A Fine Day at the Zoo

Dear Liza,

Since we had such a nice day Friday, Grandpa Nelson and I took the Number 15 bus and the Blue Line train and went to the zoo. This was a very popular idea, and even on a weekday morning, there were a lot of happy people there.

The animals seemed happy, as well. The Spoonbill pair was nesting, with herself sitting on the nest and himself bringing leaves to make it better. He seemed like a clumsy, but dedicated, workmate.

The African porcupine was having his lunch, right up by the fence. We got as close as I ever want to get to one of these stabby dudes.

At the Charles Darwin statue, someone had put a knitted hat on the little girl, maybe so she wouldn’t get chilly as she listened to the great man speak.

As we were heading out, we saw some other changes.

The Africafé, where we usually have lunch, has gotten a facelift and a new name, The Aviary Café. The menu is the same, and lots of families were enjoying a lunch and sit-down.

The mountain goat statue that I have posed grandkids on for years has been moved closer to the Mountain Goat enclosure, to celebrate some new arrivals.

These goats have gotten onto the Olympic Peninsula where they are not native, and are causing habitat problems. Some young goats who have been orphaned are being placed at the Zoo. Adults are being moved to the national forests.

Isn’t he handsome?

And just because I can’t resist including a picture of cute kids, here’s a five year old shot of Cousins Jasper and Kestrel on the goat statue.


Grandma Judy

Giddy Grandma Judy

Dear Liza,

You are coming to visit! I am so excited!
It has been years since you were in Portland, and some things haven’t changed.
Slappycakes is still here, and we will be heading there for breakfast.

We can still go to the zoo, although you might not fit inside this log anymore!

But in the four years since you’ve been here, lots has changed. The riots of 2020 and the pandemic have effected the politics, and economy, of Portland.

This statue of Harvey Scott, up on Mt. Tabor, was taken down by people who disagreed with his being “put up on a pedestal”, literally. Mr. Scott was a rich, important man in the history of Portland, but his beliefs about women’s and other groups’ civil rights have not aged well. Other statues, like Teddy Roosevelt and even Abraham Lincoln, have been put away until decisions are made about where they should be.

And since it is now early spring instead of late summer, there will be more tulips than black-eyed Susans.

Cities are living things, with millions of people creating them everyday. They grow and change just like you and I do. But we take what comes and do what we can to make it better.

See you soon, sweetie!


Grandma Judy

The Art of the Zoo

Dear Liza,

I have showed you a lot about the art AT our zoo. Jim Gion’s lions and statues of Charles Darwin make our visits more fun.

But besides putting art in the zoo, there is also an art to creating a beautiful zoo.

So many of these are missed in a hurried dash from enclosure to enclosure, so this past visit I made a conscious effort to stop and notice these wonderful touches.

In the Africa area, there are these delightful carvings set into the planters. These let you know what animals are coming up, and give a nice rustic feel to the area.

When artfully designing a zoo, it is good to understand the climate. This fabulous moss covered wall leading down into the gorge of the Pacific Northwest area is nice all year round, but positively blooms in the spring! The moss feels like velvet and I love to walk slowly, letting my fingers enjoy the texture.

These wonderful lichens grow by the giraffes, and add to the visual interest of the planters. It is so prehistoric looking and unexpected, it really stands out.

And growing right next to the unusual lichen were these tiny, fuzzy purple flowers. They were as delicate and pretty as the lichen were weird and unworldly.

Chuckles are always good at a zoo, too. Kids want to learn about the animals, but have fun, too. This interactive chart uses funny words to let kids know that red pandas sleep A LOT, all day. Napping, resting, dozing, and dreaming are how these fluffy critters spend their time.

I hope we get to visit the zoo when you come up to visit!


Grandma Judy

Predatory Beauty

Dear Liza,

It was a nice rainy day Thursday, and Grandpa Nelson and I went to the zoo. On really warm days, or weekends, it can be crowded. We like it better with more animals than people.

On this visit we had some real quality time with the apex predators, the lions and eagles. In the Pacific Northwest Forest zone, the big bald eagle had come right down to the edge of the river where the salmon and sturgeon are, and seemed to be eyeing them for lunch.

I loved the way the forest and eagle were reflected in the calm water.

Over in the Africa section, the whole pride of lions was out on the rocks, enjoying the cool, wet weather. Looking at them through the rain and mist, it was easy to imagine myself watching them on the African savanna, some early morning.

I saw a lot of other lovely things at the zoo, but I will save them for another day.


Grandma Judy

Long Time, No Zoo…

Dear Liza,

It has been a long time since I went to the Oregon Zoo with the cousins. These two pictures show how the three years between visits have changed the Cousins.

This photo, with everyone wearing masks, was taken Monday. Look at those long legs!

Cousins with goat, 2021…

This was taken just three years ago, on our last visit. No masks and really small cousins! Time just keeps on slipping, as they say…

Cousins with goat, 2018

A lot has changed at the Zoo itself, too. There is a new Polar Bear enclosure, but makes me feel sad. The enclosure has grass and trees, but no water or snow-y looking things. It feels like they were trying to get the Polar Bear used to living without snow. He doesn’t look too happy about it, either.

But, not counting the whole global warming thing, it was a good day. I enjoyed watching the Cousins as they visited their favorite places. We watched the sea lions zoom and swish through the water.

We explored the new Primate habitat.

We visited garter snakes and mongooses, which I want to call mon-geese but have been told that is not right.

And of course we found lots of ways to be silly. Grandpa Nelson found sort of a shrine to hands …

There were also lots of ape hands to compare ours to…..

And Cousin Kestrel sat and listened to Dr. Charles Darwin talk about The Origin of Species.

It was altogether a wonderfully delightful, exhausting, and heart felt day!


Grandma Judy

Messages at the Zoo

Dear Liza,

I love that our zoo here in Portland works hard to care for the animals and make sure they are happy. I also love that they want to educate folks to the need for responsible action.

Daisy the recycled Polar Bear

This past visit, we were met by Daisy the Polar Bear just as we entered. From a distance, she seemed soft, almost fluffy. When we got closer, however, we saw that she was made from plastic trash.

Plastic lighters, medicine bottles, and cooler lids, washed up onto beaches and collected by volunteers and sorted by color, were used to make Daisy. She is one of a collection of sculptures called “Washed Ashore” and designed to raise awareness of the hazards of littering and pollution.

The zoo is currently making a huge new habitat for Polar Bears, with a larger pool, indoor and outdoor exercise areas, and lots of ways for people to learn about these wonderful bears. Climate change seems to be ruining their wild homes, but our zoo wants to make them a safe haven. I like that.

There are also non-language signs that make it clear that people need to be careful of their behavior at the zoo. Items that end up in enclosures can be eaten by the animals and make them sick. I overheard several moms explaining this to their child, and I was pleased that both seemed to realize their responsibility.


Grandma Judy

Hello, SUN!!

Dear Liza,

Sunny day at Lone Fir cemetery

With fall getting grey and damp, I had sort of given up on sunny days. But yesterday I wanted a long walk and Grandpa Nelson wanted to visit the zoo, and we got to do both under piercingly blue skies.

We walked through the neighborhoods down to the river and across the Morrison Bridge.

Amazing new building with giant flower pots!!

Because of the elevated bridge approaches, there are a few blocks by the river that feel sort of spooky and underground… not places to be after dark, anyway.

But being there on foot gives great perspectives on new buildings going up. This colorful new building has huge flower-pot shaped planters attached to the outside with trees growing in them!

Sparkles on the Willamette River

We crossed the Morrison Bridge, enjoying the brilliant sunshine reflecting in the Willamette. The stiff breeze made my wool sweater and leather jacket feel just about right.

We could have continued walking once we got downtown, but the climb to the top of Washington Park would have worn us out. We took the train and then the super fast elevator up to the top of the hill. ZOOM!

Inches away from a Bald Eagle

The zoo was practically empty, just the way we like it. A few groups of moms with small kids in strollers, some brave grandparents, and us. We got to spent quality time with the giraffes, talking with their keeper, Virginia. She told us that the zoo tries to never anesthetize giraffes. Becoming unconscious means falling down, which can be deadly for the tall, spindly animals.

Did you know giraffes love carrots?

While she was feeding the Masai and Reticulated giraffes their carrot treats, we got to see their twenty inch black tongues! It was adorable and creepy at the same time.

Virginia, goddess of carrots

We got to watch as the cheetahs prowled their enclosure. We felt a bit anxious realizing that we were just one pane of glass away from becoming lunch. The graceful cheetahs could run us down like a rocket. It was delightful.

Eyeing his lunch….

I will tell you more tomorrow!


Grandma Judy

Zoolights 2018

Dear Liza,

At Zoolights

Merry Christmas!! I hope you and your Mommy and Daddy have a fun day with Baba Alla and lots of presents and good food. I will be spending the day with Cousins Kyle, Jasper and Kestrel, and Auntie Christy and Bridgett, and Grandpa Nelson.

Last night we took Auntie Christy and cousin Kyle to Zoolights. We went with Katie and the cousins last year, but Katie still has a cold and it was going to be a wet night.

First, Christy and I went to the movies downtown to see “Welcome to Marwen”, a movie that looks really sad but is really very hopeful. Steve Carell, who does the voice of Gru in the Despicable Me movies, was the star and did a very good job of making us believe an unbelievable story.

Portland’s Living Room

When the movie was over, I showed Christy around our pretty downtown…the trees wrapped in lights, and Pioneer Square (which Portlanders call ‘The Living Room’) with its giant Christmas tree.

Grandpa Nelson, cousin Kyle and Auntie Bridgett met us there and we got on the train to the zoo. It was cold and damp, but not raining…..yet.

Before the Rain

As we got into the zoo, it began, and kept raining all night. We had brought umbrellas and hats, gloves and coats, but I could feel my feet getting wetter and wetter as I enjoyed the lights and dealt with crowds.

We stopped for food at the Africafe, where we usually watch the birds darting around their aviary. But they were all asleep. It was odd, being at the zoo when all the animals were not active, sort of like sneaking into someone’s house when they are away. Along with a few hundred other folks.

When we had walked the route and gotten just about as wet as we could, we caught the train back downtown….and then the rain really kicked in! Fifth Street was a river that happened to have streetcar tracks in it. Thanks goodness for Portland’s covered bus stops, or we would have been miserable.

The Zoo Train racing with dinosaurs

We were home around 7, but we were all exhausted. We changed into dry clothes, hung up the wet ones, and watched Graham Norton until we got sleepy, around 9:00. Falling asleep, I thought about how good it is to get wet and cold, get warm and dry again, and be with family.


Grandma Judy

Looking Back


Dear Liza,

It is a new year, and I am looking forward to some more big changes. I will be coming to Salinas to stay with you for a few months while I teach, and my life here in Portland will be put on hold. Grandpa Nelson and Auntie Bridgett will stay here and take care of Mouse the kitten, the houseplants, and their jobs…but we won’t be together. This will be weird, and sometimes sad.

Before looking forward, though, I want to look back on the crazy trip that got me here and what I love about Portland.

Auntie Katie and Cousin Kestrel

During the hot Summer, we learned about getting around on air-conditioned buses and trains. We got to visit our new favorite Laurelhurst Park with Auntie Katie and the cousins. We even walked to the Willamette River and put our feet in!

View from under the Hawthorne Bridge

It was fun getting to show you all the things in our new city, like the zoo.

Being a Squirrel


The biggest thing that we learned about is the weather. It rains a lot here, and we are getting used to asking Google if we should take an umbrella. It even snows! This takes getting used to, but is such a nice change from highs of 70 and lows of 50 that I don’t mind.

Snow on the back steps


I have fallen in love with the theater and art here in Portland. Theaters are made from old churches, warehouses, and even set up in parks. Art and music are everywhere.

Young violinist on SW Salmon and Park

People playing music, reciting and writing poetry on street corners just isn’t something we saw in Salinas, and it is a real treat.

And of course, the history! I have been studying about Portland’s past…it’s buildings, trolley cars, and people. It is just about as old as Salinas, but since it is a bigger city, it has more stories.

I am still trying to find out who this young lady was

There is so much I love about Portland. I will miss it, and then return in June to re-discover my new city all over again.



Grandma Judy