These are the aquariums that I recommend you take your kids to visit:
- In Stanley Park in Vancouver is a large aquarium that specializes in the British Columbia Coast.
- In Chicago near the lake is a huge aquarium that is always abuzz with kids.
- Long Beach, California has the newest aquarium with whale skeletons spanning the entire structure.
- Monterey, just south of San Francisco and a block down from Cannery Row has the best display ever of jelly fish.
- San Pedro is my favorite. It is small and parochial. Informal and untidy. It is somewhere on a forgotten beach on the Palos Verde peninsular south of Los Angeles, if you can find it.
Many years ago I took my adult son to the Monterey Aquarium. He was, and still is, tall and blond—now tending to bald and plump. He was, and still is, a beautiful youth—now the father of two blond kids who dominate his very existence. And who inspire their grandfather (me) to these verbal excesses. Then he was in his second year of doing a master’s degree at the Post-Graduate Naval Academy. He passed and is now a Lieutenant Commander in the US Navy and is stationed in the Pentagon in DC.
Then he owned, and still does, a red convertible—not sure of its usefulness in the snow of winter Alexandria. We drove down the two blocks from his apartment to Cannery Row and to the aquarium. Here the display is of jelly fish: colors from pure-white to brilliant-orange. They float evanescent up and down without seeming purpose or direction. They wave tentacles in random directions and seem oblivious of human strife and strivings. You imagine poetry in action and this is it. Yet they are voracious eaters and in spite of a no-brain policy, are vastly successful. They are also the preferred food of many species of whales.
When this same son, came back from a stint in South Africa we took him to the aquarium in Chicago. He was then a very young man with a shock of blond hair. He had just spent his first year after high school in Albuquerque working in South Africa. It had been an anxious time. A former girl-friend in Albuquerque accused him of fathering her child; but the timing was off—for he was already in Africa when she claimed the event occurred. And the bar he worked for in Cape Town was robbed. He and his compatriots were locked in the cellar and threatened with death. One black intruder had pleaded for him, saying: “He is American and not a racialist.” They were not shot.
In celebration we welcomed him back to Chicago and went to the aquarium. I shall always equate the calm fish swimming in mindless oblivion with the safe return of a son and I offer a prayer of thanks every time I enter those halls lined with glass and fish. Now you can understand why so many years later the visit to the Monterey aquarium with my son was so special an event.
Just up the road from Huntington Beach is Long Beach and a little further down the coast is San Pedro. Here are two aquariums to which I have often taken the grandkids. I thrill at each and every visit. The grandkids and I stand in silent awe gazing at the fish swim around and around. This mindless movement is, in its own way, an affirmation of existence and life. I am transfixed, as are the grandkids. I have my reason as tears well to the eye on celebration of the life of a son. The grandkids have no special reason for awe, but they seem to understand Grandpa’s silence and they respect it. Or do they too, see life in its primitive essence in the fish as they float with no seeming purpose around the tanks?
Take the grandkids to that section of the aquarium where they are allowed to put their hands in the water and touch and feel the sea creatures. They thrill at this. For this is real—connection with nature and God’s creatures.
In Vancouver last summer, I took the two Jewish grand kids from California to the local aquarium. The boy is aggressive. He studies karate. I fear he will become a fighter in the battles of Israel even though his mother is descended from Germans. Admittedly they fled Dresden in the mid-1800s along with Wagner (of opera fame) and many other student rioters. Thus always the human striving for freedom. Liberta as the Italians would have it—or was it the Scottish in Macbeth by Verdi?
At the Vancouver aquarium we spent long hours watching a new-born whale. It was white and swam close behind its mother. My grand-daughter was transfixed by this. I have not have the courage to tell her that earlier this year the baby whale died as a result of stone that lodged in its nose. Maybe I will never tell her. Maybe she will have to find this out for herself as an adult….or by reading this posting by a long-deceased grandfather.
Aquariums are wonderful places to take kids and grandkids. But if you want to see sea-life up close, get a friend to take you out on a sail-boat. My eldest daughter has a 28-ft Westsail. We have sailed the high seas in this as the grandkids puked below. Ok then, all we have done is traverse the seas between Long Beach and Catalina Island with four grandkids below. Along the way we sailed into a school of dolphins. They gambled around the boat; they swam to the fore and aft; they explored the droppings of the fish. The kids bounced up the ladder and gazed in awe and amazement at this life of the sea. Nobody spoke for there was nothing to say. The silence of the sun and sky was enough.
This is reward enough: dolphins free and curious; kids free and curious; all alive and floating in celebration of life.