Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Seasons Change

Our blog title, a reason, a season, or a lifetime, is appropriate as we end this part of our journey. We came to Tetlin NWR for a season.  There has been a reason each person has entered our lives, and our memories and experiences we take with us will last a lifetime.  As summer fades into fall, we begin gathering supplies to return, storing gear, and checking the lists of equipment, keys, and interpretative materials.

We were honored at a recent volunteer luncheon which was held early because schedules are changing as the rangers take annual leave and the college students head back to school.  Joy shared a story she'd written about our experiences as volunteers.  We all laughed and enjoyed ourselves.  The luncheon came to a quick closing as a tour bus of Germans pulled in to the VC parking lot.

One day, Joy joined the staff for a float down the Tok River as Kathy stayed behind and got caught up on a variety of tasks.  Joy's raft was captained by Les, the summer maintenance volunteer who actually helped build a lot of the visitor center exhibits nearly 30 years ago. Two biologist volunteers were also on the raft. This raft floated most of the way as Les called for paddling only as needed.  On the other hand, the volunteer coordinator, Kay Lynn, Tanya, the accountant, Alesha, a summer ranger,  Jerry, the deputy director and someone's husband whose name was never known all rafted together.  THEIR ride was hard paddling mostly upstream in order to splash other rafters, or back paddling to see how quickly they could spin in circles. These rebel rafters played all day in the water and provided the rest of us with lots of entertainment and laughter.

Two other rafts and two canoes contained other refuge employees and Youth Conservation Corps kids.  We all traveled down the river to a sand bar, where we built a fire and roasted hot dogs. Afterwards, the group headed to the Tanana River and eventually the pull out zone.

Our last few days off we opted to stick around the VC instead of traveling.  We went blueberry picking and drove up the Taylor Highway looking for an area that had been burned about 10 years ago.  We were told that the blueberries were abundant there!  On our way, we passed the spot where we had seen the two little foxes playing next to their den weeks earlier.  We tried to find the den and/or the foxes but had no luck with either one.

Joy also had her gold map from the DNR office and we drove 24 miles but never found a real creek to go panning for gold.  Blueberries, however, were plentiful.  We picked two cups quickly, watching for bears, and then headed to Tok to buy groceries.  The next day, we loaded up the canoe for the first time all summer and brought it to the Northway bunkhouse for storage.

Our final day off was a tumultuous one which allowed for a lot of chuckles.   It started with a knock on the door as Alesha, the seasonal ranger, asked if we could drive to the Northway bunkhouse to meet AP&T, the company that "provides" power, telephone and internet service to the state.  We use the term "provide" loosely here.  The internet at the bunkhouse had been down for weeks and, after several phone calls, they were finally sending a crew out to take a look at it.  Of course, by this time, the internet would only be needed for a few more days as Alesha's contract was ending and she was heading back to Fairbanks.  This native Alaskan has become a friend and we really enjoyed getting to know her and spending time together.

Since we were still in bed enjoying our coffee, Joy offered a few ideas and said we'd help out if needed. Kathy started the day by filling the RV's fresh water tank from the buffalo for the last time because the buffalo was now empty.  We hoped to have enough water until Tuesday when we headed into town for the last time.  We decided to ration our water by washing dishes only once a day.

Joy cooked breakfast and then we headed to the VC to check on Alesha's progress on finding someone to go to Northway.  When we returned, we found Frances with slick paws and a butter beard.  We had forgotten to put butter away after breakfast and she had had knocked it off the table, removed the lid, and eaten about half of it. After getting slightly scolded, she sat on her bed next to Joy on the couch, began to look woozy and silently threw up all over her blanket.   Kathy took her outside while Joy gathered up the butter barf blanket and threw it outside.  Keila didn't look so innocent, either, so Joy took them both for a long walk to see what else might happen.

As the eventful day progressed, Kathy decided she needed to empty the septic tanks.  Sure enough, the hose came loose from the RV while draining the gray water.  She got the hose reconnected properly and emptied it the best she could with the uphill slant we've dealt with all summer.  She left the hoses attached and began cleaning inside the RV while Joy began organizing and cleaning storage areas outside.  Kathy heard a loud thump and looked outside just in time to see Joy's head meeting the metal of the awning.  After seeing stars, Joy completed her project and washed the blanket.

After lunch, we decided we needed to get out of the RV and enjoy the sunshine so we grabbed the metal detector and hit the road.  We drove to to the nearest turn out, turned the metal detector on and started hunting. Within a minute, the detector started making a series of weird noises and promptly died.  The batteries were dead and the nearest working ones were back at the RV.  We returned home, got fresh batteries and tried another location.  The location brought us too close to a falcon's nest, who yelled at us the whole time we were there.  As we watched her through the camera, we looked up and we saw a very large V formation of birds flying overhead.  It was a flock of sand hill cranes heading south.  We counted the best we could and estimated that the V contained at least 80 birds. They were headed the same place we were for the winter and we knew we'd all meet up again within a few weeks. What an amazing sight!

Although our chosen site was obviously great for bird watching, the ground was hard as rock so we decided to find another location.  We drove to one of the many sandy hills along the roadway and discovered very large moose tracks in the sand.  Although it was much easier to dig, the detector didn't detect anything so we spent our time looking at animal tracks instead.

We put the detector away and headed to the nearby gas station/lodge/store, Border City, to buy ice cream to go with our recently cultivated blueberries.  Roberta, the store clerk, reported they only had ice cream bars.  Even desert plans were not happening as hoped.  We bought Klondike Bars, parked near Highway Lake and watched ravens hunt, water fowl fly, and a storm roll in.

The visitors center is open May 15th to September 15th annually and our last scheduled day was August 27. The average number of visitors diminished quickly the last week of August from 120 per day in July to less than 70 per day in August.  With our extra clean up projects completed, it was time we say our goodbyes. We loaded gear back into the RV and drove to HQ in Tok where we would spend the night before heading out of Alaska via Fairbanks, Denali and Anchorage.

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