It’s a beautiful day in Nature’s NeighborhoodWritten by Shannon Szyperski | | email@example.com
I was surprised when my husband decided to forgo a lazy Father’s Day at home and, instead, suggested that we all check out the new Nature’s Neighborhood children’s area at the zoo. A warm and sunny holiday Sunday didn’t seem like the ideal time to take in a new sight for a crowd-leery family such as ours. Still, Father’s Day is one of the very few days of the year I feel especially obligated to keep my two cents to myself in order to prove to our children that Dad really should be able to do what he wants on his special day.
I have been to The Toledo Zoo more times than I can count, and over my lifetime I have enjoyed watching its tremendous evolution. My earliest memory of the zoo involves staring in amazement at a mountainous wonder comparable in size and detail to Animal Kingdom’s Expedition Everest, yet standing smack dab in an otherwise flat Northwest Ohio. It was curiously teeming with real mountain lions prowling its crests and slopes … except that it wasn’t. My child’s eye memory has failed me in part, as in reality I was staring at a much lesser mountain-like rock pile stocked only with meandering sheep and monkeys rather than mountain lions. I was amazed nonetheless.
I have no trouble remembering the city’s excitement in welcoming the Chinese pandas for their much-anticipated summer of 1988 visit. My family caught a glimpse of Le Le and Nan Nan the same way we caught a glimpse of the Declaration of Independence at the National Archives Building, by begging the gatekeeper to let us take just a quick peek in spite of our last-minute, closing-time arrival. Thankfully, we were able to sneak in our panda fix before their return trip to China, as the commemorative McDonald’s mugs bearing their images just couldn’t do justice to the actual creatures.
Thanks to the incredible changes at the zoo over the years and its playful mixing of the old with the new, I have experienced the fear of being eaten and the joy of eating both under the same roof, yet decades apart, in what was once the Lion House, but is now the Carnivore Cafe. I have had the pleasure of witnessing the zoo’s residents move on up from tenement housing to luxury, open-air living. I have seen the old train and tunnel step aside for a bigger and better zoo experience. Though, I have to admit, mainly due to personal nostalgia, I preferred the old ones to the new.
It is odd for me to think that my children will have no memory of the zoo train I grew up loving or the thrill of the helicopter ride, or that feeling that someone or something may leap out at any moment from the shadows of the half-magnificent, half-terrifying underground parking lot tunnel. What we no doubt will remember together is the Father’s Day our family first stepped foot in Nature’s Neighborhood.
As we arrived at the threshold of Nature’s Neighborhood for the first time, my excitement surely matched the excitement I felt the first time I marveled at the Hippoquarium or stood against the glass as a polar bear rubbed up against it only inches away on the other side. Nature’s Neighborhood immediately revealed itself to be the next best thing in The Toledo Zoo’s long-standing, star-studded lineup.
I admit that my memory of the old children’s area is somewhat negatively tainted by an incident involving gravel, blood, goat feces and my very young son. Yet, my appreciation for the new area goes far beyond the chance to leave a single bad memory behind. Watching my children splash around in The Play Stream, dress up as bees in The Forest and climb to new heights in The Tree House quickly convinced me that we have years of great Toledo Zoo memories ahead of us.
Nature’s Neighborhood is the kind of place I would see online and hope to take my children to one day. How lucky we are to have such a grand addition to an already first-rate institution right here in our own backyard. Our neighborhood no doubt owes a great big welcome to Nature’s Neighborhood, for we will be friends for years to come.
Shannon Szyperski and her husband Michael are raising three children in Sylvania. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.