Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

ASSINIBOINE PARK ZOO: Flamingo dancers

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Where have our lazy, hazy days of summer gone?

"The world is too much with us; late and soon," Wordsworth said -- and he didn't have to multi-task or worry about climate change.

Life is rush, rush, hurry, hurry all the time. Vacations? Just another way to ramp up the pace. Gotta go, gotta see, gotta do.

No, the only way to keep your sanity in the midst of the mounting chaos is to find mini-breaks not too far afield. Winnipeggers don't have far to go to find an excellent escape from the woes of the world in the Assiniboine Park Zoo flamingo exhibit.

Ah, flamingos, you may well sneer. That icon of all things tacky American? Too many times replicated in plastic and planted in pairs in front of a double-wide down at the Pair-O'-Dice trailer park?

Forget that. Go see the real thing. Winnipeg's flock of 50 or so flamingos, delicate bundles of pink and white feathers on stilts, are busy leading their own lives in the shade of a couple of oak trees just inside the zoo entrance.

They are at once gawky as teenagers and graceful as ballerinas as they march around their sun-mottled pen. Much as gazing at the stars can put all your troubles into perspective, watching these flamingos preen and prance reminds us that this, too, whatever this may be, shall pass. In less biblical terms, life is too short to sweat the small stuff.

Flamingos are very busy with all that cleaning and primping of feathers that is the stuff of flamingian life. The birds meticulously nibble each feather, fastidiously folding it back into place, their long, elegant necks forming an S as they reach back over their powder-puff bodies.

Some explore the exhibit's ponds, their heads bobbing upside down underwater in the telltale sifting motion of a flamingo at the buffet.

Then suddenly, a cry goes up. One bird runs amok, all gangly legs, wings held aloft, now as wide as he is tall. He rushes the length of the enclosure, calling out, half goose honk, half monkey chatter. Then all is calm again.

Is it a joke? A prank? Do you have to be a flamingo to get it?

Peace reigns, but not for long. Two birds make the dash and circle the pen, then four, then six, a handful, a dozen, until all are taking part in this strange and beautiful ritual.

Then peace again, and you get it, too. Life really is too short. See the beauty. Enjoy. And sometimes don't be afraid to be a little bit goofy.

julie.carl@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 1, 2009 E5

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