Sunday, August 27, 2006

"Something Tells Me It's All Happenin' At the Zoo"

"A thing may be too sad to be believed or too wicked to be believed or too good to be believed; but it cannot be too absurd to be believed in this planet of frogs and elephants, of crocodiles and cuttle-fish."
~~ G.K. Chesterton

Amen to that! We spent much of yesterday at the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium downtown. We've had no vacation time at all this summer, and I think every one of us in the family is feeling that loss. So D. and I decided we should at least try to get in one or two short "family outings" of the day trip variety before fall fully arrives. The sweet girl has been longing for the zoo (as well as the beach, and a yard, and her grandparents, and a tricycle...but hey, we can't do much about the rest of those right now, so off to the zoo we went!).

Every time I visit the zoo -- and I think this was the third time in four years -- I come away more amazed than ever by the creativity and sheer diversity of creation. To know that we're looking at just a tiny sliver of what's out there, and to see such a plethora of interesting, odd, funny, beautiful and sometimes downright absurd looking animals and fish (not to mention plants) is breathtaking. I love the Chesterton quote above, and it's particularly apt for yesterday as we spent time gawking at both crocodiles and elephants.

The crocodiles were four of the "dwarf" variety. At first I thought they were babies, but the sign next to their enclosure read "dwarf crocodiles" so I guess they were full size. They were just a few feet long, but oh so menacing. Two of them sunned lazily in the water, their bodies mostly submerged and their heads and eyes protruding just above the surface. The other two lay on the banks; one was asleep but the other had his jaws wide open and his listless hooded eyes never blinked. They were both so still you couldn't see them breathe. They looked like bronze statues. People beside me were wondering if they were real at first, and after a while I think most of us felt a combination of eerie admiration and thankfulness that there was a concrete wall between us and the water. I got the distinct impression that the jaws and eyes wide open crocodile was trying to bluff us all so he could find a way to lure us in. Kind of bizarre.

The elephants were something else again. There were a few outside we got to watch, but then we got to see two of them close up in an enclosure. We watched them eat their dinner (well, my daughter insisted it was still afternoon so they were having lunch) and those long, sweeping trunks, so leathery and wrinkled and yet so elegant and almost delicate in their sniffing, shuffling and lifting, were a wonder to behold. The biggest elephant was really hungry; we watched him sniff out and sweep up a large pile of "salad" on the floor of the pen, mostly apples, carrots and lettuce. His nose would sniffle along, oh so delicately, find what it wanted, and then curl around it and swirl it up to his mouth (often a whole head of lettuce at a time!) just as elegantly and fastidiously as an experienced diner might swirl spaghetti on the tines of a fork.

A lovely day. Even though my back is still aching from all the walking we did!


Erin said...

Two of my favorite things... Simon and Garfunkel and zoos! Which reminds me I haven't made it to the zoo since April... I don't think I've ever been to the Pittsburgh Zoo. Sounds like it was great!

Beth said...

It's a great zoo! And the aquarium is great too. The only thing missing, for us, was polar bears. They're building a new exhibit for them and it won't be ready till spring. Sarah mostly wanted to go to see bears, so we were a little disappointed those were missing. Still, she got to see black bears, spectacled bears, and (our favorite!) a huge Kodiak bear named Rocky. He was asleep when we first saw him, but we went back after lunch and he was awake and playing to the crowd!


Erin said...

Yay for bears! Our zoo has had a rough year in that department. Our spectacle bears were shipped off a few months ago to another zoo, which I was bummed to hear because they were so much fun to watch. And just last week, one of our polar bears broke his leg while playing with his brother. The doctor who performed surgery on the racehorse Barbaro offered to try to operate on him, though the prognosis wasn't good. He made it through the surgery but his heart stopped while they were transporting him to a temporary facility where he was going to recuperate... That was really sad. They're not sure if they're going to get another polar bear or not to keep the current one company...