2020 will always be remembered as one of the strangest and most challenging of our lifetime. The COVID-19 pandemic has touched every corner of our lives in unprecedented ways, including the world of seasonal work. In this edition of the CoolWorks Journal, learn how Claire adapted and navigated the unique challenges of the pandemic during her seasonal work experience in Alaska during the summer of 2020.
Adapting to seasonal work during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a test of my personal integrity and resourcefulness, as well as a very welcome break from the oppressive inactivity of months of quarantining and disconnect from beloved friends, family, and coworkers. I was originally hired on to be a trail guide in Ketchikan, Alaska–something I had been looking forward to for months, since I visited the Kenai Peninsula early September 2019. My flight to Ketchikan was crawling closer on the calendar, and I was all ready to start my journey in April. Then the email came that the COVID-19 pandemic had bled out almost all potential summer revenue for Southeastern Alaska.
As someone who has spent many years hopping from the last low-pay high-effort long-hour restaurant job to the next, I was devastated that what seemed to be my one and only out from an industry that wasn’t doing me any favors slipped through my fingers. Already having lost my position at my previous restaurant (which was the best one of the lot, and a place I genuinely enjoyed working at) a handful of months before, I had had my life turned on its head in so many ways that the financial pressure was enough to crack my shell. My dear friend who was crashing in my apartment after a disastrous attempt at a road trip to Cooper Landing, Alaska tipped me off to the position I have now–something I needed to snap up, quick, even if it was not what I had originally planned for, work-wise or financially. Long story short, we both got up here with no problems. 🙂
I have no context for what business was truly like before this season, but my coworkers tell me that usually the parking lot would be filled to the brim with RVs with plates from every state, but for the most part, only Alaskans are rolling through these days in their huge trucks and vintage wagons. The folks who stop in my gift shop are mostly tough outdoorsmen and outdoorswomen and their families who are doing their best to adapt to life as it is now. I can’t say with certainty that everyone is acting as safe as I think they should, but I also can’t come into these people’s home state and start telling them how to act with their own communities. I don’t know what to feel about going home and what to expect when returning to an area with more than 300 people, but I don’t even want to start thinking about that yet.
Beyond all that, I am surrounded with resplendent natural beauty, ephemeral visual moments that can never be given justice in a phone photo, and an ecosystem so rich and complex I am only barely beginning to even understand it. I’m impressing myself with what I can physically bring myself to do every day, and I’m learning so much from my friends, coworkers, and temporary community. If you had told me two years ago that I would be able to crush a fourteen mile hike up a mountain without worrying about how it’d go for me or that I would be pulling up Sockeyes 150 yards from my bed, I would have not believed you at all! Alaskans have a tenacity, humor, and outdoorsmanship that I value and can see in myself. (I bought my first pair of Xtratuf boots only a couple weeks into being here to fit in a little better. 😉 )
Being uniquely independent up here and being thrust into a new social situation had a bit of a learning curve, and it took me about two weeks to feel totally comfortable in my environment, but I am so glad I took this opportunity when it came along–I shudder to think how my mental and physical health would have been if I was still ambling around my apartment quarantining in Milwaukee. I’m looking to continue my seasonal journey, of course with respect and thought to my fellow person and to the greater good of public health. In fact, I’m writing this up before firing off my resume to a couple of choice winter employers I found on CoolWorks. I’m feeling confident and calm in the face of a pandemic which is changing the world and the way we go about our lives, which makes me so fortunate.