Making Memories with Shared Adventures


Volunteers with the Blackstone Heritage corridor coming back from a “rhino encounter” private tour of Southwick’s Zoo in Mendon

It all started because of a rain delay–volunteers for the Blackstone Heritage Corridor had been invited to get a private tour of Southwick’s Zoo in Mendon, but the bad weather pushed the event into May. I had planned to bring along my oldest grandgirl, but then I realized her birthday was the day after this rescheduled fun event.

I asked if we could squeeze in singing happy birthday to Nicole during the outing. How about lighting candles? Yes, but please bring the candles and something to light them, I heard. But what would we have to place the candles on? Another brain wave hit me–Nicole likes cake all right, but she really loves pumpkin pie. There was little time–could I find a pumpkin pie  (and candles!) before it was time to go on our tour?


Nicole preparing her pumpkin pie for our special outing at Southwick’s Zoo

Market Basket to the rescue. They had both birthday candles as well as a fresh pumpkin pie. I picked Nicole up at the bus, got some food into her before we left, helped her finish her homework, and off we went to Mendon.


Volunteers getting ready to head out on our special tour, guided by Betsey Brewer Bethel, co-owner of the zoo, who grew up here, and whose grandparents started the zoo.

Southwick’s Zoo has been a fixture in Mendon for years, and is still a family business. Justine Brewer, co-owner of the zoo, is on the board of the Blackstone Heritage Corridor. This private tour was a benefit for volunteers, and a chance for many of us to become more aware of a wonderful attraction in the Blackstone Valley.  My grandgirl had visited the zoo with other family members before, but this time, we (38 volunteers and friends)had the entire zoo to ourselves. Plus, it was at the end of the day, dusk, when many animals become more active. It was feeding time too.


Suzanne Buchanan, volunteer coordinator for the Blackstone Heritage Corridor, looking ready for an adventure in her animal print top and pith helmet, her wagon filled with snacks and bottles of water. Suzanne is always thinking of ways she can help volunteers have a more positive experience.

We looked over the fence where the kangaroos were, and spotted a baby joey poking its head out of its mother’s pouch. Other kangaroos hopped about, demonstrating their jumping skills. Soon the whole group, guided by Betsey Brewer Bethel, co-owner, headed to the rhinoceros area for a rhino encounter.


She was a little hesitant, but Nicole got up close and personal with a rhinoceros.

In groups of four, we went into an enclosure where two rhinos, Thelma and Louise, quietly munched on fresh hay.


There was little time to get real cozy with the rhinos, but it was awesome to be so close to these endangered animals

Large stanchions stood between us and these massive animals. My grandgirl was nervous, but went with me and stood near the rhinos.  We soon made room for others to get a chance to share in this experience.


On the way to another part of the zoo

As we visited the tigers, the lions, the giraffes, the deer, and the zebras, we got glimpses of how the animals behave when they’re active and interested.


The white tiger looked at us as we looked at him.

The tigers stared right at us.


As the sun went down the zebras got frisky, chasing the emus

The zebras kicked up their heels and chased the emus. The giraffes stepped out of their (very tall!) barn, checked us out and then headed back inside to bed down for the night.


In the deer park

The deer in the deer park walked right up to us, some quite eager to snatch (approved) snacks right out of our hands.

Throughout the visit, volunteers chatted with each other, got acquainted with other volunteers, or simply enjoyed the outing.


Cupcakes for volunteers!

As the sun set, we gathered in a picnic area where cupcakes and juice were served, and finally,


Despite the wind that came up as the sun went down, Suzanne kept the candles lit long enough for birthday celebrants to blow the candles out.

birthday candles were lit.


Gifts for birthday boy and girl

Everyone cheerfully sang happy birthday to Nicole as well as another volunteer whose birthday was that day as well. Nicole was more than happy to share her pumpkin pie and blow out candles together.

There are a lot of benefits to volunteering. Few, I suspect, volunteer with the Corridor to get the benefit of a private tour of Southwick’s Zoo. The Corridor has 197 volunteers on file, but including folks who show up for even one day to help out, last year there were a total of 1037 volunteers! The reasons to volunteer are as varied as the people who step up to take on the tasks volunteers fill. The governing board of the Corridor, bike patrol, trail ambassadors, historical interpreters, people who head up clean up efforts, those who simply show up for announced programs, and so many more all work together, helping make this area a great place to live and work in.


Grandma and a grandgirl, ready to volunteer

And once in a while, a special girl gets a birthday party unlike any others, with a whole bunch of folks ready to wish her well. Thanks so much, to the folks at Southwick’s who invited us, to Suzanne Buchanan and Bonnie Combs of the Blackstone Heritage Corridor, and to all the volunteers, for every hour you spend helping to make this part of the world a better place.

Marjorie Turner Hollman

Marjorie Turner Hollman is a writer who loves the outdoors, and is the author of Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd editionMore Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd editionEasy Walks and Paddles in the Ten Mile River Watershed, and Finding Easy Walks Wherever You Are. Her memoir, the backstory of Easy Walks, is My Liturgy of Easy Walks: Reclaiming hope in a world turned upside down.

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Filed under Blog posts--Easy Walks, Blog Posts-Personal Histories

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