Wednesday, June 2, 2010

June First


Today, after so many months, the interpretive staff had their first day in uniform at Brooks Camp. At last! There certainly has been a lot of water passed by under my bridge to get to this moment in time.

I was talking about this phenomenon with a few of the other interpreters and some bear techs over the course of the day as I roamed the bear-viewing platforms and walked the trails. I thought back to when I had first applied for the job – was it November 2009? I am not even sure what month it was because I had applied for so many Parks jobs (at least 100 by my count) that they all ran into one another. I didn’t even know exactly where Katmai was, much less what the job really entailed. All I knew was that it was in Alaska, and that if I got offered a job in Alaska, I would find a way to get there.

So sometime during the second week of March I got an email from Katmai National Park and Preserve asking if I was interested and available to work from May1 through September 21, 2010. OMG! Where is Katmai? What did I apply for? I had no idea of the geology of the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes or of the occurrence of the brown bears until I looked them up. I responded that I was indeed interested and available and so a phone interview was arranged for a few days later. Amazingly, a little birdie told only me that I would get the job and would be going to Alaska. My sister and brother, though, were a bit more skeptical and said something that had to do with not counting chickens.

With the help of my Human Resources Guru Jeani, I wrote out answers to the questions I figured might be asked in the interview, keeping in mind the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSA’s) that the federal government is so keen on people having if they desire employment. Pam from Cedar Breaks NM via Grand Canyon NP gave me a great referral. I got an email the same day I interviewed, offering me a job. I was on my way to Alaska for 5 months.

Meanwhile I had taken a critical hire job at Glen Canyon NRA for a month, from mid-March through mid-April. I had not applied there and don’t hold any burning desire to work at recreation areas, but they needed someone in a pinch and, since I wasn’t doing anything for a month and needed the money (Am I really 57 years old??? When will I ever settle down???), I threw my uniforms and bicycle into my car and drove 180 miles to Page, AZ. Although everyone was very nice and extremely helpful to such a short-timer as I was ( I did get to go on a ½-day float trip down the Colorado River From Glen Canyon Dam to Lee’s Ferry), it was a less-than-inspiring Visitor Use Assistant job and I would go nuts doing it 8 hours a day. At this stage of the game I don’t need to be applying for any GS-4 jobs. There is simply no need for me to start THAT far down the federal employment food chain. GS-5 is low enough.

When I returned to Central I had 2 weeks to get organized and pack before I left for Alaska. What craziness! I had to pack food, clothing, bedding, and who knows what else. I bought fleece. I bought leather hiking boots for work. I bought scent-free shampoo and conditioner. I bought canned chicken and tuna and a box of cookies. I bought spicy mustard and horseradish mayonnaise and salt and pepper and cumin and coriander and granola and dehydrated soups. I bought all new rain gear. I bought 2 packages of AAA and 3 packages of AA rechargeable batteries. I bought, borrowed, begged, and scrounged every possible thing I thought I would need for 5 months in the roadless Alaska bush, all the while realizing that I would probably not need it all, at least not all at one time and especially not all at the beginning. I downloaded music onto my laptop (not enough, it has turned out). And I packed, and I packed, and I packed. And I re-packed. I packed and unpacked and re-packed more than once the two (matching!) suitcases that Jeani had paid $15 for at the Catholic thrift store in St. George. I dragged them to the airport to find out their empty weight – 23 pounds of suitcase! I weighed my sleeping bag. I finally put Jeani’s bathroom scale into the hall and left it there, weighing each suitcase each time I added an item. I packed boxes to ship – Glossary of Geology, Sibley’s Guide to Birds, paperback mysteries, 2 books by Simon Winchester, along with whatever else would fit - raisins, laundry soap, 8 clothespins, Costco-sized bags of M&Ms, battery charger, flip-flops for the shower, towels and washcloth, headlamp, uniforms of pants, shirts, belt, vest, jacket, boots, ball cap, and flat hat (the last of which I don’t need at Katmai and ended up sending home), every stitch of underwear, nearly every pair of socks I own. I bought a spare pair of glasses which were not ready by the time I left but which, when shipped to me by Jeani, turned out to be the wrong prescription in the left eye and which I will need to exchange when I return to Utah in September but will do in a pinch if I need them. I made trips to the post office almost every other day and took serious advantage of their “if it fits it ships” program, stuffing those large-sized boxes until every possible square centimeter was filled (and the tradition persists, with my ongoing “Purveyor of Fine Junk Food, Esq.” packages from Utah). I schlepped my 17-inch laptop through 4 airports.

I did not bring any blue jeans.

And My Travel Agent would not let me sneak my New Balance sneakers into Alaska
I won’t even mention what I purchased and re-packed in Anchorage. Why do you think I stayed there four days?

And so here I find myself today, after that month at Glen Canyon, the two weeks in Central, those four days in Anchorage, plus three weeks in King Salmon and one week in Brooks Camp. These hectic weeks of learning and inspiration have all led up to this one day, this FIRST DAY on which the visitor facilities at Katmai National Park and Preserve on the Alaska Peninsula are finally open. Our four-week orientation is over. We have been given our radios, our spare batteries, our battery chargers, our call numbers, our buffalo badges, our name tags, our bear spray, our backpacks, our mailboxes, and our keys.

Ladies and Gentlemen - It’s Show Time! Let the salmon arrive!

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