Tag Archives: Metro Toronto Zoo

Reliable Witless

One of my aunts once tried to sneak up on a peacock at the zoo, in a vain attempt to pluck one of its magnificent tail feathers, a souvenir to remember the day by. We were in the picnic area eating our packed lunch (day-old pork-chops and corn brunt on the cob); the peacocks wandered among us, free-range. Squatting on her haunches creep-creeping along, a wicked smile on her face (or perhaps a wide grimace) she extended her hand, fingers grazing a fringe of iridescent feathers of blue, green and gold. I watched. I could not not watch…

…then I realized that the memory actually occurred to me during a dream, in which I was walking through Chinatown looking for cutlery and came upon a store display with peacocks feathers for sale for a buck a piece. The memory of the zoo was part of the dream and upon waking and right now as I’m typing, I cannot say whether the memory in the dream was a real-world memory, or a dream of one. I don’t remember. I can’t distinguish.

I could ask my aunt, but if she lied I wouldn’t know the difference anyway. I don’t know if she’d have any reason to lie, especially about something as seemingly harmless as this (of course, for this to be true, we’d have to set aside the peacock’s POV because I don’t imagine it would consent to such mistreatment), but confirm or deny the matter nevertheless remains, crucially, beyond me.

A memory in a dream, or a dream of a memory. It happened, one way or another.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Birds, Childhood, Dreams, Family, Food, Places

Ride Along

1. The pony was shaggy, overworked thing, all knobby knees and sagging skin. And even though it was still nursing its tiny foal, they saddled it up and give me the reins. The baby followed us, tying to keep pace with its mother so it could nurse, while the guide, a terse man with thin lips, pulled us along atop his own stead, a horse and not a pony. It was wide-eyed and better fed then its companions – that’s about all I can say about the horse. The pony tried to stop to fed the foal. I didn’t mind, but the man sure did.

 

2. The elephant ride happened a few years before the pony, at a circus that came to town once a year. At the end of the show, once the lions had been wrangled back into the their cages and the clowns, mercifully, exited the stage, parents lined up with their children, and for a small fee, bought them a seat on the elephant’s back. The “saddle,” such as it was, was more like a playpen, capable of carrying about a dozen evenly-sized kids at a time. We were then taken around the perimeter of big top. We went around and around and around, then stopped and disembarked.

I cannot say the elephant enjoyed giving rides for a living. It also did tricks – balancing on its front legs, sitting only on its hind legs, trunk curled high in the air waving a baton (the secret of tricks: the more antithetical to the nature of the beast the more impressive the trick). Elephants must earn their keep at the circus. As for me, I remember staring intently at its cracked grey skin, at the coarse black hair growing there, sticking out in all directions, something you don’t ever see in cartoons or storybooks depicting elephants. Something I did not know was even possible before that day, but which I’m sure I could have easily looked up in a book.

 

3. A friend decided to surprise me with a camel ride at the zoo, buying the ticket while I roamed elsewhere, unawares. There was no line and few people out that day. It was nearing the end of summer, the beginning of their off-season. The camel seemed annoyed at having to work on such a light day, but it dutifully carried me along a well-marked path, its keeper guiding it using a halter attached to its head. It was a Bactrian – two humps, not one. My friend took our picture: it is of me giving her the finger as I ride the camel. This was all after the elephant, years and years. I didn’t say anything during the ride, not to the camel and certainly not to its keeper. Our relationship was strictly transactional.

***

Bactrian camels live up to 50 years in the wild, and between 20-40 years in captivity. So it is likely the camel at the zoo is still alive. Elephants live up to 20 years in captivity, and anywhere between 60-70 years in the wild. There are no more elephants in zoos in Canada and elephants have been banned from circuses (or rather, circuses have been banned from using elephants). I doubt the elephant I rode is dead, and I hope it went somewhere that was more in line with the dignity of elephants. The pony is surely dead.

That any one of these creatures allows us to ride on their backs seems preposterous, perhaps because it is.

It just is.

***

While on vacation one year we stopped at an unnamed tourist trap offering ostrich rides. Living, breathing ostriches, $20 bucks (American) a ride. Speaking of the preposterous, and not forgetting too the sheer lunacy to be found out there, literally anywhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Animals, Birds, Childhood, Places, THE PAST

Raccoon/Raccoons

 
A raccoon tried to break through my skylight above my bed last night.

No wait. Let me back up.

It was a hot day in the summer of my childhood.

The Metro Toronto Zoo, a heavy, hazy day by the lion’s den, the lions more lifeless than bored. But I had already turned away from their prone and insensible bodies.

To peer into the contents of the garbage can, tipped toward me for my benefit. Two brilliant eyes stares back, up at me.

“Hey, girl!” the Groundskeeper had said, “want to see these things close up?”

The raccoon was terrified. In to grab a snack, then suddenly caught and on display like every other damn thing.

His arms were braced against the inside of the can.

An arm flashed rigid and grasping against the pane of the skylight, illuminated by the light of the moon. 3:00AM, alone and terrified, I stared up.

Just as the tiny fingers pushed through, digging into the wire mesh beneath, curling up under the frame of the skylight.

But the groundskeeper was a kind-hearted soul, who said to me, “OK. Step away now,” as he tipped the garbage can all the way down, slowly, gently, to the ground.

Beside us the lions stirred, and were still again.

Her babies. The landlord had called the exterminator, and he had taken away her babies from the old broken down chimney. She was here now, looking for them.

Trying to get in.

And nothing!

For long moments, nothing.

Then one tentative hand. Pause, back in the can again.

Then out.

Out, out, out!

An explosion of grey and black and teeth and fur and tail and ring, ring, rings!

An explosion of glass and wire; of wood and rot and rodent fury had I not.

Had I not.

Hit the lights, jumped on the bed with the only thing at hand – a long cardboard tube of old Christmas wrap – and thrust it into the skylight, the heavens, the mother raccoon.

Those clever little raccoon hands.

The trapped raccoon, mad for his freedom, scattered gravel and garbage in his wake as he ran blindly from his little prison and jumped up, hitting the fence, climbing hand over hand.

Straight into the lions’ den.

Trying to get out.

And I remembered.

I remembered the lion coming to life. I remember her flat then lithe and ready and liquid and pouncing onto the raccoon, with grace, with ease, front claws out then in, embedded deeply into raccoon flesh and then the lion breaking the raccoon’s neck with audible “pop” and then devouring the raccoon in great gulps as the Groundskeeper turned to me and said, “My god, good Lord!

And then in that space between shock and awe, it occurred to me.

As much as I resent raccoons, even hate them, I might as well respect them.

They do what they can.

I jabbed again at the skylight, nearly losing my balance on the bed.

The mother raccoon hissed once, and was gone.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Filed under Animals, People, Places, THE PAST