June 22nd, 2006

little review

Poem for Thursday

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We got up early Wednesday to go see Fort Pitt. Only the blockhouse remains of the original fort -- and bricks marking the outline of the earlier Fort Duquesne from before the British took the land from the French -- but there's a reproduction with an excellent interactive historical museum, much bigger than the one at Fort Necessity, with two films and a variety of computerized maps and recordings about the history of Pittsburgh and the French and Indian war. I keep being amazed at the things I never learned in school: I knew, for instance, that Pontiac was a Native American chief and that was why Detroit car dealers named a line of cars in his honor, but I don't think I learned in school that he fought with the French against the British, who were cast as the "good guys" in my high school textbooks. Younger son knows more about the Iroquois than I do, having just studied them in school, and he also surprised us with how much he knew about Pittsburgh's history as a steel town and the effects of mining and industry on the lungs of local residents. One can see a lot of the city from Fort Pitt, which is at the forks of the Ohio -- football and baseball stadiums, about eleven bridges, numerous churches along the upper coastline, riverboats and coal barges headed side by side up the river.

At lunchtime we stopped at the stadium where the Pittsburgh Penguins play to buy the kids Penguins merchandise -- a reflection of their taste in animals, not teams -- then drove to the National Aviary, which admitted us for free as members of the National Zoo. We ate in the outdoor enclosure and then went through the exhibits, which includes two big flight rooms where there were birds pecking people's shoelaces and dive-bombing heads. (Younger son bonded with a bird he dubbed Little Birdie and cried when we had to leave -- this is a boy who also cried about not being able to take an enormous piece of sea kelp twice his size that he had named Spiffy home from the west coast.) Early in the afternoon there was a chance to meet one of the aviary's four penguins -- not a breeding population, as they are all descended from other captive penguins and they don't want too many of the same genes replicated in the captive penguin community. This one's name is Stanley and was quite friendly about eating fish and parading about in front of a crowd. There are also cranes, bald eagles and hundreds of little birds from all over the world.

The Pittsburgh Zoo and Aquarium also has penguins -- Gentoo, King and Rockhopper -- so we went there later in the afternoon. Of course we also went to the petting zoo, flight cage, African savannah, bear trail, kangaroos, great cats and reptile areas; there were meerkats in an exhibit where the kids could stand under them in plastic domes and a tank full of stingrays where the kids could crawl into plastic tunnels "underwater" to see them, and lots of rides and things that we didn't have time for. The aquarium area has a big central tank with small sharks and deep sea fish, and there are coral reef exhibits, leafy seadragons and seahorses, pirhanas, eels, etc. The penguins all live in a big refrigerated area behind thick glass, so we didn't get very close, but we got to see two with babies and two Rockhoppers in various stages of moulting.

apaulled had planned for us to ride the Duquesne Incline, which is kind of like a cable car ski-lift, but younger son doesn't like heights and balked at going up the steep hill to look down on the city from above, while older son was ambivalent, so we just watched from the platform and then came back to the hotel for swimming and dinner. Younger son was already having a rough afternoon, having discovered that his brand new stuffed penguin from the aviary had a small tear. I've been reading Susan Cooper to the kids, trying to stir up excitement for Wales next spring, so we read aloud for awhile and repaired Swimmy -- the new penguin.


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We are spending the night in Pittsburgh, took the kids swimming and are now going to bed early so we can get up and go see Fort Pitt, the aviary and the zoo. I am very, very behind on mail, comments, tags, etc. Shall try to remedy when I can keep my eyes open!