One Afternoon in Palm Beach County
Gather up the family or a few friends for an impromptu trip around town where a hearty dose of reality awaits.
Saturday afternoons in Palm Beach County during the month of September are a mix of beach, parks, dining, sports, or lazy time on the couch. The weather is still hot, at times unbearably so, but late afternoons this time of year typically bring about soft coastal winds and a warm sunshine glow—an admired but often overlooked part of the day—the prelude, or buildup, to showstopper sunsets and rising luminous moons.
It’s also a transitionary time. The wild birds become active again. People and cars and boats come and go. Some businesses shut down while others open up. Restaurants and cafes start seating early dinner guests— wine bottles pop open; appetizers are served.
On this particular Saturday afternoon, we decide to use our Palm Beach Zoo annual pass, arriving around 4 PM with about an hour left until close. Located at Dreher Park in West Palm Beach, the 23-acre zoo is a non-profit zoological organization that cares for, and houses, hundreds of animals, many of whom are endangered, and provides community outreach and wildlife saving conservation within South Florida and beyond. Its mission is ‘to inspire people to act on behalf of wildlife and the natural world.’
Despite its surroundings (Dreher Park sits among a few worn-out looking areas) the Palm Beach Zoo is a local treasure. Exhibits and animals include the Florida Wetlands with otters, owls, flamingos, eagles, and a Florida panther. Next is Asia with animals like the black howler monkey, hornbills and the Malaysia Tiger. Tropics of the Americas includes Chilean flamingos, swans, anteaters, and a jaguar. And lastly, The Islands showcases sloths, lorikeets, macaws, lemurs, and koalas. Let’s not forget seasonal events such as Zoo Lights, Pumpkinpalooza and more.
This is our first time visiting the zoo so late in the day. The normally jam-packed parking lot is cleared out and crowds are nearly nonexistent. A few stragglers still mill about and one child sits idle in the water play fountains. Further in the zoo, some families remain, walking leisurely from exhibit to exhibit, languishing outside in a both natural and artificial world.
But it’s near closing time and things are quiet.
A few animals can’t — or won’t — be seen. They are, quite simply, done for the day. Some are tucked inside private animal quarters with food, water and other comforts. Others have retreated to hiding places within their enclosures, safe from human eyes and any remaining shrieking children. People can be a bit much sometimes.
While on the path within Florida Wetlands, the eagle’s nest is empty. Where two very large and relatively active eagles once perched together, both are gone this afternoon. Actually, one of the eagles passed away last year but the one who still lives is not out either. We leave the empty nest and walk deeper into the zoo.
After a few turns on the walkway, we find the alligator exhibit, empty, with the exception of the alligators (of course) and a chatty volunteer who is more than ready to talk all things reptile. We stop and listen, ask a few questions, take a good, long look at the floating alligators, then head to the tiger enclosure.
A young tiger is pacing the fence, back and forth, in a rhythm, or some sort of pattern, waiting for something. Food? It’s not clear. A small crowd of people, late after-nooners like us, stop and stare for a bit, then move on. The tiger doesn’t seem to care who comes and goes.
We make it back to the play fountain area before leaving. Our toddler wants to splash around for a few minutes so we let him. It’s a beautiful afternoon, still, and the sun is warm so the water sprinkles are welcome. A few more kids join us in the fountains, running, dodging water, then jumping into it. Parents watch from benches nearby and a couple of people even manage to buy slushies before the cart shuts for the day.
The zoo is minutes from closing but no one seems to want to leave. It is safe here and there is laughter along with the sound of water hitting the concrete. The breeze is soft. But, sadly, it is time to go.
We load into the car, start the engine, and make our way home, taking the back way this time, driving on Summit Blvd. The traffic slows down a bit and we notice several police cars and a large white van along the roadside. A long stretcher can be seen and a few men are in diving gear. They also look like police officers. We spot what we think is a body covered in a white sheet.
“It was such a fun afternoon, though,” I say to my husband. We both agree that late afternoons at the zoo are a great time to visit, to escape the crazy of the world.
The next morning we did hear that it was a body the police had pulled out. No foul play suspected.
Thank you for reading about our random afternoon in September. THE NEIGHBORLY FLORIDA is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a subscriber.