They are ingenious little fellas, curious, and playful. I can’t help but laugh as they pounce on the dirt and dig as if they’ve taken instruction from the sunday morning cartoons. The meerkats’ stop-on-a-dime movements elicit a collective ‘ahh’ from the cluster of people in front of the enclosure. Me included. With my cheap dinosaur backpack slung on my shoulder and notebook in hand I could easily be mistaken for a lost school child, the ones with sticky fingers who always squeal at the big cats. Except I don’t squeal. I cry.
I love zoos. Better yet, I love animals. The way they lumber or skirt, fly or crawl. Their expressions and behaviors are all a joy to me. If I had my way I would cuddle right up there with the lions as if they were nothing but fat tabbies. And if they had their way, well lets just say its better that they don’t.
In my sketchbook I tried to capture their forms quickly as best I can. It’s for practice but also it gives me an excuse to linger a little longer than most. With a little extra time you can begin to imagine their personalities. The ocelot is pretentious. The oxen are indifferent. Sometimes, I think, they’re not much different from us. The chattering of the monkeys could be mistaken for old ladies on porch swings if you close your eyes properly. So, instead of following the wave of the crowd I come to zoos to sit and sketch and watch and think.
When I was six-years-old I wanted to be a farmer when I grew up, solely on the basis that I could have my own lamb as a pet. I told my confession quietly to the knees of my parents and they laughed in the way all adults laugh when a child says something endearing. I learned later on that their smiling eyes had really been saying, “honey, you can’t be a farmer without first living on a farm.” So I changed my mind.
When I was fifteen I decided I wanted to be a zookeeper. It was career day and that nine letter word sat balancing precariously on the top blue line of my notebook. My teacher smirked. That flippant expression made it clear that my choice wasn’t practical. She equated it to being an NBL player. So I changed my mind.
Now I am after another dream, one that has resided in me all along: to be a creator, an artist, a designer, a small business owner. I wonder, if I had told them that dream would they have dismissed it just the same? A simple chuckle and no second thought? Would I have changed my mind?
A few simple gestured lines on paper and a lion is caught forever dreaming. There is no feeling quite like the weight and power of a pencil beneath your fingertips. I was meant to choose a creative life but every now and again the zebras get me thinking.
I know, its foolish to circle too long around the what ifs and the could have beens. One can easily get dizzy that way and besides, I’ve got better things to do.
Back at home, in the quiet of my room, I return to my work bringing to life my own animals from piles of discarded fabrics and old buttons. Crocodiles, bears, bats, lions, rabbits – all lined up and staring back with cheeky grins. I guess, in the end, I am a zookeeper after all.