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Zoo In The Rain

FRESNO — It started with a Simon and Garfunkel song, as good stories often do.

Someone told me
It’s all happening at the zoo.

I do believe it,
I do believe it’s true.

That’s when I decided to take the kids to the Fresno Chaffee Zoo in Fresno. Except the kids weren’t really kids anymore, they were in their final months of high school, and the college acceptance letters were coming in fast. In short, our zoo days were numbered.

It’s a light and tumble journey
From the East Side to the park;
Just a fine and fancy ramble
To the zoo.

But you can take the crosstown bus
If it’s raining or it’s cold,
And the animals will love it
If you do.

It was a rainy week with a couple of days off, and as the song played in my head I remembered something we’d learned when our daughter was in preschool.

An illustration was passed around that, if memory is accurate, showed some biofeedback recordings of toddlers and teenagers, and the gist of the study was that their natural rhythms were much the same. I’ve often though of that as our girl grew, and seen the similarity of needs and wants: sleep, privacy, adventure, food, fits, fun.

Somethin’ tells me
It’s all happening at the zoo.

So I convinced Clara and her dear friend Bella to accompany me to the zoo on a rainy day. It wasn’t too rainy, mind you, just enough that only the bravest of parents would have their kids out in it, and I figured it wouldn’t be too crowded.

Telling the girls that I would drive them, pay for them, and then pretty much leave them alone, they agreed to hop in the back of the Honda. I plied them with treats, juice boxes, snacks. Said not one word when the cell phones came out, let them choose the music and drove down Highway 41 to the zoo in the rain.

The windshield wipers kept rough time to the music and their hypnotic rhythm combined with the moody weather made me think of days gone by. Looking in the rear view mirror at the two almost-adults in the back seat, I thought of other friends we’ve driven around over the years.

One memory came back in particular, of Clara and an original bestie Rayla, sitting in the back seat of our Ford Taurus, around 2003 or so, trying not to laugh to hard as they learned to tell jokes:

“Why did the chicken cross the road?”

Hysterical laughter. No punch line was needed in those days. Just, “why did the chicken cross the road,” then gut-busting laughter from two five-year-olds with no worries and little sense of timing.

Now, more than a dozen years later, it’s a different world, with tests, and scores, and universities, and social lives, and all the realities and complexities of life resting with constancy on the hearts and minds of these no-longer-little girls.

Their breadth of knowledge was possibly already greater than mine, I reasoned, as they remained in the back seat, heads together, whispering, laughing, on the way to the zoo.

The monkeys stand for honesty,
Giraffes are insincere,
And the elephants are kindly but
They’re dumb.
Orangutans are skeptical
Of changes in their cages,
And the zookeeper is very fond of rum.

More than a million people visited the Fresno Chaffee Zoo last year, for good reason. It’s a charmer.

I was right in suspecting most would stay home that particular day, and the rain let up for the most part, while the cloud cover stayed in place. Perfect. The girls skipped and ran ahead, sometimes lingered behind, and the further away they got the more precious the day became. Meanwhile, my thoughts drifted from elephants to stingrays and reptiles, and responsibilities felt far away.

Zebras are reactionaries,
Antelopes are missionaries,
Pigeons plot in secrecy,
And hamsters turn on frequently.
What a gas! You gotta come and see
At the zoo.

Many of the animals were out and enjoying the rain just as we were, and since the place wasn’t crowded, we got to really look and study the animals. It’s a wonderful zoo.

We slow-walked through the aviary, admiring the many-colored feathered friends perched and watching us. The girls fed the giraffes, for an extra little fee that’s totally worth it.

When interacting with these long-necked lovelies, it’s hard to believe they weren’t once visitors from another planet, so beautifully and ethereally strange are they. This is true for both giraffes and teenagers, sometimes.

You could smell something of an ocean breeze under a top note of petrichor, that beautiful word for the scent in the air after rain, while I spent a little alone time hanging out in the sea lion cove. The mostly young people who are animal trainers or who give talks at the zoo are well-educated and, from my perspective, have some of the greatest jobs around.

Reunited with my charges, we listened intently as the zoo keeper regaled us with stories about the cheetahs, and watched as some training took place with a chain-link fence safely between trainer and trainee.

Walking around the zoo thinking about how, in less than a year, these girls would be off to college, I let the rain drops fall on my face and looked up at the darkening skies with thanks for this special day to mindfully observe these rare and beautiful creatures in the wild. I mean the girls, of course.

When the day was done, the relatively tall and gracious former toddlers climbed back into the car and we drove through In ‘n Out, and ordered Animal Style.

Fresno Chaffee Zoo admission runs between $5.50 and $10.

Check out the website for membership, volunteer opportunities, special events and field trips, and whatever your age, get thee to the zoo.

The animals will like it if you do.

Kellie Flanagan is the Managing Editor of Sierra News Online

Fresno Chaffee Zoo



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