Mosquitoes, Baby Squirrels, and Final Trapping Days

    I have been back in Oklahoma for just over a week now, cooking in 90-104 degree temperatures. I miss the 40-50 degree days back in the Arctic, but I sure don’t miss the mosquitoes. From what I see on fellow PolarTREC teacher Nell Kemp’s blog, I left just before the mosquitoes got really intense!

    Unfortunately, I also left a couple of days before the first baby squirrels emerged from their burrows. Kate was kind enough to send me a couple of pictures though! Aren't they adorable?

    Baby sik sik
    Baby Arctic Ground Squirrels (Photo by Kate Wilsterman)

    Jeanette and Kate kept me updated on Team Squirrel’s progress in the few days they were there after I left. In their last week at Toolik, Team Squirrel managed to catch 12 out of 16 squirrels that we needed to catch for a final light collar download, including all 5 squirrels that needed to have body temperature loggers explanted.

    Body temperature logger that was explanted from an Arctic ground squirrel

    Back to Reality

    My transition back to “real life” has been interesting. I think my husband, David, got a kick out of me marveling at all of my “firsts” since leaving Toolik:

    • The first time I drove on concrete instead of gravel felt so strange! It was so smooth that it didn’t even feel real at first.

    • When I made it back to Oklahoma, the first time the sun went down was bizarre. It was even more bizarre to see the stars and to have a completely dark bedroom.

    • The first time I had to go to a grocery store was a little overwhelming. It was nice to let the chefs at Toolik plan all of my meals for me for a month!

    • The first time I left the water on the entire time I showered felt fantastic, but I also felt a little guilty about using so much water. Perhaps some of the water saving habits I picked up at Toolik will stick with me (but not the two minute shower!).

    • The first time I did not have to put on a jacket and shoes when I needed to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night was pretty exciting!

    Exploring more of Alaska

    After I left Toolik and made the 9 hour truck ride back to Fairbanks, David met me in Fairbanks and we spent about a week driving south and exploring as much of Alaska along the way as possible! Here are some of the highlights of our trip.

    A female moose and her calf were right outside the cabin we rented in Healy, Alaska.

    Matanuska Glacier
    David and Alicia Gillean hiking on Matanuska Glacier in Glacier View, Alaska. You can’t truly appreciate the size and complexity of a glacier until you walk on one. Seeing in from a boat or the road does not do it justice.

    Kenai Fjords
    We took an all-day boat ride in Kenai Fjords National Park in Seward, Alaska and saw orca (killer whale), humpback whales, sea lions, lots of birds, and more.

    Savage river hike
    Hiking in Alaska could easily become a full-time job! It seems like there are fantastic trails around every turn.

    Sik Sik in Denali
    We found a few Arctic ground squirrels in Denali National Park. I was glad that David got to see the critter I have been studying for a month in person.


    I am excited to start planning how to best share my Arctic adventures with my students in the fall! I met with a local reporter and was featured in a ten second story on the local news magazine show “The List” last week. You can watch it here. I am at about the 45 second mark.

    People ask me if I am glad to be back home. I tell them that I’m glad to be back with my family, but that I would be very happy living in the Arctic for an extended time period. And I truly mean it. I am now officially a Polar junkie!