Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Find Your Power Animal

I'm a firm believer that while not every experience improves as you age, the happiness that's derived from discovering something new about yourself or the world around you actually does increase in direct proportion to how far along in life you are.

I have to figure that this little phenomenon is simply the result of that whole "quiet desperation" thing Thoreau once wrote about: the idea that as you age, you resign yourself to a constantly growing level of cynicism -- the natural result of having seen more, done more and been further removed from the sense of wonder that went hand-in-hand with being a child.

As you age, you tend to make peace with the knowledge that there are few surprises left -- yet this is what makes those times when you're proven wrong so wonderful.

Three days ago, my wife and I left our little apartment on the Upper East Side and took a walk over to Central Park. It was an eerily quiet afternoon -- the low and heavy gun-metal gray sky seeming to swallow the usual vibrations of the city, and the streets themselves noticeably barren. We held hands and strolled along, wondering aloud when the first blossoms of spring might finally begin adding some much-needed flesh to the skeletal tree branches and debating whether French or Italian would better satisfy whatever personal vagaries might eventually be at work come dinner time.

Not wanting to return home, Jayne suggested that since we were walking in its general direction anyway, we go the Central Park Zoo. I hadn't been to a zoo in about twenty years, so I gave her what I'm sure was a sufficiently bemused look and agreed.

We paid our money and wandered through the Children's Zoo first, which allowed me to finally see real, live pigs -- which I admitted have always been one of my favorite animals (all obvious jokes about feelings of kinship aside). We got to pet goats (all obvious jokes about George W. Bush aside) and stand amongst birds of all shapes and colors; we were even introduced to what had to be New York City's most irritable cow (all obvious jokes about the entire clientele of Jimmy Choo aside).

After awhile, we made our way over to the main zoo area, which is basically comprised of two elongated buildings housing the penguin paddock and the tropical rain forest exhibit, and one outdoor path that leads to the polar bear, otter and snow monkey habitats, among others. All of these encircle a primary courtyard -- the centerpiece of which is a large above-ground tank made entirely of glass.

Inside that tank, are the sea lions.

The moment I saw them, something completely unexpected happened: my heart leaped, and a silly smile spread across my face.

I honestly had no idea the extraordinary grace of these animals, but watching them glide silently underwater -- eyes closed as if they were in their own perfect little world -- only to occasionally break the surface just a few feet from me -- well, it was like nothing I'd ever experienced. I was frozen -- entranced. They were beautiful in a way that I could never do justice to with words, no matter how hard I might try. I couldn't pull myself away from the sight of them, and felt a sublime sense of calm in the presence of such simple dignity.

In the middle of New York City, my wife and I had stumbled on a peaceful oasis that reminded me what it felt like to be a kid -- by filling me with pure, wonderous joy.

Since that first encounter, I've made it a point to walk home from work every day and stop by the sea lion tank. Yesterday, I stood there under that same gray sky, watching them swim -- the hushed sound of Badly Drawn Boy's The Shining sluicing its way through my iPod's earphones and into my head, followed by Death Cab's Passenger Seat -- grateful to have found what my wife calls my "happy place."

Sometimes it really is the littlest things.


Manny said...

It absolutely is the little things that count. As snarky and acerbic as I can be (you should see me in public), I have to make a conscious effort to find some kind of joy in even the most mundane things. I'd be a pain to live with otherwise. That's probably the main reason why I've refused to completely grow up and evolve from the man-child that I am.

But sea otters? That's pretty gay.

choenbone said...

i too have a happy place, two of them actually. One being the happy place of my childhood, the woods behind my grandparents house, the other my yearly pilgrimage to the fireworks showroom.

Knowing the "family" as you do im sure its no suprise either way. Obviously we are obsessed with burnig and blowing things up. What a better palce to do that than 121 acres of wooded real estate in northeast PA. Plus it has the added bonus of being a semi-central location for the entire family to get together and cause some chaos.

Anonymous said...

The sea lions tell me that watching you with your ipod on is their happy place.

Kiddo said...

Chez I think you've successfully articulated the reason otters have such a special little otter shaped in my heart.(As you already know)
Its an uncomplicated and beautiful place to be. Good to hear you've found a happy place too.
Speaking of which- is it wrong that Alan Rickman takes me to a different kind of happy place? mmmmm.

Happy Easter- Kell

Ps: Manny, Chez was talking about sea lions not sea otters. And even if he was its not gay for a man to love sea otters dammit!!
Unless of course if you were referring to the fact that otters are what the gay community call skinny hairy gay men....then you would be right. And I apologies. Hugs.


Yeah but they smell like dead fish and pee.

(all obvious jokes about,, well, there you have it)

TK said...

The seal and sea lion tank at the Boston aquarium is one of my favorite places in the world. I've stood and watched them for hours. I absolutely understand...

That said... try to find a way to see them in their natural habitat some time. That's truly amazing.

Harris said...

A guy I knew in college swore that he once saw a walrus at the Cincinnati Zoo jerk-off in front of a troop of Boy Scouts and fill the tank with a thick, milky cloud of wal-spooge. I don't know if that's true, but I love telling that story.

Anonymous said...

If you're ever in San Francisco you'll HAVE to visit Pier 39 (as touristy as it may be). I absolutely love watching the sea lions sunning themselves and jostling with each other. To avoid the tourist infestation that the Wharf can be, they are also viewable down in Santa Cruz, at the boardwalk. Great fun will be had by all!

Nature is a beautiful thing.

theodicy said...

Living in the absolute middle of the United States in that happy place known by the slogan "Land of Lincoln," I never really had an appreciation for the ocean and marine life. The closest I got was an occasional visit to Lake Michigan and looking at the dead fish that would often be washed up on shore. Hardly a happy fun encounter with aquatic beasts.

But then, thanks to Uncle Sam, I got to spend some quality time in CALIFORNIA. And not just any old place place in the Golden State, but nothing less than MONTEREY and CARMEL. (I'm eternally greatful to all the American tax payers for that once-in-a-lifetime experience.)

And there, right next to Monterey, is the mighty Pacific Ocean. Thinking it was nothing more than a salt-water version of Lake Michigan, I wasn't all that excited about it, especially since the year-round freezing water temperature meant there was no way a mere mortal can ever go swimming in the ice cold waters of Monterey Bay.

But then I noticed that the Pacific coast has something that Lake Michigan didn't: seals and otters.
And they weren't behind a glass, or in a tank, but were RIGHT THERE -- right in front of you, close enough for you to pet, if you are foolish enough.

Not too mention, the waves in the Pacific were a LOT bigger than the waves on Lake Michigan...

So I would make it a point to walk out to some nice. lonely spot on the coast, and watch the waves CRASH into the rocks, and watch the otters and the seals goof around in the water, and just be amazed by the whole thing.

The icing on the cake was my once a week visits to a place I didn't even know existed before I got there: the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which is the most incredible place I've ever been to in my life, bar none. I was there that I got to reach out and touch a real, live sting ray. (the little bugger was de-barbed, thankfully...)

If evolution is true, I'm convinced our family tree comes from otters and sea lions, not those stupid primates.

pseudo Thomas Merton

Jeremy said...

Hey Chez,
I wasn't reading when you originally posted this, but you gave this cynical old man a little shot of wonder this morning, and for that I thank you.