Category Archives: It’s all happening at the zoo…

What Not To Say

Abby thinks I’m a candidate for the “What Not to Wear” show. She says I hide a perfectly nice 58 year old body and don’t need to be dressing in baggy pants or LPZoo Docent shirts. (Yes, LPZ, I had to pay for them, I own them and I wear them with pride.) Anyway, I think she says that tongue-in-cheek and she still has one of those bare-able midriffs. This is just a quick note to say that I thought censorship was passe. I guess not. I guess you aren’t supposed to admonish children to listen to their teachers and get a good education, even if you are the President and you’re not supposed to put a note protesting the end of the docent program on the Lincoln Park Zoo fan page- even if you are one of their biggest fans.

The docent post below received over 490 hits in one day on a holiday weekend. New record around here, that’s for sure. The only post that ever came close was the one about the Moh’s surgery with photos (I have an update photo for you tomorrow!). I’m sure a fair amount of that traffic came by way of the LPZ fan page. But I had a hunch, all weekend, that once the page administrator came back from the long weekend, that post would be toast. Sure enough, this morning it’s been wiped off the page. I guess when you’re a ‘fan’ of something, whether it’s the zoo or a political party, it means lock, stock and barrel. Not critiquing allowed. That’s a shame, isn’t it?

BTW, here’s the link to the fan page. I’m a fan. As zoos go, it’s really a magnificent zoo. You might want to be a fan, too, and tell them how much you like DOCENTS.IMG_1487

Letter to the Editor, Chicago Tribune and Kevin Bell, CEO, Lincoln Park Zoo

Until a recent move out of state, I was a volunteer docent at the Lincoln Park Zoo. I want to add my voice to the outrage and frustration that comes with the closing of the LPZ docent program.

A typical docent day for me included giving the “gibbon chat” first thing in the morning and then spending time at an education cart talking about the big cats or polar bears. After lunch I was either talking to visitors about the Lowland Gorilla operant conditioning program in the Regenstein Center for African Apes or handling skinks and snakes so school children could get up close and personal. Some days, I would go with the Traveling Zoo to nursing homes. On a busy summer day, it’s not uncommon for a docent to talk with, educate and answer questions for as many as 300-400 people. Each year thousands upon thousands of visitors to the Lincoln Park Zoo get to share in the docent’s dedication to the zoo, their love and enthusiasm for the animals, and their experience and knowledge surrounding the messages of conservation and preservation. Every docent I worked with was a well educated, well trained, highly invested volunteer.

On any summer day that I worked I would encounter numerous multi-generational families from Chicago neighborhoods where English was a second language and the only familiar animals were the rats in the alley. As docents, we often found ourselves talking to the youngest of three generations and waiting while these children translated to parents and grandparents. Nothing made me happier than watching a child goad his fearful mother into touching Barney the skink, and their discovery that these were very cool, very harmless creatures. Countless times, I would find myself in conversations with visitors to Chicago and the zoo from all around the world. They were curious about the zoo’s collections, it’s involvement in conservation programs in Africa and they were excited to learn about the species survival program. Docents with many years experience knew how it was that we came to have a brother and sister polar bear in the same enclosure (and could tactfully explain the use of birth control among zoo residents) , the whims and habits of Adelor, why Caruso sucks his thumb and the story of the gibbon’s morning song. Many visitors wanted to know about the elephants: what happened to the elephants? All of my fellow docents knew how to have a sensitive discussion about that time in the zoo’s history when the elephants died and they could explain the circumstances and have thoughtful discussions about what kind of conditions and space are required to humanely house elephants. Similarly many guests wanted to know about global warming and it’s impact on marine mammals, the polar bears in particular. Hard to believe that this was a political hot button- but we were successful in explaining how the fact of melting ice was a threat to the bears survival without (too much) Bush bashing.

During the Fall of 2008 and into the winter of 2009 it was clear that change was coming to the docent and zoo education department.  All ears perked up at the biannual meeting where we were introduced to the new management recently coming from Disney World (that magic kingdom where all the faces are young and pretty, bright and shiny, the scripts are rote and the parting words are “Have a magical day!”) At that meeting, it was clear the agenda was changing- away from conservation and education and towards selling memberships, promoting the food concessions and gift shops and offering guests more of an amusement park type atmosphere.

These are challenging times and zoos have been especially hard hit by federal and state funding cuts. It’s time for creative thinking. But to imagine that eliminating a volunteer program that has successfully worked with the public for more than three decades and replace those individuals with paid young adults equipped with scripted talks seems senseless. This is a change that not only gives very short shrift to the dedicated pool of docents at LPZ; it is a change that will cheat the public of education, information and important messages for our future as we share it with the other creatures of the planet.

Zoo docents have made a visit to the Lincoln Park Zoo an interesting, educational and thought-provoking experience to guests from all around the globe for more than 30 years. The individual personality differences and unique experiences of the docents made the program all the richer. Many of the docents have had extensive experience traveling the world with environmental programs focused on endangered and threatened animals. The decision to end the docent program at a time in our society and in our city when a personalized sense of community and human connections are more important than ever seems monumentally sad and ill-fated. Replacing this wonderful cadre of hard working volunteers with script-wielding models and talking plastic kiosks will mark a definitive change for zoo visitors. I fear that, in the end, it will be a not so magical day.

Sincerely, Vicki BennettIMG_1546

wordless wednesday week of wonder

dune(perfect weather and no one set the dune afire)


(we go to the Michigan Fiber Festival, home of the headless chicken)

sheep(when your animals become commodities and people become consumers, all the spirit and soul of the matter is lost. These were all loved and valued, each and every one)


morewool(more color…)

pumpkinwool(I find the perfect colors for a fall pumpkin felting class)

wheel(the colors of friendship)

peaches(“You may come from Macon, but you ain’t no peach.” Only Red Haven and Lake Michigan blueberries will do for a cottage breakfast)

martins(better than DEET, any day)

optimus(I go to Chicago and see many dear friends, including Optimus Prime…)

pritzker-pavilion-2(We go to the Frank Gehry Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park…)

danm(…and I see my son play to a standing ovation.)

We’re off to visit with Bud. I hope you are all well and happy!

I say hello, you say goodbye…or maybe it’s vice versa



(from my friends at the zoo…)

It’s hard to know where to begin. This post could very well be the Reader’s Digest version of my entire life here in the blog community.

-Rich left the big corporation, is once again thriving on his own, we no longer have a need to pay thousands a month to have a residence in Chicago, we sold the condo in 63 days flat, 63 days is an eternity when you don’t have a corporate paycheck, Aslan Movers is back on the job and we are very much headed in the right direction. Smaller footprint, modest lifestyle, mountain mama, what have you. A life I have only dared imagine and now we begin to build.

– We’re moving. Gak. Actually, we’re going into storage until we can move properly next April 1. Until then, it will all be packed up, climate controlled and we will be less fortunate than our furniture, wilting away in Florida all summer. Except I am planning my escape from that. Friends in Michigan? Here I come..

-If a dentist ever suggests crown lengthening to you, just head for Tijuana or CVS and buy dentures. ‘Nuff said. Except that five weeks out and it appears I have retained a molar that was otherwise history. So, that’s a good thing.

-Things at Lost Loon Lodge have taken a turn for the worse. Only there is it still dropping into the 20’s and snowing at night and poor Bud had a fall and then it turns into a very bad movie for a while- about 14 hours- where it’s fortunate he didn’t get eaten by a bear. He is now safely warmed up and recovering in The Big Hospital (Marquette) and talking the ears off his charming CCU nurse. This is all relatively new news, in the past 72 hours, and we shall see what the next week brings. But please send him good thoughts.

-I am here and there and no place in particular, just very unsettled. I flew to Chicago yesterday, have flight times to the U.P. jotted down just in case, but sister Laurel is enroute to be with Bud. Memories of mother, siblings, Marquette Hospital, 18 flavors of cafeteria jello. If possible, I head to Michigan Wednesday for Dan’s birthday, a dear friend’s wedding and a much needed MEETING OF THE CLUB (BCMA).

– The Asheville house is rented until next February at which time I will finally get the kitchen and garden of my dreams and live happily ever after with my sweetie. Until then, I at least caught up on some much needed nap time with him yesterday. We dragged out the futon, he turned on golf and we snuggled down for the nicest 4 hours imaginable. I’ve seen Rich a total of  2 weeks since Christmas so this week is a little hiatus in marital heaven.

-NOMO released their new CD , Invisible Cities, and the son is getting ready to leave on tour, States and Europe. You can hear a live NPR studio excerpt here or a free Amazon download here. The bari sax player is cute, yes?


-The Snarl and Misha are simply wunnerful, wunnerful. She’s flying in the face of H1N1, natch, and heading to a remote Mexican village to design and implement a non-profit organization for local fishermen and their families. Then Abby and Misha will go to Russia to Meet the Parents (the other parents).


-Rich’s new book is in pre-release and he is busy getting ready for a book tour. Wherein we will spend more time apart this fall because I have felting classes to teach and cats to consider and as much as we love each other, we might possibly resort to domestic violence left alone in an RV and 60 cities. I plan to drop in and out of the tour as it makes sense. I am incredibly proud of him as he writes about the obvious that everyone always ignores but is really really important. The book is called Simple Community and you can read his book blog here. And see a picture of the two of us, me before I stopped dyeing my hair.

THERE. Now I am caught up and can begin to blog again and that will really (really) make me happy. I can’t guarantee a daily post and you’d never believe it if I said it but I will get back to regular reading and writing and commenting as time permits.


So. Here is my first little regular blog entry in quite a while. Today was a weepy, happy /sad day. Today, I said goodbye to the Lincoln Park Zoo and my friends said goodbye to me.

I walked around the zoo after the morning meeting and Caruso, the white-cheeked gibbon, hopped down from his branch and came to pat me and  snuggle through the glass. So, I cried a little bit. I am now, too, as I write. It makes me very sad , this parting of ways. But here’s a bit of interesting karmic-type news: I’ve been thinking about what I might plug in, zoo-wise, in the Asheville area. I have Boyd Hill in St. Petersburg but still. I had been reading up on the Western North Carolina Nature Center and also lining up my references, to apply for something there. They do raptors and otters and bears and also, red wolves.


I’ve talked to you about the red wolves at Lincoln Park Zoo. The breeding pair there has had pups two years in a row and this year they again made national news. The thing about these wolves is that they are beyond endangered; they were declared extinct in the wild in the late 80s. Once a major predator in the Eastern U.S., they have been virtually no more, except in captivity. One of the wonderful things that zoos can sometimes do is re-introduce a species to the wild and undue the damage of our human follies. This year several of our tiny days old pups were sent to the North Carolina Red Wolf Recovery  Program where they are being fostered by a pair of wild wolves. Hopefully they will soon join the other 100-120 wild red wolves now living in North Carolina. 


Two pups stayed at the zoo with their parents and today, a day when I thought to take my camera, mother brought them out of the den. They aren’t great photos because it was some distance and through the fence but here they are. A critically endangered animal being brought back from extinction. Aren’t they beautiful? And now I may get to commune with the program helping their siblings on the other end. How cool is that?


If you don’t link to any other links in this post, please take a moment to check out this two minute you tube video, which I took from Rich’s blog. It’s very smart, very cool and right on. My teacher friends and those of you who work with young adults will love it.