Friday, June 12, 2009

To go to the zoo... usually to spend as much time watching people as watching (other) animals. The last couple of days at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans, I've been very aware of watching school groups, big roaming packs of kids hurrying from exhibit to exhibit, and also smaller family groups making their way through the heat from the elephants to the cafe to Monkey Hill. So I started thinking about what it is that children actually experience at the zoo, what are they seeing, noticing, remembering?

And thus this question, to anyone interested: What are your childhood memories of a trip to the zoo, what stands out?


Mim said...

My father took me to the Bronx Zoo. The elephants! I remember an elephant house. I was very small; they, of course, enormous. They seemed to know me when they looked at me with their sad eyes. I sensed that their ears were acutely sensitive; the ears were leaf-like . My father didn't rush me; we looked at the elephants a long time. The extraordinary skin. It seemed odd that it was gray. I also remember the Reptile House. The snakes were immobile in their glass fronted cages. The air was hot, dry, unpleasant. I felt akin to the mammalian elephants, not to the snakes. I hadn't been far from my small neighborhood. The zoo itself seemed vast and often strange. The lions prowled on lion island. The word "menagerie" was not in my vocabulary then, but I believe the sense of strangeness came from all those species displayed in unnatural settings. Zoos have changed, but they still are strange to me.

Bebe Cook said...

My earliest memory of visiting the zoo, was the San Antonio Zoo and Aquarium, circa 1968 (I was five). I remember a hallway/room where the aquarium was above and on both sides of me. I was holding my Dad's hand and I made him stop to wait, and for a minute I felt like I was inside the belly of the ocean, and I desperately wanted to swim as if I was one of the fish. I was also a bit afraid, and remember asking my Dad about what happens if the water broke, I think in my mind I believed that the aquarium was actually glassed in ocean and we could be swept away. This image has stayed with me my entire life and surfacs in both my dreams and nightmares. I have an affinity for the ocean and a healthy respect for the undertow, perhaps it began there at five, when the ocean swallowed me.

Anonymous said...

There is a family story that when I was a very small child, my mother took me to the local zoo. There had recently been a baby elephant added to the exhibit. She asked me if I wanted to pet the baby. I was a fairly fearful child, and shook my head and said, "When he gets smaller."

We went back a few years later, and the baby was much bigger, and so was I, although not in proportion. I got to pet the trunk, the amazing warm skin and the tenderness of the tip.

Leslie said...

A gorilla. Huge, black. Sitting a bit like the buddha. Leathery/rubbery black face. Bars bigger around than my wrists (I held my arm up to check). Then a space of blank concrete floor, then a fence. So many impediments, but still his overwhelming there-ness.

He seemed at some terrible distance, a darkness in the dark gray old concrete building. Proportionally all wrong. In my mind he is about 15 feet tall, which I think must be the afterimage of a very small person looking at something much larger than experience allowed for.

He was begging for things and the crowd would throw popcorn between the bars. And cigarettes. And digging through bags and purses for more things to throw.

I think it was the last time I went willing to a zoo.

Unknown said...

My earliest visits to a zoo were in postwar London. I was in preschool, and one day we were evacuated because work crews across the street had exposed a still-armed V2 rocket. This was a confusing, frightening experience to a four-year-old. My father promised to take my sister and me to the zoo on Sunday morning. That was the day he made breakfast for us, with animal-shaped pancakes he drew from his fantastic imagination. Food rationing made such things as bacon scarce, and it was a time when the rind had to be trimmed away carefully. Dad always bagged up the rinds so we could take them to the zoo to feed to Pete, the hippopotamus. Pete always lumbered slowly to the bars of his enclosure and gently took the rinds from out small hands.

T. said...

I remember the silence in the cat house.

Anonymous said...

The train--more so than any animal, I remember the train rattled around the parameter of the zoo, the trees bowing over us at nearly every turn.

As an adult, I remember the penguins, much smaller and warmer than expected. How gracefully they dove and how ungracefully they teetered near the zoo keepers bucket of fish. I saw kids peering through the plexiglass at both parts of the split-level tank.

I hope they remember the penguins more than the train.

And penguins, like doves, are least for a season. I like that.