Open Spaces: The Kenai Refuge Notebook

The Kenai Refuge Notebook

What‘s it like to live in complete darkness for more than eighteen hours a day in December and more than 19 hours of sunlight in June?

Harding Ice FieldHarding ice field above Skilak glacier on Kenai National Wildlife Refuge

A place where snowfall can top 100 inches some years? A place where sub-zero temperatures are no big deal?

Don’t ask me.

Having lived in a mild temperate climate most of my life, I can hardly imagine what it would be like to live in Alaska. Although I don’t think I could stand the winters, the mystery and untamable nature of our northernmost state has always fascinated me.

Kenai Refuge HikerWinter backpacking at Kenai National Wildlife Refuge

Recently, without even having to put on mittens, I found a way to satisfy my curiosity about the natural world in Alaska. I have the folks at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge to thank.

Every week for 13 years the staff have contributed 800-to-1000-word observations on refuge life to a local newspaper.

Together, these writing form the Kenai Refuge Notebook (archives can be found here) and offer a colorful glimpse of natural life in and around a wildlife refuge in southern Alaska. The articles are a diverse collection of subjects. The perspectives offer fresh, personal and even quirky insights.

One of the most entertaining reads comes from a Federal Wildlife Officer for the National Wildlife Refuge System (Federal Wildlife Officers enforce wildlife treaties, hunting laws, and protect public safety on National Wildlife Refuges).

His story chronicles six encounters with “wayward hunters”. He describes one very sneaky fisherman, “…The man was squirming around a lot. I thought he was really nervous about something. After about 15 minutes, the guy couldn’t handle it anymore and told me the fish I was looking for was down his pants. He had failed to record the fish on his license and was afraid that I was going to take the fish from him. I lent him a pen.”

Kenai Ice FishingThis father and son pair prepare for a day of ice fishing at Kenai National Wildlife Refuge

In another humorous encounter he describes a man who was so surprised by the sight of a wildlife officer that, “his eyes got as big as saucers and that fish went about twenty feet in the air and came right back down on top of the surprised snagger.”

I don’t think I will be fishing illegally in Alaska anytime soon.

While this was one of my favorites, other articles in the Notebook include accounts by biologists,entomologists, and even graduate students. Each story offers a different look into the world of Alaskan wilderness. Have a look yourself. See if you’re not drawn in, just as I was.

— Anna Fisher

Anna Fisher is an Emergency Management Specialist in Arlington, VA. She assists with preparing and planning for natural and anthropogenic disasters that may affect Service lands.

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Last updated: June 21, 2012