Where strange fact and stranger fiction collide
My family and I have recently moved, from one farm to another. The old property owners left the place in a colossal mess. So I am moving the bulk of a pile of trash to another pile of trash, which happens to be in a more convent location. My arms are full of water logged LP’s and discarded first grade art projects, when the Genius Loci of Portland appears in front of me. She is a manifestation of my subconscious, the personification of the city I love.
Today she is wearing hiking boots, tailored khaki pants and shirts, and a white pith helmet. “I don’t think we have enough animals.” She bemoans.
I dump my load in the trash pile and respond. “I live on a farm with four goats, seven ducks, eight chickens, twenty-five rabbits, two dogs and two cats. Trust me that is more than enough”
“Really Dave, is that truly enough?” She pouts.
“Well two of the goats are pregnant.” I add sheepishly.
“That is better.” She says picking up. “It is just, well…You know…I just love Animals.”
And Portland does love animals. Signs in stores read ‘Well behave dogs allowed.’ When I search the local help wanted adds I find many people trying to fill positions for jobs like, ‘dog groomer’, ‘dog walker’ or ‘dog masseuse.’ Not to mention how many people there are living on Portland’s fringes like myself who are embracing the whole bo-ho farm lifestyle.
One place you can see that love of animals manifested is in the Oregon Zoo. I have a friend who once said he could tell if animals are well cared for and loved in a zoo, after only a few minutes of touring it. And that is entirely true in the Portland Zoo. The whole place seems to beam with a harmony between man and beasts.
The Oregon Zoo, was founded a hundred and twenty-five years ago, and is the oldest zoo west of the Mississippi River. It is doing a thriving business with over 1.5 million visitors last year. And has been part of a successful breading program for both California Condors and Asain Elephants.
Though there is parking if you want to fully experience the zoo you have to take the Tri-Met, train line. It goes through a tunnel in West Hill and the Washing Park station is 260 feet below the surface, North America’s deepest subway station. To most people this may not seem like something excursion worthy, but for me I get the same kind of pre-event thrill, I get from taking the tram, from the parking lot to Disneyland.
In addition to North American animal exhibits there are traditional zoo animals such as elephants, lion and tigers. The educational factor is always stressed here. With large signs and interactive activities to teach those young and old alike about then animals and their natural environment.
My favorite exhibit is the bat cave. A huge mock underground cavern, where the visitors are separated by glass from dozens of bats. Like most people who have been raised watching Dracula, and who also don’t want to get rabies, I have a natural aversion to bats, but I am still fascinated by these creatures of the night. Here you can stand surrounded by them and watch them close up, but still be safely separated by a clear unbreakable partition. It is almost as if you become one with the nocturnal flying mammals, as if you become an honorary bat.
During the month of December, at night the zoo becomes a place of wonder and lights. The whole place is lit up with Christmas lights. It is worth venturing out in bleak Oregon winter weather to see. In 2012 they even had an area lit up like the forest from Avatar. Because of the move I didn’t go this year, but I am told it was as amazing as ever.
During the summer they have concerts in the zoo, Last year had headliners like Chris Isaac and The Go-Go’s. We caught Weird Al Yankovic last, it was a perfect outdoor venue. And Portland the quirky town that it is filled up the large grass area around the stage with people who felt the title weird was a badge of honor.
At the zoo the Genius Loci still in her kakis and pith helmet looks over a display with a sleeping North American otter called an ‘otter-box’. Smiling she gushes “Isn’t he so cute.”
I smile back at her, she and the whole town seem to become children or better yet, seem to take on a childlike sense of awe at the zoo. I get the whole zoos are a bad thing mentality. I could understand why people think animals should be set free. But still as I look at the animals in the zoo, and I see the town that has come to see them and who loves them so much, I can’t help but think we have reached some kind of symbiosis.