Column: Peaceful like a panda

Red panda plays with paper links. Photo credit: Julia Brunette

I pull and pick on the sides of my fingers. I know — it’s a bad habit. My mind races with millions of thoughts. I should be working on something right now, I tell myself. I think about the homework that I could be getting done ahead of time, assignments for my internship, the stories I should be reporting, the content I need to be posting.

These thoughts swarm around me like a bunch of bees squishing and squeezing into the hive of my mind. So, I take deep breaths and try to focus. This was vacation time. It was a long weekend, so I should just relax and have fun.

The car stops and everyone jumps out. My little sisters and cousins skip and tug around me. They live a monkey lifestyle, jumping up and down, climbing around, screaming and snacking all day long. As they race to the entrance, I peer over to the wall that says “Zoo Montana.”

I have never really liked the concept of zoos. They are fun in theory, at least for humans, but I have always questioned the morality of it.

I walk through the entrance, and I look down at my swollen fingers. At the rate I was picking, they would be gone by the end of the day. It was time to calm my mind. I ask my dad if I could use his camera to take photos, figuring that this will give me something to focus on.

As we walk through the small Montana zoo, we make all the possible stops. At our first stop, I’m surrounded by scaly, crawly and fuzzy creatures stacked in glass enclosures. I hear walls of hissing and scratching from these tiny, living beings. The room is cool and quiet as eyes of all ages peer into the homes made of glass and plastic for these animals.

Fish swim in Zoo Montana pond.
Fish swim in Zoo Montana pond. Photo credit: Julia Brunette

We step outside to the stables. Furry and hoofed animals chew and tug on the fences of their homes. Hay and dirt surround my toes. I look to my left, and I am greeted by a goat. I turn to take a picture, and he quickly bucks his head into the fence.

A smirk grows on my face as I look down at the goat. Oh to be a goat. To worry little and chew on everything.

Lily pads soak up the Montana sun.
Lily pads soak up the Montana sun. Photo credit: Julia Brunette

We swirl in and out and all around throughout these fake small habitats. I imagine what it would be like to be like them. We stand peering into a glass enclosure. All eyes gaze on the creature with treacherous teeth and uniquely patterned coat.

A blur of orange and black stripes strike across the grass and pounce on a purple plastic dodgeball. I make my way around the other side of the enclosure, to get a better-exposed view of the not-so-wild creature.

I pull the camera close to my eye and zoom in real tight. I can see her sparkling whiskers and piercing golden eyes. Click. I let go of a small breath and slowly set the camera to the side. For a moment it seems so real, like you are actually in this creature’s home. Everything is given away with the screams for snow cones and other zoo snacks, anything but clear glass that separates me from this beast.

I stare longer at the tiger, again thinking, What would it be like to be like you?

Tiger moves forward through the grass.
Tiger moves forward through the grass. Photo credit: Julia Brunette

In a way, I can relate. All these peering eyes watching as you just try to live and make it in this world. You feel as if everyone is counting on you, that the world surrounding you is always trying to pull something from you. Sure, when you’d give in to it, you get food, shelter and water, but you always wonder if there is something more.

As these thoughts swarm my mind, I take one last glance and walk away. I follow slowly behind the large group of my pack. I see a sign that reads “South Asia,” and I know what that means.

Red pandas.

They are the equivalent of forever puppies. We approach the exhibit as the crowd hushes down. One small, furry creature chews and hits a paper link chain. The viewers ooh and aw as it indulges in its own cuteness. Posing, chomping, pulling out all of the stunts.

I smile as I zoom in to snap a picture, making one-way eye contact through the lens.

Red panda turns towards the crowd that watches it.
Red panda turns towards the crowd that watches it. Photo credit: Julia Brunette

What would it be like to be like you? I think.

To have the world adore you no matter what and seemingly young forever. To have a life full of play and chomp. No finals, no internship, no work, no obligations to anyone else — to have a life in the zoo.

Once again, I am left slowly by my pack, allowing me a moment of peace. I look down at my fingers. They look better. There is something peaceful about watching animals, even if the scheme of wildness is ruined with paper link chains and foggy glass.

What are the foggy glass and paper chains in my life? I wonder. What is keeping me locked to society’s viewpoint?

A small voice in my head says, “Just you.” I look around me and for a moment. I feel peace. No thought of work or any complications. Simply peace. I know I have control. I know I can create peace.

Tiger looks up at its water source.
Tiger looks up at its water source. Photo credit: Julia Brunette