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Cedar2

Cedar, the friendly Mexican gray wolf, rounds the cage on my very first visit to the center.

I had never seen a wolf in my life until a few months ago.

Sure, I have had an ardent love for these beautiful creatures since 2007, but I had never been able to behold one with my eyes until Sunday, December 16, 2012, the day after my birthday.

My husband had asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday, and I really had no real idea since it was in the middle of December and we live in southern Illinois. After searching on the Internet for things to do, I stumbled upon the website for the Endangered Wolf Center, a wolf sanctuary that I, for whatever reason, never knew existed. Right then and there, it was clear what I wanted to do for my birthday, a day that normally is shrouded by Christmas get-togethers and other Yuletide festivities.

As my husband pulled up to the gates on that day, my heart brimmed with excitement and wonder of what awaited us. After being let in and taking part in a short and very educational briefing on the beautiful canids, my husband and another couple and I drove toward the enclosures.

I couldn’t get to the wolves fast enough. I patiently kept pace beside Erin, one of the kind, knowledgeable tour guides at the Center, keeping my eyes peeled for a flash of gray, a tuft of fur, a tentatively wagging tail, anything that would indicate that we were in the presence of the wolves.

As soon as we saw the enclosures, I broke out into a huge smile. We ventured toward the right, visiting the adorable and relatively small swift foxes. We were blessed to see two of the younger kits playing and pouncing on each other, dashing about gleefully around their enclosure as their father slept a short distance away. As we approached, the kits stopped briefly, one approaching the fence and stopping to investigate who we were, all the while allowing me to take two quick photos. After its curiosity was satisfied, it continued chasing the other kit for the rest of the time.

Looking to our right, I saw my first Mexican gray wolf, but just barely since she blended into the scenery around her so well. It was Anna, the queen of the Center, the famous wolf who birthed 40 Mexican gray wolf pups throughout her life. She lay regally across the top of her den box, surveying her surroundings placidly as another enclosure mate sat happily on the earth near her. With my eyes still on beautiful Anna, we walked away from her and the swift foxes toward the left.

These were 2 of the 4 African painted dogs I saw when I visited for an Enrichment Experience in mid-March.

These were 2 of the 4 African painted dogs I saw when I visited for an Enrichment Experience in mid-March.

On our way through the enclosures, we saw many other shy gray wolves including Carolita, Bobby J, and Apache, the “Old Man” of the Center, who was warming himself sleepily inside his heated den box on that brisk, cloudy afternoon. We passed by the African painted dog enclosure, hoping to get a glimpse of the beautiful animals, but they decided that day that it was much too chilly to be running around with one another or snoozing on a pile of leaves together. We did, however, get to see a gorgeous maned wolf very briefly. As we stopped at her enclosure, the slender creature stopped, took a look at us all for only a few seconds, and then gracefully slipped into her den box. This would wind up being my husband’s favorite animal at the Endangered Wolf Center.

The endangered yet lovely red wolves decided that the weather was good enough to sit outside that day, so we were blessed to see one red wolf perched on top of his box like Anna was. After a moment of standing before this wolf, he uncurled himself slowly, sat up, and stretched out his limber body, making it appear as if he were howling. He stood and looked at us benignly for a moment and then decided that it was the perfect time to resume his nap. I gazed at the red wolf for as long as we remained there, hoping to remember every beautiful feature about him before we moved on toward the other portion of the Center.

My favorite part of our tour came when we got to visit Rocky and Cedar, two Mexican gray wolves who just had visitors to their enclosure to help clean up some fallen limbs. The wolves were so much closer to us than the other ones were, especially the ever-friendly Cedar, who paced in large circles around the fence, perhaps a mere 10 feet away from us. Her tongue lolled out of her mouth happily, and her demeanor was very sweet. She was genuinely curious about all of us and never appeared threatening in any manner. Rocky stayed in the center of his enclosure, though. This wolf, whom I wound up adopting a few months later, is blind in one eye and can only see shadow and light in the other, but he appeared to be healthy and happy with where he was. After taking a casual drink from the small pond in their enclosure, Cedar trotted up to Rocky and looked at him, as if saying, “It’s okay; we only have happy visitors here!”

At that moment my ears were greeted with a sound that I had only prayed I would hear – beautifully haunting wolf howls. Someone had kindly donated a whitetail deer carcass that was hit on the highway nearby, and the red wolves had picked up on the scent from a few miles away, causing them to howl in thin high-pitched tones. Suddenly, lower howls accompanied the red wolves’ howling – the Mexican gray wolves voiced their opinion on the matter. The loudest of them all was, of course, Anna; our tour guide said that it was her way of “complaining” that she was hungry and couldn’t wait to feast on the tasty meal. The cascade of howling lasted for about 3 minutes, and throughout the entire time goose bumps undulated on my arms, and a series of shivers glided effortlessly up and down my spine. Tears sprung from my eyes in such exhilaration; I not only got to visit these beautiful wolves, but I also got to listen to them sing. What a joy it was for me!

One of the beautiful maned wolves came out to say high on my latest visit to the center!

One of the beautiful maned wolves came out to say high on my latest visit to the center!

From that moment, I was hooked, enamored with these animals. We had left that day after visiting the gift shop to take home a few souvenirs to commemorate that day, but it wouldn’t be the last time I would be back. Months later, I drove myself to see the wolves again, participating in an Enrichment Experience, which consisted of myself and others throwing pieces of meat and vegetables in the shape of shamrocks to the African painted dogs in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day. I had saved up money to adopt Rocky, using the funds I would’ve put toward eating lunch out somewhere at work and putting it toward making this beautiful wolf’s life even better. I plan on volunteering at the Center when I am able and to spread the word of such a wonderful and worthy facility to everyone I know – all this because of the love of my husband, the friendliness of the Center’s tour guides and volunteers, and the beauty of the wolves themselves.

This was truly an experience I will never forget, and I am so grateful that I found it and that I was able to go and see these magnificent wolves! It surely won’t be my last time.

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Bamboo SharkMy husband took me on a fun, adventurous, yet easy date on Saturday, and we went to Union Station in St. Louis and also the St. Louis Zoo. I had only been to Union Station once with my dad in 2004 when we saw John Kerry during his campaign speech (and got to hang around the CNN people and other news officials because we had press passes). Though Union Station was kind of under construction, we fed the multitude of giant goldfish outside, their hungry little mouths constantly open as they swam with hope toward us.

While feeding the fish was really fun, the real fun came when we revisited the zoo for pretty much the 10th time.

We had to move fast since the zoo was closing in an hour and a half (and we walked a decent distance ways away, too). On our list of animals to visit were the tigers & lions, the penguins, and, for the first time ever, the sharks and rays.

Only 20 minutes remained of our time at the zoo, and we were right by the sharks and rays. For only $4, my husband let me race through the drizzly weather toward the large circular enclosure to pet the small sea creatures.

I must note that I have never before touched a ray or a shark, so I was a little nervous. I’ve loved sharks ever since I was 8 and found an old shark tooth on a beach in North Carolina on a family vacation, but I was still a bit scared to reach in and actually TOUCH one. I knew that only a few types of sharks would attack when provoked, but for whatever reason I found myself tentatively dipping a few of my fingers into the tepid waters.

RaysThe bonnetheads and the bamboo sharks didn’t come too close to me at first, but the rays sure did love me. Every few seconds one would swim by the edge, holding its fin up to me, and I high-fived them all as they glided by me. The rays were slimy yet soft and exceedingly friendly.

Before I could touch a shark, a group of 3 Asian guys came by and were also very excited yet nervous to touch the sea creatures. One asked me, “Do you think they’ll bite?” while another said, “Aaaaah! I really want to touch them, but I’m SO NERVOUS!” I assured them that the rays were kind and very gentle, and after a few minutes they started tentatively touching them… though one GIANT ray came by and sort of scared them, one saying, “Uhhh, I think I just want to start small!”

Time was running out, though, and I had yet to touch a shark. One of the officials noticed and asked if I had touched anything yet. I told him that I had met several rays but that I badly wanted to pet sharks. He kindly told me that they mostly hung out by the small waterfall on the other side of the enclosure. I also asked him if I were to pet one while it stayed still would it be surprised and lunge or anything, and he told me that they are very used to touch and won’t react negatively. Gleefully, I sprinted toward the waterfall and found 3 bamboo sharks snoozing together to the left of the waterfall.

Rolling up my mustard St. Louis Blues hoodie as far as it could go, I slowly dipped my right arm into the enclosure. A ray sort of swam by but turned around when it saw that I was intent on petting that shark.

Finally, my fingers grazed the area before the dorsal fin, and the shark didn’t react. He just sat there peacefully sleeping with his two friends while I continued to pet him for a few minutes. His skin was smooth and beautiful, striped with black and white. His gills undulated as I brushed my fingers against him. Before I knew it, time ran out, and I had to go, so I pulled my arm up slowly, shook off the water, and ran happily toward my husband in the gift shop.

I have to say for the rest of the weekend, I was smiling ear-to-ear, remembering that sweet shark I had pet for a mere few minutes. I really can’t wait to go back to visit those sharks and rays again and spend even more time with them!

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Here's a Sufjan valentine from me to you! :)

Here’s a Sufjan valentine from me to you! 🙂

Hey, everyone out there! Happy Valentine’s Day to you! I hope it’s a wonderful day for all of you.

Today is the anniversary in which my husband took me out on our first date 4 years ago. He treated me to some delicious Japanese food (I had yakisoba) and then drove me to St. Louis to hear the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra perform Verdi’s Requiem. Without getting into all the mushy, gooey details, it was a wonderful night. It was also my very first date, well, EVER. So tonight in honor of this anniversary, I’m planning on surprising him after work by making yakisoba and putting on some Verdi. I’m so thankful that I have him in my life!

Have a fantastic day, everyone! 🙂

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Sufjan StevensWhat’s this I hear? Sufjan Stevens, who just got back from going on a Christmas tour, is doing another concert? WHAAAAAAAAAAT???

Of course, after scrounging around for information, I found that he’s only doing one concert at Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles as part of the Brooklyn Festival.

And of course he’s performing with Bryce Dessner and Nico Muhly, doing the Planetarium set.

YOU GUYS. This means a few things:

1.) It totally sucks to live in the middle of nowhere far, far away from a coastline that isn’t a Great Lake (and I’m probably 500 or so miles away from the tip of one!).

2.) This gives me some hope that Sufjan could tour some more in the near future doing the Planetarium set.

3.) Maybe Sufjan will release the set on disc/mp3 or something!

The Planetarium is a set about, you guessed it, the planets and the sun and moon. I find it very captivating while maybe others could be turned off by it. My absolute favorite one of the set is “Mercury” – I STILL get goosebumps when I hear the middle section of that song. Check it out here! 🙂

You can read more about the concert here.

PLEEEEEEEAAAAASE, Sufjan, PLEASE come over here so I can see you! If I /have/ to go all the way to Chicago, I will, but St. Louis is preferable!

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