Sunday, April 05, 2009

Australasia, revisted.

It is easy now to look back on my previous life and how things have changed so much in the last 9 months. Hard to believe that it has been almost a year since I hung up my apron and walked out of the kitchen of Café Juanita, a year since I made, daily, 5# Focaccia, 10# of Potato Bread, enough gelato to fill my home freezer, and desserts to keep me satisfied for days and days and months.
Harder yet to believe, is that for me, there was life even before my previous life as a Baker and Pastry Chef, a life in which I was a recently graduated science major from UW, a life just after I hung up my cap, goggles and swimsuit, my sole identity for the 18 years prior. I call this period of my life the lost years. I think, looking back, that it was the time in my life in which I was really the most unhappy..when I really had no idea what to do next. I had just finished living the greatest 4 years of my life, and here I was, graduated, no longer a swimmer, with no job prospects and a dwindling support system of friends still living in Seattle.

It was 1996 and I moved out of the college house that I shared with my best friends in the world and into a foreign house, with two good friends that hadn’t left Seattle once college ended. We lived in Ballard, which at the time, hadn’t yet experienced the resurgence of cool. Back in ’96, it was kind of dead, its main street still bearing the look of an era long bygone. I used to spend my days in the coffee shops, writing letters to old friends (back before email was a mainstay..) and trying to figure out my next move. Ironically, I remember there was a bakery around the corner from our house, one that, now, has become the beating heart of Ballard as far as French Pastries are concerned.

I graduated with a Zoology degree and had dreams of becoming a Veterinarian, but given a less than stellar performance in Organic Chemistry and Physics, I just wasn’t sure whether I could hack it. So, I applied for an internship at the Woodland Park Zoo and thought maybe I could intern alongside the resident Vet.

The Zoo is one of the hardest places to find an actual paying job, so I started where anyone would, as a volunteer. I was assigned to the Australasia exhibit, which housed the Snow Leopards, the Tree Kangaroos, the Wallaroos, the Laughing Kookaburra, the Potaroo
(Pota-who? you ask?) and the Mountain Parrot.

As a Vonlunteer in Australasia, a few things were certain: I could never tend to the Snow Leopards by myself, for obvious reasons…I could clean the female Tree Kangaroo’s cage, but not the neighboring male, who was known to throw his poop in your direction and, I had to watch my back when cleaning the Emu’s pen, as they tend to like chasing humans.

As you can imagine, I was assigned to the most menial and labor intensive of duties…and, the least glamorous. Not feeling too comfortable in my skin as it was, this was somewhat embarrassing at times when people would walk by the exhibits only to see me cleaning up after the Parrot who kept throwing his newly prepped and placed food on the ground and pooping in the area of the cage that I had just hosed and scrubbed. I was the poop lady. I spent most of my days cleaning the pens and, when I was through, I spent the rest of my time, filling wheelbarrows with hay to lay in the Wallaroo’s exhibit. Sometimes, when the keepers felt sorry for me, they would give me something different to do, like lining the Leopards (empty!) pen with cat nip and other sensory treats hidden in pine cones. One time, I remember blowing Emu eggs and scrambling the innards into a nice omelet. So good. And by the way, Emu eggs are huge and a beautiful green color.

My morning would begin with a walk through the Zoo at sunrise, with coffee in hand. Not a terrible way to start the day. I would walk past all my ‘friends’ and say hello. The Hippos’s, The Meerkats and The Pallas Cat all happened to be on my way to Australasia. Then, upon arrival, I would spend a couple hours weighing poop in baggies before my afternoon of cleaning poop in the pens. Weighing poop you ask? Why yes, I was helping in some experiment in which I had to weigh the poop of the tree kangaroo, daily. To this day, I am still not quite sure what that was all about.

I laugh when I look back on my days at the zoo. I had kind of a love hate relationship with the place. I have the utmost respect for the keepers. Probably one of the most difficult jobs out there. I didn’t really love all the cleaning, and the poop, but I did love seeing all the animals on a daily basis.

Now, with Baby, I have rekindled my relationship with the Wallaroos, this time from the other side of the fence, looking in.

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amy said...

nice post, sara. funny - i thought you were going to transition to how now, with a new baby, it's kind of like working at the zoo. how they throw their freshly prepared meal on the floor, how the chase you and try to bite you. and, how it's all about poop. wait till he starts toilet training. o dear god in heaven have i handled a lot of poop in the last 3.5 years.

Anonymous said...

I remember feeling envious of your zoo days but I know it was all poop! I thought I would put "Waste Management" on my next resume! As Amy says, there's an amazing amount of poop! It was good training :)

Robin said...

Wow, you have a whole different perspective on the zoo! I had no idea you worked there. The part about the tree kangaroo poop made me laugh. Awesome post.