Alaska, a Land of Interpretation Opportunity

Alaskans lovingly and proudly refer to the 49th state as the “Last Frontier,” and rightfully so. Encompassing almost 580,000-square miles, Alaska is one-fifth the size of the lower 48 states combined. It offers 33,900 miles of shoreline, 3,000+ rivers, 3 million lakes, the highest mountain in North America and 100,000 glaciers covering 29,000-square miles.

Let’s not overlook the state’s southeast rain forest region with its stately Sitka spruce and western hemlocks trees, as well as bears, wolves, flying squirrels, eagles, whales, sea lions and five species of salmon.. And that’s not all. About 200 species of birds rest and feed in Juneau as many make their way even further north along the Pacific Flyway.

In short, Alaska is an interpreter’s paradise.

In 2013, I found an employment ad posted on the National Association of Interpretation website from an Alaskan company seeking nature interpreters; “CIG preferred.” CIG is an acronym for Certified Interpretive Guide, a professional certification. CIG’s possess skills and knowledge that allow them to perform effectively and passionately in nature and historical interpretive professions.

I had the skills, experience and certifications Gastineau Guiding was seeking in its guides, but decided to research the company before applying for a position. I learned that Gastineau Guiding is ranked No. 1 by for being the best tour company in Juneau. Sounded promising, so I applied. Thanks to my CIG credential, I landed a position with Gastineau Guiding for the 2013 tour season.

Photo by James Ruse

As a former newspaper reporter, park aide at California’s Mount San Jacinto State Park and a docent for the Irvine Ranch Conservancy, accepting an assignment as a naturalist in Juneau was the adventure I was seeking. So I thought.

Two weeks before departing for Alaska, I suffered buyer’s remorse, aka, cold feet. What was a Southern California girl doing going to “the land of the midnight sun,” with its bears, avalanches, cold, snow, incessant rain and incredibly high cost of food and housing? I knew no one, had not acquired housing and had no idea what to expect.

Sharing my uncertainty with my husband, John said, “Sweetheart, you have a credit card right? You can come home any time.” With two credit cards in hand I headed to Juneau and never regretted my decision. Today, I lead interpretive mountain hikes, historical town tours, glacier viewing walks and whale watching/marine mammal excursions six days a week.

My overarching tour themes include Little Details Create the Big Picture of Alaska’s History, Mystery and Magnificence and Glacial Recession Sprouts Forest Succession. My secondary themes include, Little Snowflakes Create Big Glaciers, Little Plankton Create Big Whales” and “Little Hints of History Reveal Juneau’s Eclectic Past and Present.”

Thank you John and Gastineau Guiding for allowing me to experience the adventure of a lifetime, every day, all summer long.

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