Saturday, June 28, 2014

two events were noteworthy in the annals of trying to keep too many kids busy in a long hot summer, in the middle of hot dry flat west texas where i guess people are used to having a great time, but i just feel mostly hot & dry, burned to a crisp, with a voice going rasp from yelling in all directions, kids going bong-bong-bong from soda or whatever, and unable to focus well enough on my direction, to stay close to me.

the first place, the ranch museum, one of my favorite places, in fact, because it brings these old ranch houses to a single site, in the city of lubbock, up against the marsha sharp expressway, and these places when put together give you a sense of what ranching was like back in the good old days. they have an old santa fe train, pictures coming i hope, and the kids liked that, crawling over that, in it, under it, against it, leaning on its little metal hoses. in the world of push-the-envelope-see-how-far-you-can-go-before-some-grownup-tells-you-to-behave, this is an ideal playground. now the ironic thing was that the ranch museum had given the kids a goal, which was something like find-the-stuffed-rabbit, and the rabbit as it turned out was on that train somewhere, and my son found it, or so he claimed, i never actually saw it. the place is often crawling with a kind of wild jackrabbit, who used to come out right by the back entrance there, though they've cut a lot of their bushes, and it was very hot, so we didn't see any live ones. but by god they found the stuffed one, out in the train, and we hung about this stage, which was actually indoors, in a place that was cooled a bit by the breeze off the workers' garage and the marsha sharp, a nice breeze which, along with the shade of the stage place, made it downright tolerable. i challenged the kids to perform, but they wouldn't. they tore around. we learned a few random things about taking care of horses, branding, what to wear, etc. the main thing we learned was that it's generally pretty hot when you don't have air conditioning, and you come to appreciate shade, a gentle breeze, the cover of an old boxcar, still in the field.

the other place was the science spectrum, which was holding "critter-fest," apparently this town has no zoo, and its circuses are maybe too few and far between. or too commercial. for some reason the city and the science spectrum worked together to bring a lion show, a crocodile/alligator show, a tent where one could ride a horse, a larger tent where people rode an elephant, etc. it was an odd combination of zoo and circus, it cost a fortune, it made you wonder how well they treated the animals, or if that was in fact a life worth living for the animals, and above all it offered kids the chance to once look some animal in the eye, whether it be an ancient elephant, behind crusted skin and eyes, or maybe a goat, or a miniature horse that they just rode, who just happened to be peeing and pooping on the spot to everyone's great mortification, but still had the presence of mind to say hello to the kid, and try to explain why he walked so funny.

now this is the place where i made the mistake of letting them have sodas, and they were like zing-zing-zing in every direction, toward the horse, toward the goat, toward the parking lot or whatever and i had to call in all directions at all times, and they still didn't hear me. it was a critter fest, and i had the critters, mine weren't tied up, or behind a cage. my yelling, my extortion, my near-violent fits of rage were on display for the public to see. the kids were just being kids, though they waited until they got to the bathroom, to do the peeing and pooping. I was lucky, in retrospect.

I'm reminded of a story of a kid in a small windswept depression-era panhandle town, where the people were starving and ran all the rabbits into the center of a village, and then clubbed them, because they saw the rabbits as competition, basically, for meager harvests and wheat. and the kid followed everyone and listened carefully as the poor rabbits got clubbed to death, screaming in horror. Another story was about a girl at sea world, who just happened to see a dolphin at the right time, and communicate which as we know is possible. it's like, maybe these animals, captive that they are, are aware that it's their mission in life to reach across that line, and connect to some human on some level, quick, in order to save not only their species but every other, too. it's because, as time goes on, it's man against the rest of 'em, and man isn't sparing any of the weapons. do any of these people have any compassion at all for the animal world? well, yes, a little, but it turns out, most of their real knowledge comes from experiences like this one, where they may or may not get to reach out and actually touch some poor animal. and the animal's whole job is to not bite back in any way. to be a specimen example of the animal kingdom such that people can know just a little more about how animals feel.

one more story. winter sunday, city of buffalo, my sister-in-law, who is blind, brings her seeing-eye-dog into the buffalo zoo. now the zoo is a large place, but it's open on a sunday morning, free in its own way, people can walk right in, without of course actually touching the animals. and she brings that dog with her, as is her right, though i'm not sure what they'd say if the zoo actually had any representatives there to stop her. the lions roared, the elephants roared especially loudly. an enormous racket went up throughout the zoo. it was as if the entire zoo had to warn everyone about the possibility of a transient dog on a leash passing through the human walkway area.

why do i relate these stories? i am fraught with moral doubt every time i go to a zoo, obviously. i think it's good to show kids animals, in all shapes and sizes. i think it's good to use zoos to conserve animal species worldwide. i think it's good that kids in a town have a kid-like thing to do on a sweltering day. everything else about the place makes me uncomfortable. i don't, in my heart, believe that those tigers are living the life a tiger was meant to live. the man held out a stick. when he did, they climbed up. once one of them roared, that was a fine moment. but mostly they lived the life of defeated captive.

reminds me of the guys who got caught by aliens and brought to an alien city, where they were put in a cage in an alien zoo. every day aliens walked by and stared at them, alone in their cage. finally they were bored, and they captured some small bug and made a cage for it, and kept it in captivity. at this point, the aliens, surprised, learned their language, and released them, telling them, we finally realized you were civilized, when we saw you imprisoning those little bugs.

such is life, and i intend to celebrate freedom, every moment of it, and maybe teach the critters as much as i can about it. it's the beginning of fourth week, the fourth is on friday, and so i'm sure almost every day will have fireworks, and there will be a celebration, and we will have some time off, as the temps get over a hundred, the days get long, the kids get restless, they do lots of screens and have nowhere to go, but maybe the lazy river. there's soccer on television, but we aren't watching it; there's wild vegetables out in the garden, but i have no time to pick around out there because i'm always in here watching over their shoulders as they do inane games and watch cartoons. but i take my patriotism seriously, so i intend to write about it. what's best for this country and its people, most notably its children, the most impressionable, the helpless? i think that, like fathers' day, this is one holiday where we really ought to think about what we want, what kind of culture we want to pass along, and get started in the act of creating what we want to pass along. would that be a war-mongering, hateful, competitive, vicious culture where someone's always a loser and by god if it isn't you now, it will be soon enough? or what? i'm not sure, but in the eyes of those animals i learned something: we're missing something here. like maybe, we're missing the main point.


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