acquire a zoo


Hi everyone! I am reading an essay and trying to translate it into my own language. But there are many confusions. Here comes one.

[...] Every so often I make an attempt to simplify my life, burning my books behind me, selling the occasional chair, discarding the accumulated miscellany. I have noticed, though, that these purifications of mine—to which my wife submits with cautious grace—have usually led to even greater complexity in the long pull, and I have no doubt this one will, too, for I don’t trust myself in a situation of this sort and suspect that my first act as an old horse will be to set to work improving the pasture. I may even join a pasture-improvement society. The last time I tried to purify myself by fire, I managed to acquire a zoo in the process and am still supporting it and carrying heavy pails of water to the animals, a task that is sometimes beyond my strength.■
from An E. B. White Reader, pp. 198-200, New York Harper & Row, 1966I don't understand what does "acquire a zoo" refer to? The author really means he built a zoo? Seems like that, becuase later he say carring water to animals. But how can he get a zoo? He set fire to something? Sorry for having cited so many lines. But I think there is mucho room for ambiguity in this essay, so I think citing as many lines as possible will help to make things clear.
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  • entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    We can't tell from this extract. This being E.B. White, it could be humorous exaggeration: he might have wanted to have no responsibilities, but ended up having a cat, a dog, and a rabbit. That sort of thing might be enough to justify 'zoo' in a humorous way. It is used loosely sometimes: for example, the zoo of subatomic particles. If this is so, 'carrying heavy pails of water' would be just a continuation of the exaggeration - he had to feed the cat sometimes, perhaps. I wouldn't take 'purify . . . by fire' literally, either; it may be just another exaggerated way of saying he's simplifying his life. ('Burning my books' a few lines earlier could be a cross between literally getting rid of his books in the usual way, and the expression 'burning my boats/bridges', meaning putting the past irrevocably behind me. It need not mean anything really got burned.)
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