Between seasons

I’ve always had mixed feelings about the zoo’s two summer-specific attractions, the butterfly garden and the Wells Fargo Family Farm. My mind tends to link them with heat and crowds. But now, in this back-to-school interlude of sudden quiet, nothing hides the charm of either place. Two weeks ago, before the garden’s annual Labor Day closure, I ducked in to bid the butterflies farewell. Then last week, while looping the Northern Trail, I finally veered off into farmland.

In its final week of the year, the butterfly garden was mostly about the greenery, with just a few fluttering inhabitants left — including the “queen” hiding amid the wildflowers above, orange and black but smaller than a monarch, with white polka dots sprinkled across her wings. No insect perched on the dishes of fruit set out to attract the butterflies. And it was raining, ever so lightly: a mere mist evaporating on my forearms. This pleased me as much as any so-called perfect summer day, and the smattering of zoo guests strolling the walkways seemed equally contented.

A week later, the garden had closed but the same caressing mist-rain fell gently on the farm — including Prince and Duke, the rare American Cream draft horses who’ve been here since the farm opened ten years ago. The farm has a longer season (April-October) than the butterfly garden, and that season tapers off more more gradually: spring and fall weekdays have no demos, petting or other “events,” but you can wander around unobstructed, collecting a leisurely eyeful of buildings and animals. The sheep and goats, in particular, will look back at you, extra-alert to humans in this calmer, cooler space and time.