For the past few years, we’ve mainly “lived” on the West Coast, Colorado in particular. It made sense to claim our residency and health care in Colorado, as 2 of our employers are in Boulder, and both of Justin’s sisters (and spouses/nephews), as well as his mom, live in Denver.
As our “living” situation inevitably changes and we create a new home base in Alaska, we’re trying to make an effort to make our visits to Denver less about unpacking & packing, going through our mail and going to see all the doctors, and more about visiting family. We spent 9 days in Denver/Boulder in early October, and while it was our typical swoop in/out, there was plenty of visiting.
Uncle Justin and Aunts Jamie, Rachel & I took Everett & Owen to The Wild Animal Sanctuary outside of Denver.
And while I have a lot to say about that amazing place, I think my favorite part is when the nephews told their parents they went to “Starbuds” for dinner and drank soda and their parents *almost* believed them.
***Please note, we did not take them to Starbuds for dinner; the dispensary happens to be next to Great Scott Eatery and has a very large sign that got everyone’s attention. We also did not give them soda. That was the repurposed syrup bottle!***
Anyway, the Wild Animal Sanctuary … it was awesome!
The organization rescues and rehabilitates large carnivores from captive situations. I know you are probably thinking captive means circuses and zoos, and while that is sometimes the case, there are more than 25,000 lions, tigers, bears, wolves, mountain lions, bobcats, foxes and more living in people’s backyards, basements, apartments, garages and other inhumane, unnatural and illegal places. We just couldn’t believe some of the stories for these animals and the abuse they endured. Ostensibly, people think it’s a good idea to have a cuddly jaguar as a pet … until they grow old and attack you. And then there are people who keep these animals for props, like for a photography business. Not sure why, but their records show Texas as the leading state for animals in captive.
In most cases, the animals can never be returned to the wild, where they rightfully belong. Sometimes they have never seen another animal of their kind, or have never touched grass (only concrete from their cell). So slow rehabilitation is always the key. The sanctuary provides large natural habitats sprawled across 10,000 acres for the animals to at least roam freely.
As visitors, you walk above them on a boardwalk. The out-and-back is 3 miles total, although, you can stop and turn around at any time of course. We made it to the end, and Aunt Jamie and Aunt Rachel had the bright idea to give them a nice sugary snack to power them for the way back. It worked!
Fun times and learning to boot!!
And I’d like to end on a little reflection.
For as long as I can remember and especially once I knew I wasn’t have children of my own, I’ve always wanted to be a good aunt. Justin has always agreed. But the role is not prescriptive, you know?
I have to admit, it’s easy to be present for the young ones. Get down on the floor and let their imagination drive the play time. Chase them around a playground. Sit with them during meals and ask silly questions. Show up to a soccer game.
But a little harder when it comes to the older ones.
We have a 17-year-old nephew and 14-year-old niece on my side. Sometimes I talk to them on the actual phone, but more often I don’t. I try to send random texts and send cards for all the holidays. They’re very Generation Z teenagers, i.e., connected to their phones, and I struggle to find ways to connect in the different lives we lead. We’re about to see them this holiday. Can I remember the name of their current best friend? What makes up their social calendars these days and can I find a way to relate? Mainly I want them to know, I’m here, I see you, I am listening and you matter to me. Kids are so fragile these days, ya know? What I’ve learned is to honor the relationship through thick and thin. They are family and I love them unconditionally and I try to consider any conversation and connection a gift, a privilege of the moment.
And that’s the end of my rant! I just had these thoughts swirling in my head, so wanted to put them down on paper, err, on the screen.