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No Snow-Days at the Detroit Zoo: A Winter's Afternoon with a Camera and a New Gadget

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The following was originally published in Kevin's blog,

Dig through your parents' photo albums. If you're from the Detroit area (or ever visited someone there in your childhood) there's probably one of these shots somewhere, for example, the bear-pit where you used to be able to toss marshmallows, in the days before ursine diabetes...

1975, my sister Katie (right) is photo-bombed by three future Coca Cola spokespersons

My mom was there twenty-two years earlier...


The same day they were posing in front of the zoo's signature water tower where my Uncle Larry (standing) perfected his sneer/smile to be seen fifty years later as a "Grumpa."

1953, my mom, Ann, with brothers Tom, Larry and Aunt Mae

And perhaps the most recognizable family photo-spot in the park...

2000 My Uncle Larry once again, holding his granddaughter Zoe beside my family and sister Colleen.

In fact, you can Google "Detroit Zoo Fountain" and get a couple thousand family pictures like mine--some snapshots are even for sale on eBay...

Buy some stranger's kid--who's now on Social Security.

I hadn't been there in five years--after all, the Detroit Zoo is nearly four miles from my house and I only drive by it every day. But it was going to hit 20 degrees and with the winter we've been having, that felt like a trip to Miami.

I'd discovered a great do-dad that allowed me to salvage some of my favorite lenses from my old Minolta camera and use them on my Canon D-SLR...

Fotodiox allows Minolta lenses to work on a Canon

And with the assistance of another rig, I was finally able to do some gradual video zooms and focusing with this great macro lens I hadn't been able to use for 15 years...


To a photo/video geek like me, who is also a bit of a tightwad, the ability to shoot a motion shot like below is pretty exciting (as exciting as a bell-collection can be)...

So I decided to drag all my gear and tripod through the zoo and discovered immediately it was a lot easier (and quieter) than pulling the kids in a wagon.


Turning into the parking lot off Woodward, the tower greets you, no longer containing the name of the current mayor of Detroit...


I grew up with Coleman Young's name on this tower, then Dennis Archer, then one of the more famous texters in local history...

One tradition the zoo probably doesn't mind becoming extinct...

After parking my car I notice a familiar friend--one that I used to climb on (and through) when it was outside of Hudsons at the Oakland Mall...

I know the feeling, with this weather...

It was a good day for someone who doesn't care for long lines or sweating in general...

Please, please choose a line and stay there! You'll all get in!

Inside the park, I decided to head toward the most likely place to find some moving animals, the Arctic Ring of Life, but on the way I nearly steered around the first snack-stand--almost hearing the pleading voices of my children in the non-wagon I was pulling...


Fortunately, the proprietor must have stepped out for lunch--until May or so. I passed the familiar fountain and suspected like the kid in A Christmas Story the bears may have mistakenly licked their paws before resuming their pose.


The animals seemed almost surprised to find someone crazy enough to be stopping by...


The horses' winter coats and sunshine hitting them right did make for a nice bit of composition...

Dude, I've got no choice, but what are you doing here?

I walked past the best spot in the park to stop on a freezing day, the Reptile house, with its dueling "Flying Pterodactyls" from famed Detroit sculptor, Marshall Fredericks. They looked particularly crabby given the conditions...

"Flying Pterodactyls" by Marshall Fredericks

I made my way into Arctic Ring of Life--not a polar bear in sight, but at least the landscape felt appropriate given Michigan's last two months.


I spotted one of those viewing machines and thought it would be a great place to play with my new gadget. I felt badly for the people who were quickly walking up to me, figuring I saw something exciting. As I completed the video shot below, I was about to tell the folks that there was nothing to see. I stopped recording and noticed them all pointing at the bear who had walked into my shot, as if listening to the director.

Oh well. I did try to act cool and quickly recorded the rest of the bear's stroll, included in the video at the end of this article.

The legions of volunteers at the zoo are wonderful and kept apologizing that the animals weren't more active...


But we understood. They aren't doing anything different than the rest of us have been doing since Christmas...


Some were keeping the troops entertained, walking up and down the moat...


And some practiced their camouflage techniques...

Okay, I give. Come on out!

Most of my afternoon was shooting video instead of stills, but it's pretty wonderful now that you can use the same camera for both. I did see an old friend, one that has been climbed upon by thousands of kids including my own.


So when the park closed at 4 PM, just as my battery died, I texted my neighbor Dan and asked if I could borrow the vocal talents of his two sons, Jack and Brian, to help me with a little fun reverse-whining all of us wagon-toting parents have endured at this great park.