Today I got to experience my lifelong dream of meeting wolves..-This morning I awoke at a fairly decent time, allowing for me to get to the studio by 9:30am, just in time to catch the tail end of breakfast before it got put away for the morning. I examined my painting #5 of all blues to see how it faired overnight in its collaboration with gravity. I was pleased with the results of the overnight drip. l used the time to feather out some of the painting and to edit the drips, and to give the paint an overall touch-up. After that was all set, I wrote a bit of my blog post from the day before and got that posted to my blog, complete with photos of yesterday.
Lunch time came and I ate my delicious salad indoors by my studio so that I could do some brief online research on the place where fellow artist Christian and I were planning to go this afternoon to have a direct animal encounter with the some wildlife at the Kisma Preserve. Most of the online reviews on Yelp or Google or TripAdvisor were pretty mixed. Some had amazing experiences while others had mediocre outings. I was determined to get up close and personal a with a wolf, no matter the reviews. Christian was a little less optimistic — he expressed a bit more cynicism about his expectations for the experience. We would find out.
After lunch we left the campus around 1:45 to drive the hour trip to the Kisma Preserve, a organization that takes care of rescued exotic animals that cannot be returned to the wild, including wolves, a bear, some owls, parrots, llamas, and a few other animals. What peaked my interest about this place to schedule an animal encounter is that they had wolves, From a young age, I have always loved wolves, with a deep and reverent respect for wolves’ beauty, strength, instinct and complex social structures of the wild canines. Back in high school when most teenage girls have the walls of their bedroom plastered with the latest boy bands, or the current handsome young actor, my walls were covered with images of wolves and beautiful landscapes taken from calendars. I went through a phase in which I read any book I could about wolves or huskies– Julie of the Wolves, White Fang, Call of the Wild, etc. I was super excited to finally be able to meet a wolf up close and in person.
When we arrived to the place, we parked in a grass parking lot out front. we saw a fence and a few signs pointing towards an entrance for the public, but we couldn’t see any opening in the fence. I called the Preserve and a woman came out to unlock the gate. They keep the gates locked at all times both so that the animals can’t escape, and also to protect the animals from any human with bad intentions. We were brought over to where a bear named Flipper was in an enclosure with a bear-sized pool, some trees and place for shelter. The guide told us the story of the how the bear came to remain at the shelter, where he had lived for 13 years. We were given tongs and a bowl of donut holes to feed to the bear, much to his delight. He put his large paws up on the fence to get a better sniff of the little snacks, revealing his very powerful big bear paw, with long talons that are about 2-4 inches. We were about 2 feet away from this bear, just a on the other side of the enclosure fence, feeding him through the gaps in the chain-link fence for our own protection. This was still no Yogi bear out for a pic-a-nic basket, Boo-boo.
We were then moved to a more open space where the animal wrangler brought in a beautiful black Arctic wolf, with fur as black as the night. His name is fluffy, and he was pretty social and curious at first, sniffing us and graciously accepting our attempts to pet him on the back. Then he seemed to grow bored of us and no longer had any further interest in us. He has very large and furry paws. Even if he lost interest in interacting with us, that was OK — I was thrilled just to be able to be so close a wolf, to even to pet him. Then they ought Christian back out of the the wildlife area for him while waited to meet the younger wolves.
The guide brought me over to the gate to the enclosure where the young wolves lived. She let me right into the enclosure where they live! I was instructed to stay with the guide at all times, and to listen to exactly everything she told me when we were in with the wolves. She said that I should avoid eye contact with the wolves, and that I should keep my excitement on the inside, not to show my excitement — that wolves are more interested in you if you are disinterested. I walked into the enclosure over where she pointed, with my hands behind my back to let the wolves come over to sniff me. One gray wolf named Gandalf came over, sniffed me and seemed curious about this new person in his domain. There was another wolf that lived in the enclosure, a white Arctic wolf named Kalani, but she was out of sight, probably hidden in the underground den that she had built.
I walked with the guide over to where I was instructed to sit down on a rock and the wolf came over to investigate, even sniffing my face and licking me on the nose! It was so cute, and really cool! I was able to pet the wolf, and he seemed to like scratches. At one point he seemed like he liked it so much that he rolled over, belly up. I went to lean in to scratch his tummy, but the guide sharply yelled, “No! Don’t do that!” A little confused, I withdrew my hand, and the guide explained that when a wolf lays down showing its tummy, the meaning is much, much different than when dogs do that. When dogs do that, it’s a sign of submission and they usually want you to scratch their underside. When a wolf does the same thing, it’s not a sign of submission, it’s usually a trick to see how you react — if you go in to pet them, they will probably snap or nip at you. This I did not know.
After that last scene, we walked over to where the young wolves’ shelter (wolf house), where Gandalf jumped up on the roof of the shelter, bringing him to my standing eye level. What a beautiful animal! His coat was peppered with streaks of white, light and dark gray, some brown, and speckles of black. His face was just majestic. After hanging out with him a little bit, it was around time for me to go, so that guide brought me back outside of the gate to the enclosure. She gave me some raw beef in a pot and some tongs to have a chance to feed the wolves. I put some of the meet the spaces between the fence, and Gandalf came over to sniff it, but wasn’t interested in actually biting it to eat it. The guide suggested that I throw the meet over the fence into the habitat. After I did this, I saw a white Arctic wolf appear from out of nowhere to jump up and take the beef. Then she came over to the fence because she smelled the additional beef I was holding onto. I put another beef into the enclosure, and the two wolves went for it, with one winning and growling the other away. Once the beef was gone, both wolves seemed to just chill out with one another in the shade of the shelter. I said my tearful goodbyes to my canis lupis friends, with a whole lot of memories and photos in my phone’s camera roll.
I returned to the car, on the drive back to campus, I asked Christian if he was glad he went, after all of the prelude of cynical doubt preceding our trip. He expressed how glad he was to have gone, and how awesome it was to be up close to the animals, especially the bear, and what a great deal it was and how it was totally worth it. I felt the same — it was totally worth it. I will keep this memory of meeting a wolf up close for a long time.
We stopped along the road home a few times to snap a few photos of bogs and rivers in the sunlight of the “golden hour” just before sunset. We returned to campus, I dropped Christian off, then I continued driving past the campus towards the end of the peninsula that the road was on, to see what was on the other side of the road.
The road got progressively more rough and unpaved the further down to the end that I went. There is a forest preserve on part of the road, and some old hundred-year-old summer houses towards the end. I passed a few spots of new construction, and spot or two where the treeline opened up to reveal a little rocky ledge where a few people looked like they were clamming or crabbing. I went so far that it appeared the end of the road lead to someone’s private property, so I backed up until I could do a proper 3-point turn (or K-turn) and head back in the other direction. I snapped a few photos along my route.
I got back to campus just as dinner was ready — tonight’s entree was freshly caught Maine lobster. As I am not a seafood person, I had a burger, but my compadres happily snapped and cracked their way through the lobster all dinner. After dinner, Greg built a nice fire in the fire pit that is down the slope a little bit, overlooking the harbor. We roasted some marshmallows, chatted about life, art and our adventures. I lost three marshmallows in a row to the fire, trying to get each one the perfect mushy consistency from roasting it on the lowest embers. Each time the marshmallow was so mushy that it slipped right off the s’more stick and into the flame.
After the fire, I was ready to just turn in for the night, but I remembered that I had my canvas of blue that needed just a little touchup before I left it to the overnight fairies. While I was working on the canvas, Sally came into my studio and sat at my desk while we chatted a bit. I finished up in the studio around 10:30/11pm, then headed back to my cottage to sleep, intending to get up early to work on the three smaller stacked canvases the next morning.