Gratitude to the Great Sky

Our 2023 Scholarship Fund recipient shares his volunteer trip experience

Chris Braunlich

Thanks to very generous donors to our Scholarship Program, ConservationVIP® was able to offer a scholarship to Daniel Humphrey so he could participate in our June 2023 Alaska Volunteer Trip. Here he reflects on his experience:

Gratitude to the Great Sky who holds billions
of stars – and goes yet beyond that – beyond
all powers, and thoughts and yet is within us
– Grandfather Space. The Mind is his Wife.”
so be it.” -Gary Snyder

Daniel HumphreyIn the wake of a national bestseller, which was later adapted into a major motion picture, it is safe to say that Jon Krakauer’s masterful 1996 nonfiction novel Into the Wild has cemented itself as an important document of contemporary American journalism. Moreover, it has become a sort of talisman for likeminded adventurers to its subject, Christopher McCandless; those who feel restrained by the stagnant negentropy of their jobs and regular lives and yearn for meaning and spiritual fulfillment which can only be afforded them by the natural world. Thus, despite his tragic demise, the late McCandless is venerated as an example of our own indomitable spirits; one who fled the mundane trappings of his white-collar life and fearlessly sought his fate in the remote and unrelenting wilderness.

I first read Into the Wild in the ninth grade at the behest of one of my favorite teachers, and the story has always stuck with me. Krakauer’s entrancing prose painted in my mind a portrait of a land of contradiction: A harsh yet beautiful oasis in the mind, where unseen dangers lurk in a labyrinth of interlocking conifers, where the machinations of natural life are enacted beneath the watchful eye of the North Star, and where the virginal snow colludes with the clouds to weave one great white tapestry on the crest of a mountain peak. I swore to myself that one day, I too would venture out into the Alaskan wilderness and feel a sense of unity with its foreboding atmosphere.

I never suspected I would have such an opportunity as was presented to me by ConservationVIP.

In the days leading up to my Alaskan adventure, my imminent departure still seemed surreal. It had only been a matter of months since I had even heard of the volunteer organization and now, after being awarded a fabulously generous scholarship, I was packing the listed requirements to submerse myself within the final frontier. The nerves did not set in until the very morning of my flight. Despite my predilection for the romance and allure of adventure novels, I am not one who travels often and had never been away from home by myself for such a long time. Arriving in Juneau later on that evening, I took my first inhale of the crisp Alaskan air standing on the runway. The inimitable scent steeled my nerves.

Photo of Mendenhall GlacierWhatever fears I had were entirely quelled the next morning when I met my trip leaders, Susan and Max, at the Juneau airport. Having worked with one another on various trips in the past, I could sense their synergy immediately, and knew that I would be learning a lot from these two over the course of the next 11 days. Meeting with the rest of the attendees at dinner that evening was a moment of great reflection, and we all bonded in the dining hall overlooking the beautiful lake and magnificent Mendenhall glacier in the distance.

The very next day was spent entirely at the Tongass National Forest, where the glacier loomed at the very forefront of our conservation. Here was the remnant of an era before mankind, an overwhelming sheet of ice that had swallowed prehistoric forests and had created a barrier between us and our past. Only now, it was dwindling. We learned that the glacier had been receding for decades, and that it was merely a shadow of its former self. Therein lay the primary motivator for anyone who reads this with even a faint interest in volunteering; when you embark on a trip like this, you will be working against the detractors and detriments of automated society and preserving the old way for a new generation to experience. From Juneau to Skagway, every mission we were assigned, no matter how negligible it may have seemed at first, metamorphosed into a duty as dire as it was complex. We became healers attending to a living, breathing ecosystem that has otherwise been battered by the latent surfeits of industrialization.

As we gathered around the dinner table on our last night, I could not help but think about how nervous I had been on the eve of my departure. Looking back, there is not a single thing I would change about the experience. The strangers by whom I was greeted on that first day were now friends, and we were all united by our shared endeavor to preserve something greater than all of us. For that, I feel nothing but gratitude.

– Daniel Humphrey

Daniel Humphrey with his friends in Alaska

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ConservationVIP’s Scholarship Program is funded by generous individual donors. Please help us continue to fund scholarships for worthy candidates like Daniel by donating to the scholarship fund:
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