Howls in the forest

When my wife thinks what I want to do is stupid, she has a pragmatic approach.  She tells me I’m an idiot, but does it with me anyway.  Thus our trip today to the Alaska Zoo.

Alaska’s zoo is like few others on earth.  Where else could you set up a great rehab center for cold-weather animals? It was 20 F with about 8″ of fresh snowfall, and the idea that the zoo should close for this would be considered comic in Anchorage.  It wasn’t very busy, though, with most locals having more important holiday business than observing a musk ox.  After some wrong turns and slick road adventures, we finally found the place.

Highlights that we did not see, because they were either hibernating or staying inside, included the bears and cats (snow leopards, Siberian tigers).  To our delight, the ravens in their enclosure were beaking their food out through the bars to other (free) ravens, who flew off to eat their freebie lunches with much happy rawking.  Bald eagles; great horned owls; a goshawk; a snowy owl.  You have to get fairly close to all these birds to grasp just how big they are.  In Alaska they tell stories about some lady who stopped to let her sweet little snookums Pierre, a miniature pinscher or some other equally irritating miniature canine, answer nature’s call–only to have a golden eagle strike, grab puppy and cart him away for a delicious dinner.  When you are ten feet from a golden eagle, you can see how one could fly off with Pierre, leash and all.

The elderly wolverine had passed away, more’s the pity, but there were the anticipated musk oxen, caribou, moose (hello, Bullwinkle), Bactrian camel, alpacas, yaks, and some sort of tiny hairy donkey.  I have no idea what it was called, but it looked like a Great Dane-sized rabbit.  On the way back, we passed by the wolves.

The alpha male was a big dark fellow, looking us over with that calm lupine scrutiny.  Deb gave forth the quiet beginnings of a howl, the same one she uses to get our Labrador all stirred up when she hears fire sirens.  The Alaska Zoo is essentially paths through a forest, so other than fences and restraints, it’s a walk through the woods with limited distance visibility.  And then the alpha took up her howl.

It was as if he summoned the rest to sing.  Before long we had six wolves serenading us with the spooky howls you last imagined when you read Call of the Wild.  They put on a wolf concert for us lasting at least five minutes with no further urging, their manner friendly if not cuddly (wolves don’t do cuddly), with the scene all to ourselves.  If you’ve never heard such a thing, once in your life it is well worth finding a way to hear.  It is more interesting when some of the wolves are gazing directly at you.

Neither of us was going anywhere for so long as the wolves sang.  When they subsided, I inscribed a rune into the fresh snow before them, my own signature.  Other than that, I couldn’t add to what Deb said:  “That made this whole trip worth it.  That’s special.”

The cream cheese brownie at the snack bar had been heavenly.  I wouldn’t trade those five minutes for a year’s supply of zero-calorie equivalents.

Alaska.

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