Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Polar Bear Elizabeth

When I saw the photos in the paper of the folks who joined in the polar bear swim in a nearby river to welcome in the new year it reminded me of a story that Tom once told me. As he was watching TV on New Years Day in the early 80s he saw his cousin Elizabeth jumping into a lake in Mt. Gretna, Pennsylvania! A member of the polar bear club, she jumped into the water at least two different years.

Now there's a gal with a spirit of adventure!

I got to know Elizabeth when she came out to Seattle in the early days of our marriage to work as a fisheries observer for NOAA. Over a span of about two years she made several trips from the East Coast for three month contracts in the Bering Sea. She would fly into Anchorage, then to Dutch Harbor in the Aleutians, and await assignment to a fishing boat. Onboard she would sample the fish catch, estimate the weight of the catch in tons, identify the bycatch that came along with the target fish, and note the date, weather, and location of the boat each morning.

Elizabeth told me that once while they were on a small 'catcher' boat their engines stopped and they had to be towed back into the nearest harbor by another fishing boat. When they got there, they were asked by the fishermen if anyone wanted to jump into the water to see if the net had gotten tangled in the propeller. Remembering her polar bear days, she volunteered. The dive took her breath away, but she did manage to discover the bright orange net wrapped around the prop. It helped out the staff on the fishing boat, but it gave Elizabeth a severe "ice cream" headache and two weeks of bronchitis!

Another of Elizabeth's interesting jobs was as a research technician at Hershey medical Center, where her lab was looking at the development of cancer in zebrafish. She's currently manager of a lab testing drugs that inhibit the development of cancer in various cell lines.

After two-and-a-half years of practice, she will test for her black belt in tae kwan do in three weeks; and she'll run in a 5k benefit race with two nieces next week!

I finally got a chance to meet Elizabeth's husband, Bill, last summer. They came out to their nephew Sam's wedding and we all boarded a tour boat in Puget Sound for the event. Bill brought along his fiddle and someone loaned Elizabeth a guitar for the occasion. After the ceremony and dinner some of us joined them on the upper deck for some toe-tapping music.

As an adult Bill taught himself to read music and play the fiddle. They are a part of an old-time and celtic band called Stone Soup and a part of the larger Lancaster County Folk Music and Fiddlers Society. Bill is a juggler and often performs for the local mental health organization and at church block parties and other venues. He's turned the garage into a wood shop, but they have to move the cars out to get to the power saws and work benches.

Elizabeth's travels have taken her to Thailand, Norway, most of Europe, Mexico, Canada, England, Scotland, and Ireland (where she and Bill went for their honeymoon). They are planning a trip to Scotland this year.

I wrote to Elizabeth last week and told her I'd like to write about her for the blog. She wrote back and filled in the gaps in the story. I got a chuckle out of the last sentence of her response: "I have had an interesting life, and it's kind of fun to look back on it, now that I'm more settled and ordinary." "Settled" might be a fitting word, Elizabeth, but you, my dear, are far from "ordinary"!

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