Rainy Day at the Wildlife Center

It’s a rainy day in the Perkins Wildlife Center.  Not too many visitors, but there are some, making use of the transparent umbrellas the Museum provides for days like this.  In a kind of alchemy, the rain has transformed the bark of the hundred-year-old beech trees from pewter gray to the worn bronze of a Buddhist temple bell. The surface of the water in the wetlands area and the otter pool is alive with stippling raindrops. Tall flora in the woods garden bend low over the path under the weight of accumulated moisture, applying damp brush strokes to visitors’ hips and arms.

The rain has made the dark channel of fur along Ember’s back even more pronounced as she trots her mud-caked feet through the puddles, chasing after her coyote brothers. Over near the Aviary, Sunny and Cloudy, the barred owls, stand resolute on their perches, ignoring the shelter provided for just such a day. A small fluff and twitter shakes off the rain from time to time, then they settle and preen the moisture from their feathers.

Coyotes Tex, Red and Ember (l-r) on the roof of a den at the Wildlife Center

The animals don’t mind the rain – or the snow.  Scarlet the red fox curls like a furry crustacean on her favorite high platform regardless of the weather; panting in the blazing sun, frosted under an inch of snow or, like today, occasionally stretching, shaking off the drops in a mini-shower of her own, then settling right back into her curl. The otters probably don’t even know it’s raining – they’re almost always wet anyway.

River Otters in the Wildlife Center

The Museum works hard to give the best life it can to these rescued, injured or otherwise survival-impaired creatures. Every day, in the sylvan, generously designed Wildlife Center, the staff invests their care and expertise to make the animals’ lives as rich and natural as possible, at the same time providing all that is needed for their health and long life.

We know these particular creatures could not live out there in the wild.  But one cannot help but wonder if they have a sense of their own fragility. While the animals don’t mind the rain or snow, I wonder if they mind the wire net and sweet-scented wood of their enclosures.

I’ve often thought that compassion for animals is an easier emotion to summon up and even feel more deeply than what we feel for many people. I have thought this is because people have the potential to understand and adjust to what hurts or distresses, and to whatever extent possible, choose to make the effort to rise above it.  We think animals are less able – maybe unable – to do this.  They can adjust, but can they understand? Can they understand that, because their wing is injured or their eye occluded or a foot was lost to a steel trap that they are better off sequestered here? Certainly, in captivity, they have no creative choices or capacity to change their situation. If they did, I wonder, would they choose to stay and be safe? Would they choose our interventions over letting nature take its course – no matter how hard or harsh that course might be?

Scarlet

We will never know what the animals think about our caring for them.  But it seems there is evidence that many of them do what is in their nature to do to remain as wild and independent as possible. Scarlet chooses the open air – the high exposed platform in her enclosure, to the cozy den provided for her.  The coyotes sleep on top of their dens, or under trees – never inside, no matter how cold or wet.  The raptors ruffle and preen through the storm, high in their trees and perches, emblems of endurance and acceptance.

And I wonder, as I wander along the winding paths of the Center, about what they are thinking and hope, if perhaps they are not happy, then at least they are content.

Finding Joy in the Season

Those of you who read my blog (thank you) know I have not written much lately.  This past year and more recently this season of fear and anxiety, have made it hard to focus on things other than the daily unfolding of disappointment and alarm that permeates the news. It is always my intention, in these postings, to stay above – or at least to one side – of the political, paying attention to in-the-moment moments from my own experiences that I feel may resonate with you.  So with the deep uncertainty of the coming new administrations, as we leave the third year in a row with record global temperatures, and with a thunderstorm in mid-January raging around the house, I am trying, today, to find and savor moments of joy.

There are the little things – my two sweet cats who daily fill the house with their calm grace.

Shy Cosette safe under the tree.

Shy Cosette safe under the tree.

My first Christmas with an artificial tree that was so beautiful and perfect I did not want to take it down.  The cards and Holiday letters from friends far and near that filled my mailbox in the final weeks of the year with news and warm wishes.

I must mention my terrific students – I recently began teaching in the undergraduate Arts Management program of the Conservatory at Baldwin Wallace University.  Just before the Holidyas I graded final exams and am so happy at the large number of talented young people in my class who got ‘A’s. I am also overjoyed to have this new useful skill (teaching) to develop at this stage of my life.

Coyotes Tex, Red and Ember (l-r) on the roof of a den at the Wildlife Center

Coyotes Tex, Red, and Ember (l-r) on the roof of a den at the Wildlife Center

Just a few weeks ago I had something close to a perfect day.  I volunteer two days a week at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History – I am a “steward’ (like a docent) in the new Perkins Wildlife Center.

River Otters in the Wildlife Center

River Otters in the Wildlife Center

That job means being both a kind of guard and a guide for visitors: guarding the animals from the few ‘unaware’ folk who sometimes come, and guiding most of the visitors to learn and care about the animals. It is a pure joy to be in that amazing and beautiful space in such close proximity to these wild creatures.

One of those wonderful days ended with a Cleveland Orchestra concert at Severance Hall.  There was a guest conductor (Jaap von Zweden) and a pianist (Danil Trifonov) neither of whom I knew. The program was a Britten Requiem (not the War Requiem), Mozart’s Piano Concerto #23 and the war horse – Beethoven’s 5th Symphony.  I was tired – having walked with the animals for 4 hours that day, but I had a date, so I looked forward to sharing time with a friend, even though I was not all that excited about the concert. I didn’t really need a Requiem just then, the Mozart was not my favorite (19 and 21 are) and I thought; what new could I hear in the Beethoven?

REVELATION! After the somber but compelling Britten, the rest of the concert was unmitigated joy. The pianist’s interpretation of the Mozart had the whole audience smiling and jumping from their seats at the end.  We were rewarded with an encore. And the Beethoven!  I must say I’ve heard some wonderful interpretations, but this was as if every note was new and fresh – as if written that morning.  Up in the second row of the balcony, we all just could not stop clapping and grinning at each other.  What a beautiful, joy-filled shared experience with friends and strangers!

There have been other joyous moments in this dark time, of course.  I just want to keep reminding myself to savor and treasure them.  Each one adds a coin to the scale on the side of optimism.

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