December 16, 2015
I live in a place that often evokes many questions. Why do you live here? What do you do in the winter? Isn’t it dark?!!! And COLD!??!? When I hear these questions I completely understand the rationale behind them. I might have asked them myself before I moved here, but the reality of what I have found is far from what I expected. In a place know for darkness, my friends and community could not instill more light into my days.
Every year Alaska and Denali experience the waxing and waning of the seasons. In four short months Denali hosts over a half million visitors, over a billion migratory birds and an unknown number of blooming flowers. As fall faded this year many of the birds and people who called Denali home in the summer had already moved south for the winter. As snow began to blanket our landscape, hiking was replaced by skiing, and running shoes were set-aside as dog sled runners took their place. Our northern lives slowed to a pace more befitting the still winter landscape.
As December is here in earnest now, holiday music fills most homes and wreaths adorn the cabins tucked into our landscape. So begins that time of year when, around the world, people come together to celebrate family, friends, and community. At the entrance of Denali the same holiday bustle can be found, but like the voles scampering about in their snowy tunnels underfoot, one might have to look carefully to notice the flurry of activity and preparations.
One first notices the influx of packages at the post office, both coming and going. In a state where indoor plumbing and running water are often optional, Amazon Prime with its free shipping has an appeal that is hard to ignore. Friends depart on trips ‘outside’, a term referring to any place other than the state of Alaska. These trips often carry people to warmer place and familiar faces. Weeks can go by without seeing a particular friend and neighbor. No matter how many weeks elapse in their absence one thing is true; they come back. They come back with stories of families visited but also of how much they missed their Denali home while they were away.
This year Chanukah has already come to an end. I celebrated the Festival of Lights, not because I am Jewish, but because in the North we celebrate light in all forms. On Sunday I stood in a room full of friends, very few of whom were Jewish. Attempts were made to pronounce the Chanukah blessings correctly. Few succeeded. “Asher kidishanu b’mitzvotav” does not roll easily off of the tongue for everyone. In the end, almost nothing was recited accurately or in the proper cadence. Some words were abandoned entirely- sorry “v’tzivanu”- but our recitation was done with vigor and with an appreciation for those people with whom Chanukah and the Jewish faith resonates.
As Christmas approaches I know that these same friends will come together to celebrate a different holiday. We will watch ‘A Christmas Story’, drink eggnog, and stay in pajamas for way longer than is traditionally acceptable. We will think about our family members far away but hold close the community that surrounds us. I live in a cold and dark place. I live far away from movie theatres and shopping centers. My life is not always logistically the simple, but this holiday season I am trying to stop and appreciate the simple things in every day, like Chanukah candles, community and light.
November 18, 2015
Living along the border of one of the worlds most famous and stunning National Parks, it’s relatively easy to be occasionally touched (or even blown away) by moments of wonder and awe. In the summer at the lodges we have the great fortune to hike across pristine tundra meadows and watch while caribou prance along in front of us. We gawk at the long-tailed jaegers flight and ponder the long migrations of nearly 150 bird species that breed in Denali, but fly south for the winter. We light a fire in our woodstove or firepace and savor fine meals and warm conversations with fellow travelers. And we get to share those experiences with you, our guests.
Winter in Denali holds no less of a thrill, though a very different one. The way the high winds blow snow off the tall peaks, the tracks of a lynx, the aurora dancing overhead in a star-filled night sky. These moments still catch our breath and hold us captive to the wonders of the earth, if not for just a moment. Our nose stings, our fingers are white and numb, and the reality of a winter in the continental climate of northern interior Alaska comes back to you. This last week our thermometer has been hovering around zero Fahrenheit (-18C), and we’ve been losing five minutes of sunlight per day. The Christmas lights have been strung up, and walking the dogs before and after work means using a headlamp and mukluks, or skis. Yesterday morning was a chilly -25F when our office crew came in for work. It was so cold my knees absolutely ached from being outside for 30 minutes.
In temperatures like these, as the dark and cold of winter takes hold, it’s easy to forget the zest and wonder you have for a place, or a particular passion in your life. We want you to bring those awestruck and thankful moments back into your life, even with challenging weather, stressful holidays, or getting too far settled into a routine. We are lucky to be able to live in a place that ignites that spark in people. We love nothing more than to show you the grace of the natural world. The explosive flavors of a pesto made from our greenhouse basil. The calm that comes from being a place with no internet or cell service. The majority of our guests, now our friends, hold these few days close to their hearts and bring that sense of wonder back to their normal lives.
Forget not how blessed you are to have friends, family, a safe and warm home, and the small wonders around you. Try not to wear your busy schedule as a badge of honor, rather try to slow down a moment to thank a friendly neighbor, savor a warm cup of tea, and pet the cat or dog for a nice, long while. Look up at the waning morning moon as you shuffle though the busy streets, go for a walk with a friend, read a beautiful poem as you ride the bus, and delight in the laughter of a child. It doesn’t take the highest mountain in North America to bring a sense of thankfulness and awe in your life, though it can help you to recall those things more easily, we acknowledge! Take those moments to heart, and hold them daily in your beautiful, simple, and kind life.
October 22, 2015
Seated in tradition. Our 2012 Staff pose with one of Camp Denali's more classic pieces of transportation. Notice anything remarkable about that door?
After six years of spending my summers working in front of and behind the scenes at Camp Denali & North Face Lodge I have come to realize the importance of community. I have often been asked about life as a staff member. What is it like to live and work in a place like Denali National Park?
For staff the days start early. Fueled by either coffee or black tea we greet the morning, often before morning has officially begun. From there a well-timed dance begins. Bakers and bus washers, breakfast cooks and naturalist guides moving in a synchrony that can only come with extensive practice and care. Performing duties with a diligence that can only come from a desire to own the results.
As a naturalist guide my days were often spent with the guests, exploring the tundra, seeking out those amazing processes that were happening all around. I cannot count the number of sandwiches that I have eaten while sitting in the tundra. I can say that the roasted vegetables, house made spreads, and fresh baked breads have never disappointed. I refuse to think of the number of cookies I have consumed over the years... lets just say more than three.
With 50 staff working full time between both lodges I consider our community small; the perfect size. After working a minimum of 10 hours each day you might expect people to scatter, to head for their cabins and not look back. Not so at Camp Denali & North Face Lodge. If anything, those hours between shifts are a time to come together. We often sit on one porch or another and look out on the landscape that we have found ourselves in. For many staff the sense of community and place is what draws them back year after year; the same could be said of our returning guests.
Somewhere between May and September a community is formed. You fall into your routine. Bonds are forged at bus wash and laughter is shared over laundry. Without realizing you start to rely on that one breakfast cook's laugh to brighten your morning. In a blink the summer is over, but the family that we formed without realizing holds fast and is present long after autumn colors have faded.
For myself, I could tell you the name of every staff member I worked with this year. I know where they came from and where they think they are going. I have listened to their life goals, the music they prefer and know if they sing off key. I have open invitations to visit on three continents and countless states. Like any family we have had our bright moments and times that, if anything, have drawn us closer together. But, in the end that’s exactly what we are behind it all, family.
It is our pleasure to present Dispatches, a journal of the goings on at Camp Denali & North Face Lodge. Written by members of our staff, Dispatches is an opportunity to peek into the special sightings notebook, brush up on Denali National Park issues, read about our ongoing projects in sustainability, and maybe get a whiff of what’s cooking in the kitchens. Dispatches will carry on through the winter, when we hope to share stories of snowy ski adventures, deep cold, and the events of a small Alaskan community.