My tropical escape pod: the Myriad Botanical Garden’s Crystal Bridge Tropical Conservatory. Besides being a living library of tropical botany, the Garden functions nicely for people in need of a brief rainforest restorative. Bristling with palm trees, orchids, waterfalls and zebra heliconia butterflies, it is a warm gust of tropical breath contained in a glass cylinder dropped on its side in downtown OKC. Yes, I’ve seen “Silent Running”. Watercolor over pencil in a Stillman & Birn sketchbook, 8 1/2″ x 11″
The cat caught a mouse between my bare feet this week.
She’d lain siege for days listening to it scrabble and gnaw behind the kitchen baseboards. While I stood at the sink and washed dishes, I felt a light breeze blow against my ankles. Looking down, I saw the cat trot away with the mouse in her teeth. She grew up feral in the country and wasn’t playing around. The mouse was food.
Double striped thick-knees (Burhinus bistriatus) hobnob at the Tulsa Zoo Rainforest Exhibit. Birds of open savannah, they look charming in the jungle understory beneath a fruiting papaya. Watercolor over pencil, 8 1/2″ x 11″.
I’m lucky enough to live in a state with a couple of tropical rainforests, and duck inside them now and then for a little warmth and color. The generous builders of these artificial worlds ask only that you embrace the fantasy and imagine you’ve walked into Costa Rica or Madagascar. On a tight schedule, needing a dose of jungle, I find that’s not too much to ask.
Stack of howler monkeys, Tulsa Zoo. No idea how many were on the pile, but I loved the soles of their feet. They even sweetly held tails as they slept. Pencil on 8 1/2″ x 11″ Stillman & Birn sketchbook, Epsilon Series.
In the Tulsa Zoo’s rainforest exhibit, a path slopes through twisted roots of a concrete strangler fig into the quiet depths of an Amazon tributary, waters held apart by glass walls. Giant black and white catfish glide by, winking. A replicated Mayan stone head guards the entrance; around concrete trees, faux vines twist. My friend takes hold of a looping liana and said, “it’s real- look. It’s squishy, feel it”. Lianas being hard woody vines, I wasn’t fooled. This one was latex. But nicely done.
Most of the plants and animals here are real. Caciques and oropendolas fly through umbrella-leaves of live cecropia and appear to be nest-building (this might be an illusion, too, but one can hope) in the tangled vines pressing their flowers against the translucent ceiling panels. The air is refreshed with good ventilation and plant exhalations. A golden-headed lion tamarin on the hollowed bole of a buttressed tree (concrete) scrunches its elfin face at me and twitters like a finch.
Golden-headed lion tamarin. A pair owns the island in the rainforest pond at the Tulsa Zoo; they are small but mighty. Pencil on paper, 8 1/2″ x 11″.
Scarlet Macaw, a donated former pet that says, “hullo” and “buh-bye”. As designated ambassador to the rainforest, it straddles the perch between animal and human behavior. Watercolor over pencil, 8″ x 10″.
At OKC’s Myriad Botanical Gardens, I stand under a waterfall and get a little buzz from the cool spray of negative ions. Somewhere I’ve heard waterfalls relieve stress. No argument here. I’m just going to walk lightly up this rock-face on a path of ferns and orchids and butterflies, ok?
Plumeria obtusa, Myriad Gardens. Its pinwheel flowers lured me with scent, and I plunged my nose into their creamy depths to catch the potent mix of gardenias, romance and nostalgia with notes of lemon zest and a big plate of fresh-baked bread drizzled in warm melted butter. I also got a dusting of pollen; in fact, I may have impregnated these flowers with my nose. Watercolor over pencil, 8 1/2″ x 11″ Stillman & Birn sketchbook.
Our cat is a healthy, well fed member of our family. She is not allowed outside. We created a lovely artificial world for her in here, giving her carpeted climbing trees and toy wands with chicken feathers dragged from the ends (her eyes dilate when she plays). She has cat grass for her eating (and vomiting) pleasure and a nice Pottery Barn sofa to sleep on and shred (NEVER buy a sofa with fabric slipcovers if you have a cat). She eats a can of science-formulated kitty health-pate every morning and night; she poops in a sandbox under the bathtub. The cat cheerfully embraces these artifices. At playtime, I hope she imagines herself a jungle beast. If not a jaguar, then at least an ocelot.
Jaguar, Tulsa Zoo, sleeping fitfully due to crowd of biped primates gawking on the other side of the glass. Tiny girl in pink tutu appears. Beaming mother pushes her forward. Little girl bangs on glass. Jaguar cracks open one eye. Little girl in tutu twirls and pirouettes, bangs again. Jaguar raises head and hurls a curse, baring bright teeth. Little girl wails loudly, is hustled away by embarrassed mother. Pencil on paper, 8 1/2″ x 11″, Stillman & Birn Alpha Series sketchbook.
Back in the kitchen, when a real mouse entered the Faux Zone, the cat’s past got the better of her. I never saw her go in for the kill. Just a gentle breeze against my heels and crunching sounds on the Pottery Barn rug. Drying my hands, I brought her a napkin. She barely looked up.
A few days from now after the cold front moves through and I need another shot of jungle, it’s only thirty minutes away. And there’s a plumeria in there I really should get to know better.