White Christmas


There’s one thing for sure: we will have a White Christmas. The snow on the trees is beautiful; the afternoon light is beautiful. It’s quiet and peaceful on the trails. This is a winter wonderland, all right here in my backyard.

For those of you NOT in Alaska, I feel sorry for you! You don’t know what you’re missing out on. 😉

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Long Days of Winter

The nights are long, the days are short. Nine days until the solstice, the shortest day of the year. We have about 4.5-5 hours of daylight right now. On work days, I get to work before dawn cracks (even though it’s 7:30 a.m.), and I leave when it’s almost completely dark.

Lots of people have asked me something along the lines of, “Isn’t it always dark up there??”

No, of course it isn’t. Barrow, maybe. But here in Denali it’s far enough south that we get at least a few hours of daylight all year.

And what daylight it is! I have yet to learn the physics involved with sunlight at such a low angle. But suffice it to say, it is stunning during daylight hours at this time of year. I wish I had a camera that took good enough pictures. My little Canon does fine in bright light (or when I have good enough batteries to make the flash work), but the subtle nuances of the daylight here in the Interior of Alaska are lost on my camera.

I went snowshoeing yesterday afternoon (about -10F at about 12:30 p.m.), and the snow on the tree limbs was beautiful. Everything takes on a very light purple-ish blue hue.

Today it’s hovering around -21F, so I’m not out snowshoeing. Here in the office, it’s slow. Park traffic should pick up after the first of the year. Until then, we are like the other animals that call Denali ‘Home’ – hunkering down and focusing on the little projects that we can’t get done the rest of year when the park is full of visitors. And, yes, like the bears, I hope to sleep a lot! 🙂

Time Out For Jen

When you were a little kid, did you ever get a Time Out? Say you did something mean to a classmate. Your teacher made you take a Time Out in the hallway to separate you from the situation and (hopefully) make you think about what you’d done.

Ranger Jen needs a Time Out. But this is a Preemptive Time Out.

For years, I liked learning about politics. Then I got away from it for a while. I just sort of steered away while doing other things.

But my job – as with many others – can be very political. Or at the very least, influenced by politics.

The past week or so, my mind has been drawn in. Imagine if you pulled the plug on a bathtub full of water. As the tub drains, the water circles and circles the drain before falling through. I feel like my mind is moving in those never-ending circles.

I need to thoughtful, conscientious, well-informed and educated when I speak my mind. And at the moment, I don’t think I can hold myself back. I want to scream and shout and show people the error of their ways. Sadly, unless some folks get put in front of the proverbial firing squad, I doubt they’ll learn.

For now, I’ll just leave it at this:

Please, Please, PLEASE do NOT support the Republican idea of a Federal Hiring Freeze. You know what? I see that some jobs can be eliminated. But I see where this action could really hurt us in the long run. This is the time of year when the National Park Service is starting to recruit and hire their seasonal staff for next summer. A large portion of the Rangers you see in your parks only work 4-6 months of the year – withOUT benefits like insurance or retirement – because it’s a job they love, they believe in, and serves their country well. The rest of the year they find work elsewhere. And we have millions of park visitors to take care of each year. I’ve worked in a park where we were short-handed – I could tell you a few unpleasant stories. And I WAS that seasonal employee. It would take me a while to count up the employees, but my guess is that out all divisions, two-thirds to three-quarters of our East District staff at Mount Rainier were seasonal – and most, if not all, of the permanent employees were subject-to-furlough (unpaid leave at least 2-4 weeks each year).

Interestingly, I have the statistics on how many visitors we served in 2010. I compiled the East District statistics. Have no fear, when I calm down tomorrow, you’ll get more Mount Rainier statistics than you’d ever care to read. And I’ll send the spreadsheets to anyone interested.

If we can’t hire our seasonal staff this year, I really think our parks – and park visitors – are going to be Screwed. With a capital S. If you plan on visiting a National Park this summer, consider this situation. Please.

Getting Old(er)

I have a friend, a childhood classmate, who was recently mentioning that she’s got grey hairs popping out all over and vision that is going down hill. And then she kindly reminds me that I’ll always be older than her. (This is only by about 4 months, but who’s counting?)

I have another friend who likes to tell me I’m old – and he’s only 13 days younger than me.

What is it with people and age?

Tomorrow is my birthday. I think I found a grey hair a year or so ago, but really, the hairs that surprise me are DARK RED. Huh? Like everything else in my life, my hair doesn’t do the average thing. Time says to turn grey; my hair turns red.

People supposedly settle down as they age. I move to Alaska. In the middle of winter.

Some people reflect on where they are in life – or where they are not.

I just look at my To-Do list and think, “($*&! How am I going to get all of this done?”

My Sunrise teammates this past summer teased me about being the Project Person. If there was a project to be done, give it to Jen! If it involved spreadsheets or statistics, give it to Jen!

Don’t mistake “project” with “chore”. I’ll clean bathrooms only when someone points a gun to my head. My bed hasn’t been made since I was eight years old.

Mostly my love of those little ‘projects’ stems from my natural curiosity. I like making things and I like learning. Consider those traits as a springboard into action over a broad range of things that spark my imagination and curiosity. I think both of those – imagination and curiosity – have grown as I’ve aged. And I happen to think this is a good thing.

I think a couple of my coworkers are going to take me out for dinner. “Out” around here? I believe that involves the 11-mile drive to Healy. I’m curious.

Influences

The title is a bit vague. This might be an on-going topic I address over and over.

Oh well.

This week, I’ve been watching the Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan The National Parks: America’s Best Idea PBS series that came out last year. I’d not seen most of the series yet, and people comment about it when they visit our parks, so I thought I needed to watch the series in its entirety.

I’m not going to comment on quality, breadth of content, etc. That’s up to each person’s point of view. But I do like history a bit and I think the photography has been beautiful. 🙂

The thing that – almost unknowingly – hits me is that this series has the ability to grip emotions if you let it. Or if you are moved by these great parks as I am. Several influential early park proponents went into the moutains for their health. They talked and wrote of spiritual experiences they had.

I can identify with them. And I’m thankful that there were people willing to set aside places for breathing mountain air, for renewal, for escaping the ‘everyday’ world.

Watching this series, too, I find myself wanting to be more of an outspoken advocate. I feel compelled to act. To do more.

“National parks embody an idea as uniquely American as the Declaration of Independence and just as radical: that the most magnificent and sacred places in our land belong not to royalty or the rich but to everyone- and for all time,” said Burns. “While making this series, we discovered more than stories of the most dramatic landscapes on earth. We discovered stories of remarkable people from every conceivable background. What they had in common was a passion to save some precious portion of the land they loved so that those of us who followed might have the same chance to fall in love with that place. Without them, parks would not exist.”