Monday, May 16, 2016

Tamarrac National Wildlife Refuge

  We arrived during a rain storm. Seems like arrival days and departure days often have inconvenient weather.   Of the two level gravel spots, we set up in the larger as we were the first volunteers to arrive for the season.  We had laundry, of course, so we checked out the bunkhouse and where the interns live met two females.  One worked with the fire crew and Emily who we would working with and for in visitor services.  

Eventually we met their male housemates as well.  This was a fun group with which to enjoy evenings.  The bunkhouse was small compared to Bosque Del Apache NWR but we could use the laundry and kitchen facilities when we wanted. Most importantly it has a crawl space for tornadoes just in case the spring or early summer sprung one.   

The refuge, 43,000 acres of diverse habitat in the midst of  three geologic zones that meet here. The rivers flow into the Red River basin or north and east toward the headwaters of Mississippi River basin.  The refuge hosts over twenty named lakes and Eastern deciduous hardwoods, Northern coniferous forests and Western tall grass prairies. Wildlife and plant life are abundant:  birds galore, deer, bear, wolves, beaver, groundhogs, skunk, mink, muskrat, wild rice, iris, berries, lilies, cattail,and of course it's name sake.


Oh tree that's deceives
Your branches like family seem alive and complete
Come fall you wither and from gold you rain, reign, rein down
So that in winter you look gone while all the other pines live on

Evergreen you are not 
your needles are leaves soft and tender
Clusters that bend and stand up in the winds of spring
your paired cones dipped in honey glisten in the sun

Our duties at this refuge seemed easy and sometimes we tried to make them more challenging by volunteering for extra things.  Kathy and I worked I the visitor center together. We set up the bird feeders, cleaned the museum, checked the restrooms, operated the video and manned the gift store. We loved watching the birds and other wildlife that came to the feeders or we watched while helping maintain the refuge.  Joy also gave refuge tours.  Here's a group near an Indian battle site.  The visitors often we either locals who stopped in once or twice a season or had never been.  Both types we're excited to see how much the refuge had to offer and how, in collaboration with the Friends Group were building an educational annex.  We would be lucky enough to see it open after its completion. 

On other days, Kathy mowed and I clean outhouses and stocked brochures around the refuge.  We enjoyed keeping the refuge tidy as people would toss trash from their cars on the roads.  Once we found a truck full of household trash laying beside the road.  The law enforcement officer went through it and found a bill with an address and the trash hound was prosecuted for dumping on federal land.  Mostly though just thoughtless people dropping things out car windows.  I hate litter bugs.  

Tamarac is a beautiful place! Great hiking trails with windflowers and wetland creatures galore.  They allow berry picking, mushroom foraging, fishing and some hunting.  Kathy and I especially enjoyed the annual loon counts.  We reported on two lakes.  We got buzzed by and eagle as we floated in a canoe around one lake. It was an awesome day.  Kathy even got to see the northern lights.  I had pointed out faint ones while in Alaska but these were glorious.  Dancing green and pink fire in the sky was worth the fight with the mosquitoes.  Oh yes, northern MN has lot of them in the summer with all those lakes around us.


Green mornings of dew dressed dandelions 
Blue skies warm the day
Fiery fox passes in her same old curious way
Woodchuck pups digging painted turtle nests
thirteen striped ground squirrels giving chase
Friends sharing tales and tators at a picnic table
Watching Netflix and Northern Lights just for fun
Thunder rolled and the AC went out
But we felt family warm and friendly
Familiar like the Tamarac brass

Oh, did I forget, the Tamarac brass was the most glorious sound of the trumpeter swans. We first met these beautiful graceful creatures in Alaska but here we truly learned to love their beauty and their brass.  We took a bicycle ride one afternoon to the lake behind our RV site.  We came upon fifty or so swans sunning themselves on the shore and singing happily away somewhat like geese with more bass.  Their rich sounds rang through the breeze blown grasses into our happy song of the Tamarac brass.  

Besides all the wonderful animals it is still about the people.  Janice, the volunteer coordinator is soft spoken and well prepared for anything.  When the bear broke into the bird food shed it was just another day.  She helped organize large groups of elementary school child in sunshine and rain and they all left having a great time and evidence of learning not only to Janice and the other volunteers but our friend Pat who we volunteered in Alaska had written curriculum for them to use.  It was fun helping guide students through activities another volunteer had created. The couple here were our counterparts Ken and his wife stayed through until the fall.  

Along with the local volunteers, Emily the intern played a large part in the success of the educational programs.  She became our friend not only because of our working relationship but she lived in the bunkhouse previously mentioned.  Another friend we found at Tamarac is Will.  He interned with the fire crew and we keep up with him on Facebook after all the time we spent together evenings at the bunkhouse watching groundhogs and thunderstorms.

This beautiful refuge allowed Joy to be back in Minnesota.  We visited Joy's college and high school friends Rita, Barb, Sheila, Erna, and Monty as well as her family. It gave us time to introduce Minnesota's real beauty to Kathy.   We would definitely volunteer here again.