Field Trip: Feel the (Animal) Love at Riverbanks Zoo & Garden

Well, hello there fella! Mugging for the camera…what a gorgeous animal. Check out those eyelashes. And very sweet natured too.

Back in March my family took a trip to Riverbanks Zoo, which is located in my hometown of Columbia, SC. I’ve spent many a fun morning or afternoon at this wonderful park but I’ll admit it’s been awhile since my last visit – at least 12 years. And while I wasn’t sure what to expect exactly, I hoped the experience would be as fun and educational for my 4-year old as it was for me when I was a kid. Needless to say my expectations were exceeded.

Hello Mr. Meerkat!

It should be known that I am an “animal person” in that I am enamored of most all-living creatures. My exceptions are parasites and snakes, although I appreciate them nonetheless. When my child was born I anticipated that she would carry on this trait but one never knows. While my husband does like animals, he does not share my fascination to the same extent, i.e. when I talk longingly of having a mini farm with chickens, a couple of Nubian goats and maybe a horse or two, he rolls his eyes and moves his head back and forth. Not a good sign.

Feeding the giraffes. I don’t know who was more excited my daughter, or me!

So we keep the peace with animal–centric field trips (while providing a learning experience for our daughter). From state-run petting zoos in Alabama to the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta to Disney’s Animal Kingdom to the ‘ginormous’ Cleveland Zoo we’ve been fortunate to visit some outstanding parks and farms. Fairly close-in to our town are the South Carolina Aquarium and the Middleton Gardens (they have a wonderful colonial-era inspired farmstead), both located in Charleston, SC. Hope to arrange a visit to both this year.

Besides the giraffes, my daughter’s favorite of the day were the flamingos.

Getting back to Riverbanks… This park has grown substantially but is still considered mid-sized which is a great thing I believe, after my recent visit. We arrived early, right after opening time on a Saturday, strolling in straight away through the main gate, touring the exhibits at a leisurely pace, breaking for lunch and finishing up shortly thereafter. As we were leaving we noticed that a substantial line had formed under the warm Carolina sun. We were pleased not to be in that line (but happy the park was busy!)

Taking a decent shot of a penguin is tough. They are so very quick! I barely got a shot of this dude (or dudedress…not sure)

Since the zoo opened in 1974 care has been taken to not “over do it” as we say here in the South. This means that growth has been gradual with the science of caring for the animals and their wellbeing placed ahead of everything else.

I’ll pick the tortoise over the hare any day!

The park has expanded and now includes the Riverbanks Farm, Aquarium Reptile Complex and beautiful botanical gardens that are the envy – and the inspiration – of every master gardener from Greenville to Charleston. There are also a myriad of educational facilities including a 3-D Action Theater, Raptor Clinic and many, many activities geared toward children including camps and school programs.

This is Chaka, the oldest male gorilla. He was very active on this morning.

The park was one of the nation’s first to use realistic non-cage enclosure designs for its exhibits. It has won many awards for everything from its design and architecture to its breeding and conservation programs.

No shirt, no shoes, no problem…I think this is Mike. He looks, and acts, pretty happy to me:)

As you can tell, Riverbanks holds a special place in my heart and I am proud to say that my Mother (who lives in Columbia) has been a supporter and member of the zoo practically since its inception. So, I suppose I get my affinity for all creatures great and small honestly, and I would not want it any other way.

Maybe Hubby will go for the henhouse… if I ask for a Llama first? Insert yield sign here! My feeble attempt at reverse psychology in progress…now where’s that website for The Araucana Club of America?

Okay last shot…baby giraffe eating. I could not resist…my favorite animal-only pic of the day.

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Sometimes you can teach an old dog new tricks!

So this post is about my husband. And before I get accused of calling him “old” or referring to him as a dog, I will state that he is 6 years younger than me and I absolutely adore dogs.

My husband and I had somewhat different childhoods, much of mine revolved around living out in the sticks and his, in the suburbs. I spent my summers making mud pies, learning how to fish with a rod and reel, and going to vacation Bible school. He spent his in the local soccer league, playing Ms. Pacman and water skiing.

And our personalities were and are quite different. My husband was a social butterfly, apparently, while I was a wallflower, content to fade to the background. Nevertheless, my quietly observant ways have served me well and make me a better writer now, I believe.

I also know about a few things that may seem a bit oddball. I can make a flower arrangement – and a pretty one at that – of and in just about anything. I can bait a hook, clean the fish that I catch and serve it up meuniere style – just pass me the butter and lemon. I know that a 1971 VW Beetle does not need radiator fluid – because it has an air-cooled engine – thus no radiator. I not only know what “topdressing” is (and it does not go on a salad) but also why one does it, and I know the proper way to catch Atlantic blue crabs… by hand off a dock.

All these things constantly surprise my dear husband and he calls me his “Renaissance woman”, which I take as a compliment. We joke that I could get all the most arcane questions on Jeopardy correct, well, if I did not hyperventilate and pass out first. And I could be tremendous on “The Amazing Race”, except I would never, ever do any of those stunts – afraid of heights, sorry!

My husband’s effervescent personality has served him well too. His success in business is due to a good mind, quick wit and friendly demeanor. So what he may be lacking in “MacGyver” skills is more than made up in his clever repartee or his dead-on Charles Nelson Reilly impersonation. And if you don’t know who Charles Nelson Reilly is, then I am truly sorry for you, so go watch some reruns of Match Game…now!

Since we’ve moved back to the coast I have been itching to get out and do some crabbing. There is no better feeling of satisfaction (and appreciation) than catching your own dinner, unless it’s growing it. This is something my husband and I would like to instill in our daughter. We planted our little container garden already, but we haven’t gotten our girl out to teach her some fishing skills, well until 2 weeks ago, when we were at Edisto Island.

I learned to crab a long time ago, at the Garden City, SC beach house owned by my aunt and uncle. The house was red and wooden and rickety, and featured two huge screened porches – one in front and one in back and no central air conditioning. All the kids slept on mattresses and cots on the porches, with the surf a constant but reassuring crush of sound, breeze and salty air.

Garden City was a spit of land – maybe ¼ mile wide and 1 mile long harboring a pavilion with a huge, old-fashioned wooden pier, an ice cream shop and one restaurant – the quintessential Carolina family beach. It was a childhood paradise, lost when Hurricane Hugo visited in 1989.

Luckily, my parents and extended family didn’t lose their minds over something like a ‘lil ole hurricane and a new Edisto Beach pad (circa 1970’s) became our coastal getaway. So that’s where we find our crabbing adventure these days. But yes, my 4 year old has never been crabbing – but alas, neither had my 41 year old!

The day before our beach weekend I spent an extra $7.50 buying a flimsy metal trap, some twine and extra sinker weights. We were going to partake in some surf crabbing (as opposed to dock crabbing but that’s for another post).

Hubby came home and saw this sitting on the sofa and asked, “What’s that thing on the sofa?”

“Oh, it’s a crab trap so we can show girly girl how to crab this weekend,” I said. “It’s a Lowcountry tradition, you know.”

“I know,” He replied. “But you’ll be the one showing her how.”

However, once we got to the beach things took a different turn. With confidence, Hubby set out into the murky, knee-deep inlet with a weighted, wire hand-pulled crab trap filled with the stinky crab-loving breakfast of champions – chicken necks. These had been purposely left out on the back porch overnight to “ripen” and that was an understatement. I clamped those stinkers into the trap. “That’s how you do it,” I said, wringing my hands in the surf to remove the residual slime and smell.

My husband slowly set the trap down and unwound the cord tethering him to the device. Backing up he asked, “Isn’t this the end of the beach where the sharks hang out – the shark hole?” Raising my eyebrow, I gave a quick nod and then instructions to “let the pot sit for awhile” as I ambled down the beach, excited daughter in tow, to look for seashells. My husband offered a slightly worried smile and waved me away with his free hand.

Three little crabs in a bucket…this was their lucky day as we turned them loose but… we’ll be back!

A few minutes later I saw him pull up the pot and – nothing. He lowered it back and started the process all over again. A powerboat glided by and a dolphin pod came up for air across the waterway.

Then I heard, “Got one! I got one!” We ran over and sure enough there was a glistening blue crab all feisty, pinchers at the ready for a fight. We flipped the fellow into our bucket. “Want me to take over?” I asked, knowing that in the past Hubby wasn’t too keen on the whole fishing and crabbing idea. “No way! I think I can catch a bunch more!”

I nodded ‘okay” but on the inside I was bursting with happiness. “Yes!” I thought. ‘Another one bites the dust’… hooked on crabbing and the salty air and all the wonderfully quirky things our Lowcountry life has to offer. Hubby hadn’t smiled and laughed like that in awhile. Plus, next time, he’ll be baiting that trap!