Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Spell of the Yukon

I'll give it to you, Yukon: you are a mysterious bird. Some people absolutely adore you, would lay down their lives for you, and are inspired by your eight-month-long winters. You captivate, you entrance and you cast a spell on many, making it impossible for them to fathom ever moving away from your territory.
I have met many people since moving here in 2007 who have told me I will be here longer than I think. I had always assumed that we would fulfill our 5-year commitment and then be on to more adventures across the country. I personally would like to live in the Maritimes next where I can afford housing, live near the beach and be closer to (but not) home.
"Just wait," my sourdough friends say, "you'll be here for life."
And I've met many people for whom this anecdote holds true. People who moved up here for an adventure, to check it out, to say they'd done it, fully intending to go back down south when there time was over. Twenty years later and their time still hasn't come.
I have lived in two communities, visited many, covered the Yukon half of the Yukon Quest dogsled race, started a marriage, had a baby and most certainly become a different version of myself here. I knew before I arrived I would be simplified, boiled down to my essence, and learn to appreciate what I have. That is true.
But I don't feel the call of the Yukon. I don't feel like this is home. I have not had the spell of the Yukon cast on me.
The northern lights are beautiful, the wildlife and scenery are breathtaking. The ice fog in winter is magical and the clean rivers for swimming in summertime are a dream. But I am still not a Yukoner at heart.
The winters are long, the groceries are expensive and the flights home are arduous and also expensive. It's too costly for my poor friends to visit, it takes weeks for mail to arrive, and there is only fresh water to swim in for 2 weeks a year, if that. (Without wearing my wetsuit, that is).
I am sure if I added up the columns, there would be more pros to the Yukon than cons. And if I had to spend the rest of my life here, I would do it. But since I don't have to, and since I am being honest, the Yukon just isn't my end-all be all. It's not a period, it's the beginning.
We'll be buying a house in Whitehorse this spring, something I never thought I'd do. But isolated community living is getting to be a bit much for me, and I don't want to piss rent money away in town. But buying carries with it a more blurry finish line. Will it really only be another 2 years? Or will we stay in our house for longer? Will I invest in my house, make it a home, knowing we'll be leaving it after only a few short years?
I've learned to never say never and to keep an open mind. Maybe this spell will enrapture me and I'll be a cold-blooded Yukoner for good. But right now, I feel the 5,000 km away from home, the distance from salty sea water waves, and the possibility of another dream dinging a soft bell at me from across the country, and I know there's a part of me that can't go without answering such a call.

The Spell of the Yukon
By Robert Service

I wanted the gold, and I sought it,
I scrabbled and mucked like a slave.
Was it famine or scurvy — I fought it;
I hurled my youth into a grave.
I wanted the gold, and I got it —
Came out with a fortune last fall, —
Yet somehow life’s not what I thought it,
And somehow the gold isn't all.

No! There’s the land. (Have you seen it?)
It’s the cussedest land that I know,
From the big, dizzy mountains that screen it
To the deep, deathlike valleys below.
Some say God was tired when He made it;
Some say it’s a fine land to shun;
Maybe; but there’s some as would trade it
For no land on earth — and I'm one.

You come to get rich (damned good reason);
You feel like an exile at first;
You hate it like hell for a season,
And then you are worse than the worst.
It grips you like some kinds of sinning;
It twists you from foe to a friend;
It seems it’s been since the beginning;
It seems it will be to the end.

I've stood in some mighty-mouthed hollow
That’s plumb-full of hush to the brim;
I've watched the big, husky sun wallow
In crimson and gold, and grow dim,
Till the moon set the pearly peaks gleaming,
And the stars tumbled out, neck and crop;
And I've thought that I surely was dreaming,
With the peace o' the world piled on top.

The summer — no sweeter was ever;
The sunshiny woods all athrill;
The grayling aleap in the river,
The bighorn asleep on the hill.
The strong life that never knows harness;
The wilds where the caribou call;
The freshness, the freedom, the farness —
O God! how I'm stuck on it all.

The winter! the brightness that blinds you,
The white land locked tight as a drum,
The cold fear that follows and finds you,
The silence that bludgeons you dumb.
The snows that are older than history,
The woods where the weird shadows slant;
The stillness, the moonlight, the mystery,
I've bade 'em good-by — but I can't.

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.

They're making my money diminish;
I'm sick of the taste of champagne.
Thank God! when I'm skinned to a finish
I'll pike to the Yukon again.
I'll fight — and you bet it’s no sham-fight;
It’s hell! — but I've been there before;
And it’s better than this by a damsite —
So me for the Yukon once more.

There’s gold, and it’s haunting and haunting;
It’s luring me on as of old;
Yet it isn't the gold that I'm wanting
So much as just finding the gold.
It’s the great, big, broad land 'way up yonder,
It’s the forests where silence has lease;
It’s the beauty that thrills me with wonder,
It’s the stillness that fills me with peace.


  1. Sarah- I just love your writing. Each time you post something I quickly jump to read it. I look forward to hearing about your opinions, experiences, or the latest adventure you are having. You may not feel like they are adventures but each time I read a post by you, I am taken away to your little town of RR and feel like I am right there.
    Thanks for sharing your writing. It is a gift and you use it well.

  2. What kind words, Johanna, how sweet. And better you be taken to RR by my writing and not here yourself! :) Kidding. Hope Noah is being a good little boy for you and that your month without the hubs isn't too hard on you. :)


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