Claire Bear Comes to Little Rock

It’s a three-day weekend and we invited Mandy’s cousin Claire, who is from rural Oklahoma, to come visit. Mandy and I drove to Clarksville Friday night to meet Aunt Julie at Wendy’s, and we brought Claire home with us.

We had a great time showing Claire around Little Rock. She watched several bike polo games, and was a good sport about trying it herself.

Mandy’s new polo bike is an old-school Specialized Rockhopper. It’s not really set up for polo yet, so after the games we drove out to Pinnacle Mountain for a quick spin around one of the beginner mountain bike trails. Claire thought mountain biking was pretty cool.

Bryan rode his polo bike, and since the trail isn’t very hilly he wasn’t much bothered by having only one gear. Mandy was on her offroad unicycle. Somehow, at dusk, she managed to get lost by herself on the trail. We split up to look for her, and she was found without incident.

Later, despite the chilly day and the threat of rain, we hiked up Pinnacle Mountain. Claire confided that, actually, she’d never been hiking before. She was a little nervous about climbing the rather steep, exposed ‘spine’, just before the top, but Mandy talked her through it. It’s fun to watch people stretch their boundaries and try new things.

I think Claire pushed back a lot of her boundaries over the weekend. We went out for regular American kid pizza one night, but another night we had supper at a good Middle Eastern place. We shared everything across the table, so Claire got to try lots of new spices. She likes hummus but not baba ghannouj. She wasn’t wild about the taziki sauce, but thought the spicy fish was yummy.

And she said she walked more during her visit than she’d ever walked before in her life.

As a special surprise, I’d made arrangements with our friends Britt and Debbie to take Claire on a behind-the-gates trip to the zoo. The first order of business on Monday morning was to go for a walk with Mary and Ellen, the zoo’s two elephants.

The Little Rock zoo is one of only a small handful of zoos in the country who let their elephants walk around the whole zoo every morning before it opens to the public. It’s good exercise for the animals physically, and it’s an interesting part of their lives. And it gives kids like Claire and Mandy an occasional opportunity to do something really, really cool.

When we’d finished with our walk, we got to visit the big cats. The weather was icky outside so most of them were still in their ‘dens’ and we got to say hello. Since lions are Claire’s favorite thing, this was a big deal – she even got to touch one of the lions’ fur through the cage. She loved having Debbie there to answer questions. She’d always wondered if big cats purr, and know she knows the answer.

We got to see the bears, too. We had to be quiet in the ‘bear house’ because the grizzlies are hibernating. But Claire and Mandy fed the otters and sun bears. Thor, the big male sloth bear, was his usual charming self, sucking cheerios off our hands and through his door. Sasha, the other sloth bear, was less agreeable. When she saw Mandy, she backed up and rushed the door, slamming against it and flinging spit all over Mandy’s jacket. When we walked by again, she did the same thing. Apparently Sasha doesn’t like plaid hats.

Before taking Claire back to meet up with her mom again, we stopped by the Big Dam Bridge for a walk across, and to just sit and look out at the water for awhile. We so enjoyed having Claire nearby for a few days.