I don’t care how far away the Bronx Zoo is from where you live. Distances are navigable; airplane tickets can be bought; and when you get to New York City, you can sleep on the sofa in the apartment of your college roommate’s ex-wife’s sister. No matter how you do it, though, you must beg, borrow, or steal the means to plan a day. No, scratch that. Two days at the Bronx Zoo.
Go there for the animals. Animals are cute.
Go there for the beautiful landscaping, the winding paths, and the irony of seeing tenement windows overlooking your Monorail as it glides past the tigers, elephants, antelopes, and rhinoceroses in the Wild Asia sanctuary.
Go there to stare at the grim visaged silverback gorillas, which most people seem to like, but I thought looked like thugs I would not want to meet while walking down a down a dark alley at midnight.
Guaranteed, you will admire the graceful loping gait of giraffes, who seem to have been designed by space aliens. And you will fall in love with the giraffe babies.
Anything you might hope to encounter, you will, but you will also bump into things you never would have expected, including gorgeous peacocks who parade up and down the narrow byways of the zoo and drop in on animals in other exhibits as free as … um. Well, I guess I was going to say, as free as a bird!
When I stopped for a sandwich outside the Dancing Crane Café, one peafowl (that’s a boy peacock) strolled past my table as nonchalant as the owner of large department stores checking out the merchandize. And the merchandize was me!
After you have tripped over a few of these magnificent birds, you’ll wander into the Zoo’s gift shop, which sells the cutest (and most inexpensive) toy animals in the world. Just try to resist a fuzzy sea lion, a fluffly otter, a cuddly red panda or a smiling plush elephant. Impossible!
You will also be fascinated by the wild African dogs, the beautiful pink flamingo (they get that color from eating shrimp), and the MGM lion. Okay. It’s not really an MGM lion, but it looks just like him, and when he opened his mouth to roar, I expected a sign to materialize over his head that reads: Ars Gratia Artis.
Speaking of signs, I’ll tell you about one outside the door leading to the Mouse House that isn’t really a sign, but a poem made into a sign. It may not rank as high on the rhyming Richter Scale as anything that Tennyson wrote, but it I found it charming. Here it is:
The mouse is of the rodent clan,
possessed of gnawing jaws,
It cannot gallop: it hops, it climbs,
it scampers on tiny paws.
Forest and meadow, desert and swamp
all the world is trod by mice,
They thrive in almost any place
except the polar ice.
The mouse knows how to reproduce,
at breeding it’s prolific,
It begets so many young,
its population is terrific.
There is a wealth of kinds of mice,
they’re awfully hard to count
One thousand two hundred species
is the approximate amount.
While you marvel at the mouse,
please consider all its talents —
It feeds the fox, the owl, and hawk;
it helps keep nature’s balance.
Although you may not want to see
this creature in your house,
Remember that this edifice
is dedicated to the Mouse.
Inspired with affection for rodents that would cause me to scream if I saw them in my kitchen, I wandered into the Mouse House. True to the promise of the poem, I was captivated by the little critters.
And of course, I began to wonder about the man who had written the Mouse House poem.
Douglas Falk. Douglas Falk. Who are you, Douglas Falk? And what in the world inspired you to write that poem?
I wondered. I pondered. I mused.
And then … I figured it out. The Bronx Zoo inspired you!
The zoo’s warm reception of visitors, the fascinating and often funny plaques describing its exhibits, the loping giraffes, dauntless peacocks, and MGM lion … all, all create an atmosphere of enchantment in which ordinary people fall in love with rodents, peacocks fall in love with ordinary people, and Douglas Falk, whoever and wherever you are, once wrote a delightful poem.
Shelly Reuben has been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. She is an author, private detective, and fire investigator. For more about her books, visit www.shellyreuben.com.
Copyright © 2012, Shelly Reuben