Monthly Archives: August 2014

DwarfedAs a kid, I heard the song, North to Alaska often. My parents were fascinated with the idea of going to visit there. Dad talked about it so much, that when it came time for their 50th Wedding Anniversary, our gift to them was a simple choice…a cruise to Alaska. They had such a wonderful time, and it was a memory that has lived on. Then a couple of years ago, I started thinking about how great it would be to see Alaska for myself. Everyone talked about how big Alaska was, and as a state, it is…very big, but that is not really what makes Alaska big…as I found out.

There is a quality about Alaska that can’t be described any other way, but big…a vastness that you can actually feel. That was part of the draw for my parents, and then for me. I felt like the pioneers or gold rushers, setting out into the unknown. Yes, it was quite different for me than it was for them, because so many had traveled before me, and the route is known. There are guides all the way. Still, you get a feeling of being in the wilderness, in the last frontier. Alaska truly is just that, the last Panning for goldfrontier, and yet, how could that still be when it has been a state for 55 years? I suppose that it is because much of Alaska hasn’t changed in all those years. About 94% of the state is still uninhabited…at least by permanent residents. Just knowing that makes Alaska have an air of mystery…of wildness.

While in Alaska, I found myself wondering what the gold rush was like. We watched a movie at the visitors center in Anchorage, about the Klondike Gold Rush, and I realized that not only were lives lost in the search for wealth, but lives were destroyed. People lost everything they had…betting on the possibility of striking it rich. Around 100,000 men set out on the journey to the Klondike region in northwestern Canada, most of them by way of Skagway, White Pass, and the Yukon River, where they sailed to the Klondike, but only about 30,000 to 40,000 made it. The rest gave up, or died. Alaska is a place that is very unforgiving. The mountains are very high and topped with glaciers. It was cold and filled with steep climbs. Citrus fruit was scarce, so Scurvy was common. It was a really miserable place to be in winter, and yet they came.

There is still something about Alaska that draws people to it. Yes, there is still gold in Alaska, The Tailbut there is much more to it than that. There is something about its vast wilderness that challenges them…keeps them there or keeps them coming back. Maybe it’s the beauty of the whole place, or the mountains rising sharply right out of the water,…that are able to dwarf a cruise ship, or any other vessel. It could be the hunting and fishing, or maybe the whale watching. It could be any or all of those things, but for me it was a combination of several of these, coupled with a desire to see the things my parents had seen on their trip. So far, Bob and I are the only ones in the family to go to Alaska, besides Mom and Dad, but if I’m not mistaken, more will follow. Alaska has a way of calling your name…drawing you north.

Lynn Cook as a boy IIAs the youngest of five children in his family, with three older brothers and one older sister, my guess is that there were plenty of times when my brother-in-law, Lynn Cook was picked on. That seems to be the way families go, especially with the youngest child. The older kids either wish that the kid would leave them alone, or they just like to tease the kid. Either way, he has to learn to deal with the teasing or get bigger than his siblings so he can make them treat him differently. In my opinion, Lynn did the latter…yes, definitely, he did the latter. Actually, I think he always got along well with his siblings, but in true Lynn Cook style, you have to admit that I had you going.
Lynn, the MP
In the service, Lynn was an MP in the Army, stationed in Germany, where he also earned his Masters Degree in Maximum Confinement. That set him up for a career he would have for a number of years…deputy sheriff. Lynn’s size was a big asset in that career, because when an officer is quite tall, it can be intimidating to someone who was considering resisting arrest. Just one look up and they rethink. Lynn liked to take advantage of his position on occasion, to pull over his future brother-in-law, my husband Bob, just so he could visit with him…lights flashing of course. That way, while they talked, everyone thought Bob was Weston - Lynn's lookalikegetting a ticket. I’m sure he did this to other friends too, but I also think he took great pleasure in pulling this on Bob.

Of course, time changes things, and those little jokes don’t happen as much, mostly because Lynn lives in Powell and we live in Casper. Don’t think that Lynn doesn’t make up for it when he does see us though. But, these days, Lynn is busy with his grandchildren and since his retirement, going camping a lot. When I saw this picture of him, I was surprised at just how much his grandson, Weston Moore looks like him. I knew that Weston resembled his grandpa, but when you look at Lynn at the same age, I just couldn’t believe how much. Today is Lynn’s birthday. Bob says that in belated retaliation, I should tell you…happy birthday old man!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

SashaThe BlowI never really gave very much thought to whales before our trip to Alaska. I had always thought they were interesting, and liked pictures I had seen of them breaching and of their tails standing straight up and then slowly slipping into the water and they dived down for another feeding run, but on a personal need to see them for myself kind of basis, no. I really never felt a huge tug at my heart for my own personal encounter with them, like my daughter, Amy had always felt about dolphins. Then, I went to Alaska, and on our trip, we planned a whale watching tour. That tour changed things for me. I didn’t want it to end. I found myself watching the water wherever we were, hoping for just one more glimpse of them…one more tail view…one more breach. It didn’t happen, unfortunately. After the whale watching tour, no more whales came into view, but that tour…well, I will never forget it.

We set out, and the plan was to go out to where the seals hung out…which we did, but we were surprised but a whale in that area. Her name was Sasha. We found it surprising that the whales had names, and even more that our guides were so sure that this one was Sasha, until we were told that the underside of a whale’s tail is like our fingerprint. Each one is unique, and the whales can be identified by the underside of their tail. So now we knew that this was indeed Sasha, and not just some guide pulling our leg. One of our guides, Mark Kelley, had been photographing whales for years, and had helped illustrate a book on whales that I had to The CaptureThe Breachhave. Mark was probably almost a friend to some of them, since he had been near them so often.

After seeing the seals, which is it’s own story, we went on in search of more whales, and we were treated to a fairly rare event, and one that many people never get to see…a Bubble Net Feeding. A Bubble Net Feeding is the whales’ most inventive technique; a group of whales swim in a shrinking circle blowing out bubbles below a school of prey. The shrinking ring of bubbles encircles the school and confines it in an ever-smaller cylinder. This ring can begin at up to 98 feet in diameter and involve the cooperation of a dozen animals. Some whales blow the bubbles, some dive deeper to drive fish toward the surface, and others herd prey into the net by vocalizing. The whales then suddenly swim upward through the “net”, mouths agape, swallowing thousands of fish in one gulp. Plated grooves in the whale’s mouth allow the it to easily drain all the water initially taken in. This procedure was something I had never heard of before, but we were told that whales most often feed alone, and so our guides and our bus driver after the tour were all very excited about it. I was too, because this is where I caught my best pictures of the whales.

I became mesmerized by these amazing mammals, and found myself snapping picture after picture, often of the same whale, who had only moved a few feet, not wanting to miss anything amazing they might do. I was not disappointed either. I got to photograph the whole group breaching, as they took in all those fish, and I photographed tail after tail…including my prize shot of a tail straight up in the water, before it slipped beneath the surface. It was an The TailSlipping Awayamazing day. I saw so many movements of the whales. They performed for us, without really even knowing or caring how we felt about it, although they knew we were there, because they have great perception concerning the things around them. Nevertheless, they were busy, and we were simply spectators to this amazing event. I had such a great time, and I can see how some people could be addicted to this pastime. So, would I go whale watching again…in a heartbeat.

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When a little girl turns ten, so many things are about to change. Somehow, just hitting those double digit years brings a new maturity that practically happens over night. My grand niece, Jaydn Mortensen, has always been an outdoors girl. She may be just ten years old, but she is not afraid of much. For a while now, she has liked to ride horses and snow ski. She has been a rough and tumble girl who doesn’t mind getting dirty once in a while, but as she heads into her preteen years, I have to wonder how much all that is going to change soon. It seems to be about ten years old, that girls start looking at the world a little differently. They start to think about the kind of girl they want to be…outdoorsy, a girly girl, a sports nut…you name it, the possibilities are endless.

At this point though, Jaydn is still very much in love with horses. In fact her grandma, my sister, Caryl Reed says she is a horse fanatic. She has become so good at her riding skills that she is going to be in an exhibit this coming week at the fair in Rawlins. That’s a pretty impressive thing for a young girl to get to do, and her family is very proud of her and her abilities. She is, of course, the apple of her grandpa, my brother-in-law, Mike Reed’s eye. Those girls just wrap their dads and grandpas around their little fingers right away. She is her daddy, Sean Mortensen’s best helper when it comes to fixing things around their place. And her mom, my niece, Amanda, couldn’t be more proud of her girl.

Jaydn also still loves going to the lake, and at the moment is very much into riding around on their 4 wheeler. I find myself quite impressed with the ability of these kids on 4 wheelers. Having never really ridden them much myself, I am amazed at how a kid who can’t even drive yet, can buzz around on those things like they have been driving for years. Like computers, I guess it’s what the kids grow up with. They don’t have the fears that an adult, stepping into that for the first time, might have. To them, it is almost second nature, and that is certainly how it is for Jaydn. As is her love of her dogs.  Jaydn seems to love all animals, so maybe she will choose to be a veterinarian…you just never know.

I find myself looking back on the ten years since Jaydn’s birth, wondering where the time has gone. It seems like just yesterday that the little bundle that was Jaydn made her debut into our family. Then she proceeded to wiggle her way into our hearts with her precious little smile imageimageand her excited about life personality. When she found out that we were her family, she got so excited, like she had found some new gift to be opened. We don’t get to see her very much here in Casper, because she lives in Rawlins with her parents, but she holds a special place in our hearts, and I can’t wait to see where her life will take her, as she heads into these double digit years. Today is Jaydn’s 10th birthday. Happy birthday Jaydn!! Have a great day!! We love you!!