Last Days in the Last Frontier

Today, we drove to work in chilly, 29 degree weather. Snow covers the mountain tops surrounding Anchorage. Most of the ducks have left the partially frozen ponds. Yes, it is time for me to migrate as well.

When my mentor first offered me the SOS position with the BLM in Alaska, I agonized over the decision for a full week and a half. I also had an offer to teach English in Indonesia, and I couldn’t decide which position to accept. But now I know I made the right choice. The past four months have really been a whirlwind of activity and excitement. I can’t think of another job that I could have gotten right out of undergrad that would have allowed me to travel so frequently, learn so much, and come into contact with so many fantastic people– all while utilizing my education and setting me on the track to a great career.

Perhaps the best thing about this internship was the sense of independence that I had throughout much of it. Here I was, traveling to Alaska. No study abroad program was waiting at the airport to pick me up. No friends were waiting in the city to take me out. I was alone in the Last Frontier.

On the first day of work, we figured out what needed to be done. On the second day of work, we started doing it. We acquired permits, planned trips, drove (and flew!) to far corners of the state, analyzed ecosystems, and collected lots and lots of seeds. For the vast majority of the time, I felt like I was in charge of something new and exciting. I felt empowered to use my knowledge to make scientific decisions. I felt like I was making a difference.

Although I had never been to Alaska before, I really grew to love the state. Anchorage is not the million-person metropolis that I am used to, but its natural beauty is unsurpassed. Minutes from my house lies one of the largest state parks in the country, where backpacking, mountain-biking, hiking, and bears abound. Sea kayaking, water skiing, and pack-rafting lie just a bit further away. Coupled with an extremely active populace that utilizes every second of sunshine to its fullest, I really wanted to stay. But alas, the job market had other plans for me.

A big thanks to Marian and Krissa, without whom this internship would not have been possible. Their tireless work and patience was much appreciated. I also want to thank my mentors, Mike Duffy and Paul Krabacher, who were excellent teachers and friendly bosses. Finally, to Jordan, Chrissy, and Vania, my fellow interns, we actually survived living, working, commuting, traveling, and playing together for four whole months. I don’t think I could have done it with anyone else! You guys are my newest lifelong friends. I look forward to our reunions.

Dan Brickley

BLM State Office

Anchorage, AK

Termination dust?

Welcome to Central

The BLM Bunkhouse in Central, AK

Fall has come to Alaska. While normally I delight in colored leaves, crisp air, and the return of sweaters and scarves with earthy hues, autumn here is more of a warning: snow is coming soon.

Denali Fall

The reds of the shrubs accent the brown of the moose quite nicely, no?

Despite the transitory nature of anything but winter in Alaska, this brief season continues to astound. On a recent SOS collecting trip to Central, Alaska, we were privileged to stop at Denali National Park. As most of the park is above the tree line, the shrubs of the tundra had turned bright red and purple. Further north, in the hills surrounding Fairbanks, the aspen and birch turned a brilliant yellow. When looking up from a seed collection, I always noticed how the dark green of the spruce mingled with the changing colors.

Sunny Denali

No. I have no desire to climb that.

Our drive home gave us possibly the most astounding views in Alaska yet (and that’s sayin’ something!). Denali (aka Mt. McKinley) was out in full force, nary a cloud to be seen around it. This behemoth is rarely seen, even on days with nice weather, so we got quite lucky.

The changing season also has implications for our work with the BLM SOS program. Just as the trees are dropping leaves, so too have most of the forbs and grasses dropped their seeds. Aside from one last, quick collecting trip to Homer, we’re moving our work from the field into the office. A pile of data sheets (222 to be exact) and voucher specimens beg for our attention.

And while I am sad to be leaving the best part of our internship behind, there are benefits. As I sit here typing, the first flakes of “termination dust” are falling upon Anchorage.

Jordan attempts a herculean keying task in the UAF Herbarium

A Berry Good Internship

our minivan

This baby hauls five people and our plant presses--with room to spare

Working as a Seeds of Success intern out of Anchorage, Alaska has many perks. The beautiful Chugach Mountains rise up just at the edge of the city. Our travels take us to the gorgeous locales around Valdez, Glennallen, Fairbanks, and Nome. And we drive a kick-a$$ mini-van.

However, the real highlight comes during the actual seed collections. Perhaps it’s a hot and sunny day. Perhaps the collection is large and tedious. Perhaps we’re feeling a little tired.

Nagoon berry

The elusive, yet delectable, nagoon berry

Invariably, at this point, we stumble upon a batch of juicy and delicious wild berries. The lowbush blueberries are often tart, yet a handful can easily perk up my mood. Serviceberries (my favorite) are like blueberries, but bigger, mealier, and sweeter. Wild raspberries are great, but they can’t beat their smaller cousin: the nagoon berry.

Being in berry country means being in bear country, too. As winter slowly approaches, Alaska’s most dangerous mammals stock up on the ripe berries that remain. Although our single encounter with a bear while working was fleeting and safe, we always try to remain vigilant and make lots of noise while berry picking.

We do have to be careful to avoid some rather distasteful and aptly named berries, like soap berry (or worse, the deathly poisonous bane berry), but our berry discoveries usually end the same way. Five people, crouched over some bushes, devouring as many berries as possible– but, of course, never more than 20% of the total population.

low bush blueberry

Blueberries waiting to be eaten

Welcome to an Alaskan Summer

It’s June 21st, and aside from my cousin’s birthday, the coming of summer rarely catches my attention. But in Anchorage, Alaska, the longest day of the year makes time for celebration, specifically 19 hours and 22 minutes of it.

Anchorage Solstice Festival

The crowds return after the rain stops

Ever since moving to Alaska on June 10th, the long days have continually surprised me. Although I expected the extra sunlight, I pictured my plane landing at 10pm in darkness. Coming out of a movie at 11pm, the bright sun felt out of place.

Despite some chilly winds and scattered showers, downtown Anchorage hosted a great solstice festival last Saturday. The city teemed with shoppers and vendors, a band with enthusiastic headbanging, and an exciting girls roller derby. The festivities move outside of downtown and continue today with a mountain top circus.

The Power Line Trail, Chugach State Park

The Power Line Trail in Chugach State Park

Thankfully, I don’t need to fight the crowds on solstice to experience the great Alaskan wilderness. My Seeds of Success training with the Alaska Natural Heritage Program takes me outside nearly every day to get us acquainted with Alaskan plants. Our first foray into flora was in Chugach State Park. Twisted hemlocks graced each bend, while wild blueberry bushes coated the ground. The glacially-carved valley presented the perfect picture of Alaska.

Potters Marsh, the coastal trail, Goose Lake, and the Campbell Strip received visits from our group, too, and each introduced us to new and varied arctic vegetation. And when we aren’t hiking through the woods or spying moose on our bikes, we’re planning exciting new adventures. Seeds in Fairbanks, Nome, and Glennallen better be worried. We have plenty of daylight to snatch ’em all.

Anchorage Coastal Trail

Jordan on the coastal trail

-Dan Brickley, BLM, Anchorage, AK