Only in sultry, spooky Savannah, where ghosts cavort and boutiquing is an art form, could an almost-was monk start a life-defining career as a wrought iron artist. Find treasure right on the streets of the historic district where Ivan Bailey’s low country sawgrass railings, fountains, and garden gates launched his career. From the famous Sunflower and Orange Tree Gates, to lesser known works, savor the personalities of the various squares and moss-draped ambiance with a custom walking or guided tour of the artist’s early years. Don’t miss the whimsical smiling sunflowers between two houses on W Perry at Whitaker. http://savannahsites.com
Searching for Alaska’s Kissing Moose (175 Word Version)
“Here, I’ll turn ‘im around so you can pet his arse,” naturalist Steve Kroschel grins while stretching a mahogany pelted American Pine Marten toward the audience rear-end first. “He bites.”
The Marten, along with seventeen other orphaned animals including a wolverine, grizzly bear, wolf, and yes, a moose, won the wildlife lottery when they landed in the care of Kroschel at his preserve 28 miles from Haines, Alaska. Having been bottle fed by hand since infancy, the majority cannot be returned to the wild.
Which is how you can get close enough to Karen, now a blossoming seven-foot-high juvenile moose, to plant a kiss on her warm, velvety snout. You’ll grin like a toddler when you hand feed the porcupine as he gently reaches to grasp the grass from your outstretched hand. And, it’s hard not to laugh when the reindeer snuffle feed from your palm – it tickles.
The experiences perfectly accomplish Kroschel’s desire to bring people so close to wildlife that they can’t help exchanging distance or fear for a new sense of wonder and appreciation for these creatures great and small.
Organized tours available throughout the peak summer season, and by arrangement at other times. Contact the preserve at http://kroschelfilms.com/contact The preserve is privately run and all donations go toward the feeding and care of the animals.
Searching for Alaska’s Kissing Moose (600 Word Version)
Two minutes in his presence, and you know Mario Benassi is a consummate storyteller. One arm carefully supporting an obsidian-eyed falcon, the other waving and gesturing to emphasize his points, he’s one hundred percent Alaskan naturalist with shoulder length salt and pepper hair and a full beard. His back is to the wall of wire that encloses the pen where Isis the wolf lives. At the moment, Isis is frolicking with preserve founder Steve Kroschel, when she playfully slams her skull into the bridge of his nose and blood gushes out. Already wet from thigh to knee after their ancient arctic fox suffered a bout of incontinence in his arms, Steve bolts from the pen, both hands holding his nose to staunch the flow. Oblivious, Mario winds up his narrative with a flourish and turns to let Steve take the stage, only to find Isis staring at him plaintively and half the group tittering and pointing in the direction where Steve had disappeared.
“Very well then, follow me.” Mario sets off and we fall behind him in a cluster as he explains that when one works with wild animals, anything can happen and no two tours are ever the same. Seeing that we’ve only been here five minutes, I can certainly understand why our excursion to the Kroschel Wildlife Preserve is going to be more humorous improv than canned solicitation. When my typical (surly) fifteen year old son trots ahead of me to be sure to hear all the details, I know we made a good choice.
Twenty-eight miles north of Haines, Alaska (the inspiration for the TV show Northern Exposure), the preserve glides gently up a hillside, with each animal’s habitat designed to mimic their native environment. Steve and Mario both live onsite, Steve in a tiny wooden cottage that could be an inspiration for micro homes, and Mario in the larger “palace” up the hill; a log cabin complete with plumbing and other luxuries.
Part native spiritualist, part granola environmentalist, and thoroughly passionate about the animals, earth, and people that make up their corner of Alaska, Mario and Steve have worked together for years. In addition to their day-to-day work caring for the orphaned wildlife, they are also filmmakers, artists, and writers, with a gift for being both educators and entertainers. It’s captivating and fascinating; the enlightenment is a bonus.
Keeping curious hands and tiny fingers away from sharp teeth, Steve turns the animals so people can pet them on the “arse,” his speech pattern and accent giving away his Minnesota roots. He grabs a wildcat around the waist and stands it on its hind legs, plays ball with a wolverine, and laughs out loud as he explains why one of the male American Martens has been locked in a wooden box until the mating season is over.
Trading off the lead as easily as relay runners, Mario regales us with a story about being attacked by a polar bear in Siberia as he ambles up gently sloped paths switching back and forth to the various habitats. Audience members jockey for the best positions to take photos and have the experience of a lifetime: kissing Karen the moose, hand feeding the porcupine or reindeer, and trying to capture the miniscule ermine as it dashes about the enclosure. Steve and Mario patiently make sure everyone has a chance to get up close before moving on to the next exhibit.
Heavily visited as Haines highest rated cruise ship excursion during the summer, the preserve is open to tours most of the year. Contact them directly to arrange a visit outside of the organized tours during the peak season, or in the off-season. http://www.kroschelfilms.com/contact