The tortoise and the hurricane
Riding along Highway 231 in Cottondale you'll come across Barfield Produce. It's one of two businesses owned by the Barfield family. There you'll find fruit, vegetables, canned goods, souvenirs and two African spurred tortoises, ZoZo and Brooks.
"A lady was leaving the country and she stopped by and asked if I would take care of them," said Clint Barfield. "That was nearly five years ago."
Barfield admits the nine-year-old brothers are pretty much their children.
"We hope she doesn't want them back," said Barfield.
Brooks and ZoZo are very popular with locals and visitors alike, and they're extremely social.
"We have people that come through all the time just checking on them to say hey and see how big they've gotten," said Barfield. "Up until probably about two years ago, everybody would pick them up and take pictures with them. It's just now they're getting so big. They can't really pick him up and give him kisses like they used to."
The Barfields, like so many in our area, took a beating from hurricane Michael.
"It was bad. It dropped three trees on our store here," said Barfield.
But they had made preparations for Brooks and ZoZo, taking them from their regular pen at the store to a place they thought would be safer.
"We had taken them to our house because we were afraid of leaving them here during the storm and we made a makeshift pen kind of to keep them temporarily," said Barfield.
But when they came to check on the two after the storm Brooks was nowhere to be found.
"We probably had ten people walking around our farm trying to find him. We were on four-wheelers and everything. We were just devastated," said Barfield. "Anytime anyone was by the farm or anything else they were trying to look for him. Everybody always had an eye out."
Days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months. The African spurred tortoise is native to the Sahara Desert so as the winter months moved in the Barfields feared the worst.
"They don't do good in cold weather," said Barfield.
After five long months of searching and worrying...
"We found him," said Barfield. "Just short of a miracle, I would say, to even have found him at all. He had dug a hole and then whenever we mowed the cotton field over he came out of his hole and was sitting on top. That's how we found him."
Barfield was ecstatic and believes Brooks was just as happy to see him.
"But when I got him and picked him up and I said, 'Brooks,' he stuck his head way out. And whenever I put him up next to my face it's like, 'Oh, my God, there he is.' He was like, 'Thank you so much. You found me!' I think he was as excited as I was," said Barfield.
A few weeks after the prodigal son returned home life is pretty much back to normal. Brooks seems to be content to have his family back together once again.
Brooks weighs about 30 pounds right now and ZoZo about 55. They could one day reach close to 100 pounds. They have a life span of 70 years or more.