Editor’s Note: in this week’s column Mahlon describes a summer field trip to the zoo. My wife and I love to visit zoos. Well, not just any zoos, but well-run, accredited zoos. Rachel’s college degree was in zoology and there’s nothing worse than a bad zoo, but few things better than a good one. We’ve been to both kinds! The Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo is not one we’ve been to before, but it sounds really nice.
A little context for Mahlon’s column: Amish schools are incredibly close-knit. Where public schools are full of “churn” (students coming and going, teachers being hired and fired, tons of students), Amish schools are small and the students and teachers really get to know one another well. it becomes more like a big family. The teacher knows almost every family in the school well, they worship together at church, see one another at picnics and weddings. One of Mahlon’s own daughters is a student in his class (although under the instruction of another teacher..there are two teachers in many Amish schools including Mahlon’s) and accompanied him on the field trip to the zoo. So it was a day well-spent by Mahlon with family, friends, and neighbors!
This is the second to last Mahlon Miller column in the trial run, then I’ll conduct a reader survey for feedback as to whether you’d like to see his writings continue- Kevin Williams, Editor
By Mahlon Miller
“Time spent with friends is time well spent” says Winnie the Pooh.
I think Winnie is right and that makes last Saturday a day well spent. We took our students from grades 1 to 6 to Fort Wayne’s children zoo. Including us teachers we had a total of 35 people. Too many for a small bus and not enough to fill a big one. Since we weren’t exactly thrilled at the thought chaperoning such a large group by ourselves in such a public place we asked the students grandparents if they wanted to go along. Everything would be paid from our tour bus fund (which may have to be the subject of next week’s column). They accepted the invitation and our extra seats were soon taken by excited grandparents. We met at school early Saturday morning Everyone was in high spirits and looking forward to the day. At 7:15 the bus pulled up and almost before it stopped there was a line of children waiting to get on. Going to the zoo is great on any day but taking your grandparents along and being able to pay their way is really great. Our children were pretty proud.
Fort Wayne zoo is very nice. A favorite is the monkey island right inside the entrance. I think they are capuchin monkeys and they were putting on a good show Saturday morning. The penguins were waddling around and pushing for the front to get their fish but the alligators were already sleeping in the early morning sun when we got there. The peacocks were wide awake though and really strutting around. There was a white one and a blue one who were both trying to outdo the other. Proud, proud birds.
The sea lion feeding was a bit of a disappointment. They had a late start and their speaker system wasn’t working. The sea lions just wanted to eat and didn’t cooperate and do their tricks. The performance or lack thereof reminded me of a scene at school on the fourth or fifth consecutive day of November rain. It was actually kind of nice watching somebody else deal with it. I have been at the zoo before though when the sea lions did exceptionally well. Just as good as any dolphin show.
There is a section at the zoo that was dedicated to everything Australian, and Indonesian rainforest complete with orangutans and banana trees . And then there is African journey. Here you are just a glass pane away from Bill the proud king of the African plains and Inah, his mate. Across the way are the bat-eared foxes which can hear the termites working in their underground tunnel. At the giraffe pen there is a raised viewing platform which lets you see eye to eye with the long-necked creatures. For $1 you can buy a romaine lettuce leaf and feed it to one of them. A dollar a leaf? I can’t believe I am not raising romaine lettuce for them!
The rides were a highlight for the students. Most of them thought the ski lift was scary and a few were worried they would get dizzy on the carousel. But I think everyone took the rides at least once. The train was, of course, all that some of the boys talked about. They loved that. On the way home everything seemed quieted down on the bus. I normally think that if children are quiet that they are satisfied. So I took it as a sign they had a good day. I was feeling quiet too. It was good to be together again. I get attached to all the students and with school having been out a little more than a month I missed them. Just before we got home we stopped for ice cream cones in Shipshewana. As I sat at the picnic table surrounded by children an old acquaintance walked by. We had worked together before I was married and still exchange greetings whenever we meet which is not very often.
“Are these all your children?” He asked jokingly.
“Yes, they are,” I said, seriously. “They may be adopted but they are mine.”
Mahlon Miller, 31, is a farmer and Amish school teacher in northern Indiana. He’s married to his wife, Marietta, and they have four daughters.