The Spell of the Yukon

Last night I caught the last half of globetrekker on PBS. He was on Baffin Island. While I have never been to Baffin Island, the images struck me as home. Iqaluit and Whitehorse are on opposite ends of the country, the lifestyle is different, the language is different, the food is different, even the tribes are different. And yet there are more similarities between Iqaluit and Whitehorse than there are with either of those cities and any city south of the 60th parallel.

I even let my son watch, who doesn’t normally get to watch tv. We saw a team of dogs pulling a sled; my son laughed at the dogs. He loves every dog on our walks and was able to make the correlation between those little dogs on our residential street in urban LA and the big malamutes running in a team across the frozen prairie, Meta Incognita, of Nunavut.

As I listened to a pair of young mothers throat sing to each other with their babies bundled on their backs I tried to recall the last time I had heard throat singing; 2001 and before that, 1998. Since then I have been regailed with Polynesian chants and country crooning; all beautiful in their own rights, but lacking in something … that element of primal familiarity that reaches inside of you and reminds you of your more simple life. The Polynesian chants came close, but they were foreign to me.

As I watched a man and his grandfather take the globetrekker out on skidoos I tried to recall the last time I had been on a skidoo; 1998 from Island Park to Yellowstone, and before that, probably 1995. As I watched the footage I used every sensory imaging technique I had to feel the snow on my face, the wind in my eyes, and the cold air leaping into my lungs. I felt so alive; I felt so free; I forgot all about the petty cares of an urban life.

As I listened to Fran Phipps, the first woman to reach the North Pole, talk about the important things in the arctic, (have I eaten? have I rested? how do I feel?) I remembered the simplicity of northern life. Granted I grew up in the city so I had a few more cares than whether or not the dogs and I are fed and whether I am feeling lucid or lethargic –which, by the way, is a good self-analysis on whether you’re getting hypothermia– but being outside in the bitter cold blows away all the unnecessary cares. I realized how much I missed a minimalist life.

And it was then that I realized that no matter how acclamated I am to my new life and no matter how easily I adapt to our moves, I’ll still be the girl from the great white north. In Hawaii some locals asked me if I was local because I had mastered pidgin so well. In Virginia I had adopted “y’all” and learned to love Virginia so much that I still miss it a year and a half later. And here in California I’m happier than I had imagined and feel comfortable with my surroundings and friends. But when I saw that program last night I suddenly felt out of place, as my arctic memories surfaced and I realized how much of my life I had forgotten.

I miss the midnight sun. I miss the cold weather; I miss knowing that no matter what the weather does life goes on because it is illegal to close the schools for inclement weather. I miss knowing that I was living a life few people could even imagine and fewer still would dare attempt. The north really is the last frontier; the winter really does change a person. I am so glad that I had the life I had. I am also glad for the life I live. I can take the beauty of it all and make myself a richer person. I can be happy anywhere (yes, even California,) but I will always love the land that bore me, raised me, and continues to haunt me. I am so grateful to be of northern blood.

“There’s a land where the mountains are nameless,

And the rivers all run God knows where;

There are lives that are erring and aimless,

And deaths that just hang by a hair;

There are hardships that nobody reckons;

There are valleys unpeopled and still;

There’s a land — oh, it beckons and beckons,

And I want to go back — and I will.”

(from “The Spell of the Yukon” by Robert W. Service)


11 thoughts on “The Spell of the Yukon

  1. The one part of Canada I’ve never experienced is the far north. It’s still on my mental to-do list, I just have to find a reason to get me there.

  2. For me “it’s there” is reason enough (finding the time and money is my biggest hangup.) That’s my main reason for always wanting to go to Baffin Island; everywhere really. I honestly am interested in visiting the whole world.

  3. I remember when Iqaluit used to be called Frobisher Bay. Friends of my parents had relatives living there. It took me a while to realize that when people talk about Iqaluit now they are talking about the former community of Frobisher Bay. I found a web site that describes a lot of other community name changes in the north.

  4. i’ve never stepped foot outside of the united states, except for that one trip to mexico, and there’s no need to own up to any of those shenanigans.

    what an amazing picture you painted, both the visual, and the emotional. i almost miss the great white north without ever setting foot there.

  5. I always thought Iqaluit was always Iqaluit; but calling it Frobisher Bay makes more sense. English come in, rename everything, then the natives regain control and change everything back.

    FF, you can see the north AND stay in the US if you please — there’s always Alaska! I highly recommend Alaska, too. I’m glad you enjoyed my little memories of home.

  6. Under EYE CANDY on my blog links, there is a guy who takes the most awesome pictures of Alaska. And he has a cute boy who reminds me of Ben, too. The link is called “Dave’s Pics”. I recommend it.

  7. hmmm… i guess i should qualify that by saying, i’ve never stepped foot out of the lower 48 states.

    once i got over my fascination with native americans in my youth, i graduated to wanting to be an eskimo. of course, my idea of an eskimo stemmed mostly from cartoons, but they rocked my face off. heh.

  8. I’ve been there in my dreams, and anytime anyone talks about that area of Canada(your neck of the woods) I get all puffed up with pride like I’M FROM there!

    I agree with your last paragraph wholeheartedly. Being from Washington is what makes me who I am. My first year of marriage Shane wrote a poem for me about being a washingtonian.

  9. I love Dave’s pics — they’re great!

    FF, when you’re living the Eskimo life, be careful. You might just rock your face off! (or freeze it off. And it’s true what they say, frostbite does take seven years of not being frozen before the skin tissues regenerate.)

    ABQ, that’s so sweet that he wrote you a poem about being from Washington (unless he was mocking you? hehe)

  10. I miss the minimalist life that we use to live teaching wilderness survival and helping dysfunctional kids. It’s cathartic to be out in the wild with your only cares being that of staying alive. I miss being able to look at the sky and be so familiar with every cloud every day that I could know just by the feel of the air when it would rain next. I miss being so aware of nature.

    I’ve gotten hypothermia twice (neither time was really bad). It was weird because both times I knew it was coming and I knew what was happening. I remember feeling so completely cold and thinking “Ok, I’m not shivering anymore. This is bad. We need to stop and make a fire!”

    PS–I looked back in your archive and read your birth story of little Red. WOW- you are so strong to have gone 27 hours without pain meds! Both my labors combined only lasted a total of 10 hours! Good for you to hold on for so long! I know almost nothing about VBAC. Will it be possible?

  11. I’ve blogged about cesareans and California… but I can’t tell you where in the archives to find that. Basically I’m at a serious disadvantage if I plan to deliver in California; many doctors and hospitals will refuse to allow me the option.

    But I’m going to try.

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