Sometimes, you can know someone, but there are parts of them that can still surprise you. My younger daughter, Amy Royce is just like that. When she lived here is Casper, Wyoming, she wasn’t really much of a gardener, but now, in Ferndale, Washington, she suddenly has a green thumb. She grows the most beautiful flowers. Her yard would be the envy of any gardener here in Wyoming, because we just don’t have the right climate for the kinds of flowers she can grow. Suddenly, Amy has Calla Lilies, Bleeding Hearts, Day Lilies, Peonies, and so many other flowers. Her yard is beautiful. She says she couldn’t get things to grow in Casper, and I get that. She and her husband, Travis recently set up a fountain and pond in their yard. I don’t know if they will add fish to the pond, but it is beautiful anyway. I really never pictured Amy as a gardener, so that has surprised me…in a good way.
Amy, the insurance agent/account manager doesn’t surprise me one bit. She was an excellent agent when we both worked at The Stengel Agency, and we really hated to lose her. Our loss turned out to be Rice Insurance’s gain, and Amy just received an award for five years of service, where she is their largest account holder, and she has the privilege of working with her daughter, Shai Royce. I know how wonderful that can be, as I have been able to work with my daughter and my granddaughter. That is uncommon unless you are working in a family business, which we weren’t…it just felt like a family business.
I can’t say that I am totally surprised at just how much Amy loves the Ferndale/Bellingham area of Washington state. The weather there is milder, and Amy really doesn’t like the cold and wind in Wyoming. The rain forests of Washington have appealed to her since the first time she visited there after her high school graduation. For Amy, that trip sealed the deal, even if she didn’t move there until her children were grown, which was mostly for me, I know. I wanted to be close to my grandchildren, Shai and Caalab, and I will always be grateful that Amy and Travis gave that privilege before they all moved. In reality, I can’t think of a prettier place to go visit, and, we probably would go as often as we do if they didn’t live there.
For Amy, living near the water, be it a lake, the Puget Sound, Birch Bay, or the Pacific Ocean (when they take a weekend trip to the coast), is like a slice of Heaven. She loves the water, the lighthouses, the whales, the dolphins, starfish (especially the purple ones), and even the seagulls. She loves to go on whale watching tours, and of course, the casinos…not that Amy and Travis are huge gamblers, but they do seem to have some pretty good winnings on occasion. The beach is one of Amy’s Happy Places and you just can’t deny your child a happy place. I can’t think of a nicer happy place to have. Today is Amy’s birthday. Happy birthday my sweet daughter!! Have a great day!! We love you very much!!
Prior to going on our whale watching tour, I hadn’t given any more thought to seals, otters, and sea lions than I had to whales. In fact, I wasn’t really sure which one was which. Maybe I should have known that, but then maybe some of you don’t either. After our whale watching tour, I decided that maybe I should clarify that in my own mind…especially if I was going to write about them.
So, here is what I found out. The seal has smaller front flippers and an ear hole, no flap. They can’t move around on land as easily and the sea lion. It is a seal that can be seen waving to me as I took its picture. The sea lion is bigger than a seal. It has an ear flap, not just an ear hole. It also has larger front flippers, allowing it to move more easily on land. Sea lions love buoys. They seem to think that is their personal sun bathing space. Apparently buoys have to be cleaned periodically…I did not know this either, and the only way to clean it is to use a type of crane on a boat to lift it out of the water. Otherwise, the sea lions keep climbing back on and won’t allow the buoy to be cleaned. So it was the sea lions I photographed on the buoy. I didn’t see any otters, but apparently, otters get cold, so they are covered with hair for warmth. they have as many hairs per square inch, as are in the entire human body! Imagine being cold enough to need that much hair. But then, I guess they do spend a lot of time in the water.
We really enjoyed watching the seals and sea lions. They were so cute. When I took the picture of the seals, I had no idea that I had captured one waving at us…until I looked at my pictures. I was so excited then. I had heard that the seals like people, and liked to put on a show for them. This little guy sure did. He not only waved at us, but it looked like he was calling his friends over to join in. All the pictures I took of the seals were great. There were dozens of them, just floating in the water, relaxing, enjoying themselves. The sea lions were so funny. They kept vying for a space on the buoy. It reminded me of a bunch of people trying to get to the front row of a free standing room only rock concert. I never thought of that kind of thing happening in the wild, but I guess all animals try to prove their superiority…or they were simply sunbathing and that was the only buoy in the area.
We never had the chance to see an otter, but if I ever do, I will know what it is now. I think once you take the time to learn about something like that, you never really forget. I don’t have to look at my pictures to see the sea lions and seals, they are imbedded in my memory files now. Spending a little time around these amazing animals, and around the whales was so special. It was the trip of a lifetime, and a tour of a lifetime. These animals were amazing!! Would I go in search of whales, seal, sea lions, and otters again. Absolutely!! Just give me the chance, and I’m there.
As 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 frontier, 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, but 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.
I 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 have. 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 amazing 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.
As a kid, I was probably…different than lots of other kids. While most of my friends were listening to rock and roll, I was too, but I also liked things that were different, like Jonathan Livingston Seagull, by Richard Bach. When Neil Diamond did his narration, I found the story line very fascinating. Here was a seagull that wanted something different from life. He didn’t want the boring everyday existence, but the extraordinary. That was how I felt. It was quite easy to relate to Jonathan’s desire for excellence and yes, even greatness. He wanted to be remembered for doing something different, and like most pioneers, he was not appreciated for his efforts. The flock was disgusted with him, and threatened to throw him out. His parents were humiliated…horrified even, that their son wanted to be so different. That could sound like lots of parents today, but thankfully not my own, who wanted their daughters to be whatever they chose to be.
I have always loved to watch seagulls. Most of the ones I could watch…around the fast food joints in Casper, Wyoming, were of the same old boring race for food variety, but when you get out on the ocean…and watch them from a ship, it’s a very different thing indeed. Those birds, much like Jonathan Livingston Seagull enjoy flying for the pure enjoyment of flight. I love watching them soar and glide across the sky and swoop down to glide just above the face of the water. As we sailed along, they keep the pace with the ship, almost like they are trying to stay close to the people on board. These were gulls who were doing un-gull-like things. Now, I know that none of these gulls was the famous Jonathan Livingston Seagull, but I have to think that one or two of them might be aspiring to be the next Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Maybe even a modern day Jonathan Livingston Seagull, who maybe goes by John Seagull, because those full names are so stuffy anyway.
There were lots of seagulls on our trip…the kind who went out by the fishing boats hoping for scraps of food, of course. There were also the ones who hunted for their own food, gliding low over the water, and then swooping down into the water hoping to catch their prey. They even hung out around the whales, although I have no idea what they were hoping to gain by that. Perhaps they thought the whales might stir up the fish, bringing them to the surface for easier hunting. While these gulls were doing what normal gulls do…hunting for food. They were not extraordinary and they were certainly not unique.
The gulls that loved flight were something so different, however. Yes, they swooped into the water for food too, but it did not seem to be the only thing they cared about. Watching them soar across the sky, or try to keep up with the ship, holding their position so they could look into the windows at the passengers, was so interesting. You would think that the ship, or at least the passengers would scare the birds, but they seem drawn to them. It’s almost like they are showing off. Like Jonathan Livingston Seagull, they seem to be shooting for something outside the norm. And that is what draws my attention to them too.