Since we live over 5,500 miles from our homeland, an annual pilgrimage is in order if for no other reason than to give the grandparents some quality time with their grandkids. Beyond the appeal of spending time with family and friends, another reason we continue to return to Oregon for “holidays” is to allow the kids to establish a stronger connection with nature – or at least with animals.
In my parents’ backyard, we can practically watch the entire cast of Bambi go by. There are numerous birds, but also squirrels, skunks, raccoons, and deer. Lots of deer. They wander down from the mountains in the summer and are enough of a nuisance that great thought is given to which plants the deer won’t eat.
Despite the deer’s affinity for foraging in my dad’s flowerbeds and upsetting the dog, we delight in watching them. We get a kick out of watching Grandpa try to scare them away with all kinds of noisemakers; his latest contraption is a plastic milk carton full of ball bearings. Send it spinning through the air and the deer are startled enough to at least stay on the edge of the property.
Another treat is being able to spend time along the 300 miles of pristine Oregon coastline. It’s not unusual to walk down to a beach and find that we have miles of shoreline to ourselves. Nestled in the rainforest along the coast outside of Bandon, there is an unlikely wildlife refuge and breeding facility where families can walk freely among peacocks, goats, rams, deer, and llamas while watching bears, tigers, giraffes, moose, and other large mammals in their enclosures.
It’s an interesting experience, especially for the kids. Still, all of that is trumped whenever the staff brings out the baby panthers, tigers, and bear cubs for a few lucky individuals to feed and play with. Last summer, we got to interact with a pair of Bengal tiger cubs and bottle-feed a black panther cub.
Yet, as special as these “wild” encounters are, I know that the animals our kids enjoy the most are the cats, dogs, and other pets that belong to our friends and family. No matter who we visit, there always seems to be at least a dog or a cat under foot. The kids will spend hours chasing after my folk’s dog, Flurry, a bichon frisé who rarely lets their little hands actually come into contact with his snow-white fur. Even though he manages to remain just out of reach, Flurry is equally curious about the kids and what they are up to. He marches around the house like a sentry keeping tabs on each of them. We suspect that in another life, Flurry must have been a nanny.
No pet is safe from my children’s curiosity. Last summer, one of the neighborhood ladies took her small dog and pet ferret out for regular walks past my folks’ house. The kids asked if they could pet her dog and play with her ferret. Ryder went so far as to place his head on the grass to try and coax the ferret into giving him a kiss, but he only managed to get sniffed.
All of these experiences give our children a greater appreciation for animals and lead to many interesting discussions about wildlife and our responsibility as custodians of the Earth. Well, that’s how I usually try to steer the conversations; most of the time, they result in the kids asking why we can’t get a dog. Maybe this year, we should just stick to the science museums and skip the animals.
About the Illustrator
Helen Wong (age 18) is in Year 12 at Yew Chung International School of Beijing. Originally from Hong Kong, she is currently taking higher level IB visual art. She enjoys painting and graphic design. Helen wants to be an illustrator in the future.
This article originally appeared on p56 of the beijingkids June 2015 issue. Click here to read the issue for free on Issuu.com. To find out how you can get your own copy, email email@example.com.