Hot Chocolate at the Urban Ecology Center

Bluegrass at the Urban Ecology Center
Bluegrass at the UEC
Originally uploaded by V'ron.

I think the reason I stay in the Midwest and put up with the cold winters is because I appreciate the changing seasons. They make me appreciate the change. I like contrast. I know , Lewis, the weather is always beautiful in San Diego, but would I really appreciate it if every day were 78 and sunny? No, and if I lived there, I'd never understand what was so great about a creamy cup of hot chocolate, especially with a splash of whiskey in it after the kids have gone to bed.

It's a chilly Sunday afternoon, and I'm walking down the north leg of the Oak Leaf Trail with my good girlfriend Mary Jo, her two kids, and my two kids. We're walking against the wind, and just as we realize how cold we are, ("hey, I probably should have worn a hat") we come upon the Urban Ecology Center, where we've come to see (most of) the Mighty Lumberhorn, some nice forest animals, and just bask in the karmic goodness that is the UEC.

Stella has loved this place ever since her school brought her here. And who can blame her? It's just bursting with positive juju. We walked in, and instantly were hit with the crackling of a fireplace, a table filled with colorful projects for the kids to do, and a whole building constructed as greenly as possible. It wasn't five minutes before the chill we were previously kvetching about had vanished -- I like it when I can achieve contrast this quickly. (We had a birthday party here for Stella last year; it was one of the nicest, laid-back, but still fun parties I'd ever seen a bunch of 7 year olds enjoy --a far cry from Carlito E. Queso). There were people just hanging out, and when I heard a kid scream, I clenched my butt cheeks, ready to be embarrassed again by Sammy, only to realize, and say aloud, "Oh, the screaming kid wasn't mine for once?" to understanding laughs (instead of disgusted Can't-you-control-your-brat glares) from the other moms. We soothed some toddler frayed nerves with some self-serve hot chocolate.

This is not exactly what I imagine the Mighty Lumberhorn's natural habitat to be. Not that they didn't fit in perfectly: especially with a roomful of forest critters across from them, scurrying around in cages that mimicked their normal living arrangements, the band surrounded by potted plants that bought to mind some kind of backyard bayou, and all sorts of little kids and grownups milling about. But from everything I've read about them, I was expecting a local Split Lip Rayfield, a band that you'd be listening to and suddenly do a double take: "Did I just hear what I *think* I heard?!?!" Of course you heard them sing about that, even though you don't expect that kind of lyrical content over, as Steve Martin put it, the Happy Little Soundof the banjo.

So Mary Jo and I just walked about and took it all in, from the musical instruments strewn about for anybody to pick up and play (including a zither!) to the waterway map that's built into the floor that nobody notices until somebody goes, "Hey, is that where the North Avenue Dam is?" The Lumberhorns might well have been going thematically into the Grownup Zone, but we were already taking in the entire big picture that they filled in nicely. I wasn't listening to any kind of lyrical content because I was chasing a three-year old, supervising an animal expedition, and trying to figure out if that was the North Avenue Dam, then where was the KK River? No matter. I could tell the band was something I'd want to see full-force later, because they were having such a good time themselves: snippets of Black Sabbath chord changes sneaked into my ears, and now and again I'd hear band members sing verses and then gleefully guffaw at each other's improvised lyrics. It was warm.

"Yeah, we had to keep it... you know... tone down our regular...." they said afterwards, almost apologetically. But no apologies were necessary --I wasn't expecting their regular thing on a Sunday afternoon at a crunchy granola family gathering place. I was expecting the cup of hot chocolate of a band they turned out to be: warm and sweet. I'll have to get out to some bar on a weekend night after the kids are in bed, throw a shot of whiskey in that cup, and drink them down the way they were meant to be consumed --amongst the grownups.


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