According to the clock in our room, it was about 5:25 am when my phone rang. This was it – the call that I felt like I’ve been waiting for since at least the beginning of November – and in meetings for long before. After a day or so – frankly, it’s kind of a blur now – in “early” labor, one of the zoo’s Asian elephants, Rose-Tu had moved to active labor around midnight and apparently not interested in prolonging the situation, had given birth a couple of hours later to a healthy female calf. Ten minutes later I was pulling out of the garage and on my way to work, feeling both excited and a bit sad that I wouldn’t be there when my own birthday girl woke up in the morning.
My colleague Krista and I arrived about the same time and were the well-rested ones in the zoo’s marketing department; some others had been there all night. Blurry eyes, however, had zero effect on the pure excitement that permeated the still mostly-dark halls of the office. I
quickly got to work in crafting communications for our donors whom we’d been providing with regular updates on Rose-Tu’s progress the past couple of days. My second role was to help the team with whatever news media needs presented themselves.
Sometime in the 8 o’clock hour, as I was walking with a colleague up to the zoo’s front entrance to meet a news crew – the morning was notably beautiful for this time of year in Portland. Bright sunshine and mild temperatures topped off with a beautiful rainbow. It later became clear that we weren’t the only ones who noticed the rainbow when the zoo’s Facebook page received several suggestions that the new calf be named, “Rainbow.” Jeff told me tonight that he saw it too while driving Elena to “school care,” but reported it as a double rainbow – “one for Elena and one for the baby calf,” he said.
The rest of the day continued like it started as we all ran around getting various things done: a mix of exhaustion, some stress, but above all else – true joy and enthusiasm for this little/big peanut and her mom, Rose. The zoo’s marketing department sits beside the volunteer headquarters and it’s on days like this that more than ever, it strikes me how committed to the zoo and the animals they are (all 1,500+ of them). Really, you couldn’t walk anywhere among staff areas without hearing buzz about “our” new baby elephant. Meanwhile, my own little birthday peanut was also on my mind – still feeling sorry that I had missed wishing her a happy birthday that morning, wondering if she had liked the decorations we had put up for her last night after she and Ian went to bed, and hoping she was having a good day. (Of course, as the CCO – Chief Clothes Officer – in the house, I couldn’t resist taking a few seconds at one point to text Jeff to ask if he had selected something “cute” for Elena to wear on her birthday, then imagining how his stress level must have skyrocketed that morning when he was forced to make a wardrobe decision for her alone that morning – on her birthday, no less!)
Among the many small things that made this day great was that by 4:30 pm-ish my most-necessary work was wrapped up and I was able to depart and pick up Elena. She proudly showed off her birthday crown they had made for her at St. Andrews, and was beyond thrilled when she found the stuffed version of Rose-Tu and her baby calf waiting for her in her car seat. (Okay, not really Rose-Tu, but IKEA has a soft, stuffed elephant and elephant baby they are selling with some of the proceeds going to charity, so of course I couldn’t resist the purchase as an office mascot of sorts – except that Elena immediately became very attached to it, so it didn’t go over well when I carted it off to work the other day.)
Dinner, followed by cupcakes, ice cream and birthday presents, surrounded by balloons and various other party decor added more joy to a day that had already felt special. So, knowing me – as I tend to do – I guess it was not a surprise when, after bedtime for Ian and Elena and all was said and done, I was looking again at a card that Ian had made for Elena – unsolicited by us – and suddenly began to cry. It was one emotion too many at the end of a long day.
Whether animal or human, for me, today was about celebrating new life and birthdays, experiencing strong bonds between parents and their children, and the satisfaction of all-around great teamwork combined with people who have a real passion for what they do.
That said, I’d be remiss if I said it was a happy day for everyone at the zoo. In a true demonstration of the circle of life, as we celebrated one new animal life, we said goodbye to another. Coco, the zoo’s 60-year-old chimpanzee, and the nation’s second oldest living chimp, was euthanized due to failing health. Late in the afternoon a card was circulated among staff for the primate keepers with a beautiful photo of Coco on the front and a condolences message on the inside. The Oregonian wrote a very nice piece on Coco in honor of her passing. (And of course also wrote something on the calf’s arrival.)
Tonight I can hear that it’s pouring buckets of rain outside…not at all unusual for November/December in Portland. But this morning and much of today when we were all running to and fro, celebrating birthdays and welcoming new zoo babies into the world – it was all sunshine and rainbows.