“Do you live out in the wild?” The fourth grader who asked this as we finished a classroom presentation to prepare his class for their fieldtrip to Imperial National Wildlife Refuge appeared quite serious. We weren’t sure how to handle the question.
On one hand, living in a spacious RV with many amenities could be considered luxury, far from hardship associated with “wild.” On the other hand, some might consider living in the open spaces of a wildlife refuge as adversity and privation.
Living on a wildlife refuge isn’t for everyone. For us it means fresh air, great views, space, and interesting work. For others it can mean isolation, loneliness, hardship, and drudgery. Not everyone is comfortable living miles from doctors and groceries, surrounded by wildlife and secluded from society. Comments from our friends and acquaintances range from, “How can I get to do what you’re doing?” to “Are you nuts?”
While not all wildlife refuges are remote, we prefer those close to nature and far from big cities. Shopping has never been a priority for either of us, and our needs are few since we live in our RV and have most everything we want. Enough groceries can be stored after a once-a-week trip to town, and anything else can either wait or come by mail after placing an order on Internet. We do our best to avoid medical issues by maintaining a healthy lifestyle of proper diet and exercise. While this does not address every medical need, we rationalize the trade-off of possible medical problems with the freedom of living “away from it all.”
Waking each morning to unlimited views and coyotes yipping or sandhill cranes chortling is just one advantage that lures us to this lifestyle. And spotting wildlife is expected on wildlife refuges. A bobcat once ambled by as we sat with a glass of wine behind our trailer. At the National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole, a moose and her calf once worked their way across the Refuge toward the volunteer campground and finally slipped between two RVs before heading up the hill behind us. Gila woodpeckers, Gambel’s quail, yellow headed blackbirds, white pelicans, and even trumpeter swans are a few of the birds of all kinds that surround us at different refuges. And we regularly observe elk, deer, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, and small mammals. But because our main interest is reptiles, the thrill for us is searching for snakes and lizards of all species.
Living on a wildlife refuge also means taking care. In bear country, we must place garbage in special waste containers to avoid luring bears into human territory. In snake country, we must carry flashlights at night to avoid stepping on a rattlesnake after dark. While hiking in remote areas alone we carry first aid supplies, extra water, and a radio. And on any wildlife refuge, we must remember that wildlife comes first. We don’t interfere with it, and that includes not putting up bird feeders or artificially feeding other species.
Most wildlife refuges where we have volunteered have access to ponds, lakes, or rivers to launch our canoe and paddle backwaters in solitude, searching for and observing wildlife. All refuges have or are near hiking trails we can explore without traveling great distances. Some are near bike trails or allow biking within their confines. In all of these activities, we find ourselves fairly isolated in the midst of wildlife on mostly pristine lands.
So how to answer the fourth grader who asked if we live in the wild? After reflecting for a moment, I slowly nodded my head. “Yeah,” I said, “I guess we do.”
Living in our RV makes it possible. And for us it’s great!