Adventures on duty

May 9, 2014 | 0 comments

Last Sunday was my first official day on duty at Sitka National Historical Park. The schedule varies every day each week, but for the most part I work Sunday-Thursday, usually spending half the day at the Russian Bishop’s House and half at the Visitor Center a down the road.

First thing in the morning, I did the inventory rounds, which literally consists of taking a checklist and visually accounting for each and every artifact on display in the building. There are hundreds of artifacts. This is done morning and night with opening and closing procedures to make sure nothing has been stolen or moved. It wasn’t as tedious as you might expect though, and was actually really instrumental in helping me learn all the displays. The checklists are so detailed, they mention every tiny piece, every pendant, every fork and spoon, every plate, every candlestick, and even every book in the house. If anything were to go missing, I sure hope we’d notice!

Inside the chapel / NPS Photo

Interestingly, a good portion of the artifacts are arranged behind the iconostasis in the chapel, which is a wall that displays Russian Orthodox icons. The caveat however, is that religious tradition states women are not permitted to go behind the iconostasis, so I have to stand outside of it and peek and duck around to account for the artifacts I can see through the doorways. Of course I could break tradition and just walk back there, but as a matter of principle I choose to respect it.

After that, the rest of the morning was mostly spent doing a lot of on the job training with the more experienced rangers. I reviewed the plentiful binders full of documents on the house, got to know the schedule and procedures, and got shown all the hidden crawlspaces and passages through the house, which was super cool and slightly creepy.

Right as I returned from lunch I was asked if I was ready to give my first tour. “Uuuuh, suuuurrrreee!” I believe was my response, with as much enthusiasm as I could muster. “Don’t worry, giving your first tour is like making pancakes,” said one of the rangers, “you always throw out the first one to the dogs.”

Oh good, I thought, some poor tourist is going to have to be my so-called pancake dog.

I hope it wasn’t too bad. I know it was rough to begin with, but once I got going, I managed to remember most of what I wanted to say and point out the significant features of the house. In fact, I was actually pretty psyched afterwards, and totally ready to lead another. Unfortunately, we had a grand total of 4 visitors all day, so that was it for me.

Hello, cruise ship!

Wednesday was a different story. I walked down the hill to work only to find my usual mountain view obscured behind an enormous Holland-America cruise ship, the Westerdam, dwarfing the small boat harbor and little buildings of Sitka. The streets were transformed to a circus of rickshaws and tourists stopping to take photos and read their maps.

Over the course of the day, we had over 170 people come through the Russian Bishop’s House, and another 200+ visitor contacts with our ranger roving the seawalk out front.

Unfortunately I wasn’t properly informed of the procedures, so I ended up leading more tours than I should have, but it was great practice in ironing out the details of my program! It was interesting watching the dynamics of different groups: some had lots of questions, some had none; some were difficult to keep from lagging behind, others were trying to rush ahead of me; some were very enthusiastic about the tour and others looked like they couldn’t wait to leave.

I collected some pretty great visitor quotes as well:

“You look just like our granddaughter! Doesn’t she? Except our granddaughter has blonde hair and blue eyes.” (Soooo… I look nothing like your granddaughter.)

“Look! It’s a forest ranger! Go say hi to the forest ranger!”

“Are you part Native?”

“What is that on your emblem? A goat?” (Yeah, our national symbol of wildlife is a goat… it’s a bison, lady)

Perhaps the weirdest experience was having people ask to take my picture as if I was some Disney character. Super awkward! I can only conclude that A) I look really funny in my flat hat and old man pants, or B) People have never seen a park ranger before. I can understand maybe the foreign visitors, but I had a good number of Americans posing next to me when I was out on the sidewalk trying to hand out park maps. Kinda makes me never want to go on a cruise if I’d have to be on it with people like that.

Next week will be potentially our biggest cruise ship week of the season, so hopefully it will go a little smoother for me. Not that this week was bad, but I still have sooo much to learn.

On a side note, I’m getting my own PO Box this afternoon, so please email me or call if you’d like my new mailing address. I always gladly accept offerings of letters, pictures, postcards, chocolate, or any other random oddities one might be so inclined to send. I will be sending out postcards to friends and family soon as well!

Love to all.


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