Sunday, June 18, 2017

A Saturday Excursion--just to mix things up...

Last Summer, Riley's unfortunate incident with a certain broken tibia and the resulting cast/crutches catastrophe prevented the boys and me from taking any of our typical field trips. None. Zip. Zero. Boo hoo! So maybe you can understand my eagerness to kick off the party--um, "enlightening experiences"--this year, with everyone in sound mind and body and whatnot. And would you look at that--already a whole WEEK has passed since school ended! Clearly, it was high time to get out there and...find something...FUN!

I queried the beloved sons about whether they'd be interested in an activity of some kind, and got a thumbs-up from both of them. So far, so good...then I had to go and press my luck by asking, "Well, what would you like to do?" Derek stared at me blankly for a few seconds before replying with a small, sheepish smile, "I kind of hoped you had a plan in mind already." Sigh...of course you did, my delightful teenager. Let me get right on that, while you feel free to pursue your own passion...which suspiciously looks a lot like "vegging out in your room watching SportsCenter highlights".

However much (mild) grief I gave him (just, you know, for appearance's sake), I'd decided some time ago that I wanted to visit the Duke Lemur Center anyway, so I didn't actually have to carry out hours of complex, difficult research or anything crazy like that. Check the schedule and types of programs...make a reservation...aaannnd DONE. It turned out that they had spaces available in the Saturday evening Twilight Tour, so I chose that one, especially because the enthusiastic and helpful lady on the phone told me that the animals are often more active as the sun is setting and the heat of the day is diminishing.

When we arrived, we (and the rest of the group sharing our timeslot) were treated to a super-cheesy-yet-adorable informational film at the Visitor's Center. We learned that the Duke collection of lemurs is the largest in the entire world, outside of Madagascar, their only natural habitat. At the compound, the staff care for the creatures, study them, train them, breed them (there are around 60 different species' left in the wild, and all are endangered)--and of course share an up-close-and-personal view of their behavior with the public.

After the educational portion, we got to stroll around the grounds with a guide (named Anna) and observe some of the fuzzy cuties...chowing down on their dinner fare, scrambling high and low on the wire cages of their enclosures, nimbly leaping from branches to platforms, and sometimes coming over to stare at US with intelligent, curious expressions...which left me thinking, "Man, they soooo look like they want to chat with you--I wish I spoke 'lemur'!"

As a matter of fact, we were treated to several...fascinating....and also slightly scary...demonstrations of the residents' vocal power. Anna had discussed how lemurs do communicate with each other through sounds, and each species even has its own..."dialect", if you will. Therefore, all of the varieties don't necessarily understand each other...but each one has some version of an alarm call.

Well...something set one of them off, causing it to screech piercingly, which then inspired some of its neighbors to add their distinct howls, growls, and barks, until it sounded like we were surrounded by a hostile army of fierce...and yet still inescapably adorable...primates. As we stood and listened to the cacophony, Anna wryly noted that when this happens, the humans in the area might not ever know what triggered the tantrum...or for that matter what generally constitutes a valid reason for the lemurs to YELL...but that in captivity, "They tend to have a bit of the 'drama queen' about them."

And then, as if I weren't entertained enough already, I discovered something that, to me, was worth the entire price of admission. You see, there used to be a kids' show on PBS that I would watch with the boys when they were very small, starring a lemur called Zoboomafoo (and also the nature-loving Kratt brothers, if that helps anyone else recognize it. No? I'm probably alone on this one, but that's okay, I'll continue with my burst of nostalgia...). Martin Kratt attended Duke University, and the featured creature actually lived at the Duke Lemur Center (until his death at age 20 in 2014). WOW! It was like some kind of...almost-brush with greatness, I tell ya! (Maybe in a "six degrees of separation" way? Whatever...I was ridiculously thrilled...)

Finally, we headed back toward our vehicles, full of new facts about Madagascar's most famous exports--and as a bonus, we got one more cool chance to watch the little guys. Some of the animals--depending on factors such as age, health,  mastery of and compliance with training signals--are allowed out into the forest to roam freely, forage for their own meals, and interact with their environment and each other. There happened to be a family group in the trees bordering the parking lot, munching on leaves, swinging from the branches, and generally providing an enjoyable final glimpse into the Life of Lemurs.

As usual, the irresistible combination of nerdy learning opportunity, encounter with the Great Outdoors, and family bonding proved successful. Team WestEnders' first adventure of Summer 2017 is in the books, and we're calling it a WIN!

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