I began Friday morning – as I do most weeks – at my favorite coffee shop, but today it had a much different feel. For some reason, the shop was mobbed. No seats, people standing and waiting for their orders. and lots of noise from laughers, talkers, and the coffee grinder. Today was not a good day to sit and relax, to unwind the week with a latte and a book. So, I decided to visit the Cameron Park Zoo.
I love zoos, I always have. The evolution of zoos, since I first visited the Philadelphia Zoological Gardens when I asked for a trip to the zoo for my eighth birthday, has been tremendous. Back then, most animals were in cages, with only a few given a small space in the outdoors before they ran into more iron bars. Life in prison with no hope of parole! Now, wide open spaces, with pools and trees, caves, and shady spots allow a greater visualization of the natural habitat of lions, and tigers, and bears.
I headed for the African Savannah exhibit, since the big cats and zebras have always held a special place in my heart. A couple of lions dozed in the shade, the white rhinos stood in a corner, and only the elephants seemed to move around. One young male shifted his weight from one forefoot to another. His trunk dipped into a pool, and he seemed to play in the water with the tip.
A shaded bench placed near the edge of the enclosure seemed the perfect place for some relaxing moments. Only a few visitors – most pushing a stroller – broke the silence. Then the oddest thing happened. The elephant began speaking in a low, guttural, rolling voice. He did it several times, as if he were calling me. I began talking to him, but we never made eye contact. Then he turned and ambled to a shady spot and resumed shifting his feet. As I sat down and opened my book, I could barely hear his voice, but it provided some background, some white noise to give me a perfect hour in the shade.