Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Presents of Our Presence

United States Fish and Wildlife's mission is "working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people."  As volunteers, we have the honorable opportunity to provide the public incentive to travel along the continuum of wildlife management from having little or no knowledge about ecology and conservation to taking action to help preserve habitat and wildlife for the future.

In this short time, we have touched the lives of hundreds of folks who have passed through the visitor's center either on their way in or out of Alaska.  The Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge Visitor's Center is located 9 miles northwest of the Canadian border on one of only two roads in or out of Alaska.  Not all of these interactions have been strictly for our the USFW mission as sometimes we provide tourist information, as well. Often we learn more from the visitors than they learn from us.  Many are here  from Germany and Canada, but we've also met people from the United states,  Norway, Finland, Argentina, Brazil, the Ivory Coast, Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong.  They travel in a variety of forms, including cars, trucks, motorcycles, RV's, bicycles and on foot.

Sometimes our guests view a 12 minute movie about Tetlin Wildlife Refuge, Native American culture and the state of Alaska. We make them coffee or tea and sell them maps, beading kits, chocolate bars or books. Many complain about the Yukon roads and praise the fact that Alaska roads are paved, have shoulders, and are in good condition.  They welcome knowledge about gaining an hour of time back and the lack of Alaskan sales tax.

About a third of our visitors stop in as they are leaving Alaska.  They stop because they came in via the other route, through Dawson City via the Top of The World highway; or they flew into Anchorage, rented an RV, and stop in as they head down to Canada to tour.   We considered driving back to Canada via the Top of the World highway but have heard so many stories of narrow winding roads without guard rails, loose construction gravel causing flat tires and flipped RVs, that we decided to make the trip a day trip in the Jeep with the dogs.

The highlight of our positions is talking to guests from all over the world who tell us how they ended up in Alaska, what animals they've seen during their travels, and the stories that brought them to Alaska.  We share stories, suggestions, and dreams although we'll probably never see one another again.  Some stay for a few minutes and some stay for over an hour.  The experience so far has restored both of our faith's in mankind and has made us realize that there really are a lot of great people in this world and that we all have our own little stories and our own little dreams and commonalities.

The other day Joy was on the back deck when a couple came walking out holding hands.  They told her they were saying goodbye to Alaska after nine years and heading for a new job in North Carolina.  They stood quietly looking over the valley, knowing that it was most likely their last view of Alaska and wanting to engrave it deep into their memories.  Joy almost cried with them as the turned toward their car and drove off.

Our biggest blessing is we are allowed to be flies on the wall during some peoples' happiest moments.  The other night after hours we were walking the dogs and heading toward the deck.  A U-haul truck followed by an SUV pulled into the the parking area.  A woman and a small child got out of the SUV and a man jumped out of the U-haul excitedly, yelling to his wife, "We made it, we're in Alaska!" Then he grabbed the little girl, swung her in the air and asked her how it felt to be in Alaska.  "It feels good!" she responded.

We approached and said hello and welcomed them to Tetlin.  The puppies both welcomed the little girl with licks and sniffs as she petted them. We asked where they were from and where they were headed.  They reported they had driven from Delaware and would be stationed in Anchorage, another days' drive away. At one point, the little girl announced that she was going to go catch the wasp and say hello to it and that she'd be right back.  He mother quickly stopped her as we all laughed.  As Kathy and I headed to the deck, we caught a glimpse of the couple hug and kiss - obviously sharing a wonderful moment of great joy.  We were privileged to share in that moment as our hearts sang with theirs. All this - and it was only our first week!

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