Behind the Scenes at Maine Wildlife Park with Curt Johnson

Wayne and I attended a Pow Wow at the Maine Wildlife Park this summer after which we spent some time exploring and looking at the animals. Unlike a zoo that operates for profit, the animals at the park cannot survive in the wild. It’s there that they are provided a safe forever home because they were injured, orphaned, or became human dependent while being raised illegally in captivity. The park is self-sustaining and owned and operated by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife within the Division of Information and Education. Each animal becomes an ambassador for its species to help educate (and charm!) the public. It has a staff of thirty and over two hundred volunteers which includes retirees, college interns and during the off-season, inmates involved in correctional trade instruction. The inmates gain experience and can give back to the community by doing necessary tasks like painting, shoveling and maintaining wood furniture.

I contacted park Superintendent Curt Johnson about the possibility of volunteering next season. Since I’m always interested in learning more about people who work with and love wildlife I asked him after he interviewed me if I could interview him for my blog. Not only did he agree to it but he also offered me a rare opportunity to visit the park and see the animals after it had closed for the season! I felt so lucky and of course I accepted his generous offer!

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And now a word from my blog sponsor, Informed Bliss

Sometimes I can’t contain my joy for living in such a beautiful place, but really, why would I want to? Is it because we’re trained to think that happiness springs from ignorance, so that only simple-minded people are content? Or is informed bliss (the name of my first blog in 2001) in a world filled with sadness and tragedy along with comfort, kindness and connection a real possibility?

YES! Yes it is!

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The Improvident Chipmunk’s Shocking Secret

Unlike any other chipmunk I’ve know or read about, and going against all instinct, there was a chipmunk eating seeds on our deck instead of stuffing his cheeks and bringing them back to his burrow to store for the coming winter. People wonder how I know the gender of a chipmunk. It’s always been a guess and this one was a give-away: Ricky, as I named him, would gladly eat what I served him but then always left the shells behind so that I had clean up his mess. “Typical man!” friends would say when I shared the latest chipmunk news. (It warms my heart that people ask and take an active interest in their antics. If they don’t ask I tell them anyway.)

In reality I had no idea what was actually in store for the future. Ricky was not all what he seemed to be, and neither was Tailor, the chipmunk living in our side yard with a black “ring” around her tail and named after Elizabeth Taylor who  loved and kept many chipmunks as pets and had a famous fondness for jewelry.

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The Good Life: Yankee Thrift in Action

With Wayne being a Baby Boomer and me, GenX, retirement is something for which our budget revolves around. When Wayne starts collecting social security it likely will be funded at 100%. For my generation? Not likely! Saving for us isn’t just a way of life but as old age approaches, a necessity.

In the examples below you’ll see how Yankee Thrift  is the way to a richer life for us. It’s about making smart purchases without the purpose of showboating. In other words it’s not about buying something because it’s on trend, or you need the latest model, or to feed an insecure desire to impress. It’s about quality and self-reliance with the smarts to know when you need to secure the services of a professional or invest in a big expenditure. We save where we can and spend more on where it counts. You’ll see how in each example we’re cutting back but it’s not a sacrifice:

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A Close Call

A year ago this week a chipmunk I later named Wishy walked into our life. Although he is no longer on this earth he is still with us. One of the many things he showed me is that you never know when something or someone wonderful will show up out of the blue and bring you unexpected happiness. At that time there was no snow on the ground and temps were above normal. It felt like an extended October! Wishy didn’t go into his burrow for the winter until early December after our first gentle snowfall. That experience taught me to not dread November, so I went into it with a positive and accepting attitude this year. Sunset before 4:30? I can cope. Brown leaves and bare trees? Poetic. But to have our first snow not even be of the fluffy introductory variety and instead 6 inches of wet heavy crusty February-esque snow? That’s a clear and unexpected boundary violation. Right?! I’m so relieved that it didn’t happen last year, because we would have never met Wishy!

Simple, Old-Fashioned Help for PTSD Nightmares

My experience from both sides of the “couch” has taught me that there’s nothing simple about PTSD nightmares. The things I tried in my teens and twenties–using food and alcohol to try and bury and drown them, sometimes to the point of blacking out, created new real-life nightmare scenarios. In my late twenties through my forties I was afraid to go to sleep; I averaged about five broken hours a night. When I did sleep, and the nightmares struck, I woke up extremely exhausted.

I wish I could say that I am now completely free of nightmares and experience restful sleep. The good news is that I have made incredible progress over the past couple of years. I have fewer nightmares, am not terrified of going to sleep and am making my peace with them.

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When Wishes Come True

One day Wishy wasn’t his usual “chipper” self.

“Are you sad, Wishy?” the teacher asked.

“Yes. I wish that summer would last all winter long!”

Summer in Maine is a beautiful season. The teacher wished it would last longer, too. She knew not all wishes can come true even though they are nice to have.

Excerpted from Wishy the Bookworm Chipmunk.

Although Maine will not become an endless summer, one of my dear wishes has magically come true!

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Thank you, Lawrence Wishner & Elizabeth Taylor

What does it mean to be authentic? Does it mean that you have to share every passing thought, desire, opinion and passion with whomever will listen? Do you have to follow every fancy, eat whatever you’re craving because well, you gotta be you? Not for me, no. “To thine own self be true” is something I try and live every day which is not to be confused with self-centeredness, narcissism or lack of self-restraint. Sometimes it involves making life-altering choices; other times it’s seemingly inconsequential, however when such “little” decisions are strung together over time they look a lot like a lifestyle. 

So why then do I sometimes feel like I need permission to be myself? And from whom does this permission need to come? What if it never comes to pass?

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Meditation by the Sea

At our summer church in Kennebunkport a small group meets once a week in the rectory for a meditative practice. The first time I went last summer I was very intimidated by the prospect of a twenty minute meditation! Sitting in a quiet room alone listening to the “noise” in my head is old hat to me and I often mistake it for being productive. Making mental to-do lists, planning, lamenting the past, worrying about the future can happen in the most bucolic of settings. Sitting with a quiet mind? It’s a challenge, but meditation gives me moments of inner silence, the benefits of which are deep and lasting.

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A Farewell to Wishy and Chippie

God bless Wishy and Chippie, who have not surfaced in enough time for us to know that they have moved onward and upward. I loved them as my own pets/family. We miss them dearly. I made a memorial at Wishy’s burrow, and one on my deck where Chippie lived. I learned so much about myself and the nature of the world from my time with them. RIP dear little ones.