Years that end in zero have always been momentous ones for me. I don't know if 2020 will hold good things or not so good but I am hoping for good! I am just finishing COZY, and even though I have a few more pages to go, I have to say it has been a wonderful book to work on. I am so grateful that my daughter, having just moved to Anchorage, Alaska enticed me to go and visit The Musk Ox Farm, close by in Palmer. She knew I was attracted by arctic animals, who knows why that is, and she herself visited the farm and was fascinated by their uniqueness and their great appeal. Musk Ox have it all when it comes to book character. They look stalwart and dignified but also are incredibly hardy and self reliant. I love that a Musk Ox herd will form a circle, formidable horns out, young ones in the middle, as a strategy to protect themselves from wolves. One of the biologists that has studied them in great detail, David H. Gray, calls their circles "rosettes". Any animal that forms rosettes to protect themselves is enough reason to write about them. Because of the harsh winters the Musk Ox must endure, they have evolved pelage that is among fhe warmest in the world. It is so warm and the fibers are so strong, the Musk Ox was killed off as a species in Alaska in the 1800's. In 1the 1950?s, an anthropologist, John Teal brought Musk Ox from Greenland to repopulate the North American Arctic and to establish a program of combing their coats for their fiber without harming them. Today first Alaskans knit warm hats and garments in patterns that reflect their traditional art I was inspired by the link between the Musk Ox and ice age megafauna like Mammoths, Wholly Rhinos, Steppe Cattle, Short Faced Bear and Smilodon (Sabre Toothed cat). Much of the appeal of these creatures is that they were seen by humans, illustrated in their art and probably took their place in stories and songs that have been long forgotten., I should also add that Musk Ox babies have got to be one of the cutest baby animals in existence! I will have to work very hard to finish this book and say goodbye to creating my characters since I have enjoyed painting their "and now what?" expressions and gorgeous fur coats. I'm sorry I can't do anything about their ridiculous name, as they have always smelled great after five visits to the farm and they are more like a goat or Mountain Sheep than an Ox. In my mind I will always call them Oomingmak, the First Alaskan's name meaning "bearded one"
In December I celebrated my big birthday by spending a week in Talkeetna, Alaska and the Sheldon Amphitheater on the shoulder of Mt. Denali. I wanted to see a snow and glacier filled wilderness with the Aurora Borealis fanning overhead. The Sheldon Chalet, a structure built alongside a mountain hut used by the great Bradford Washburn, explorer and cartographer and Don Sheldon, legendary bush pilot is a luxurious lookout for close up views of Denali's peak, and the Ruth glacier. The helicopter ride from Talkeetna made up for not seeing the Aurora. The sunspots didn't occur in a timely manner, but we had beautiful weather during the winter solstice when we were there. Besides the marvel of seeing a vast, beautiful, formidable mountainscape from a six sided glass chalet we were treated with Alaskan riches of food, Oysters, Black Cod and king Crab but also woodland delicacies like pickled Fireweed tips, Devil's Club shoots, Birch syrup and Spruce buds. The alpinist, Rock Climbing and 3rd generation Alaskan guides tried as best they could to get us snowboarding and snowshoeing, and we really enjoyed watching them do those things while we watched from our cozy aerie. They certainly had great stories. I can't wait to go back to Talkeetna, where we visited the Talkeetna Historical Society and listened to Lance Lesley talk about expeditions up Denali. He is going to lead wounded warrior Marine, Kirstie Ennis up to the summit this Spring. A highlight was seeing a room size construction of the Alaskan Massive that consists mainly of a Denali model. We went to Iditarod winner Dallas Seavey?s dog kennel of Alaskan racing Huskies and actually mushed two of their teams, including famous Iditarod winning dogs. The dogs were very exuberant and friendly, and made our trip momentous, a lifelong memory to add with the others. The kennel was immaculate as befitting world famous athletes, but it was hard not to think of them as pals, soaking up attention and love in that doggy way. There were old dogs and handicapped dogs among the champions, and I was fascinated by their different personalities and the roles they took, as lead dogs, teachers, traffic cops, wheel dogs and probably lots more. Like the Musk Ox, the youngsters stole the show, we got to meet puppies in the warm house after our hour on the trail and the visit was definitely a grand finale. Our last memory of Talkeetna was in the Flying Squirrel Cafe, sampling home made everything and planning our next trip.
Although it was decade capping birthday, I was in the company of my husband Joe, visited my daughter and her family and was astounded, amazed and blown away at every turn.
Happy reading and creating, your friend.