Curiosity Froze the Cat
My oldest son looked up from his science book. “Dad, what do zoo animals do in the winter?” he asked.
“Shiver,” I replied.
“Seriously, Dad. What do they do at the zoo in the winter?”
“Seriously?”, I deadpanned. “They play ice hockey. The giraffes have a dickens of a time standing on ice, but their necks are so long they can reach across the rink to score a goal. I hear it drives the penguins crazy.”
The boy stared at me.
“Would you like to see for yourself?” I asked.
That’s how a winter field trip was born.
Ideally, field trips should be fun learning opportunities that supplement and enrich home education. I’ve read many homeschool blogs where people claim that going to the zoo during the winter is a great experience. That might be true. In Calcutta. Combine a trip to the zoo with a crisp, clear, cold winter’s day and an eye-watering Kansas wind, and you have an excursion that requires skills learned from Man Versus Wild. You know you’re in for a long day when you’re offered a guided tour of the zoo by a Sherpa and his yak.
Winter zoo trips are expensive. It’s not the optimal time of year for a picnic lunch. I did not want to trek across the frozen tundra to my car for a beefsicle on rye and an exploded can of Mountain Dew. That meant zoo concession stand food at zoo concession stand prices. There are loan applications at the door. That’s on top of admission prices. There should be genuine guilt and shame etched into the faces of the zoo attendants who collect the entrance fee for the animal park in January. “That’ll be ten dollars for adults and seven dollars for each child.” What did we get for the thirty-one dollars it cost to step through the main gate?
Mostly empty cages.
It looked like there had been a mass migration. Every big cat was missing, including the snow leopard. The Weddells were sealed away. Their tank had been drained for the season. Every tropical or subtropical animal was missing, replaced by a sign that read, “This exhibit has been temporarily closed for the season. The animals have been moved indoors.”
“Where indoors?” I asked Frosty the Zoo Keeper, hoping to bring the children into a warm building.
“Brazil,” he replied.
Even the polar bear walked past his pool with a look on his face that said, “Yeah, I’m not going in there.”
So, the field trip to the zoo mostly involved listening to the children complain about the bitter wind and stinging cold while we walked from vacant display to vacant display. “Hey kids, look! This is the empty cage for the zebra. Next to it is the empty cage for the African elephant.”
“That explains the empty parking lot,” my oldest replied.
Even the reptiles were absent, and all of those were indoors.
“So, what did you learn at the zoo today?” I asked my son, after we thawed in the car on the drive home.
“Never go to the zoo during the winter?” he answered.
“Will you do me a favor?” I asked him.
“Next time you’re curious during the winter, make it about the art museum.”