Sunday, July 25, 2010

zoo daze



"All the animals in the zoo/

Are jumping up and down for you."


Lame lyrics.  But they are a vivid part of my heritage.  Designed to compel children to hector their parents for a trip to the zoo.


It certainly worked in our household.


When I was growing up, the Portland Zoo was a big deal.  We moved to the Portland suburbs just as I was entering the fourth grade.  An age when a boy finds wonder in everything.


And the zoo was the biggest wonder of all.  To be mere feet away from animals that could crush or chew me provided a better adrenalin high than all the Twinkies I could eat.


The zoo of my early youth was one of those Victorian throwbacks where animals were confined in the equivalent of jail cells.


The star was Rosy, an Asian elephant.  She always seemed to be resigned to her life as an object of adoration and city pride.


In 1959, the zoo moved to modern quarters -- at the time, a world-class facility.  And with an additional set of new stars: penguins.  People flocked to see penguins at play and the result of the zoo's successful elephant breeding program.  Baby elephants were soon popping out one after the other.


The new zoo followed the modern standard of trying to creating more natural surroundings.  And more space -- for both the resident animals and the human visitors.


I cannot remember the last time I visited the zoo.  Probably in the early 1970s.


So, I jumped (or in my case, limped) at an invitation to visit the zoo last Sunday.  (Two earlier dates had fallen through.)


I would like to say it was a perfect trip.  It wasn't.  The weather was nice.  And the company was personable.  But not even Joe Biden could spin the zoo part of the trip into a good memory.


The zoo had a few new and interesting exhibits.  A bat house -- you can never go wrong with lots of bats.  A crocodile house.  A Pacific Northwest exhibition with eagles, bears, and mountain goats.


But almost all of the enclosures had a shop-worn look.  As if the zoo decided to reflect the state of the American economy in weeds and chipped paint.


That may be why the giraffe and hippopotamus had the thousand-yard stare of workers awaiting their redundancy notices.


Even the elephants and penguins appeared to have fallen on Norma Desmond times.  Big stars fallen.  The penguins appeared to be serving hard time.


Maybe I expected too much of the visit.  Or worse, maybe I counted on reality to live up to my memories.  A certain formula for failure.  My feelings toward animals is certainly different now than it was three decades ago.


But the visit was not a waste.  My ankle got a good workout.  And I had a good time with an old friend.


And maybe -- just maybe -- I will visit the zoo again.


In another 30 years.

     

10 comments:

Jackie said...

I am sorry to hear the Portland zoo is looking run down. Another sign of the poor local economy I suppose. Kids do not notice it though fro what I have heard from young relatives who have been there recently.

Anonymous said...

My ambivalence about our zoo here in Detroit is sometimes perplexing to me....I love animals....but...I hate to see them confined. It is so sad that there are more tigers in zoos than in the wild....It just seems like we messed up this endeavor.
Francisco

norm said...

The best zoo I have been to, was the Alberta Game Farm. You went around on a train through miles of zoo. The animals were as free as any animal can be in a cage. But in general, zoos are pretty sad places for the inmates.

Darrel said...

I wish I had known that you were going to the zoo. Just last week I found a zoo key in one of the boxes in my barn. You remember, the elephant shaped plastic key that you inserted into the audio box to unlock the magic and mystery of each exhibit. It quickly joined the pile of other useless junk headed to the landfill. I have no intention of returning to the caged exhibits.

Anonymous said...

I refrain from visiting a zoo. I cannot stand to see the animals locked in a cage, when they were meant to room freely. However, you can drive thru the Wildlife Safari at Winston, Oregon and view the animals, doing as they please over acres and acres and acres. One animal fell in love with the tail light of the vehicle I was in. I didn't think there would be a lens left after it finished rubbing it. Next it found the rear view mirror and joy of joy, how happy it was. Not all the animals roam the roads. There are fences, keeping the traffic from driving into and thru the animals territory.

Mom

Anonymous said...

I refrain from visiting a zoo. I cannot stand to see the animals locked in a cage, when they were meant to room freely. However, you can drive thru the Wildlife Safari at Winston, Oregon and view the animals, doing as they please over acres and acres and acres. One animal fell in love with the tail light of the vehicle I was in. I didn't think there would be a lens left after it finished rubbing it. Next it found the rear view mirror and joy of joy, how happy it was. Not all the animals roam the roads. There are fences, keeping the traffic from driving into and thru the animals territory.

Mom

Irene said...

When I was a child, so long ago, the penguins were housed at my neighborhood park until the facility at the Portland Zoo was ready. They used the swimming pool. The penguins were safe from the neighborhood kids as all access to the pool was blocked. We could watch them from the windows of the community room though.

Steve Cotton said...

Jackie -- It is still possible to have a fun day at the zoo. As long as you do not compare it with its past glory.

Francisco -- I know exactly what you mean. It is a bit like visiting relatives in jail. You are happy to see them, but sad about their circumstances.

Norm -- I like safari parks. (See my mother's comment.)

Darrel -- It appears the whole family is getting in on this. I am not certain the keys now operate anything. Great marketing gimmick, though, back then.

Mom -- It appears all threee of us share the same concern. Maybe we can stop in Winston this weekend.

Irene -- I almost wrote about the penguins' temporary quarters. We visited them once or twice before their zoo tank was ready. Peninsula Park, correct?

Irene said...

Wow, you have a good memory. Yes, the penguins were at Peninsula Park for a while.

Steve Cotton said...

Irene -- It was one of those truly memorable experiences. Penguins! In Portland!