Below is a letter forwarded our way by a Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation volunteer who, accompanied by her husband, checked off a major bucket list item by trekking four time zones and more than 3,000 miles from central New York to their new home in south-central Alaska.
After a 34-year career in law enforcement, my husband was ready for a change. He’d served his fellow man for decades and deserved to see and do some of the greater things in life. I took a leave of absence from my job in instructional technology support. Our sons were grown and on their own. As the saying goes, we were burning daylight. We had been careful to save. As my husband aptly put it, we were now going to enter the spending phase of our lives.
So, we packed just the bare essentials for such an adventure into our truck. We were going to try to be a mobile as possible – a demand of some of our bucket list activities. If the packed belongings were categorized, I believe it was zero percent housewares, five percent dog and his gear, 25 percent personal clothing and 70 percent hunting, hiking and outdoor gear.
After seven extensive days of driving from our home in central New York, south around the Great Lakes and then into Saskatchewan, via the Alaska Highway, we made it to Anchorage, Alaska. By the next day, we were unpacking into an off-season VRBO (vacation rental by owner) and beginning to find our way around the Matanuska –Susitna Valley.
We soon established ourselves as Alaska residents. We had Alaska drivers’ licenses, Alaska license plates on our truck and a new post office box mailing address. We began exploring the area, finding majesty at every turn. We had shelter, food and each other. What we didn’t have were friends.
We came to Alaska knowing not one soul. As compatible as my husband and I are, we were starved for the companionship of others. Back home in upstate New York, we were active in the Millers Mills Grange # 581, a national organization founded in the 1800’s for rural farming communities. We were also active members of the Leatherstocking Chapter of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and consider Chapter Chair Randy Hoose and other members good friends. We shared many good times with our RMEF friends in central New York – meetings, banquet and even Elk Camp in Las Vegas.
|Colleen and Dave on Lazy Mountain|
in Palmer, Alaska
My husband found out there was a RMEF chapter right in Wasilla where we are. The Mat-Su chapter of RMEF was having its monthly meeting two weeks after we arrived. David inquired if we could attend the next meeting. After an emphatic "yes" from Jerry Hall, state volunteer chair, we looked forward to the upcoming meeting. We were greeted warmly by a group of about 20 hard-working folks, diligently planning for their annual chapter banquet which was just four weeks away. We sat quietly and listened to the plans, mixed with genuine laughter and affable kidding amongst friends. We had only been there about 10 minutes when my husband turned to me, with a smile on his face, and whispered, “It’s just like home. These are good people.”
Since we had time, we asked for some tasks that we could help with preparing for the banquet. Within two weeks, we had found donations, helped pick up donations other members needed help with and had jobs for the upcoming banquet ourselves. We looked forward to meetings for the social aspect as much as working toward the common goal of conserving elk habitat in North America.
We met some of these same down-to-earth folks at the grocery store soon after we had joined the chapter and were greeted like long-time friends. Our new friends were sharing all the best restaurants, hiking trails and winter fishing locales. More than of one of these fine people have made sure we were included in other community events, making us feel even more at home. A short time later, our chapter was saddened to learn that a young military couple that had been active members of the chapter was being transferred from Alaska back down to the lower 48. As we stood together, conveying our sadness over their leaving, our experience of coming to Alaska and finding new friends with the Mat-Su chapter of RMEF came full circle.
We moved from central New York and the Leatherstocking Chapter of RMEF to the Matanuska Valley in Alaska and the Mat-Su chapter of RMEF. We found wonderful friends of similar backgrounds with common love of the outdoors and the majestic Rocky Mountain elk. We urged our dear young friends heading to Montana to seek out the local chapter where they settle. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation is almost like family. They will surely find new friends. We certainly did.
Colleen H. Dye
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