We couldn’t have asked for a nicer day for a little trip. Last week, Michael said, “Mary, we don’t have time to take a vacation.” But my logic won my husband over: “We get an extra hour back for daylight-saving time.” Besides, Indianapolis is only a short jaunt, and we were headed for the zoo. It was cloudy at home, but the sun broke through, and by the time we pulled into the parking lot, the day was bright, even if a little brisk.
First stop was the walruses. Their giant bodies seemed weightless in a graceful dance through the blue lagoon. I was mesmerized watching one slowly pursuing something along the bottom. She would sweep it up with her whiskers, and then spit it out, only to chase it again. Was it a game? Or lunch?
On to the dolphins, where we stood under a glass dome with water over us and all around. They swam in for a close up look at us, like we were the curiosity in a reverse aquarium. Swimming together or separately, almost up against the glass and then far away, they went over the top of us and passed again upside-down.
Next, in the Orangutan Center, we came suddenly face to face with a soulful pair of eyes — a male sat quietly on a table in a nest of crumpled, brown paper — we almost didn’t see him at first because he sat so quietly, gazing at us from his corner. Unlike the rest of the zoo, which has a carefully crafted naturalistic feel, the Orangutan Center focuses on technology. There, the animals have plenty of ways to exercise both their bodies and their brains with sets of bars, ropes and slings, but also puzzles. They can actually climb outside to get a “treetop” view of the zoo through a series of ladders and catwalks (or orangutan walks, really). They would probably rather clamber around outside on a warm day, and we didn’t see anyone taking a brisk stroll on the skyway, so we’ll have to come back in the summertime.
Frankly, I have always been conflicted about zoos — childhood memories of the big cats locked in cages with bars, pacing, pacing, make me wince, even when I see lions, tigers, cheetahs outdoors in today’s carefully sculpted settings meant to mimic their homelands, with at least the illusion of expansive space. And if they are not truly free, with the ever-expanding loss of habitat of so many of our wild species, zoos these days are crucial in the attempt to preserve some genetic diversity. And like all good zoos, the Indianapolis Zoo has conservation at the heart of its mission.
Their webpage (indianapoliszoo.com) tells us about their good work with species preservation, but also about managing the zoo. They compost manure from the animals, which is great, and I noticed in the cafeteria they had cans for both recycling and landfill waste. They offer only reusable straws and dispense plastic utensils one at a time, which can cut down on waste, but just as I like to challenge myself to do more, I think the zoo could go further by offering a compost waste can and even using compostable plastics as the Chicago’s Botanic Garden does. Yet, I appreciate their efforts.
We stayed until closing, then over to White River State Park, a short distance away, and very close to a whole kettle of museums we will have to explore on another trip.
We started in the city with the canal walk, running alongside the Indiana State Museum. I had been there before but wanted to show Michael the sculptures set into the limestone walls of the building or nearby for each of Indiana’s 92 counties. These are little pieces of historic or humorous trivia about each county and made of glass, metal or even just carved into the limestone. Walking the periphery of the building alongside the peaceful canal is like viewing an outdoor gallery.
It’s fun to puzzle out the meaning of the various blocks, like Dubois County, which has carved dresser drawers (for the county’s skill in furniture manufacturing) with egg-shaped handles (for the county’s poultry farms) or the fantastical bronze piece for Elkhart County, “band capital of the world” — somehow both a treble clef shaped brass horn and an RV.
Well, I’m running out of room in this letter — and we haven’t even gotten to the wild part of the trail, so I will have to tell you more next time.
Stroll in beauty; explore in peace; blessed be.