Cartas- Letters from Home
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March 2011

Santa Barbara Gardens

Blue Pot 2

Santa Barbara is known at present, all over the world, as the place where the largest number of plants from widely different climates have congregated to live happily together,  and often will thrive with more vigor than in their native countries....They convened here from the hottest and from the coldest, as well as the temperate regions of the globe, and they combine to make a vegetation that has no rival anywhere.

~ Dr Francesco Franchesci, 1900


Join the Santa Barbara Zoo - Today!

Join the Santa Barbara Zoo

Last week, I joined  the Santa Barbara Zoo. 

join -\ˈjȯin\  : to come into close association or relationship: as a : to form an alliance b : to become a member of a group c : to take part in a collective activity

~ Merriam Webster Online

Santa Barbara Zoo Flamingos

That's right - I formed an alliance with the Santa Barbara Zoo.   I became a member.  I am taking part in the life of the Zoo - a very living treasure in the middle of the City of Santa Barbara.   And now, on any of the 363 days of the year that the Zoo is open, I can wander among the beauty and wild variety of the Zoo residents- for an hour, or five, if I choose.

I really like to come to the Zoo on my lunch hour.  During the week, the atmosphere is relaxed and somewhat subdued, as opposed to the out-and-out brouhaha one may find on a typical weekend, when the kids are much wilder than any of the animals.  

Santa Barbara Zoo Giraffe

In just an hour, or two, I don't have time to see everything.   But I have plenty time to select a few exhibits, and really spend time observing the animals.   On my recent visit, I watched a young girl learn to feed a giraffe.  Tentative and fearful at first, she became a first-rate zookeeper's assistant by the time she left.

Next, I stood at the window of the gorilla exhbit; one of the gorillas meander in the grass, toss his blue blanket around, climb the boulders, and play and tussle with the other gorilla.

Santa Barbara Zoo Gorilla

I stood for a long time and watched the two Asian elephants (Elephas maximus).  One elephant played with huge slices of tree trunks, as if they were little lego blocks.  She turned them over,  bumped and pushed and rolled them around.  She examined every inch of the wood with her long, agile trunk.

Santa Barbara Elephant 3

Her companion lingered by the pond.  She dipped her large foot - with five well-kept toes - into the water.  She spent several minutes squirting water through her trunk - into the air, on to her back, into her mouth. 

These huge and beautiful creatures are rare in the wild.  Here, at the Zoo, they are members of the Species Survival Plan, a concerted effort between many of America's zoos to help guard against the extinction of some of the world's endangered animals.

Santa Barbara Zoo Elephant 2

Next, I visited the chubby and charming Humboldt penguins.   Today, the little flock seemed to exhibit a bit of ennui - although it could have been good. old-fashioned penguin contentment.  It's hard to tell with them.  But swim, they did, and toddle about.

Santa Barbara Zoo Penguin

And I watched this fine fellow, at its leisure, resting comfortably on a plump pad of fat.  It quietly observed the other penguins at their mild mid-day frolic, craning its stout little neck this way and that, observing all the Spheniscidae action.

Humboldt Penguin Chillin

I love going to the zoo to see the  animals, of course.  But I also adore the vistas, and the elegantly landscaped grounds.  There are several  hundred-year-old stands of trees on the property - pines and palms and eucalyptus.  There are dense, flowering shrubs, vigorous succulent specimens, many years old.  The venerable older plants  are underplanted with newer  botanical beauties.  

Here is a Santa Barbara Mission Creek Steelhead trout statue, holding court over the serene and splashy little fishpond and fountain.

Santa Barbara Zoo Fountain

And here is a wild flock of giant birds of paradise, some of the oldest residents in the zoo.

Santa Barbara Zoo Giant Birds of Paradise

My favorite part of this day, however, was the time I spent at the California Condor exhibit.  I spent a long time watching the small flock. 

A couple of them were cavorting on the grassy hillside.  Soon, one of the condors would fly up to the top of an oak tree. Another condor would then fly up to the tree, wings a-flapping, to usurp the recent victor.   The others would hop around in the grass until one of them would flung its wings wide and fly again to the treeetops, beginning the game again.  They cackled and clacked.  

Santa Barbara Zoo California Condor

April of 2009, I wrote a post about the Zoo, and about the newest residents, the California condors.  The exhibit was not opened yet, but I could see the birds in their new home, from a distance. 

The exhibit is fully developed now, and is entitled California Trails.  The terrain is rugged, and aptly-named, Rattlesnake Canyon.  It is home to several of California's native species, like the Santa Barbara Channel Island Fox, tortoises, and bald eagles.   In the wild, they live in the harshest, most remote landscape found in Central California.  In the past, most of us could only dream of seeing one of these extraordinary birds or animals from a great distance in their natural habitat.  They became so rare, that spotting them at all was almost impossible.

Santa Barbara Zoo California Condor 2

Last week, at the California Trails exhibit, I stood on the walkway, next to the fence.  I was very close to one of the young condors who stood next to the fence on his side.  We studied each other quietly, intently.  I watched him with my blue eyes, and he studied me with his fiercely red eyes.   For quite a good while, we shared a companionable silence. 

I know the truth.  This bad boy could have snapped my finger off into a neat, carrion version of a vienna sausage, and he would have hardly blinked.   But I swear to you - although quite homely and hulking,  this condor is sweet.  Truly sweet.  In a post-modern, neo-prehistoric way.

California Condor 4

The animals in the Santa Barbara Zoo are not tame pets.  They are wild creatures, and many of them are fierce.  But they live in our city, in a respectful and appropriate way so we may get to know them, and learn a little about all animals by watching them.

I encourage you to become a member of the Santa Barbara Zoo.  Come visit in person, or check out the Zoo website. To receive the  Zoo newsletter - sign up here.

Santa Barbara Bird Refuge and Lagoon 2