Doesn’t seem so long ago that I was walking through the National Zoo with my son Elliott, a little boy then. For a few years we were members, Friends of the National Zoo (FONZ). Committed as we could be, we were there often, seeing the elephants and tigers and lions and naked mole rats—and yes, eating popcorn as we looked and learned.
One day we were walking down through the zoo on our way to our car, and Elliott piped up: “I don’t think I’ve heard English spoken all afternoon!” And he probably hadn’t. The zoo itself is in a crossroads of the city, with the peoples of the earth all living within a few miles. Most of the embassies are nearby, but also many neighborhoods adjoining the zoo are full of immigrants from every corner of every continent.
Over the years his interest in animals and the world has only grown. When he was about 12 his long longing for more animals in his life brought into being backyard chickens, which we kept at for many years. During high school he spent several internship seasons at the zoo, and as the years passed he began to talk about veterinary medicine. In his university years he spent summers on a ranch in California, interned at the Virginia Equine Clinic in Charlottesville, and raised baby ducklings in his dorm room that followed him around the University of Virginia. And then finally he decided on a graduate school direction, viz. veterinary science with a public health degree too, choosing Tufts University which is noted for the international focus of its education. In those years he began to travel the world, learning about its animals and its peoples, eventually studying and working on every continent. (He now lives and works in Sicily.)
Yesterday we went for a late walk through the zoo, Elliott, his wife Becca and their daughter Magdalena. Yes, there were lions and tigers, gorillas and elephants and popcorn too… but my mind kept going back to years ago, an early afternoon at the National Zoo when he was ten, realizing that another generation has come into the story, looking and learning in her very own way.
So now my little boy is the father of a little girl, drawing her into his loves for the world, and bending down to explain flamingoes to her—which is just the way it ought to be.