Writing Field Trips, as I've eluded to in past posts, are something I truly enjoy. I spend an entire day exploring my writing in a different environment aside from the same old desk in front of a window with the same old view. Yesterday, I went on an adventure to the John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, Michigan and was delighted with the outcome. Sitting in the open air, moving from sunshine to shade, and writing long-hand (not my normal modality) stretches my writing muscles and Drake's creative flippers. The added curiosity of wild animals surrounding us, feeds that process in exciting ways. I came away with some new writing (a very little snippet is shared below) and the distinct impression that one of the main reasons adults have children is to give them an excuse to go to the zoo. I saw so many infants and toddlers yesterday! The day was filled with laughter and smiles, shrieks of joy, and excitement as humans and animals interacted together.
This is by far one of the most unique zoos I have visited. My "home" zoo, the Detroit Zoo, has made many important changes and integrations into the animal's habitats over my nearly six decades, and it's a wonderful place that I visit often... but at the end of the day, it's still too much concrete and too few trees to convince my imagination that I'm standing amongst wild animals as they would be found out in the natural world. Not so, the John Ball Zoo. When they designed this park, they certainly took into account the environment and sustained its amazing beauty while also showcasing the animals in a way that encourages imagination.
In my youth, I remember zoos filled with cages of animals. Now, those stark reminders of captivity are all but washed away. Only in some instances, like with the big cats, was there a reminder that the animals were actually prisoners. Even then, the fencing was dark black, and lost in the lush forest foliage. Of course, there are moats and other natural barriers to keep people from making poor choices... but the subtly of control to protect the animals was delightfully enhanced in natural ways like a forest filled with huge, mature trees... well over one hundred years old, I would guess... and wooded planked walkways that erased the concrete jungle that lingered just outside the gates. I am a supporter of accredited zoos and aquariums. I think they play an important role in animal conservation and education. I would still prefer the animals could live naturally free in all cases... but sometimes humanity isn't that selfless. An article for a future day - or not.
Writing inside this environment of wild sights and sounds is an amazing treat. As I moved around the zoo, I stopped at each animal's habitat, quietly said hello, and watched them for a little while, allowing my fascination of these incredible creatures to converse with Drake, as they imparted their creative energy to him. He skillfully translated that energy into our storytelling. I spent about twenty minutes (sometimes more) with each, soaking up the strength of their centuries on the planet... or at least a little bit of that energy... and transferred it to the page. One of the best features about the John Ball Zoo is that they sprinkle benches and picnic tables throughout the grounds, tucked underneath the cool shade of their magnificent trees. This practice makes the zoo very attractive for writing. There is always a space to sit and contemplate while watching one creature or another go about their daily lives. I imagine they are as interested in people watching as we are in animal watching... at least I'd like to think that's true.
A few of the animals who made a distinct impression were these:
Without question, aside from Ducks, Chimpanzees are my favorite animal on the planet. No matter what zoo I visit, this is always where I spend the longest part of my day. I find them to be extraordinary in movement and emotion, nearly matching humanity. The scientists say they share 98% of our DNA... but I think that those 2% make a tremendous difference, to the benefit of the Chimpanzees. They worked well together in a group during snack time, and were equally comfortable contemplating the significance of the world in sun and in shade. During their one o'clock lunch, I watched as each shared their very distinct personalities to get the keeper's attention and throw down their favorite foods; and they clearly had favorites. I spent about two hours watching these wonderful animals sleep, play, lounge, eat, and climb. This troupe ranged in age from the "baby" at twenty-five years old to the matriarch at forty-five years old. They fascinate me with their complexity.
And yes, we actually wrote, too!
The piece Drake and I worked on yesterday was for a new novel, a fractured fairy tale. It's called The Trial of Snow White, and is an extension of a short story Drake dictated to me some time ago, Grumpy's Testimony. The story was included in Drake's first book, A Duck Quacks. Drake would like to see the story become a full novel, as would a few of his readers. So, we've been playing with the idea on our field trips this year.
While sitting at the bottom of the waterfall, we wrote a small snippet about the King and Queen's castle. Of course, this book is still VERY new and VERY not even close to done... we're hoping to finish it for a release next summer... but Drake said he wanted to share a teeny tiny bit of it with everyone; so here it is, with apologies that the videos aren't longer. It really was quite a magnificent waterfall, and an extraordinary writing spot.
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