Sunday, June 01, 2008

This is just a general I made it here and I need to exclaim and hoot and holler and rejoice in every way possible post. I don't really know anyone around me yet to do a celebratory leaping dance with, so I'm doing it here!!!

It is gorgeous here!! Tear-evoking...breath-taking, wild beyond belief and absolutely just exactly and not at all what I had thought. had a great bird's-eye-view of the wilds as the plane descended for landing in Anchorage. I was blown away by the blankets of snow on the craggy peaks and glaciers spilling into the bay. The land looked frigid and cold beneath. And to be honest, it is kind of frigid and cold out. They tell me that I have arrived with the good weather and for that I am grateful. The temperature surely has not risen above 60 and the snow level is about 20 feet above my head. One lake that I passed on the bus ride to my new home was halfway covered in ice. On the bright side, however, the sun is up for 20 hours a day, I spotted a baby moose and two baby rabbits as well as numerous leafing plants and budding flowers and the sun is warming. I also talked to several people people who were planting their gardens this week. So it looks like I will experience spring twice this year.

I was fortunate enough to spend my first weekend with Sarah Slauson and she indoctrinated me with a fine Alaskan wedding. Sarah's brother was getting married (informal, the ceremony was in a back yard and began two hours late). My major contribution was taking over the sewing of the groom's vest from the bride, who was dead set on him wearing that vest but still hadn't showered or make-upped. So I offered to help and had only intended to do some rudimentary hems and then hand it back over to her for the more complicated process of fitting and button-holing. In the end, she took long enough and ceremony was late enough that I, with the help of Sarah, ended up fitting and sewing the groom right into that vest. Very fun, indeed.

I took the bus from Anchorage to the Kenai lake work Center. It is half way to Seward. The work center is where I will be living and working for the rest of the summer and it is surrounded by craggy snowy mountains and flanked by an amazing powder blue lake that curves and stretches for miles like and "s." I am awestruck everyday. Montana is certainly a scenic place that instills many with wonder and awe but I have never seen anything like this valley or like the chains of mountains rising from flats around anchorage. As we drive the roads, I feel as though the wildlife is going to explode upon me. The potential for wildlife, the wildness, and the propensity for people to be oogling wildlife on the side of the road etc. makes me feel like I am in YNP, only less parky or touristy and more like holey shit...this place is a wild place and doesn't have park borders. I haven't seen much in terms of large wildlife but I have heard of plenty sightings happen right around where I live and work. From the chatter around the compound, one would think that human-bear interactions were everyday phenomena. I am a bit reticent to have an actual close-up interaction myself. I had rifle and shotgun training last week and we practiced shooting a charging bear target in the face. The real number of maulings is very low but I am still a bit worked up about encountering an aggressive bear. I went for a run to a lake the other day and brought bear spray, at a co-worker's suggestion. It was a great outing and I almost went for a swim but the wind blew cold and I opted out of it (very un-rachel-like, i know)

I got to go on a lovely hike yesterday with another co-worker. We took her dogs and made our way to a petite little lake. On the way the dog got itself into some baby bunnies. I am not sure if they will survive the dog-chewing but they were sure cute little things. They weren't bleeding externally so perhaps they will make it.

I have encountered some really nice people up here and I am really hopeful for a full and exciting summer. The work will be unlike anything I have done in the past. Strange, you say, and I think so too. However, my crew will spend the next three weeks constructing boardwalk on the world's most fished river, the Russian River. Construction includes the use of ATVs to transport our numerous electrical tools and saws, generators and manufactured boards and railings. The district gets most of its funding from this project and has spent the last 12 years on it. Moreover, they are all veterans of the trail crew and have the routine down pat, like a well-oiled machine, they are. I am the only new person on the crew, am the only clueless one and have asked some pretty novice questions. There is a lingo to living up here and I haven't quite caught on so the short-cuts need to be explained. However, I need to relax into the fact that I am clueless, it is my first week, after all, and I should be allowed. After June 11, when the fishing season opens and the Russian River will be lined with fisher-people shoulder to shoulder, our crew will move onto other projects. In the past, the crew had a big project elsewhere and established a base-camp with giant stoves and wall-tents and ATVs etc. and worked for 8 days and then had 6 days off. This may not be the case this year. I know we will have at least one eight day hitch. In one way the break from tradition may be good. I will get to do many projects on many different trails and therefore see more of the district, instead of being pigeon-holed into one trail and one project. On the other hand, I will only have three days off in a row, and for someone relying on public transportation to get around the state, three days is hardly enough to get to Anchorage and back. However, there are many adventuresome folks with cars in my area and I am hopeful that we will be friends and have shared outings.

In fact, my first shared outing was to a bar to see some co-workers perform at an open mic. I have also been on several more hikes up to a glacier and as far as the snow will let me go on nearby drainages. I went backpacking with some fellow dormmates last friday and that was really fun. I had volunteer orientation on Saturday morning at 7:30 so I had a very early morning hike out. I sang and told jokes outloud and realized that I can only remember 2 or 3 jokes so if you have any good ones you should let me know.

I am also gearing up to fish. It is inspiring that everyone here does it and I think I will be able to find many mentors and teachers. I have found some folks interested in fishing with a novice such as myself, which is heartening. My volunteering is a for a project called the Russian River Streamwatch. It is a group of folks who go out to the Russian River in the peak of fishing season and pick up trash, inform people of rules and regulations and generally act as a Forest Service presence in the face of what they "combat fishing." Folks line this river shoulder to shoulder during the salmon runs and it can get ugly. Dead fish, hooks, bears, dogs, children, gun fights, you name it. I am volunteering because I want to see the circus for myself as well as to get an opportunity to meet some people from around the area. All of my fellow volunteers have been around for years and know the ins and outs fairly well. One couple are the campground hosts for the campground right across from where I live. We chatted for a while and the husband has offered to teach me how to fly fish on the river that goes through the campground. Fishing starts on the 11th, so I will let you know if I get hooked :)

I am very happy to be here right now and have just crossed Alaska off my list of life goals (cheesy, but true). It feels very rewarding and I can see myself being happy here for the next 4 to 5 months. Perhaps the work may not be as challenging as I expected but I live with some really cool people and we have all sorts of plans from planting a garden, to learning spanish, to having drum circles, to brewing beer, to baking bread to backpacking to going to Denali to canoing etc, etc, etc. I do miss Missoula already though. There are three Missoulians stationed up here and several who have graduated from the U of M or who are linked to Missoula in one way or another.

I will try to be more consistent in my posts here, so check back and comment often.

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