Sunday, July 19, 2015

"We have normality"

"We have normality, I repeat we have normality. Anything you still can't cope with is therefore your own problem." 
                             - Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Where have I been for the last two and half weeks, you ask? What have I been doing? I couldn't possibly have been doing nothing, could I? What are you missing out on?!

Settle down.

I've been doing the usual, really. A nature hike here, a mountain climb there... yesterday Joe and I floated down the Koyukuk from Wiseman to Coldfoot in inflatable kayaks called packrafts. Thirteen miles by Dalton Highway, but it took us five chilly and damp hours! I was still warming up when I went to bed last night.

Mostly, I've been at work, either at the desk being super smart and helpful for anyone interested the ecosystem up here, and a little better than useless for anyone else, or I've been developing my program.

My program?

Why, yes. We offer nightly programs at 8:00 PM every night in the theater. Often on weekends we show a film, but most nights one of the interpretive rangers delivers a live presentation on a topic of their expertise. Bob talks about backcountry travel and camping, Heidi talks about life in Wiseman year-round, Kristin covers the Gold Rush settlers in the Koyukuk Valley in the early 20th century.

Well, now we volunteer interpretive rangers are entering the rotation, too! Jacklyn has a "walk and talk" tour around the visitor center about the berries that can be found in the region, Sarah discusses the geology of the Brooks Range, and Ryan demonstrates gold panning right in the front of the theater!

Joe and I are a bit late to the game, but he'll have a talk ready soon about the value of wilderness, and I'm nearly ready to present the life of... a mosquito!

I've spent hours researching mosquitoes to try to answer a few key questions to the best of my ability: why are there so many here? How do they survive the winter? How are they finding me?

I've figured it all out (to the limit of my own understanding, and the incomplete data that has been collected and published so far), developed a narrative about a day in the life of a mosquito, and found brilliant close-up photos of mosquitoes in all their weird, buggy detail. I've also timed a mosquito biting me because I couldn't find that bit of information anywhere online or in our library.

So that's not on the schedule yet, but I can already talk about mosquitoes for thirty minutes or an hour off the cuff if I had to.

In two days, I'll be heading out with Joe and Ryan on a three-day backpacking trip into the river valleys around Sukakpak Mountain. It's a work trip; we'll be taking photos while we're in there of places that aren't visible from the highway on behalf of the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Maybe I'll post more about that later. I don't know! Which brings me to the point of this post:

It's getting harder and harder to write about being here.

I don't know why exactly, but I have a few ideas, and I was warned about this early on, too. Every day, more and more about my life here feels normal.  I mean, I'll go out for a run and the first that takes my breath away is the scenery, not the effort, but what can I say about that?  Post another picture just like all the others?  (And don't worry, when I get decent internet access, you'll get to see everything... except the pictures of my private letters and various cuts and bruises.)

Also, my focus has shifted somewhat away from the here and now (sorry Yoda and Jesus, I can't help it), and toward the future instead.  I'm ready, willing, and probably able to move to Alaska, and I've been job- and apartment-hunting to see if I can make that happen.  That should probably be the headline today, but I like to reward my readers!

So, yes, in between cooking weird meals from whatever's in my pantry, reading Gravity's Rainbow like a boss, hiking to pristine Alaskan streams and dunking my head in, putting my nose to the mosquito grindstone, and going to bed listening to Dan Deacon and Regina Spektor, I've been emailing apartment owners, writing cover letters, and navigating the least pleasant places on the internet: that's right, "Prior Employment" pages on online job applications.

Oh, and yes, I'm reading Gravity's Rainbow, which is not as difficult to read as I was lead to believe.  The prose is... thick, to be sure, but I think one should read it without the expectation of being able to understand everything that's happening, and just let the words wash over you until you get to a more relatable section.  But there's a lot rocket science and organic chemistry, and stuff about the business and political landscapes in the years around WWII, as well as stupid gags, musical numbers, and the raunchiest, most gag-inducing sex scenes I've ever heard of.  It's a weird, wild, wonderful book.

Argh, I forgot, you probably want to know what the heck I'll be doing in Fairbanks.  I don't know exactly, but I have vague plans to start volunteering at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks (UAF) Museum in the insect labs, if they let me, which I heard from a grad student there that they probably would.  In September, I might pester professors to take me on as a grad student in the spring, but that's a long shot.  I'll have better odds after I get more lab experience. In September 2016, I'd be an official Alaska resident, and would consider taking undergrad classes again at that point to further my chances of getting into grad school if I haven't been able to already.  In January 2017 I'd be eligible to receive about $1000 every year from the State of Alaska for being a resident who's okay with the presence of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.  In May 2017, I might be able to take a free class to certify me as an environmental technician and begin working for some big company that wants to develop or continue developing somewhere in the state.

To pay the bills in the meantime, I'm looking at UAF's bookstore, a temp agency, and the company that runs Coldfoot Camp, so far.  I will cast this net far and wide.

Alright, that's enough for today, I think.  To sum up:  I'm still alive, things are still weird, and I'm only getting weirder along with it.

Thanks for reading!


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