Yesterday I took the train from Denali up to Fairbanks. Typically the trek takes about four hours as the train lumbers through the landscape. I was amazed to see some moose, trumpeter swans, sandhill cranes, bald and golden eagles, and a pair of osprey guarding their nest. The train ride lasted an hour longer than normal because of the heat wave that Alaska is experiencing. The train had to adhere to heat regulations, slowing the already slow train down to a crawl like pace. I didn't complain at all though – it gave me ample time to reflect on the amazing week I had just experienced.
I spent my week in Denali volunteering for the Denali Education Center, an incredible non-profit that "connects people to Denali through fun, informative, and inspiring programs." And that it does and more. The people that run the Center are kind and welcoming, and so good at what they do. Jodi, the Executive Director, JoHanna the Group Leader, and Dave the Maintenance King, all met me everyday with smiles and kindness.
And then there is Sarah B, the Field Educator. Simply one of the best humans and environmental educators I have met. Her enthusiasm and love for the Denali and Alaska is contagious. I was honored to be her "intern" for the week. (Another group member thought that this was my role with the DEC. I would be honored to be!)
As part of my volunteer work, I was a "sweep" on her hikes – being the last on the hike and making sure the groups stayed together and that everyone was doing OK. The group that was visiting the DEC during my time was an Inter-Generational Road Scholar tour – Grandparents and grandkids with ages ranging from 9-88 years. It was incredible. The group was a joy to be around, with great conversations and sincere friendships forging. I loved being around their energy and truly appreciated the opportunity to be part of their week long adventure. There was an incredible connection between the generations, simply magical to be around.
As the train pulled out of Denali Station, I was teary-eyed. I loved my time in Denali, getting to know about the history and landscape and meeting the amazing people, but also appreciated getting a better picture of what I will experience as I continue my trek north. Having a deeper understanding of the subarctic region was prep-work for my time in the Arctic. I have read my articles and books, and have taken courses on the Arctic and its ecosystem, but having the opportunity to see the change happening, from frost heaves in the road to the "drunken" forest (which is a legitimate scientific term for when trees lose their root holdings because the permafrost is melting and lean over – just like an intoxicated person losing their balance), I gained an invaluable sense of place from my time in Denali.
If you are ever in Denali, check out the Denali Education Center. High quality education. Incredible people. Community.
I am truly grateful.