Every spring at the first opportunity, I take a zoo day.
I’ve been doing this for a long time now. Syracuse has a great zoo, the Burnet Park Zoo. Now it’s actually called the Rosamond Gifford Zoo at Burnet Park, but nobody from Syracuse calls it that. For probably a quarter century now I’ve been going along with my mother, sometimes my wife if she’s off work (though only since I’ve known her, obviously), sometimes my sister, and usually some of our extended family. The whole point of a zoo day is to enjoy the nice weather, relax, and just make a nice day of it.
There are rules to this:
- It must be a weekday. Weekends do not count. They’re more crowded, lack of school field trips notwithstanding, plus it’s just using up a day of the weekend instead of taking a day off. If you’re not taking a day off, you’re doing it wrong. (Yes, you can go to the zoo on the weekends too. It’s just not in the spirit of the zoo day.) This tradition started as homeschool field trips, but it’s morphed beyond that.
- It must be a nice day. Bare minimum requirements: Mostly sunny, 68° or higher. Sunny and 70° or higher is preferred. Wind is acceptable. If it’s not a nice day then you’re not getting outside to enjoy nice weather, you’re just plain going to the zoo and wishing the weather was better. Not as much fun.
- It must be the first available opportunity. If the weather turns unexpectedly nice before you can do anything about it, that’s different, but usually you have some advance warning. In Syracuse, zoo weather comes in the second week of April about half the time. This year is one of the unfortunate exceptions.
To do the zoo, you need to watch the weather like a hawk as soon as the month of April rolls in. Syracuse has a three-day forecast horizon, which is sometimes generously stretched as far as a week if conditions aren’t changing too much. Even then, sudden turns are not unusual. As the day approaches you’ll usually see two days lining up that appear to have nice weather, one slightly better than the other, and that’s usually the target zoo day.
For planning, you have to see the day coming a week ahead, and mark it down as tentative—conditions will change. It may be that the lesser of the two nice days starts to shape up better, so the target will shift. Plans remain tentative right up until 24-48 hours before the day, at which point you need to commit. This works out better if a longer stretch of good weather is in the cards, which sometimes happens.
Get to the zoo early. 10:00 or so is fine. It used to be a great place to eat lunch, but if I’m being honest their café isn’t nearly as good as when it was a Burger King. The best way to go about this is to choose to do the indoor or outdoor section first, break for lunch, then do the rest. The outdoor section is a long walkway; it’s usually warmer in the afternoon, but that can be a nice thing. Take advantage of refreshments along the way; it’s part of the experience.
The zoo closes at 4:00. Whenever you wrap up, you’ll have plenty of the day left to go home and sit around with the people you went with, playing games and having cold drinks while remarking how warm it is and gosh, isn’t that a nice change. These are excellent days for grilling and/or salt potatoes. And if you’re not tempted to stop for ice cream on the way home, it had better be because you’re too thirsty.
Next to Christmas, this is the high point of my year.