Like most 2-year-olds, Nora is curious, playful, and a little mischievous.

Unlike most 2-year-olds, she tips the scales at several hundred pounds.

That's because Nora is a polar bear at the Oregon Zoo in Portland.


Nora in the winter habitat at the Oregon Zoo. Photo by Michael Durham/Oregon Zoo.

This month, Nora hits the road for her new home at Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City while the Oregon Zoo undergoes renovations. But during her time in Portland, she was able to serve as one of the the U.S. Geological Survey's youngest (and furriest) research assistants, helping scientists study the effects of climate change.

It seems so far removed: Desperate, hungry polar bears clinging to ice floes, ravaged by our changing planet. But it's happening right now.

Wild polar bears live in a unique and harsh environment and consume as many calories as they can when conditions allow and food is readily available. However,  there is a long period of time when the ice floes melt and polar bears are forced ashore, away from their primary food sources.

"They literally are starving, not eating anything for that four- or five-month period," says Amy Cutting, animal curator of the North America and Marine Life Exhibit at the Oregon Zoo. "The females are raising young and putting huge amounts of calories into milk they're producing while not eating. And we know they're at the limit of what they can do."

Polar bears are pushing it to metabolic extremes to survive the annual ice-free period. But what will happen as climate change extends the ice-free period even longer?

[rebelmouse-image 19529261 dam="1" original_size="750x421" caption="Photo by Andreas Weith/Wikimedia Commons. " expand=1]Photo by Andreas Weith/Wikimedia Commons.

Thankfully, Nora and researchers with the USGS are on the case, working to answer the question: What does it physically cost for a bear to swim from point A to point B?

To answer that question, the zoo built Nora a small pool adjacent to her tank with private donations.

All GIFs via Oregon Zoo

There, a flume of water acts as an infinity pool, allowing Nora (lured by yummy fish) to swim in place for a period of time.

While in the pool, researchers measured her oxygen output and other metabolic activity.

The talented keepers also taught Nora how to just relax in the small pool, so the research team could measure her numbers at rest.

It's not a complete set of data; the team will want to explore bears of different sexes, ages, and sizes. However, Nora's swims are one way for the USGS  to calibrate and improve the technology and get closer to cracking the case.

"It sure is exciting to have, for the first time ever, some quantification of the caloric cost of swimming for a polar bear," Cutting says.

While Nora's research is unusual, she is the latest in a series of polar bear research assistants at the Oregon Zoo.

Tasul, the Oregon Zoo's previous polar bear, who passed away last year at nearly 32, was trained to wear a research collar that measured her movement and sleep (almost like a polar bear Fitbit) as part of another USGS research project. And in an early version of Nora's experiment, Tasul  learned how to walk on a giant treadmill, The Horse Gym 3000. Since she was a geriatric bear (one of the oldest in the world at the time of her death) the keepers didn't push her too hard with training, but to be sure, her effort and training lead the way for projects like Nora's.

Nora is done with her research for the time being, but the Oregon Zoo will continue this work for years to come.

Nora may be off to Utah, but her flume and research area at the Oregon Zoo will remain as one of the new exhibit's primary functions will be conservation science.

"We're not done figuring out more about polar bears, using the flume," Cutting says. "And we know that there will be new requests that the biologists have that we might be able to facilitate."

Since the polar bears are doing their part, what about you?

It's not too late to act against climate change. Recycling or composting alone won't stem the tide. It's time for individuals to reconsider the products and foods they buy and how they're packaged. "We just need to buy less and consume less and travel less, and tread more softly on the earth," Cutting says.

But she admits our individual efforts alone may not be enough to get us there.

"I think a big part of it is bringing it into that public sphere and being willing to fight and being willing to say 'This is about the future of my kids and the future of my kids' kids.' It's not just an individualized thing anymore. ... We have to push for action, or we're gonna be complicit in one of the largest environmental disasters of the human era."

So reduce, reuse, recycle, but also reconsider your habits, support research projects like Nora's, and resist. Because if we want to save the habitats and animals that make this planet so special, it's going to take all of us. And if a two-year-old can do it, you can too.

Nora in the winter habitat at the Oregon Zoo. Photo by Michael Durham/Oregon Zoo.

Leah Menzies/TikTok

Leah Menzies had no idea her deceased mother was her boyfriend's kindergarten teacher.

When you start dating the love of your life, you want to share it with the people closest to you. Sadly, 18-year-old Leah Menzies couldn't do that. Her mother died when she was 7, so she would never have the chance to meet the young woman's boyfriend, Thomas McLeodd. But by a twist of fate, it turns out Thomas had already met Leah's mom when he was just 3 years old. Leah's mom was Thomas' kindergarten teacher.

The couple, who have been dating for seven months, made this realization during a visit to McCleodd's house. When Menzies went to meet his family for the first time, his mom (in true mom fashion) insisted on showing her a picture of him making a goofy face. When they brought out the picture, McLeodd recognized the face of his teacher as that of his girlfriend's mother.

Menzies posted about the realization moment on TikTok. "Me thinking my mum (who died when I was 7) will never meet my future boyfriend," she wrote on the video. The video shows her and McLeodd together, then flashes to the kindergarten class picture.

“He opens this album and then suddenly, he’s like, ‘Oh my God. Oh my God — over and over again,” Menzies told TODAY. “I couldn’t figure out why he was being so dramatic.”

Obviously, Menzies is taking great comfort in knowing that even though her mother is no longer here, they can still maintain a connection. I know how important it was for me to have my mom accept my partner, and there would definitely be something missing if she wasn't here to share in my joy. It's also really incredible to know that Menzies' mother had a hand in making McLeodd the person he is today, even if it was only a small part.

@speccylee

Found out through this photo in his photo album. A moment straight out of a movie 🥲

♬ iris - 🫶

“It’s incredible that that she knew him," Menzies said. "What gets me is that she was standing with my future boyfriend and she had no idea.”

Since he was only 3, McLeodd has no actual memory of Menzies' mother. But his own mother remembers her as “kind and really gentle.”

The TikTok has understandably gone viral and the comments are so sweet and positive.

"No the chills I got omggg."

"This is the cutest thing I have watched."

"It’s as if she remembered some significance about him and sent him to you. Love fate 😍✨"

In the caption of the video, she said that discovering the connection between her boyfriend and her mom was "straight out of a movie." And if you're into romantic comedies, you're definitely nodding along right now.

Menzies and McLeodd made a follow-up TikTok to address everyone's positive response to their initial video and it's just as sweet. The young couple sits together and addresses some of the questions they noticed pop up. People were confused that they kept saying McLeodd was in kindergarten but only 3 years old when he was in Menzies' mother's class. The couple is Australian and Menzies explained that it's the equivalent of American preschool.

They also clarified that although they went to high school together and kind of knew of the other's existence, they didn't really get to know each other until they started dating seven months ago. So no, they truly had no idea that her mother was his teacher. Menzies revealed that she "didn't actually know that my mum taught at kindergarten."

"I just knew she was a teacher," she explained.

She made him act out his reaction to seeing the photo, saying he was "speechless," and when she looked at the photo she started crying. McLeodd recognized her mother because of the pictures Menzies keeps in her room. Cue the "awws," because this is so cute, I'm kvelling.

A simple solution for all ages, really.

School should feel like a safe space. But after the tragic news of yet another mass shooting, many children are scared to death. As a parent or a teacher, it can be an arduous task helping young minds to unpack such unthinkable monstrosities. Especially when, in all honesty, the adults are also terrified.

Katelyn Campbell, a clinical psychologist in South Carolina, worked with elementary school children in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting. She recently shared a simple idea that helped then, in hopes that it might help now.

The psychologist tweeted, “We had our kids draw pictures of scenery that made them feel calm—we then hung them up around the school—to make the ‘other kids who were scared’ have something calm to look at.”



“Kids, like adults, want to feel helpful when they feel helpless,” she continued, saying that drawing gave them something useful to do.

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Photo by Heather Mount on Unsplash

Actions speak far louder than words.

It never fails. After a tragic mass shooting, social media is filled with posts offering thoughts and prayers. Politicians give long-winded speeches on the chamber floor or at press conferences asking Americans to do the thing they’ve been repeatedly trained to do after tragedy: offer heartfelt thoughts and prayers. When no real solution or plan of action is put forth to stop these senseless incidents from occurring so frequently in a country that considers itself a world leader, one has to wonder when we will be honest with ourselves about that very intangible automatic phrase.

Comedian Anthony Jeselnik brilliantly summed up what "thoughts and prayers" truly mean. In a 1.5-minute clip, Jeselnik talks about victims' priorities being that of survival and not wondering if they’re trending at that moment. The crowd laughs as he mimics the actions of well-meaning social media users offering thoughts and prayers after another mass shooting. He goes on to explain how the act of performatively offering thoughts and prayers to victims and their families really pulls the focus onto the author of the social media post and away from the event. In the short clip he expertly expresses how being performative on social media doesn’t typically equate to action that will help victims or enact long-term change.

Of course, this isn’t to say that thoughts and prayers aren’t welcomed or shouldn’t be shared. According to Rabbi Jack Moline "prayer without action is just noise." In a world where mass shootings are so common that a video clip from 2015 is still relevant, it's clear that more than thoughts and prayers are needed. It's important to examine what you’re doing outside of offering thoughts and prayers on social media. In another several years, hopefully this video clip won’t be as relevant, but at this rate it’s hard to see it any differently.