Zoos, Butterflies and Books

I visited the Assiniboine Park Zoo here in Winnipeg last week. The coordinator at the Immigrant Centre where I volunteer had given us passes and I was curious . . . I’d not been there for quite a while. 

Our local zoo used to be quite affordable, but now it’s a rather expensive outing for a family. Of course, my kids are way past an age where going to the zoo would be considered fun, but I’m not sure who this renovated zoo actually caters to. Rich, entitled tourists? Definitely not young families with limited disposable income and definitely not the animals trapped inside.

We have to maneuver our conversation around the roar of ascending and descending planes . . . the zoo is under the airport flight path. How do the animals, with their sensitive hearing, manage? I think of the special events during the winter when even long winter nights get lit up for our entertainment. What a barrage of sensory pollution we force upon them. 

The polar bears provide us with entertainment in their pool of water. Orphans rescued from Churchill, they seem to have the largest area to roam. Seals dance underwater to unheard rhythms, while the grey wolf towers above us on his artificial rock ledge. Does he miss his pack?

Camels meditatively munch grass, while antelope and buffalo flip their fly-swatter tails back and forth. . . politely ignoring us. People point and gawk, lick cones and sip from water bottles. 

Most beautiful is the Amur tiger (also known as the Siberian tiger).  Pacing, pacing, back and forth. I’m reminded of the book by John Vaillant, set in eastern Russia: The Tiger: A True Story of Vengence and Survival and I can’t help but feel sorry for this magnificent creature.

My mood improves immensely in the butterfly cage. Glorious colours. Wings and blossoms. Fluttering. Constant motion. I connect the butterflies with art and with life. So many stages to the butterfly. The egg, the caterpillar, the pupa or chrysalis, and finally the letting go and flying away. 

So it is with writing a book. You have the idea. You let that idea grow, gorging it with words and more words . . . let it grow big and fat. Then you let it sit. This is the pupa or chrysalis stage. Okay, maybe the comparison falls apart here. 

Every writer knows that there’s more whittling and shaping required before that butterfly emerges ready to take off. We don’t have quite the magic or privacy of the butterfly whose big changes happen hidden from view. But in the end our idea gets wings and takes off into the world’s big garden to live its short and fragile life . . . hopefully laying eggs along the way. 


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