“Inspiring Geography Stories” is a project created for the 2019 Geographical Association Annual Conference (#GAConf19) theme of ‘Celebrating Geography’. This is Part 2: the second three of six #InspiringGeogStories.
I first met Chris & Mary-Martha Bahn, and their two daughters Alexis and Delaney in 2006 when searching for B&Bs in the Bridger Canyon area, just north-east of Bozeman, Montana. I wasn’t looking to stay there myself, but rather to scout out potential places for friends and family who were invited to my wedding to stay. You see, I had just proposed, in Tolkien elvish, to my now-wife on the swing-set outside her extended family’s house in the Canyon. We decided to have the wedding there the following year. But enough about that – the point is – we heard about this amazing place which was not only ‘up the road’ from the house, but also had a rather special addition to it: it was also a wolf sanctuary.
We called the Bahn’s up and they invited us over for a visit and a chat. The place was incredible. What could only be described as a huge log cabin from the outside, but very modern and well furnished on the inside. The place was set slightly up from the glacial valley floor, so it had a beautiful view up and down the valley. And off to the side, was a very large fenced area – the wolf enclosure. And so, hence the name of the B&B: “The Howlers Inn”.
Meeting Chris & Mary-Martha, looking around the Howlers Inn and meeting the wolves, I just HAD to have my family and as many friends as possible stay there the following year for the wedding. And so, they did.
Five years later, in 2012, I was lucky enough to take a group of 12 high school children over to Montana, and a visit to the Howlers Inn was part of the learning experience. Chris and Mary-Martha talked to the kids about the wolves and why they were being looked after and couldn’t be released to the wild. Here’s a video of the visit (start from 12:56 for the full bit about wolves, or from 15:00 just for the Howlers Inn):
The Bahn’s kept a public blog and a Facebook page – to keep people and patrons apprised of how the wolves were getting on. Here are three such posts, giving you an insight into how much they cherished working with the wolves.
6th April 2014
It was a momentous day here at Howlers. We opened up the fence between the two enclosures to give the pack 3 times the space. They now have run of the full 4 acres. Kiowa, the alpha female proved yet again why she is leader of this pack. She bravely crossed into the new territory and immediately began exploring. The others were more tentative, with Tahoe being the last to venture in. They were most fascinated with the side of the house. Windows in particular scared them, as they had never seen their reflection before. Now all the lower windows on that side of the Inn are slimed with muddy paw prints, licks and nose smudges. They spent the entire day exploring, bounding through deep snow, climbing into the old den, and marking here and there. They should sleep well tonight!
20th December 2014
We must pass along some very sad news from Howlers this morning. Our alpha female, Kiowa, unexpectedly passed in the night. She was only 7 years old, and it appears that she had a fatal seizure at some point during the night.
Kiowa was an amazing wolf and one of the first two that Mary-Martha and I hand raised, getting her as a pup just a few weeks old. She was as wolfy as a wolf in captivity can be and was a very strong female presence. She would stay away from any person she could, but her stare would make anyone back down. For as wolfy as she was, Kiowa was extremely affectionate with our family. MM often referred to Kiowa as Daddy’s little girl, since she would crawl into our laps and suck on our thumbs at any opportunity, or flop in front of our path for a belly rub. If the girls went to the fence, she was the first to greet them and always gave lots of kisses.
As the alpha female Kiowa played the role as well as any wolf in the wild. Her strong personality kept the pack in line and was particularly important in maintaining the pack as they went through a takeover for the alpha male position this past spring. Without her leadership, the pack would have surely fractured.
Kiowa always took her role in the pack seriously but never missed out on the opportunity to play. She enjoyed playing tag, but the other wolves never liked it when she was “it”. Nobody could catch her because of her speed, so she would often flop to the ground to give them a chance to tag her. She played mother to all the wolves that came in after her, and she was both loving and protective.
The howls of the pack were almost always started by Kiowa – she loved to sing loud and often…sometimes too much for the rest of the pack as they would often just leave her hanging when she tried to get everyone going.
Words cannot express how much she will be missed as part of our four-legged family. For those of you that were able to watch her, we hope you feel the same way.
We don’t know where wolves go when they die, but wherever it is had better be prepared – the queen has arrived.
1st May 2017
It is the end of an era. Today we officially sign papers turning Howlers Inn B&B and Wolf Sanctuary over to new owners. For the past 13 years we have had the privilege of caring for thousands of amazing guests, and over a dozen magnificent wolves. Words cannot really do justice to just what this has meant to us. Having the opportunity to share our home and our wolves with countless people has enriched our lives beyond measure. We raised our two girls here and have spent half our married life here. Howlers Inn has etched a mark deep in our souls.
The new owners/innkeepers, Nathaniel and Aurelie Burns are a lovely young couple from the area who are excited to take on the challenges and joys of running this place. We hope our many guests who return again and again will continue to do so in the future. We are confident the Inn and the wolves are in competent, loving hands. As for us, we will still be in the Bozeman area, taking a rest before seeing how the next chapter of our lives unfolds.
Signing off for the last time – with gratitude and love,
Chris and Mary-Martha Bahn
Not only do I wish to thank Chris & Mary-Martha for the incredible friendliness and hospitality they showed to so many guests at the Howlers Inn, nor not only for their tireless work in caring for those wolves… But also for sharing their lives, emotions and experiences with everyone. They truly have enriched the experience of humans and nature alike with their kindness and effort. Best of wishes to them for the next adventure, and best wishes to the new tenants of the Howlers Inn – it appears that both the inn-keeping business and the wolves are in safe hands.
I decided to include one of my own stories in this project – mostly because it is one I enjoy telling and, being transgender, feel a responsibility to give visibility to the existence of marginalised and minority groups. I am currently in the privileged position of being relatively safe and secure in expressing my gender – and I will take every opportunity in celebrating the wonderful diversity of human life. After all, that is Geography, too!
At this time, I’d like to move onto the sixth and final story, as it is by far the most inspiring and compelling of them. But please do visit my previous blog post which tells my story – of how aspects of Geography and travel helped me finally discover my identity.
The sixth and final story is truly inspiring, in every sense of the word. The contributor, who wishes to remain anonymous, was so eloquent with their words. It had me smiling and it had me crying – it is both heart-warming and heart-breaking. It was an incredible read. I cannot share the story itself online, it is deeply personal and I am exceptionally honoured to have been trusted with it’s disclosure to me. Those attending my ‘Geography Stories’ lecture at the GA Conference (see the bottom of this post) will get to hear part of it in confidence – with the disclaimer that it is not recorded. What I will say is that Geography, nature, the world – can take you on a spiritual journey, can make you find yourself, and can bring you back from the brink when all seems to be lost.
To the contributor, I say thank you for sharing your story with me, and for reminding me that Geography can evoke such varied and strong emotions. Your life is an example of true passion and joy for the world, an example of the beauty that can be when people and the Earth are one. I hope there are many more such experiences to come for you, and with your passion and determination, I’m sure they will.
Geography you gave me a calling and a purpose
You gave me strength and resilience
Through biodiversity, wilderness and conservation
And then illness struck me…
My body began to give in and my mind was surely to follow
But Geography, I let you back in and I took a deep breath
And listened to the old brag of my heart: I am, I am, I am
I inch outside into the countryside and its air washes over me
Where my chair cannot take me and my boots stay cold and bare
You lift and carry me and I again can start to feel free
Geography, please never leave
Will you marry me?
This is the last part of “Geography: Will You Marry Me?”, the poem which I will perform at the GA Conference TeachMeet on the Wednesday. I hope I do all contributors justice.
Thank you all for taking the time for reading this #InspiringGeogStories mini-project. I truly hope you not only found inspiration in them, but helped you see the inspiration in your own experiences with our wonderful, complex and dynamic world.
Those attending #GAConf19 in Manchester can watch the lyrical performance of #InspiringGeogStories “Geography: Will You Marry Me?” at TeachMeet on the evening of Wednesday 9th April and hear the stories behind the lyrics at 4:20pm on Thursday 10th April. See the conference booklet for details.
For everyone else, TeachMeet will be streamed live via Geography All The Way’s Facebook page from 5:30pm.
Please share your thoughts of these and your own stories using the #InspiringGeogStories on social media.