As I’ve mentioned before, Houston has a pretty good zoo. Better still, it’s just over a mile from our apartment (right across a couple of terrifying streets from my office). We don’t go every weekend, but we go pretty often. We’ve recently discovered that the secret is to go at 9:00am on a Sunday when the animals are all still awake and eating or playing, the heat isn’t too dreadful yet, and the park is pretty close to empty. The zoo isn’t huge, but it’s just large enough that you can go for an entire morning and only see a tiny part of it. We’ll focus on birds or primates or we’ll just spend a long time watching the red panda (which Nora has declared “the cutest animal on earth”). This past weekend we went to the animatronic dinosaur forest (Nora was terrified of all of the dinos, we both were terrified of the T-rex even though, with those ridiculous arms, he couldn’t even tie a bow tie or open a can of coke). From there we went to the reptile house and one of the bird areas to compare the living animals to the extinct models we’d seen and talk about whether dinosaurs were more like lizards or birds. Nora decided that dinosaurs were a lot like lizards but that they definitely had bird legs and maybe bird necks and bird heads.
After our trip to the splash park, we wound up our visit in the primates exhibit. Nora loves hearing about how we share a distant ancestor with the chimpanzees and an even more distant ancestor with the orangutan and a still more distant ancestor with the lemurs. We talk about how natural selection works and about how a tiny ability (to run a little bit faster, jump a little bit farther, hold your breath a little bit longer, or communicate a little bit more clearly) can, over time, translate into an enormous advantage and, ultimately, a new species. Here we are clowning around and trying to connect with our distant, distant primate cousins.