We arrived during a rain storm. Seems like arrival days and departure days often have inconvenient weather. Of the two level gravel spots, we set up in the larger as we were the first volunteers to arrive for the season. We had laundry — of course — so we checked out the bunkhouse and met two females where the interns were living. One worked with the fire crew and with a person named Emily (who we would working with), and the other worked for the in-visitor services.
Eventually we met their male housemates as well. This was a fun group with which to enjoy the evenings with. The bunkhouse was small compared to Bosque Del Apache, the National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico, but we could use the laundry and kitchen facilities when we wanted to. Most importantly, it has a crawl space for tornadoes just in case one sprung up.
The refuge is 43,000 acres of diverse habitat in the midst of three geologic zones that meet here. The rivers flow into the Red River basin or north and east toward the headwaters of Mississippi River basin and hosts over twenty named lakes and Eastern deciduous hardwoods, Northern coniferous forests and Western tall grass prairies. Wildlife and plant life are abundant: birds galore, deer, bear, wolves, beaver, groundhogs, skunk, mink, muskrat, wild rice, iris, berries, lilies, cattail, and of course, its name sake the Tamarac.
Our duties at this refuge seemed easy and sometimes we tried to make them more challenging by volunteering for extra things. Kathy and I worked the visitor center together. We set up the bird feeders, cleaned the museum, checked the restrooms, operated the video, and manned the gift store. We loved watching the birds and other wildlife that came to the feeders and we watched while helping maintain the refuge. Joy also gave refuge tours. Here’s a group near an Indian battle site. The visitors often we either locals who stopped in once or twice a season or had never been. Both types were excited to see how much the refuge had to offer and how, in collaboration with the Friends Group, they were building an educational annex. We would be lucky enough to see it open after its completion.
On other days, Kathy mowed and I clean outhouses and stocked brochures around the refuge. We enjoyed keeping the refuge tidy as people would toss trash from their cars on the roads. Once we found a truck full of household trash laying beside the road.
The law enforcement officer went through it and found a bill with an address and the trash hound was prosecuted for dumping on federal land. Mostly though its just thoughtless people dropping things out car windows. I hate litter bugs.
Tamarac is a beautiful place! Great hiking trails with windflowers and wetland creatures galore. They allow berry picking, mushroom foraging, fishing, and some hunting. Kathy and I especially enjoyed the annual loon counts. We reported on two lakes. We got buzzed by and eagle as we floated in a canoe around one lake. It was an awesome day. Kathy even got to see the northern lights. I had pointed out faint ones while in Alaska but these were glorious. Dancing green and pink fire in the sky was worth the fight with the mosquitoes. Oh yes, northern Minnesota has lot of them in the summer with all those lakes around us.
Oh, did I forget, the Tamarac brass was the most glorious sound of the trumpeter swans. We first met these beautiful graceful creatures in Alaska but here we truly learned to love their beauty and their brass.
We took a bicycle ride one afternoon to the lake behind our RV site. We came upon fifty or so swans sunning themselves on the shore and singing happily away somewhat like geese with more bass. Their rich sounds rang through the breeze blown grasses into our happy song of the Tamarac brass.
Besides all the wonderful animals, it’s still about the people. Janice, the volunteer coordinator is soft spoken and well prepared for anything. When the bear broke into the bird food shed, she treated it as if it was just another day. She helped organize large groups of elementary school child in sunshine and rain and they all left having had a great time with evidence of learning — not only was this evidence clear to Janice and the other volunteers, but our friend Pat, who we volunteered in Alaska with, had written a curriculum for them to use. It was fun to help guide students through activities that another volunteer had created. The couple here were our counterparts. Ken and his wife stayed through until the fall.
Along with the local volunteers, Emily the intern played a large part in the success of the educational programs. She became our friend not only because of our working relationship but she lived in the bunkhouse previously mentioned. Another friend we found at Tamarac is Will. He interned with the fire crew and we keep up with him on Facebook after all the time we spent together evenings at the bunkhouse watching groundhogs and thunderstorms.
This beautiful refuge allowed Joy to be back in Minnesota. We visited Joy’s college and high school friends Rita, Barb, Sheila, Erna, and Monty as well as her family. It gave us time to introduce Minnesota’s real beauty to Kathy. We would definitely volunteer here again.
|| Traveler & RVer || About J.L. Wright
J.L. Wright is a fulltime RVer enjoying learning about the United States through exploration. Recent publications include Unadoptable Joy: A memoir in poetry and prose, Heal(er) online magazine, GNU Journal, Whatcom Watch, Solstice Magazine, and Peace Poets Anthology and chapbook. J.L. wishes to start conversations about current issues through a poetic voice. // See J.L. Wright’s Work In TWD Magazine’s 2nd Collection