My Most Memorable Animal Experience

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Armadillo near Everglades
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Heiko Kiera/Shutterstock

Winners of the 2022 Almanac Essay Contest

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The 2022 Old Farmer’s Almanac Essay Contest topic was “My Most Memorable Animal Experience.” We received hundreds of entries for the 2022 contest—possibly the most ever! Here are the wonderfully wild winning essays.

Note: Want to enter the new essay contest from The 2024 Old Farmer’s Almanac for a chance to win cash prizes? See the topic here!

“My Most Memorable Animal Experience”

Winners from the 2022 Essay Contest (as published in the 2023 edition):

First Prize

Our trip to Galveston Island, Texas, to camp for Spring Break a bust, our vanload of friends began the trek back to campus in Wisconsin. The Sun had long set by the time we reached Big Thicket National Preserve north of Beaumont. We drove in after-hours to find the gate open with a sign instructing us to find an empty site and pay in the morning. As we wound through the bayou, we noticed warning signs along the drive: “Beware of Alligators,” “Alligators in Area,” “Watch for Alligators.” This seemed ominous. The Spanish moss hung from the trees while ground fog rose as we pulled into an empty site. While friends were setting up tents, I set up the camp kitchen, preparing a late-night dinner in the damp, late-winter chill. Then I heard it. The leaves rustled. Sticks moved. There was the distinct sound of tent nylon being tested, and I jumped on top of the picnic table with a shout of “Alligator!” Everyone paused, ready to run, and as I turned toward the tent that my boyfriend had set up, I saw a very startled armadillo looking back at me.

–Sarah Wilde, Arena, Wisconsin

Second Prize

My dad died in 2016. I was crushed; he was one of my best friends, my confidant, my fixer-of-all. His loss affected me immensely. I found myself talking to any blue jay that happened upon my yard, believing that my dad was visiting for a chat. Fast-forward to 2021… I lost my Mom in January; her 90-year-old body couldn’t recover from COVID. I began talking to her through any cardinal visiting my yard. Then, in October, I lost my cherished husband, Jim, after 42 years together. During a particularly good cry the day after his funeral, a bright blue jay hopped onto the patio chair and looked at me through the kitchen window. “Hi, Dad!” I exclaimed. “Are you checking on me today? Or is that you, Jim?” No sooner had I uttered these words than another jay hopped up next to the first. “There you are, Jim! But where’s Mom?” And with that, a beautiful cardinal joined the jays on the chair. An avid birdwatcher, I know that these birds do not travel together! I’m convinced that my loved ones were telling me they are at peace and watching over me. 

–Susan Felts, Bel Air, Maryland

Third Prize

I was one of five civilian guests of the U.S. Air Force attending an Arctic survival training course. On Day 4, a C-130 transport outfitted with skis touched down on the polar ice cap above northeast Greenland. With the temp at –55°F, Sgt. Jesse instructed us to immediately dig a shelter. My survival partner and I struggled to dig into an 8-foot-high wall of bulletproof snow and ice. As we labored, I thought of the rare white Beluga whales that I hoped to see. I had whales, whales, whales on my mind. During that night, I dreamt that I heard whale vocalizations, lots of whales “singing” to one another. I woke up excited and shared my dream at breakfast. I quickly learned that nearly everyone had heard the whales. We realized that a pod of whales had swum be- neath our survival camp during the night. For me, this had been more thrilling than seeing a Beluga whale. Our survival shelter was an acoustical chamber constructed with ice. As the whales swam beneath us, the clarity of their songs reverberated within the void—songs that replay in my memory to this day. 

–Peter Benoit, Queensbury, New York

Honorable Mention

As a child living on the coast of Maine, I grew up with a cove full of wildlife. One afternoon, I heard crying from the ocean. Down on the beach, I found a baby doll–size harbor seal pup lying on rocky seaweed. She was drying out and very small. My heart almost stopped. We called Marine Rescue, which advised us to wait for her mother to return. I heard her mournful crying all night. In the morning, Marine Rescue took her to a facility, wrapped in a towel. Our family donated money for medical treatment and food for “Sugar Baby.” We got a special tour of the marine facility and saw her happily swim- ming in a tank with other rescued seals. Months later, we attended her ocean beach release. Sugar Baby (now 50 pounds!) flopped toward the ocean but turned around, seemingly scared of the freedom and waves. Finally, she swam along the shore and out to sea. Though happy, I cried with sadness; she was leaving. The next summer, my dad excitedly yelled, “Sugar Baby’s swimming out front!” She was back to say hello and thank us! I helped to save this wild baby creature’s life. I still love you, Sugar. 

–Linda Butler, Yarmouth, Maine

Winners from the 2023 Canadian Edition:

First Prize

Growing up, I was a hunter. Game birds, rabbits, turkeys, deer. You name it, I shot at it. Then I joined the army, and shooting at things took on a completely new meaning. I was home on leave from the army one deer season and, as was the norm, I went hunting with my brother. We rose before dawn and headed for our separate hunting spaces. As hunters tend to do, we had been up late the night before, and I soon fell asleep in the calm of the wee morning hours, bundled up against the cold. When I woke up, there was a beautiful, brown, young doe nibbling on the grass at my feet. My old self would have seized this opportunity and taken the shot. But I had grown an appreciation for life and the beauty of nature. I felt a peace within myself that I had never felt be- fore. Instead of shooting, I sat and watched. This deer and I shared a moment of true serenity before she slowly sauntered away. I never told my brother about my missed shot and I haven’t hunted since. Well, not with a gun. Now I shoot with a camera. 

–Krystal Hennessy, Trenton, Ontario

Second Prize

One year, my husband and I went scouting for signs of moose that would indicate a good spot to return to when hunting season started. After walking for a while, we found fresh tracks that Ed then interpreted, showing me which was the bull’s, cow’s, or calf’s tracks and where they had been eating branches beside the road. Suddenly, very close by, we heard the angry bellowing and crashing of a big animal through the bush: We had almost walked into the three moose sleeping just off the road! Ed grabbed a branch and rubbed it up and down a tree to simulate another bull’s aggression. We could see a large shape moving through the trees as the moose checked us out. “Get ready,” Ed yelled. “When he comes, get a picture and then jump into the ditch!” “Do you have another plan?” I yelled back. “That ditch is 15 feet deep!” Then everything went quiet. The moose realized that we were not a rival threatening his harem and disappeared into the trees, and I was left to dis- cuss with Ed whether our safety or a photograph was more important. 

–Carolynn Ouellette, Goulais River, Ontario

Third Prize

I opened the front blinds to let in a sun-filled morning, and, looking outside, I spotted a shiny green object on the road in front of my house. A longer look confirmed that it was the heads of two sleep- ing ducks! It was thrilling to see nature up close. I was about to leave the window when I saw something moving farther up in the middle of the road. It was a cat in a crouched position slowly making its way toward these two sleeping waterbirds. Clearly, the cat was in attack mode. The phrase “sitting duck” came to mind. Human instinct was telling me to help them when, at that same moment, I witnessed the most incredible act of wildlife instinct I had ever observed. Like a miracle, a large crow swooped down unexpectedly in front of the ducks. Its enormous wings flapped erratically, and the sounds of its cawing was frightening. The ducks, looking at the crow, calmly stood up, unaware that he was helping them. Promptly the cat fled from its own dilemma, and the crow flew away. Both ducks, unconcerned, sat back down and resumed their nap, unaffected. 

–Carlene Peters, Barrie, Ontario

Honorable Mention

“Don’t try to pet the sharks. We have a relationship with these animals, and you don’t. If one of you gets bit, we’re all going to have a bad day,” warned dive master Ryan as the boat Deep Obsession approached the dive site, a shipwreck off West Palm Beach, Florida, around which sharks were known to gather. We were told that when we got down there, we likely would be approached by a large fish, a grouper that had been named Shadow because she was friendly and liked to tag along with the divers. After descending about 50 feet to the wreck, sure enough, we were met by a fish about 6 feet long and about 3 feet high. She liked to be petted like a large, friendly dog and followed along for a little while just as we had been told she would. After leaving Shadow behind and witnessing a shark feeding close up, we happily boarded the boat for the return to shore. That evening, about eight of us went out to a restaurant, and when the waiter came around to let us know that the special was grouper, a female voice cried out, “I can’t eat Shadow!” 

–Mike McAllister, Scarborough, Ontario

Want to enter next year’s Essay Contest? Check out the topic here!

About The Author

Carol Connare

As the 14th editor of The Old Farmer’s Almanac, Carol Connare works with writers and other editors to develop “new, useful, and entertaining matter” for the annual Almanac as well as books, calendars, and other publications. Read More from Carol Connare

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