The Retirement of the Zookeeper

The Moment

Climbing out of Agua Dulce, around mile 460, I stop to look out on the valley below. Bluejay, Turtlewolf, and H are fifteen minutes ahead of me and I am alone with my thoughts amidst the overgrown trail and sprawling views. It’s in this moment that a new wave of introspection hits me.

I’ve become familiar with taking time for gratitude on the trail, but now I’m thinking of forgiveness: to myself and to all I’ve ever wronged. I gaze into the abyss of the valley and presently loop in every memory I can think of that has to do with anger, sadness or resentment. As I stand there taking it all in, a vision unfolds that I visit and privately come to terms with over the next several days…

The Zoo

Most days in the real world, I go right past the zoo, not even acknowledging its existence. On certain occasions, I visit the exhibits and interact with the animals, but quickly go home and move on with my life, rarely realizing I was ever there. Today, I enter the zoo fully conscious.

The animals put on a show, roaring and clawing at the walls of their cages. The patrons are all me’s. Me at age twenty, me at age five. Here is anger. Here is rejection. Here is self-doubt. Here are the times I felt betrayed by those I trusted with my heart and soul.

I walk onward from mile 460, but now with this vision as my passenger. I mentally visit the exhibits and start to long for the release of the animals trapped therein. Why are we holding them? To what benefit do we keep this zoo?

I glance at the sprawling valley below as I walk, and then the zookeeper emerges from his office. He is me, though forty years and twice a lifetime in the future.

“I’ve seen you drive past this place before,” he says, “though today is the first time you’ve stopped in to properly walk around.”

“I don’t know how I never knew this was all here,” I stammer.

The zookeeper knowingly shakes his head. “I opened this zoo as a toddler. It seemed the best way to cope with all the hard stuff. That time in middle school when you worked up the courage to ask that girl to dance and she said no and you never asked another girl to dance for two years? That’s right over there past the lemonade stand. The time when you took scissors to the furniture at age four and thought if you hid under the coffee table you could avoid punishment? It’s a slideshow for all of the school field trips that come here on the regular.”

“And those times I was so angry it was like nothing else existed outside of those moments; I saw those on the way in,” I reply.

“All these exhibits in the zoo are monumental bad experiences that you hide from yourself. Honestly, I thought I might die here and take this whole place with me, having never met the real you.”

I visually take the zookeeper in. He is me, and surely past eighty. Wrinkled, bald, and with a general sadness that I only experience on occasion.

“I want to release the animals,” I suddenly say.

The zookeeper sighs, almost in relief. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a wad of keys. “I’m sorry,” he whispers, “I’m sorry that I’ve buried this place from you. Do as you will.”

I take the keys and begin releasing the inhabitants of the zoo. Tears come on occasion as I let an anger, sadness or resentment soar into the valleys below over the next several days. But deep down, I know that they are better off out in the world than being caged up deep inside.


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Comments 1

  • Stephie : May 8th

    Hey Scott,

    Thanks for your post entitled the Zookeeper. It is beautifully written and a great metaphor for what we avoid thinking about or even forget or are unaware of. It gives me a tool to delve into my own inner zoo or prison. I wish you all the best on your journey of the heart. Walking is the best!


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