Friday, August 8, 2008

Goin' to the Zoo

A few days ago, during one of our increasingly frequent discussions with Collin about learning how to get along with his sister (Kendall got one too) we talked to Collin about how there is only 2 more weeks of summer vacation (cue Handel's "Hallelujiah Chorus") and was there anything that he wanted to do as a family before school started. He suggested going to California, going to a pro sports game, and Disney World, which unfortunately were all non-options since the money tree died, and then he came up with the zoo. The Columbus Zoo is a very much underrecognized world-caliber zoo that neither Tim nor I had visited in 10 years, so the decision was made: To the Zoo!

Kendall, her boyfriend, and Collin disappeared pretty much the second that we walked through the gate, so it was just the hubby, the baby, and me. Will has always been fascinated by animals, and we were excited to see what he would think of the zoo. Well, wouldn't you know it, he was too distracted by the other babies and children streaming by to notice much else. He did, however, have a jolly old time in the petting zoo, where the goats actually were happy to let him pet them (unlike our cats, who flee in terror when they see him).

Will makes a new friend

My earliest memory of the Columbus Zoo is much like all zoos of the time, rows of little cages with animals pacing back and forth. But when Jack Hanna took over as zoo director of the zoo in 1978 (yes, David Letterman's Jack Hanna), it was transformed into acres and acres of gorgeous animal habitats, which are now organized by continent.

Another early memory involves the 1914 M C Illions Carousel (listed on the National Register of Historic Places). It is a gorgeous carousel, complete with all 52 of its original horses, 2 chariots, and a band organ. Nowadays the horses stand pretty much upright, but when I was a kid, the horses tipped side to side and, I kid you not, they had to be at a 55 degree angle for a large portion of the ride. The majority of my time was spent clinging desperately to the pole so that I wouldn't plummet to my death off of the horse. The tipping was fortunately discontinued and now millions of kids enjoy this beauty every year.

See, the horses are straight!

Peacocks roam freely throughout the zoo, which brings me to a story about my Grandma Rosie. When I was around 10, my grandparents took my cousin Rachael and I to the zoo. Shortly after entering the park, a peacock appeared and seemed to take a liking to my grandmother. She didn't do anything to provoke its affections, but we were followed all day long by grandma's peacock suitor, who on occassion pecked lovingly at her toes and rubbed around her legs. Many displays of peacock plumage and manly strutting also transpired. When we were leaving the park, a zoo keeper had to physically restrain the peacock so that he wouldn't leave the park to live forever with his new love. The parting was tragic and a little violent, but I believe that the relationship was ill fated from the start.

Columbus's most romantic bird

The zoo's claim to fame is Colo, who, in 1956, became the first gorilla born in captivity. Since that time, the Columbus zoo has become a worldwide leader in the care, conservation, and breeding of gorillas. Colo is now a great-grandmother and is still thriving. PBS recently ran an incredibly beautiful (and heartbreaking) Nature episode entitled "Snowflake: The White Gorilla"; Colo and Dotty, Colo's great-granddaughter were featured in the episode. If you have the opportunity to see it, watch this episode, unless you don't like to get teary-eyed.

Happy gorillas at the zoo

I think most people my age who grew up in Columbus have a bit of a love affair with the zoo. Did I mention that they currently have the largest snake in captivity ("Fuzzy" the python), that they have a wonderful manatee exhibit, that they championed white tigers at a time when other zoos were euthanizing them at birth due to their genetic abnormality? Columbus really is a great city with a great zoo.

So it wasn't my intention to write a travel log-advertisement for the zoo; I did get a bit carried away, but our trip today took me back to my childhood and reminded me how much I just love our zoo. Hopefully, on our next visit, Will will become a bit more observant and start his love-affair. Until then, he can dream about new animals called goats that let him pet them and tried to eat mommy's camera cord and a land of endless babies in strollers just like him.


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