Animal Lovers at Their Finest


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Low growls escaped her as she paced back and forth, only yards away. Her claws crunched the leaves on the ground beneath, and her dark eyes were locked on mine. Her spotted fur was mesmerizing, in a dangerous sort of way. She was not big, but what is size? She looked strong and fast nonetheless. At the very least, I was thankful for the chain-link fence that separated me from this wild animal.

Unfazed by the pacing and growling animal, Karen Malfy, volunteer at the St. Augustine Wildlife Reserve, saw me watching. With a warm voice, exuding pride, she introduced me.

“That is our beautiful Siberian lynx, Malyshka, which is baby girl in Russian. When we got her at three months, we would call her baby girl,” Malfy said.

This baby was fully grown. And watching me.
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A Forest Dweller’s Celebration


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The candles illuminated the small room. The sharpened sword glimmered in the candlelight. The smell of incense enveloped the area. A gold chalice sat full, resting in the middle of the table, surrounded by wilting flowers. He tied on a black mask and picked up the sword.

He walked around the circular table, stopping at the first of four candle stands. He bent his head over the sword he held, kissing its glistening blade. He gave thanks to the god of earth. He walked on to the next stand, the flame flickering with his movement. He held the sword and kissed it once again, this time thanking the god of water. He did the same for air, and finally for fire. And so began his Pagan celebration.

Dominic Vicchiullo, age 19, did not always kiss swords, wear masks and pray to nature. Growing up in Eustis, Fla, he was raised in an Italian Catholic family. Yet he always felt a connection to nature and had a spark for magic that led him to put his faith elsewhere.

“I had trust issues, and so I receded from my family and friends. I wasn’t myself anymore, and I wanted to feel like myself again. That led me to these religions. I was always fascinated with the occult. Me and magic were meant to be. I just believed in magic,” he said.

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The Chances a Nomadic Poker Player Takes


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The bets are placed, the cards are dealt, the stakes are high. For Derrick Kwa, a college dropout, the luck of the draw is more than just a poker game, it is a means to Paris, Vienna, Rome and more. In a moment he could win thousands of dollars, in the next he could lose it all.

Kwa, originally from Singapore, left Hampshire College in Massachusetts to live the life of a nomadic poker player. Jet-setting from country to country, Kwa’s winnings from one game pay for his next adventure.

“School has never quite been for me. It’s unnecessary, pointless and it doesn’t really set you apart,” he said.

Kwa, now 21, dropped out of high school in Singapore when he was 16. After being tested at age 9 and scoring in the top 1 percent, he was accepted into the gifted program, a vigorous schooling track guaranteeing a place in the best college in Singapore.

A year or so after leaving high school and the Gifted Program, Kwa independently took the SATs and was accepted at Hampshire College in Massachusetts, a selective private school in the US. It was there Kwa got into poker.

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Shark bite doesn’t keep surfer out of the water (Published on Flagler Gargoyle)


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When St. Augustine Resident Andrew Birchall went for a surf around lunchtime, he never expected he could be lunch.

A shark bit Birchall while he was surfing at St. Augustine Beach on Sept. 6. When he jumped off his surfboard into the water, a shark grabbed his foot, leaving teeth marks in his heel and severing the tendons in his toes.

Two weeks later, now recovering from surgery, Birchall says the bite will not keep him out of the water. Yet in 30 years of surfing, the threat of sharks never did.

“You’re always aware and conscious of it. It’s the ones [sharks] you don’t see that cause the problems,” he said.

And by problems, he means shark bites.

“It’s a risk you take, but you never think it’ll happen to you. I’d like to believe that if you get bit once, that’s it,” he said.

According to The Florida Museum of Natural History’s statistics, the odds are with Birchall. There is a one in 11 million chance of being bitten by a shark. However, of the 420 shark attacks in the United States over the last 10 years, 244, or more than half, have occurred in Florida. So the odds are slightly higher for Florida surfers and swimmers.

Yet whatever the odds, when anyone goes into the water, he or she should be conscious of the dangers. Jeremy Robshaw, spokesperson for St. Johns Fire Rescue, says there is no way to know when an attack will happen because sharks are there everyday. The ocean is a shark’s home.

However, there are precautions to take, such as to avoid swimming early in the morning as well as late at night. Be aware of turbulent waters, that is where sharks tend to feed. Robshaw says the Fire Rescue’s job is more or less to educate others to just be aware.

“Minor incidents won’t keep people out of the water,” he said.

Flagler College student Matt Pagels surfs in his free time. While out in the water he sees shark-fins, tails and all.

“Being from Jersey, I’m not used to it. When I see a fin, I’m honestly the first one out,” he said.

Yet sometimes not even the sight of a shark is enough to get people, including Pagels, off their surfboards.

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Artist profile: Laura Mongiovi (published on the Flagler Gargoyle)


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The office was covered in an array of drawings, paintings and sketches. Her desk was a little messy, but in an artistic way. Artist Laura Mongiovi, art professor at Flagler College, fiddled with some papers as she considered what it was that had led her to become an artist.

“It was something I always knew I wanted to do. It was curiosity about experiences, freedom with imagination and how things come about. Curiosity links directly to what I do today,” she said.

Mongiovi, originally from Tarpons Spring, Fla, relocated to University of Colorado Boulder for graduate school. After she made her way back to the sunny coast of Florida, she settled at Flagler College to balance both her teaching career and her artistic one.

“The program here is extremely strong. There’s dedicated faculty exercising their talents. This is the environment students should have; being around people who practice what they preach,” she said.

That is just what Mongiovi has been doing.

She recently presented at the Plum Contemporary Art Gallery on Aviles St. in downtown St. Augustine.

Described as a breath of fresh intellect by gallery founder Karen Sheridan, Mongiovi show-cased her exhibit and hosted a meet and greet.

Through her art Mongiovi seeks to explore personal experiences, reactions, escapism and origins.

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My Time With a Swami (published on


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Flagler student Kristin Kownacky went to listen to a visiting Hindu Swami in her quest to learn about other religions and came away feeling that religious enlightenment is tied closely to religious tolerance.

By Kristin Kownacky

All eyes were locked on the short, humble-looking man, as we waited for him to reveal his answer. If someone had dropped the proverbial pin, we all would have heard it, here in the hushed presence of a swami. Finally, after what seemed forever, monk Swami Prakashananda spoke.

“People get caught up in words,” he told us. “Our gaze must be turned to the direction the words are pointing.”

Some of us murmured in agreement as though we understood – yet maybe it was just in relief that he had spoken. As I re-read my notes, I felt embarrassed. I had no idea what he meant. But then, I was here to learn, wasn’t I?

Clad in a bright orange robe, in striking contrast against his dark skin and bright smile, this Chinmaya Mission monk was attempting to urge this eager group, as he had many others, to find in their hearts what they may already knew in their minds, or vice-versa.

Founded in 1953 in India, Hindu-based Chinmaya Mission has branches around the world teaching philosophy of Vedanta, the knowledge of the one Reality. In the common vernacular: helping those of any religious or cultural background to find happiness.

Prakashananda, a monk known as a Swamiji, or more commonly “Swami”, was taking a break from mission work on the Caribbean island of Trinidad to visit St. Augustine’s Chinmaya branch.

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