A life shaped by the land
Special to The Union
Talon Cook, 21, and his friends arrived at the Sierra Buttes Lookout trailhead after sunset.
“The sun had already gone down but we were lucky enough to see the moon dip and turn red from the wildfire smoke,” said Cook.
On his bucket list since childhood, Cook walked to the lookout solely by moonlight that night. In the distance, he could see lightning storms in Sierra Valley and the glow of Marysville on the horizon while the star-studded heavens stretched above.
The group slept a couple of hours then awoke in time to watch the sunrise.
A ‘Go Climb a Mountain’ sticker on his truck says it all. Talon Cook wants people to get outside.
Already he has a following. His Instagram account, Norcal_Exposed, has more than 1,500 followers. Every picture taken on the site is a postcard perfect view of Sierra Nevada and Yuba River landscapes in and around Nevada County.
Cook grew up in the small Gold Rush stage stop town of Camptonville, on eight acres with his mom, twin brother, Dakota, and older sister, Ruby. His father died when he was 1.
“I grew up off the grid with a generator and gravity-fed water,” Cook said.
Unlike most kids his age, Cook did not spend his childhood watching TV, movies or playing video games. Instead, he spent his days outside, catching lizards and snakes, riding his scooter to Bullards Bar with a pack of other boys, going on two-day camping trips without an adult.
That upbringing shaped him and still does.
Today, he is in the second season of a dream job, helping to conduct wildlife surveys for the Forest Service. He’s studying biology at Sierra College and hopes to study wildlife biology at Humboldt State University.
Two months ago, a motorcycle crash brought his life into sharp focus. As he lay in a ditch, numb and bleeding, he wondered if it was the end. The accident sent him to the hospital for three days with a broken back and a missing fingertip.
“Knowing I potentially could have died taught me that I was meant to live for a reason — to help people understand nature can bring genuine happiness to your life,” Cook said.
Mortality, something that many young men cannot conceive of, became very real for Cook. Over the past three years, he lost six of his close friends to car accidents, a gun accident and drug overdoses. He started reading Thoreau. The writing resonated with Cook, who went to the woods to find truth.
“The more time I spent outside, I became more comfortable with myself,” he said.
He talks fast and with great happy enthusiasm. But as a kid, he was restless in the classroom. He disrupted teachers and couldn’t sit still. Schools pressured his mom to consider Ritalin.
Really, all young Talon Cook was itching for was to learn what nature could teach him in an outdoor classroom.
“I honestly think people who are hyperactive would be better outside,” Cook said.
Now he wants to encourage others to recognize the beauty around them, just a short 30 minutes to one-hour drive away.
“I’m always trying to promote people coming with me,” he said.
Each hike he’s on, Cook is already planning his next trip. He knows every full moon for the rest of the year.
Some of his favorite places to hike: North Yuba River between Camptonville and Downieville where he has spotted swimming bears, bald eagles scooping fish out of the water and river otters; Devil’s Post Pile; Spaulding Lake, the Pacific Crest Trail, Hour House in Pike; and the lake playground of his childhood: Bullards Bar.
“Humans are so good with time management. They fill everyday with things that don’t matter. People don’t really do what they want to do with their life … I want people to know they have an option,” he said.
View Talon Cook’s photographs on Instagram at: #NORCAL_EXPOSED or #NORCAL_EXPOSED
Contact freelance writer Laura Petersen at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-913-3067.
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