Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Zoo School, part 3

It has been an epic journey, but zoo school has come to an end. As of Saturday, March 19th, I am an official docent! For my final exam I interpreted the Bengal Tiger exhibit for an hour during a busy Saturday afternoon, while experienced docents and our fearless leader stopped by to observe. It was a bit nerve-wracking but once I got up there my substitute teaching experience kicked in and I was chatting it up like a pro.

This weekend is our zoo school graduation party. There is rumor of a very special cake, and I'll do my best to take some snapshots.

Until then, please check out some of my new zoo pals:

Rhinoceros Hornbill, Nashville Zoo
Rhinoceros Hornbill

Red River Hogs, Nashville Zoo
Red River Hogs

Elephant Barn, Nashville Zoo
two lady-elephants, shot from inside their barn

Elephants, Nashville Zoo
a closer look at these gorgeous girls!

Wild Husbro
not a zoo pal, but my favorite captive beast

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Zoo School, part 2

Carrie, what did you do at zoo school this week?

Oh, nothing much. Just hung out in a barn with a bunch of giant anteaters.

One of the perks of becoming a zoo docent is occasionally getting behind the scenes, and this past Saturday was a stunning example. The director of onsite interpretation (ie our fearless leader) arranged for our class to have a backstage tour of the zoo's Giant Anteater breeding facility, located in a huge barn tucked behind the zoo.

It was pouring rain, and most of us had hydroplaned our way to class through the flooding streets of South Nashville. As we stood shivering and sharing umbrellas outside of the metal barn, we were not sure what to expect. The first thing that hit us was the cacophony of the downpour ricocheting off the aluminum roof. Then we were hit by the smell, a strong odor of musk and dung and barnyard.

And then the noses.

The front of the anteaters' pens are made up a metal bars to withstand their incredibly strong and razor-sharp claws. However, each bar is rounded and spaced just far enough apart to permit the access of a slender proboscis. The anteaters were endlessly curious about us and the hallway was full of questioning little noses, each thrust out in a way that brought to mind prisoners angling a mirror to peek down the cellblock.

Over the course of our visit I could not take my eyes off these incredible animals. They defy classification into our normal heirarchy of wildlife - there is nothing feline, or canid, or ursine about these beasts. Their drooping walk is not that of a pig, or cow, or deer. They shuffle on ape-like knuckles, dragging their tails and lifting a nearly blind head that moves from nose to neck in a single line unmarred by brow or chin. They trigger some kind of ancient reflex, a reaction from before Linneaus mapped the tree of life, an acknowledgement without name. Instead we stand there, two beasts sniffing each other, with blank minds.

The illusion broke when the keeper strolled up and demonstrated their unearthly tongues by having them lick yogurt and fruit out of a plastic yarder. Hey, these anteaters know how to party!

In conclusion, I love Zoo School. The end.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Spring / Sowing the Seeds of Victory

Sow the Seeds of Victory! Plant and Raise Your Own Vegetables. Write to the National War Garden Commission, Washington, D.C., for Free Books on Gardening, Canning, and Drying. "Every Garden a Munition Plant." Charles Lathrop Pack, President. ca. 1918

Spring has hit Tennessee pretty hard and I've been unable to sit still long enough to write about it. Walking into my office in the morning I have to duck under the boughs of pear trees, so heavy with frilled white flowers they look like snowbanks. Outside my window a cherry tree fizzles with pink blossoms, impervious to rainstorms and wind. Even my orchid on the windowsill has started blooming in sympathy pains. It is spring and the air smells like dirt and it is a happy relief.

For the first summer in 2 years I will be staying put in one place, which means I can finally have a garden. And unlike my ramshackle Lawrenceville stoop-gardens full of plants in 5 gallon buckets, this year is for real. My landlords gave their blessing for me to put in a vegetable garden; happily they are gardeners themselves and even offered to lend me a rototiller. I found some lovely documents put out by the University of Tennessee Extension that contain a wealth of information specific to gardening in this weird Southern world. The past few days have been a blur of researching, note-taking, diagramming and day-dreaming. Matt saw a page of my cramped notes and cross-hatched plot diagrams and asked if I was building a bomb. I am armed and dangerous (with a trowel).

With a hopeful heart I ordered my seeds on Tuesday night. In choosing my cultivars, my goal was to focus on heirlooms, favoring plants originating in the area. Of course this was not possible in every case - I choose chilies from the southwest and adorable lemon squashes from who knows where, because they fit my needs better then the local cultivars. However, I was able to go with heirlooms all the way. I ended up ordering through two different companies: New Hope Seeds and Baker Creek Heirlooms. New Hope seeds was a particular windfall; it's a small family-run farm located an hour southeast of Nashville that specializes in local cultivars, many dating back to the mid 19th century. Thanks to New Hope I will be growing White Velvet Okra, Tip Top Muskmelons and Tennessee Sweet Potato Pumpkins. Add them to the Georgia Southern Creole Collards and the Red Cheese Peppers coming from Baker Creek, and I will have a proper Southern garden blooming in no time.