It’s quiet in the Maine Wildlife Park. Too quiet.
I’m sitting in my Docent-at-a-Distance booth across from the Visirors’ Center on the pathway people take to see the animals. I’m not busy. Nobody wants the information the sign outside my window offers. The clumps of people pass me by, hardly sparing a glance for me. Sometimes a child, curious about everything, notices me, and I wave and smile at her (or him, but mostly her). They can’t see my smile, because I’m wearing a mask with a lot of pictures of animals on it. The fabric has moose and foxes on it. The mask was made for me by one of the Gatehouse attendants. It’s great for me because it has long strings that I tie on top of my head and at the back of my neck. (Sometimes I wear a mask with ear loops, but I wear hearing aids and glasses that bend around my ears. Too much metal behind my ears, and the loops get under all of it and when I take them out my glasses slip and the hearing aids do too. But all of us who volunteer or work at the Park are under strict orders to wear masks.)
I’d say about 75% of the visitors are wearing masks too. Not many of the littlest kids do, and there are a lot of little kids. You have to make advance reservations to get into the Park, although you pay at the Gatehouse. If you had to pay in advance, I’d imagine there would be fewer no-shows, although there are precious few of those.
When the Park finally opened to visitors, in June, we only admitted 10 people every fifteen minutes. Now, in August, we allow fifteen people per fifteen minutes. But no busses. Last year we had as many as fifteen buses, each loaded with kids and camp counselors or teachers. The Park was filled with mostly middle school aged yelling, running, excited kids, freed from their classrooms and classroom discipline. (All bets were off with camp groups, accompanied by disinterested counselors.)
It was wild. But this year, strangely, I miss it. It’s quiet in the Park. Too quiet.
The Snack Shack is often closed, this year, for lack of volunteers. The Shack is reconfigured now; you can’t go inside. You stand outside a plexiglass window, and point to what you want from a display behind the window, and the attendant has to go get your choice. Most of our Snack Shack volunteers are in their golden years; how they manage to serve the long lines of kids buying penny candies in exchange for grubby twenty-dollar bills is beyond me. (They all seem to have twenty-dollar bills. Or credit cards, which the Snack Shack can’t accept.)
So the Park is quiet, serene, even.
The animals, of course, don’t seem to notice the difference. They don’t wear masks. And they aren’t subject to social distancing. The mountain lions, brother and sister, cuddle in their rocky cave, and the porcupines, one black, one white, munch their lunches together quite happily. The moose tend to ignore each other, although that will change in the fall. The female red fox somehow broke her leg, so badly she had it amputated. Now, oddly, she climbs into a tree in her habitat and snoozes aloft. When I’m guiding school groups, I tell them that gray foxes climb trees and red foxes don’t. Wild animals are always doing things they’re not supposed to do.
Anyway, the Park is coping with coronavirus quite well, thank you. The staff are very conscientious about social distancing, hand washing and wearing masks. They’re too busy to enjoy the peace and quiet.
Behind their masks, though, they miss the hullabaloo of excited children.
They really do.
by Ray Clark
Volunteer, the Maine Wildlife Park