Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Don't make the sea bird police mad - just don't

Here's where it all started to go wrong: There's a little vestibule thingie that you have to pass through to get to the sea bird exhibit at the Alaska Sea Life Center. And there's a cop stationed there. I didn't notice she was a cop at first, because she's disguised as a mild-mannered staff member. So my sea bird experience started by being held captive in the vestibule, staring longingly through the glass doors that led to the exhibit and the truly cool birds, while Ms. Cop read us the riot act ... er ... explained exhibit policies regarding our behavior when we viewed the sea birds, plugged several Center programs aimed at our wallets, and listed the types of birds we'd be seeing (in case we hadn't gotten a clue from pressing our noses up against the glass doors). She does this in a high speed monotone designed to kill enough brain cells that no one could possibly pose a threat to the birds. Trust me on this.

But I'd already visited the sea birds on a previous trip and I was jazzed! I had my camera and my ever present goal to take the absolute perfect bird picture; one that will blow all other bird pictures off Flickr and into the ether. Plus I truly, truly love animals. I get that it's an amazing privilege to stand in that exhibit and watch those birds. So I stationed myself about 4 feet back from the wall that separates the birds from the onlookers and pointed my camera. Now, mind you, I was using an 18 to 200 mm lens, which means it goes from a wide angle view to a close-up view, and a person can get a little confused about where they are relative to their subject when they are zooming through that range. Still, I hadn't moved from the spot I was standing, I was using the close-up end of the zoom, and I figured that, unless I saw a giant bird eye staring at me through the lens, I was far enough away not to annoy the birds. So you can imagine my surprise when I hear, right in my ear, "PSSST!! STEP BACK NOW!" It was Ms. Cop, glaring at me. I couldn't have been more startled if she had drawn a gun and shouted, "Step away from the sea bird!!"

Of course, I stepped back. But I kind of thought that if I was scaring the birds while standing four feet away from the pool, holding perfectly still so my pictures wouldn't be blurry, and not talking, maybe I should just watch them from outside the exhibit. So I headed for the door. But, I turned back for one last look. And here is what I saw: Ms. Cop was up close and personal with one of the birds that had hopped up on the dividing wall and she was scratching its little head! Possibly my eyes narrowed and a tiny "grrr"escaped my lips. But not until I was outside the exhibit. I'm not getting in Ms. Cop's face. She's mean.

I would have written off Ms. Cop as just one of those icky people that you meet once in a while, but then we crossed paths again under circumstances that made me more sympathetic. I returned to the Sea Life Center a few days later, on a day when 250 Anchorage school children were loose in the Center. Walking down a hall, I passed Ms. Cop. She was a study in controlled anger. She looked like she could spit nails! I knew just how she felt. Those miniature deliquents/hell spawn/school children scared my octopus! When they came trompling and shouting up to its tank, it shrank up into a far corner, turned pale and closed its eyes. I really, really wanted to walk up to them and hiss in each child's ear "PSST! STEP BACK NOW!"

P.S. Ms. Cop and 250 school kids notwithstanding, I still totally love the Sea Life Center. I still want a job throwing fish to the sea birds. Or, maybe, I want a job guarding the door to the exhibit. I can be mean, too. Send in the kids ...

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