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Saturday, December 19, 2015

Zoo Light, Zoo Bright

As winter descends upon us, we've entered the time of year where I can easily go a week or two at a time without seeing my home in the daylight.  Dawn hasn't quite broken yet by the time I leave in the morning.  It's dark by the time I get back at night, even if I do go straight home.  There's a lot of things I miss about the change of the seasons - not being able to walk to and from work anymore, not having as much time for after-work outdoor activities, not even having the simple pleasure of bird-watching out my window as I get ready for work in the morning (I've tried taking up bat-watching, thus far unsuccessfully).

At least I have one consolation to get me through the long, dark nights.  I don't have to do ZooLights.

ZooLights refers to the stringing of lights up at the zoo so visitors can come after hours and admire them.  It's become increasingly popular as a winter pastime at many zoos, many of which extend their hours late into the evening.  Often, indoor exhibits are kept open which, at some northern zoos, pretty much equals the whole collection.  Hot chocolate, cider, and donuts are sold, musicians and other performers arrive, Santa often makes an appearance, and the whole thing is just so very festive.

Dodged that bullet.

Oglebay's Good Zoo has a the right idea... the resort that includes the zoo does a huge, elaborate Festival of Lights every winter, allowing the zoo to effectively outsource ZooLights to their parent organization.

It's not that I don't like ZooLights - I've visited them at other facilities - National Zoo, Lincoln Park Zoo - and enjoyed it... albeit mostly as a chance to view animals, not so much the lights.  I appreciate the role that the activity can have in drumming up support and custom from the zoo, especially from folks who might not be regular patrons.  And it certainly can help get you into the holiday spirit.

Nah.  What I resented was just what a pain in the butt it was to put together and man.  At least, that was my experience.

Maybe my former coworkers and I just stunk at it.  As soon as our mediocre Halloween event was done every year, we'd gear up for our also mediocre Christmas one.  Except for ZooLights, we were closed at that time of year, so the place wasn't really set up for visitors at that point anyway, and we were all tripping over hoses and extension cords it seemed.  Lights and decorations were strung without especially a lot of care or skill (one coworker was fond of using big, ugly strips of duct tape to hang lights, working under the theory that if you do a job badly enough, no one will ask you to do it again).   Extra shifts were tacked on, when we were voluntold to stay late and man the event.  I felt like I was always running around frantically checking to make sure that the sudden added load on our breakers didn't shut down our heat lamps in the animal enclosures (I mean, it was winter), many of which did, in fact, wink out (and were harder to notice than usual due to all of the other lights everywhere).  And then we had the extra bonus of policing our zoo... in the dark. Lots of crazy stuff going down in the shadows.

What little cash we brought in from that event wouldn't have covered my therapy bills.

So yeah, while I do feel some sympathy for keepers who have to work ZooLights at their zoos, they all seem to have their acts together much better than we did (I mean, how could they not and still be legally open)?  All the same, I'm glad that my current workplace doesn't do this particular activity.  It means that, when the sun goes down, I can be at home with a mug of hot chocolate and a book, trying to massage feeling back into my hands.

Besides, if I want to go and see ZooLights, I know where to find them... at pretty much every other zoo in America.

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