Over the weekend, the Alaska Zoo quietly took part in what supporters have described as the largest environmental event in history. Saturday night, the lights (most of them, anyway) went out and dozens of attendees took a candlelit tour of the zoo grounds as part of “60+,” a worldwide celebration of Earth Hour. As twilight spread across the skies in the Anchorage bowl, only the glow of candles illuminated the winding trails leading from the multitude of animal exhibits, casting the shadows of dozens of children, as they took in all the sights and sounds.
The evening hour was filled with your standard zoo fare, albeit a little darker than usual. A passed out polar bear enjoyed the spring evening under the stars. A harbor seal posed on his back for photographers. A moose stood, staring in no particular direction (how superfluous must a moose at the Alaska Zoo feel?). And judgy eagles acted like record store employees plucked from a Nick Hornby novel.
Every where in between were mother and son, father and daughter, brother and sister, awash in candle light.
And it wouldn’t be right to go an April night, flush with icy walkways, without an overconfident stride resulting in a spill.
(The kid in the yellow jacket, evidently, had never seen anything remotely as funny as this. She was fine.)
I love the zoo. I go every year. Hell, I even married my wife there. It’s a special place to me. And each visit, my first stop (and where I usually spend the bulk of my time) is the Gray Wolf exhibit. Our wedding didn’t even escape that routine.
Saturday night was no different, but we had no idea what kind of spectacle was headed our way.
The up-close-and-personal effect at the Anchorage Zoo is staggering. Whereas most zoos will establish a lengthy distance between the animals and human observers, Anchorage Zoo attendees can march right up to within just a few feet of the fence.
As the sun’s final hours dwindled on Saturday, a small group of children gathered near the wolf enclosure, smiling nervously and creeping closer and closer to the gate. One of them started started howling. Another child joined in. Soon, five or six kids were howling together.
Four wolves were lounging, curled up on the snow covered ground, napping. The new noise got their attention. And then, all of a sudden, they responded in kind. In under two minutes, the air filled with electricity as a call and response between howling children and howling wolves swept through the air like wind, but with an intense feeling that was electric. I flipped the settings on my camera from “manual” to “cinema” as soon as I could, and here’s what I saw.
It was a magical moment that I doubt will stray too far from my mind anytime soon.