Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Team Wolverine and the Alaska Zoo

(Note: I have acutal, real, live pictures of "Team Wolverine" and our adventures and will upload them tonight. Promise!)

This week I had the privilege to trek through the Alaska zoo with a crew of five kindergarten boys. Yes, that’s right, FIVE of them.

Talk about ants-in-the-pants, HEY YOU STOP RUNNINGANDGETOFFATHATFENCE nonstop action. It was a trip. And a treasure.

Boy Wonder was so proud that I was chaperoning, that he had to introduce me to every single kindergartner he could see. And some of the first graders, too. Not to mention, he tried to introduce me to some kids that didn’t even go to his school. Talk about a social kid. (I wonder if he’s going to be that excited when P and I show up to chaperone his first middle school dance? Hahahaha!)

There was no way in Hades I was going to be able to bark out commands to each antsy, fidgety boy in my group fast enough to keep them from being eaten by the grizzly bears or pecked to death by the horned owl, so before we set out, I named them “Team Penguin”—only to have the lame group next to us call themselves penguins. Lame! We ran through a list that included Team Duck, Team Dinosaur, Team Lemon (seriously, who’s kid was that??), and even Team Elephant, which I flatly REFUSED to entertain for one MOMENT, and finally “Team Wolverine.” (There was also a Team Polar Bear and the copycats, Team Penguin. A couple groups of girls didn’t get into the naming thing, and preferred to be the Princess Squad. Ha!)

Our first area was the “rescue” area, full of ravens (yay!) and owls (yay! yay!) some eagles (golden and red), a raccoon, some foxes (arctic and red) and finally a skunk. (Really? A skunk?) I was provided with an information sheet for each animal, and the only thing the kids wanted to know was where the animals were born. Which mostly wasn’t provided (except for the raccoon, who was born in El Paso, Texas. Same as Boy Wonder. Who thinks they might have been born at the same hospital, and now wants me to look and see if, in fact, they were both born at Las Palmas.) I doubt it , Boy Wonder, but I can look into it if it’s that important to you.

We wandered down to the tiger enclosure and found the tiger brothers both asleep. Same with the grizzly bears. One boy, Caleb, thought they looked “hung over.” I asked how he’d know what that looks like and he told me he heard it on Cartoon Network once. (I hate you, Cartoon Network.)
We heard an incessant yapping and I thought maybe the old neighbor lady’s dog had followed me somehow to Anchorage, but finally saw the coyote being a real whiner in the center of his cage. Boy Wonder’s best buddy, Sam, told me that it was “probably just pissed off.”
“He’s what?” I asked, needing clarification. That wasn’t what I thought it was, was it?
“Pissed off, Megan. He’s pissed off.”

“Oh, right Sam. Might not want to offer that explanation to Mrs. Ives, though. Could land you a yellow day, buddy.”

By the tenth animal cage we passed, we decided that Tuesdays were really “Nap Day” at the Alaska Zoo. Even the Dall Sheep were sleeping, and those things never sleep. Sleeping river otters, sleeping moose, sleeping caribou, sleeping camels, sleeping Tibetan yaks. My wolverines were getting impatient.

To keep Team Wolverine awake, we tromped across the bridge as loud as we could to scare up the troll from the “Three Billy Goats Gruff” (a story they’d read the week before and we’d just seen sleeping “Billy Goats”). I got dirty looks from the other chaperones, but I aimed my troll gun at them and pulled the trigger—the universal “Scarface” warning to “mind yer own biziness, eh?”

Our tromping then turned into “Troll Hunting” with a few snipers, some gunners in the rear, and a team scout. (Not to worry, I rotated our leader/scout after each animal exhibit, so the whole troop got to lead the men to troll battle.)

The big hit was the “water” exhibits. We saw seals peeing in the water (true, and gross, story), otters sleeping (surprise, surprise!) and Polar Bears chewing on tires and a white bucket. The water exhibits had upstairs and downstairs (underwater) views and by the time I got through lifting five boys multiple times from each vantage point, I felt buff like Jillian Michaels.

Hidden in the back, behind the polar bears and beside the sleeping lynx, was our buddy, the Wolverine. Not only was our namesake awake, he was OCD. That little animal ran the same lap circuit around his cage the entire 20 minutes we stood there admiring him. Every once in a while, he’d change his course and run next to the bars in front of us to give us a better view, but the guy never quit running. It was impressive, almost as impressive as the boys’ favorite wolverine fact: an adult wolverine is strong enough (and mean enough!) to take down a full-grown moose.
Was the moose placed across the trail from the wolverine on purpose, then? Is that sort of like sticking a mirror in front of a fighting fish’s bowl and letting it charge itself?

The finale was worth the 2+ hours of pulling boys off exhibits and out of trash cans. The wolf exhibit had a sibling set of six wolves (three brothers and three sisters) that romped and “wrassled” in front of us. As we were turning to leave, the pack gathered about four feet from Team Wolverine and began howling as loud as they could. I’ve never seen something so amazing in my life and I doubt I ever will again. It gave me chills. To show solidarity, my own wolverine pack joined in the chorus and I snapped away with my camera like a fiend. Moments like that don’t repeat themselves and I’ll carry the image of “my” boys singing with the wolf brothers as long as I live.

So there it is. Kindergarten comes to a close in a few weeks and I got to top it off with the “trip” of a lifetime. Here’s hoping you find your own “wolfsong” moment this week.

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