We finally arrived around 2:45, in time to catch the last hour or so of the event. We'd apparently missed the falcons and Cooper's hawks and so forth, but we still had a great time. The first wonder was the gift shop, which had all manner of realistic-looking stuffed animals. There were owls and bats and mice and butterflies.
Christina's husband showed us each animal, holding them like puppets. At first, Allyson clung to my leg, but soon she was excitedly pointing out each animal to me. Gary had her giggling in no time.
Next up was story hour, and the reader must have been a teacher because she was so skilled at sparking the imagination and holding everyone's interest. She read a book about a migrating hummingbird, and we learned many fascinating tidbits. Did you know, for example, that hummingbirds can fly backwards and even upside-down?
We were a diverse group. There were children of various ages, along with their parents, and then there was a group of mentally challenged adults. Those men and women were a joy to watch. They were so enthusiastic, so delighted to learn about hummingbirds and to share their knowledge with each other. They never stopped grinning, and they never ceased to be amazed.
The highlight of the story hour was when the teacher passed around a real stuffed hummingbird in a plastic case. It had been found in this area back in 1976! I held my breath as Allyson held the tiny box; I was afraid she would shake it and damage the beautiful, fragile creature.
Once she had held the bird, Allyson couldn't care less about the story. She kept announcing in a stage whisper that she really wanted to hold that bird again. The girl to our right heard her and handed the bird over, and Allyson studied it intently for a few more minutes until I made her pass it on. A couple of minutes later, Allyson pleaded, "I leely [really] want to hold that bird, Mommy!" I took her by the hand and led her away so the others would not be distracted.
Next, we admired several turtles, frogs, and snakes in aquariums. Just like her big brother Ethan, Allyson was an animated tour guide. "Look at the frog, Mommy! Do you see the snake?"
It took some effort to drag her away, but we finally headed outside to look for some live birds. On our way to the bird walk, we stopped at an art table where Allyson used dyed feathers to paint with a dazzling array of tempra paints. She didn't attempt to draw anything or anyone, just brushed vibrant swirls of color haphazardly across the page. Gary, on the other hand, made a sort of impressive owl. Allyson picked out a spot on the clothesline for their two masterpieces, and then we headed off to the bird walk.
Christina and Gary, who had just taken a guided walk, assured us that there were many types of birds along this lushly wooded path, but we never saw any. That's because every few feet, Allyson would shout, "Hey, guys! I fink I hear some birdies... Tweet! Tweet!" Each time, I'd remind her to be very quiet so as not to scare the birds away, and she'd nod her head and whisper, "Okay." But each time she heard the telltale chatter of birds, her excitement would get the best of her again. "Listen! It's birdies! Tweet! Tweet!"
So instead of seeing birds, we sometimes heard them fluttering away frantically as we rounded a corner. No matter. Since Christina is actually an elementary school science teacher, we got our own guided tour. She pointed out all the tiny wonders we would have missed:
- Tiny seeds inside their seed coats
- Dainty white onion flowers with adorable little onion bulbs (when she broke a stem, I was startled to recognize the pungent aroma of onion)
- Mushrooms growing on the side of logs
- A spider's nest bejeweled with sparkling water droplets
- Scurrying creatures that lived under a log (Allyson was delighted, but I shuddered involuntarily)
- A big pile of dog poop that she carefully guarded so that Allyson wouldn't step in it
When we returned to the science center, the clothesline with the paintings was gone. Gary inquired inside and learned that the pictures had been discarded when the event ended at 4:00! Allyson was heartbroken. She's still pining for that Picaso-esque painting.
After the nature walk, we met another high school friend named Helen and her smiley, amazingly squirmy baby Charlie. We had the most delicious fish tacos at a hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant, and we sat out on their porch and talked endlessly while Gary kept Allyson entertained.
It was a most wonderful Saturday afternoon, after which Allyson was utterly exhausted.
Just after we got home, the sky opened up and let out torrents of rain. I was so glad to be snug at home, relaxing on the couch with Allyson. We're already making plans to go again.