Monday, January 30, 2012


Typing that title, I remember standing at the blackboard (in the dark ages, before white boards were replaced by smart boards) and arguing with the teacher that traveling had 2 L's, not one.  I was fairly adamant about it, as was she.  Richard Levine opened the dictionary and told us that we were both correct as I watched the teacher shake her head and erase my extraneous (in her eyes, at least) L.  She was the teacher, she was in charge, what did we know, anyway?  Fifth grade was a hard year.

Travel(l)ing with a leg and a half is hard, too.  Brother and 2 of the 3 women in his life took me to the National Zoo on Friday morning.  It was 60 and sunny in DC; the rain clouds were gone by the time we met up at my hotel and it was a glorious day for a walk.  By the time we got to the end of the hotel's approach road (it was much too long to be called a driveway) I was exhausted.  We piled into a taxi to save my hip for the hippos.  $10 to cover 4 blocks; disability is expensive.  

We saw the cheetahs stalking the zebras.  Their habitats are next to one another, which seems vaguely hostile.  The zebras were calmly munching their hay as the cheetah paced and sniffed and watched and was thwarted by the moat and the electrified barrier separating their domains.  I know that they exist beside one another in the wild, but this just seemed mean.

The great apes were in rare form, pulling lettuce out of balls-with-holes suspended from the ceiling.  Extra-long pointer fingers are very handy when your palm is the size of a large paperback book and the hole is 3" across.  The baby grabbed lettuce and shared with the grown-ups; good manners are apparently a cross-species trait.  

Staring into the eyes of the silverback, thinking about the Harry's Law episode where the client wants to establish an ape's personhood so she can adopt an escapee, Brother and I pondered the joy and the sorrow of watching our genetically related neighbors living behind plexiglass.  Zoos do that to me - I am never sure just how I feel about the whole on exhibit thing.  

The zoo, like Washington itself, is not flat.  The animals have lots of room to roam, the paths are wide and nicely paved, and there are benches along the route.  That was a good thing for my achy hip and me.  Brother began to worry as the sweat began pouring down my cheeks; was I in pain and keeping quiet so as not to disturb our lovely morning?  Not at all; walking is sweaty exercise for me. I feel every muscle, every insertion, every contraction and expansion.  I compare and contrast as I attempt to duplicate on the right what my left side is doing without effort; sometimes I actually succeed.  Being questioned about my rolling gait serves to remind me to balance my hips and use my foot and ankle.

Strolling didn't used to be this hard.

There's an O-line between the Great Apes's domain and the Think Tank. I know. I know. That sentence doesn't make much sense. It would have been equally opaque to me before Friday. The O-line is a series of towers and wire-ropes over which the apes travel to the research station 200 yards away. In the Think Tank, keepers and scientists are analyzing the thinking patterns of their charges. With computerized picture-matching exercises the animals behind bars perform for those uncaged. It wasn't very crowded and we were an interested audience as the volunteer docent followed us from area to area, bringing us up to date on the latest in primate research while holding a plastic ape-skull under her arm.

The only thing missing was Daddoooo. He would have loved it.

The clouds had rolled in while we were inside, and Kyle-the-orang utan (yes, it's two words in Borneo-ese and, respectfully, at the Zoo, too) had to be coaxed outdoors. Across the wires he went, resting on the towers with their electrified bases to keep him atop and not on the path below. The keepers warned us to stay out from under the wires; orang utans urinate at will and she didn't want us to take a smelly shower.

I was, once again, delighted and sad. Kyle was swinging and loping and stopping and looking and doing the bidding of the humans who keep him. The science being done at our National Zoo will change our perceptions of what thinking really is. I just wish there were a way for our genetic neighbors to help without being held hostage.

On the other hand, there aren't many predators lurking in the shadows, waiting to snatch an ape-baby for brunch. Like most of life, it's a trade-off.

I had to be back at the hotel for a 1:30 meeting so we started uphill at noon. Sweaty and smiling, I set benchmarks for distances I would travel. If I could get to the next intersection I'd allow myself to rest. If I could get to the benches I'd let myself sit. Brother and the ladies were accomodating and understanding and appropriately sympathetic. There was no coddling, but no one was pushing me, either. Good relatives are to be cherished.

We rested while watching the cheetah (or chiquita as one employee called them) pace and the zebra chew and I had a chance to marvel at the wonder of a free animal exhibit right in the middle of town. Washington's full of magnificent freebies, but I do believe that the National Zoo is my favorite.

Oh, yes, we did take a cab back to the hotel. My hip was definitely done for the day. I didn't feel sorry for myself, though. I'd walked for two hours and heard Brother wonder why I was setting such a speedy pace. Impressed that I was confounding and not annoying, I merely smiled and reminded him that I was, in fact, a speedy little devil.

I guess Daddooooo was around after all. That's what he used to call me.


  1. Darn it! When you said you were coming to DC, I didn't actually realize you were coming to DC proper. I was in DC on Saturday night. And while I'm very liberal, I was very much annoyed by the Occupy Washington crowd. It made it very hard to get around. Many streets were closed off where we were. We even saw the camping grounds and I stopped and asked an officer why there was such an enormous police presence. All he said was Occupy Washington.

    Hope you had a good time here.

    Happy Monday!

    Megan xxx

  2. ironic, but accommodating has 2 m's. :)

    1. Amonymous...I really don't think it matters...Ashleigh, congrats on a trip where you stretched your limits and were surrounded by loved ones.

  3. I can just see you there.

    It is so hard to bow to our physical limitations gracefully, isn't it? Another one of those things we're supposed to be able to do gracefully. We're headed to visit HEG in San Diego next week and I'm already dreading the times I have to either ask that speedy family to slow down for me. Got any tips?


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