Special Reports

Knee-high to elephant, girl learns to love the wild

Mike Devereaux’s childhood centered on the Oakland tavern his family owned.

He and his wife, Carolyn, knew they wanted something much better for their daughter, Mandy. So they bought a house three blocks from Point Defiance Park and took Mandy there almost every day.

“We used to play hide and seek in the Japanese Garden, and I taught her how to camouflage herself under the leaves,” Devereaux said. “We went to the Rhododendron Garden and fed the ducks down in the pond. Down at Owen Beach, there’s a hill that goes up to the parking lot. It’s pretty much a smooth dirt hill with roots sticking out, and all the kids would climb it.”

When it snowed, the whole family went sledding in the park.

“I tried to make all our activities family activities,” Devereaux said.

In effect, the park was a big, fascinating member of the family, always ready to entertain, always reassuring with the steady rhythm of nature.

Summers, Mandy visited the zoo daily to play with her friend, Cindy.

“Back then, all they had was a big wire fence around her, so you could get right up and feed Cindy,” Devereaux said of the famously grouchy elephant’s digs.

“When Mandy was about 5, she would come to feed Cindy every day and lean up against the fence. Cindy would roll up her trunk and gently push her away.

“Obviously, an elephant could hurt a kid like that, but Cindy was just playing,” he said. “Eventually, she would sit, shake hands and blow her horn on Mandy’s command.”

He has no idea how all of that happened.

It doesn’t really matter.

The elephant responded to Mandy, and Mandy loved the elephant.

“I think she thought of her as another pet,” Devereaux said.

Mandy is an elementary school teacher now in Tenino, and Devereaux can see the ways the creatures, resources and experiences she found in the park have shaped her nature.

She is well-rounded, he said, confident, curious, intelligent, funny, patient.

“I think that park gives you a certain sense of stability,” Devereaux said. “It’s been there longer than I have.”

If you have personal stories or memories about the park you'd like to share, contact columnist Kathleen Merryman at kathleen.merryman@thenewstribune.com.