One place that I have been fascinated and amazed by since the first visit, is Ripley’s Aquarium. Like a kid in a candy store, I was excited to be able to visit the one in Gatlenburg, Tennessee while we were there last week. We really contemplated going up to that new suspension bridge but the cost was prohibitive for us. I simply couldn’t see spending all of my son’s hard earned money when I couldn’t contribute. So that adventure was left for another time. (I share this for all those who have heard me mention that particular desire.)
When we first arrived in Gatlenburg, my son parked the car in a parking garage not far from the aquarium. Before we went inside we went off in search of breakfast. After that was taken care of we wandered back along the street, people watching and glancing into storefronts. The variety of people there made the watching so much more entertaining. No, we didn’t make fun of people, my mother taught me better than that. I did however get to pet several cute dogs. There is also the first hand knowledge of how it feels to be made fun of so I don’t partake in that pastime. That doesn’t stop some of the questions that forms in your mind, I just ponder them silently.
We made our way back to the aquarium and took our place in line. The lines were short and moved quickly. It isn’t an inexpensive place and I questioned whether to actually allow him to pay for it when he took matters into his own hands and purchased the tickets. The cost is actually understandable when you take into account the upkeep and feeding costs the place must have. Inside was obviously somewhat more crowded than outside as there is limited viewing space for the exhibits. Staying true to everything that had happened so far though, we really didn’t have any issues seeing what we wanted. We had to wait a moment or two at a few exhibits but we were never crowded or shoved out of the way. The fact that it was nearing the end of August and school has resumed in many places may have played a large part in that.
At one exhibit as I stood trying to figure out how to get a hopefully decent picture of whatever sea life was inside, a young boy came running up beside me. He may have been four, I really didn’t look. I could hear what I will call his male guardian as I don’t know family dynamics, calling him back. I turned and smiled telling them he was fine. I would be the last person to stop a child’s curiosity and fascination for something. The man in turn smiled and said something about being happy to hear that. But its true, I wouldn’t because it is important that we feed their youthful curiosity, not try to slow or stop it just as its beginning. I didn’t see them again after that, but I hope they only had good experiences going forward.
My son and I separated ever so often, each attempting to take photos with our phones of the exhibits. Trying to take pictures of fish behind thick glass isn’t easy, especially when you are dealing with the reflections of other exhibits or light refractions from various sources. The exhibits also turn into a type of funhouse mirrors with what they do to anyone captured by the camera.
In a way, seeing the sea life held in the tanks of various sizes seemed sad. They only have x amount of space to swim about in rather than an entire ocean. Even though its obvious that extensive upkeep is done and the system to keep the water perfect is enormous, it isn’t the ocean. Is what we learn from their captivity worthwhile? How much do we learn, in these confined areas? I know though, that many are seeing life that they wouldn’t have opportunity to see otherwise. Few have the skills or ability to go out into the open ocean or deep sea diving. To have their habitat in miniature does teach many. It does give many a deeper sense of respect for the variety of life out there.
There is one area set aside where you can feed and ‘pet’ the sting rays. Not the shark, don’t try to touch the sharks that swim by as their skin is too sensitive and fragile. I did manage at one point to touch one as it sailed by us barely below the surface of the water. Even after my first comment to my son about it being the animal that killed Steve Erwin, feeling it glide beneath my fingertips was amazing. Steve died doing what he loved, being part of the natural world. Not solely the ocean but all of nature’s wildlife. Walking among the various tanks and displays, seeing the magnificence around us, it is understandable.
For a couple of hours, we wandered about. We saw a variety of fish, we saw the penguins, we saw people mingling about seeing the wonders presented. We bought tickets, paying our way into a place of magic and learning. A place where mysteries are explained, and the gift of sight is given. I’ve been to this place before, and hopefully will get to return. Each visit, is different. Each visit is special. Each visit is a renewal of fascination for and of the life we do not ordinarily get to see. This planet is filled with an amazing expanse of life. The variety only guessed at because they discover new things often. What I hope for myself, and for others, is that we have and always retain the curiosity and amazement of that young boy who couldn’t get to the exhibit fast enough. Whose exclamations of wonder bring life to the heart and imagination to the spirit. That no one along the way, ever makes comments or actions that would dampen that enthusiasm.