10 December 2020

Settling in for Winter in Alaska

Written by: Oliviah Franke

As winter has settled in here in Alaska, trees have gradually accumulated more and more snow on their branches, the mountains have relaxed under their blankets of white, and the temperatures hover between 30 and what my phone says is -0.

Perhaps most notable, the days have gotten shorter and shorter. In December, each day will lose approximately 3 minutes of day light until December 21st. While 3 minutes does not seem like a lot, as of December 8th, there is only 5 hours and 45 minutes of daylight, so every minute of light feels highly valuable. When the sun hovers above the horizon, it sits low in the sky, so even those short hours of day light feel more like sunset than actual day.

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This is a sharp contrast from the summers here where at solstice in June, there is almost 24 hours of daylight. The sun will dip lazily under the horizon, without letting the sky fully darken, before starting its steep ascent to the top of the sky. The summers are filled with many long drives, dusty roads, and sleeps in the back of pickups. These memories dance through my mind as I think about how to best support myself in the Alaska that I am now in.

This Alaska is filled with days spent in my apartment, long drives down roads covered in ice and snow, and spending more time scraping and brushing off my truck than the time it takes to run the actual errand. This is just one way to look at it though. It is an active practice to look at the world around me and my day-to-day and find the positives, but it is getting easier. My days have shifted to be filled with laughter with friends, coziness, and beautiful homemade bread. Winter now is a time of reflection and refinement, learning and growth, and the joys become even more precious.

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I also find a lot of joys in the work that I do. I have been working on many projects which keeps me busy and challenged. One project that I have been spending time on is supporting the implementation of a virtual learning series for educators. For the past 10 years, my supervisor has been a part of a team that has led a year long teacher professional development series called iTREC: Iditarod Trail to Every Classroom. I had the opportunity to help with the cohort for the year of 2019-2020, but in the face of COVID, iTREC looks very different for 2020-2021. This year, we are offering a series of virtual webinars, taking important topics from the usual content of the iTREC workshops and instead connecting with teachers throughout Alaska through Zoom meetings.

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Working on this project specifically has given me the chance to practice my organizational and communication skills, as I work on supporting the tech side of things for the webinars. I have learned a lot about using zoom as a technology platform as well as coordinating with multiple facilitators and partners. Promotion has been our biggest challenge, as it seems to be with many other projects we are working on as well.

So far, we have led 5 webinar sessions and had 15 teachers attend. The topics have included outdoor classrooms in Anchorage, Nature Journaling, Nature Art and more. We have not had as high of attendance as we were hoping but even still, we have supported and inspired 15 teachers across Alaska to engage in place based and outdoor learning with their students. It may not happen this school year, but hopefully the information they received can be put to action in the future.

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I have also gotten the opportunity to support the development of a Jr. Trailblazer book for the Iditarod National Historic Trail, as well as, the very early development of a Jr. Heritage booklet for the Alaska region (which includes both the Chugach and Tongass National Forests). I have been working as the regional point of contact for the Agents of Discovery app, which is an app that utilizes GPS or image/QR code triggers to initiate learning challenges along a trail or throughout an area. Basically, a geocaching scavenger hunt mix. Being the regional point of contact has involved leading monthly team meetings, working with the Agents of Discovery staff to troubleshoot, as well as attending global meetings with other Agents of Discovery mission maker and updating an existing mission on the Chugach National Forest.

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My work here has kept me busy and actively learning, which is the best way to be, especially in the winter. While the world around me has been changing and settling in for a long winter, my workload has stayed busy and wonderful. I continue to develop new skills, learn about the agency, and work with people who are kind, inspiring, and hardworking. As I reflect on this and take a deep breath, I too am ready to settle in for the winter.

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Agency: U.S Forest Service

Program: Resource Assistant Program (RAP)

Location: Anchorage Regional Office

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