struggle to keep pace with the bird, as you traverse through the most difficult paths you’ve ever seen. The wind picks up. The snow is coming down harder than ever. It makes the snowy owl even harder to keep track of. Occasionally, you lose track of it, only to relocate it at the sound of its loud hooting.

The climb continues. There is a pause in the snowfall, and an eerie calm settles around you. You realize there is no vegetation in sight. You’ve ascended past the tree line, to a place no human being has been before.

This is only the calm of the storm, however. Your ascent up the mountain is only halfway complete.  

“See there, that little cave tucked in behind the ravine?” The owl says with a point of its white wing. “There, is the lair of the snow leopard. I will fly ahead to notify her of your impending arrival. And then, I must take my leave. For the air is too thin for me to stay long. I have miles to go before I can rest, and having done this one favor for my old friend, I can stay no longer.”

You peer up, almost hopelessly, at the path before you. It must be a mile of jagged edges, falling debris, and steep inclines. But it is too late to turn back now. The owl gives a knowing glance of acknowledgment to all in the party. Then, it spreads its wings for a final time, and begins gliding down the surface of the mountain, back towards the trees, towards a destination you will never know.

“You heard the bird.” Says Tashi. “Let us begin. If we keep a good pace, we may make it before darkness falls.

Exhausted, you begin your final ascent. The snow is blinding. The cold numbs your every extremity. You have trouble thinking straight. All you can do is keep moving. Keep moving. Just keep moving.

Delirium sets in. You can barely remember your own name. Your trusted companions seem like strangers. You begin to think the task is impossible. But you know that stopping now would guarantee your doom.

You slip into something resembling a waking daydream. You are neither awake nor asleep.

You are watching a movie of your own life. A boy and his friends are out playing in the snow. They are just children. They throw snowballs at each other, they build snowmen, they seem to never stop laughing. One of those children is you.

Your reverie conquers your mind. You are now deep into a dream.  

“Wake up!” You hear. “Wake up!”

You feel a warm paw on your face. That’s no human. As you regain consciousness, you see a great feline set of eyes gazing back at you. They seem to contain all of the past and future within their glare. You are not afraid.

“Welcome child.”

You are silent. You look around and see that you are in a deep cavern, with faint rays of moonlight illuminating the rocky walls. There are just two creatures in the cave. You, and the great snow leopard.

“I’ve been expecting you.”  

 

 

Chapter Nine: The Snow Leopard

“Where are my friends?” You ask.  

“They are with you.” Says the animal. “They are always with you.”

“And what about the dream boat? The snowy owl?”

“I don’t know anything about a dream boat. And yes, I’ve seen a snowy owl passing through here recently. She comes and goes. What really matters is that you have made it. You have completed a journey that very few ever complete.”

“Well, I had a lot of help.” You say humbly.  

“Of course you did. You had your friends and your family. You had a love of nature. You had respect for your planet. And most importantly, you believed in impossible things. That is the hardest part. That is where most people fail. But you, despite every reason to give up hope, continued dreaming your impossible dream. That is why I appear before you today.”

You let his words sink in. It’s all too much for you to comprehend. You stay silent.

“Now, there is more for you to do.” The snow leopard says. “We are on a magical mountain. It is easy to believe in magic here. Magic is undeniable to those of us who dwell a stone’s throw from heaven. But where you come from, it is a very different story.”

You await your instructions.

“You cannot stay here. You must return to the place you came from. And you must bring magic back with you. Just as important, you must bring your belief back with you. If you can convince even one person to believe, your journey will not have been in vain.”

You understand. You accept your duty.

“And there is one more thing…take this with you.”  

The leopard places a shining amulet in your hand. 

“Go now. Remember what you’ve learned today. Remember to believe.”

You look down into the amulet and suddenly, you are blinded by a burst of light. Brightness envelops your existence. You see a flash and that’s all you see.

 

 

Chapter Ten: Return To Camp Hollow

 

You are startled awake by a familiar friendly voice. It’s JK.

“And with that, our tour has come to a close. I’d like to thank you all for coming! If anyone has any questions, please feel free to ask!”

You look around, perplexed. You are on an ordinary boat, passing down a river. An arch above you reads “Thank you for visiting Camp Hollow.”

“Wait…” You say. “Was that all real?”

“Real?” JK responds. “What do you mean by real?”

“The flying ship? The whale with the horn? The talking owl? The mystical snow leopard who lives a stone’s throw from heaven?”

JK looks back at you with a grin. You’ve seen that look before. It is the same look the Snow Leopard gave you. It is the same look the shark in the deep blue ocean gave you. It is the look of every animal you’ve encountered today.

“Is it real?” JK ponders out loud. “Well, I guess that depends. Do you believe?”

Without hesitation, you respond, “Yes.”

“Well, there you have your answer,” JK responds. “It has been a joy spending my time with you. I hope you’ll come back soon. Oh, and one more thing - the gift shop is right this way. Maybe you will find something special there.” 

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