My roots go down, down to the ground

Something that struck me about this place before ever I set foot on dry ground was shared with me by the park ranger who interviewed me for the Education Specialist position here at Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve. He told me that seasonals had been returning to this park for 18 years. 18 years! That is truly remarkable. This information stayed with me, and as I learned more about this place from friends and neighbors and community members who had visited or heard of it, I began to find that there must be something special and powerful that draws people from all corners of the globe to visit. Even my dentist was moved by a summer spent fishing in southeast Alaska, so much so that he planned a cruise to Glacier Bay decades later.

Upon my arrival here, it has become evident that people from all walks of life are moved by it. I have spoken with visitors on board cruise ships who have returned once per decade to experience wild Alaska, if only for a day and from the contained, packaged safety of a large vessel. Numerous folks have described Gustavus and Glacier Bay as a place people journey to for the wildness they may be lacking in their other lives. Yet, Glacier Bay draws species from around the globe each summer, and certain species even find it hospitable as wintering habitat as well. Could this be a place where the boundaries that have been drawn between the human and natural world might be blurred, if even only slightly?

Needless to say, I was intrigued by Glacier Bay prior to my arrival, and my fascination has been heightened by the many conversations I have engaged in with visitors, seasonal employees, and Gustavians. Today’s theme in the discussions I have had with folks around town seems to circle around “roots” and the transient lifestyle of more and more Americans. A sea otter researcher who moved frequently due to what he described as his father’s profession with the “corporate military” told me that home for him is wherever he finds himself at the moment. “A lot of people don’t feel like they have a home or a place they are from because they move so often. Is an address someone’s home? People are always talking about roots and putting their roots down in a place, and I feel like I am in a planter that has tiny roots growing through the holes in the bottom. And just when I am in a place long enough for the roots to begin growing, I move again.“

From where does a person’s sense of place and community and desire to root him/herself stem amidst such transience? There seem to be a great many individuals in their twenties and early thirties that have happened upon the park ranger profession and convened in places like this (and perhaps many other national parks). Are they seeking a place where they can feel they belong with others who have chosen a similar path? Are they in search of some form of community, even a seasonal one? I am curious about what draws people to this line of seasonal work that ensures a transient lifestyle. There doesn’t seem to be a correlation between childhoods spent rooted in one place versus moving from place to place.

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