Spring Fever

 

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After almost 12 years of living in Dawson City, Spring’s arrival still manages to take me by surprise. It’s the daylight, I think, that gets me the most. I become so accustomed to hibernation, to hunkering down in the long dark hours with the kids. The cold, brief days are the perfect excuse to never leave the house. But then, suddenly, the equinox passes. We adjust the clocks an hour forward, and the brilliant sunlight bouncing off the hillsides blares in through the windows like a reproach: get your kids dressed and get outside! As a concession, I open a window and let the fresh air inside after months of being cloistered.

Eventually, though, I recalibrate. Last night after dinner, with at least 2 hours of daylight still ahead of us, I dressed the kids up and took them to an empty lot with a huge snow pile at one end. They climbed up and slid down as I watched the sun slip behind the hillside across the river.

The snow buntings are back, too. They arrive every year at the same time: the weekend of the The Percy DeWolfe Memorial Mail Race. They love to browse in the litter of straw left from one of the games that takes place over our spring carnival weekend, in the same empty lot where the kids played last night. I watched the birds land and take off as one, their stark black and white plumage flashing. I took a deep breath, looked up to the dark spruce trees, free of snow now: we made it.

This weekend we move back to our Dempster house. The interior has been finished after many years of sitting unfinished. I’m eager to settle, to stop moving. I look forward to unpacking the books and clothes and toys and kitchen things and then not packing them again any time soon. I want to start basil in our sunny south facing windows, and maybe a couple tomato plants (though I’m the only tomato eater in the house, so I can’t get too crazy.) I’m a bit nervous about the challenges we face living 40 kilometers from town, but I’m feeling stronger, confident we can tackle them. I’ve gotten better at asking for what I need. I just have to keep doing that.

Outside my office window, a strong wind blows hard pellets of snow down the street. Just last night I was thinking I’d need to get rubber boots for everyone soon–I am always unprepared for the seasons changing. I never seem to have the right gear at hand. But today, it looks like we’ll be wearing our winter boots just a little bit longer. One more month until bare ground, until the crocuses bloom, until sunset at 11 pm.

I can feel the energy gathering inside of me, can see it in my kids and in the folks I serve in the bar. We’re restless: the miners trickle back in, removing snow from their sites, getting ready for another season of pulling gold from the ground. People are ready to shrug off their parkas, put their heavy winter boots away. The kids are hard to settle come bedtime; I have to pull all the curtains to convince them it’s night. Summer is almost here, the manic time of fitting it all into that brief window of 24 hour light.

The change of season is so pronounced up here, but I wonder, do you feel it, too, where you are? Are you ready?

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Finding Home

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Since I first left Ontario for the Yukon in 2005, I have made my home in many places. Run-down trailers, bedrooms in shared homes, wall tents, apartments, and a log cabin in the woods. I’ve lived here in Dawson City, back in London, Ontario and in Quebec City. I have bounced around so much over the last 12 years and friends, I am tried of it.

I want my roots to reach down deep into the soil. I want to plant perennials in my garden and enjoy them the following summer. I want to unpack my suitcase. I want to put my damn suitcase in a closet somewhere and forget about it for awhile. I want the boys to have their own bedroom, with their own beds and dressers and secrets whispered under covers. I want to renovate my kitchen (except not really because there are a lot of decision to be made in renovating a kitchen).

We’ve been living in a rented house in town since November, and our time there is fast coming to an end. And if you’re not from Dawson then let me tell you that finding a family home to rent here is next to impossible. And buying a home here, while possible, would mean taking on another big load of debt for us. It seems reckless to do when we’ve got this lovely log home just sitting there waiting for us 40 kilometers out of town. Sure, there’s no indoor plumbing, and our closest neighbours are birds…but it’s ours. We own it and I planted perennials in the garden last year and I want to see if they come up or if I killed them. I want to step out of my door and walk the forest trail to the nearby pond. I want to sit down there and not think about getting up again for a few years, anyway. I want to put in a septic field and indoor plumbing and build a guest cabin and an outdoor sauna. I want to fill my green house with basil and tomatoes and nothing else.

We’ve decided to move back there at the end of March. We’ve decided to try and make this place work. Close friends and family will be worried right now. But I’m the one who has been pushing for this move. Maybe it’s the pragmatic Virgo in me, or maybe, at the other end of the scale, it’s me going off of my gut feelings. But this is what makes the most sense. And it feels right, too.

Truthfully, of all of the places I’ve landed in the last 12 years, this is the place that makes me feel home. Which is bizarre, because I’ve had such a difficult time there. But the children are that much older now, that much more independent, and I am that much further along in my own journey. I feel better able to meet the challenges of rural living. I know what I need to function, and I’m getting better at honouring those needs.

It will mean more driving. It will mean that sometimes I spend a night, alone, in town. For a little while, it will mean showers in town and laundry in town and pooping outside. I’m ready for it.

We’re making plans to finish the inside properly (no more plywood floor and insulation ceilings for us!) and over the summer we’ll look into a septic field and building an addition that includes a real bathroom, with a flushing toilet and everything. Dreamy.

I suppose this is an aspect of accepting where I am, and what I’ve got. Much of the suffering (I use that in the Buddhist sense, which is to say, the dissatisfaction) of my life comes from me pining for things I don’t have, for things that are not my reality. I won’t promise to love every moment of living out there, but I will promise not to let the rough spots take over. I will accept the bad with the good. I will stay present through all of it, so that when I’m cursing having to go to the outhouse in the cold, I might also look up and see the northern lights. Both of those things can co-exist.

It will be a challenge, yes. But one I feel much better equipped to handle.

 

Seeing Someone

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I’ve been seeing someone in the bar where I work. He’s a big guy, broad shouldered; he wears a dull yellow jacket. Out of the corner of my eye, in the mirrors behind the bar, I see him step up as if to order a drink. When I turn, he’s gone.

I’ve seen “shadows” in the hotel before, once heard a woman in heels walk across the empty room, but I’ve never experienced something quite like this. It’s not so much seeing a solid figure as it is the impression of him. It’s like a knowing that’s been creeping up on me over the last two weeks. At first, it was just thinking I saw something–closer to the “shadows” I’ve seen in the past. It was easy to write it off as my eyes playing tricks in the low bar light, maybe a reflection in my glasses. But it continued to happen, and each time it seemed like he took shape not so much before my eyes, but in my mind. The fact that it was a he. The broad shoulders. Finally, the colour of his jacket. Stepping up to the bar, forever, to order a drink. I think it would be whiskey, neat. But then, that might be my imagination taking over.

I’m not the first to see a ghost there, nor will I be the last. Parts of The Westminster Hotel have been standing since the early 1900’s. When I swipe a cloth over the worn mahogany bar top, I can’t help but think of all the elbows that have been folded there, of fingers drumming impatiently, of palms slapped down in emphasis. Of all the stories that have been traded over that bar like currency. Of love lost and found, lives mourned, long, dark winters passed in shivering commiseration.

I don’t believe in ghosts, at least not in the sense that a dead person’s spirit haunts a place. But I do believe that all the energy we put out has to go somewhere. I think it hangs around, reverberates across decades so that on a cold, quiet January morning I catch a glimpse of a big guy in a dull yellow coat step up to the bar and step up to the bar, his rough hands opening in a gesture for a glass he never gets. It might just be a glitch, like a tape skipping: he’ll loop through the bar for a few weeks and then the tape will roll smooth. I’ll never see him again. His silence will make way for other echoes. If you listen closely, you may just hear them.

Full of Rocks

 

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This is a difficult time of year for me; I’d forgotten just how dark the winters are here in Dawson City. It’s been something like 3 years since I was here in December. With the kids, our day begins at 5 am…a full 5 hours before the first light in the sky. And because we’re in a valley, we don’t actually see the sun in the sky for several weeks (I seem to remember that it’s the second or third week of January when we get the first fleeting glimpse). The sun begins to set around 3:30. It’s hard.

I feel this sluggishness that seems to correlate. And maybe we’re meant to really hibernate at this time of year. My first winters here, childless, were spent binge-watching the t.v. series we could rent from the video store (pre-Netflix, don’t ya know) and smoking copious amounts of pot. I’d get out for a walk when there was light. We’d visit friends, the ones with the best sun exposure usually, and drink beer out of cans. Brunch, dinner parties, gatherings of friends in kitchens; it was not so bad. It was novel, in a way. The quality of light or cold, all new to me and my friends.

But now there are so many demands on me, and also I’m 10 years older. I suppose, children or no, I’m happy to be past those fuzzy days spent stoned on the couch. And I’d like to be able to access some kind of motivation, or a continuation of the motivation I feel in the sunnier months. But the long dark fills my veins. It feels like a game we used to play as kids: you’d lay down, eyes closed, and someone would run their fingernail along your outstretched arms, tell you they were cutting you open. Then they’d lightly patter their fingers along the cut, then, more pressure with their fists. Filling you with pebbles, then boulders. They’d pinch along the cut, stitching you up, then tell you to lift your arms–they’d be so heavy. It’s like that, with the winter dark and cold. My limbs are full of it. It’s a monumental effort to write this now. Monumental effort to engage with the kids. The thought of getting all of us dressed, only to spend 10 minutes in the yard with at least one of us crying that it’s cold, is not motivating. I confess to not getting the kids outside much at all, lately. I’m so thankful Aedan goes to school, has recess. It’s one less thing for me to stress about.

There are families that thrive here. I see their pictures on Facebook: tobogganing, skating on frozen ponds, snowmobiling along the trails. It makes me so tired just to think of it. Maybe it’s SAD. Maybe I just need the right supplements, or a swift kick in the ass. What I do know is that I’m taking the kids to London for Christmas: we leave on Sunday and I know that even just a couple more hours of daylight will make the difference. Or I hope it will.

How do you cope with the winter months? Are you able to stay motivated or, like me, would you rather stay in bed til March?

Fog

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There’s been a fog hovering low over Dawson yesterday and this morning. It obscures the hills behind a colourless veil. It lifts sometimes: tendrils of cloud drift across the slide that presides over the north end, to reveal the town, its trees and its tall, dry wild grasses, all delicately picked out in hoarfrost. We can see the sky again, white tinted with the palest pink, blue, and lavendar. And despite the wind, the hoarfroast with its jagged crystals, clings to the twigs and branches, not to be shaken loose.

I’ve been feeling this fog within myself, these past few days. But on the occasion that it lifts, I don’t see a similar beauty. I’m stuck in this socked in valley right now, stuck enough that I don’t even want to see the sun because the grey and the fog is so familiar. I reject the possibility that when it lifts, it could leave something singular and beautiful in its wake. I want the grey fog. I want to nest in my duvet in the dark. I want to make a pot of rice and eat the whole thing with hot sauce. I want to zone out, to stumble through unaware.

At the same time, I know this isn’t true. I don’t want to walk through life like this. I want to see the bare bones of my self picked out in ice crystals that seem so fragile but that can’t be shaken. I want to glitter in the muted sunlight. I want to be new and not new, revealed to have always been there, obscured. I’ve written about this before,¬†haven’t I? And yet it’s a lesson I can’t seem to absorb. Or maybe it’s just that making the changes, the internal changes, the changes in routine, the changes in my thought patterns, are so damn hard to make and sustain. It’s easy to slip on the ice. The fog is always there, just waiting to coalesce under the right conditions.

I accept that this is the nature of reality, part and parcel of being alive. I don’t have to like it.