Home Fire

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It’s been a little over a week since we moved back into our Dempster house. It feels good to be home. It feels right. And that surprises me.

Living out here, forty kilometers from town, with no close neighbours, limited running water and off-grid is not easy. Over the years here, I’ve struggled with the isolation of it, which is only exacerbated by the isolation of new motherhood. I’ve cursed the hoops I have to jump through to do something as simple as wash my hair or bathe my kids or pee in the night in the middle of winter.

But of all the houses I’ve lived in over the last few years, this one feels like home.

Immediately, as soon as I step through the door, I feel home. The woodsmoke smell, the sunny south facing windows, the creaks in the floors. Even the pair of whiskey jacks have come back, never far, swooping in to pick over the scrapings of the oatmeal or rice pot that we cast over the front porch before washing the dishes. My familiars.

Our yard is full of snow still. It melts more every day, and the usual mini lakes and streams open up: there’s one by the woodpile that we must cross to start the generator, and another conveniently located right in front of the outhouse. We cut channels in the ice to help the meltwater drain away.

Tomorrow we’re off to Whitehorse for a few days, and starting next week my day off to write will be Thursday, rather than Tuesday, so that’s when I’ll be updating my blog (until things change again!)

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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?

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.

 

Home

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Our Dempster home. Not where we’re living now.

We’ve been living in our rented “town house” for a few weeks now. It’s a big, rambling, oddly laid out house on three floors. There are big north facing windows in the two sitting rooms, with views of the Dome (is it a mountain? I’m never sure what to call it. It’s bigger than what I think a hill should be, but smaller than what I think a mountain should be.) There is ample light, even as we turn incrementally away from the sun. We moved almost none of our own furniture here, though, and the furniture that was already here is sparse, a real hodge-podge. Our dining room table is an old round wood veneer table butted up against a slightly higher glass top table. There are Hastily made wooden shelves in the two sitting rooms. Extra phone and fax lines, external wiring cased in metal and glaring fluorescent lights cover the walls and ceilings: in the summers, a television production crew rents this house as their dormitory and office space. They’ve certainly left their mark.

My point in all of this is that we’ve felt a bit like squatters here. I didn’t realize it until today. I was having my girlfriends over for tea and snacks this afternoon, so before P left for work this morning, I insisted we bring down an old couch that was in one of the bedrooms upstairs. Our seating arrangement until today has been a lone armchair in one of the sitting rooms, with a mattress-turned-reading/jumping space and a fancy deck chair in the other sitting room. With the couch moved down, with the toys picked up and some throw blankets spread around, with candles lit and potpourri simmering on the stove, with Joni Mitchell low on the speaker, it finally felt a bit like home. I do this often: live in a clutter, clothes flung about every room of the house, stepping over the same mess over and over, crumbs sticking to my feet in the most unpleasant way, until company is due. And then as I tidy and make things cozy, I wonder: why don’t I do this for myself? For us?

We’ve had so many homes in the last 5 years. You’d think I’d be better at this by now. I always bring the important things, when possible: houseplants, a few framed photos, a basket of Yukon rocks (yes, really) some favourite candles, a prism from a dear friend, a rainbow striped blanket from Mexico…these little things, thrown about whatever new place we come to inhabit, help in the beginning. But it’s the extra push of having visitors, and maybe the visitors themselves, that really make me feel moved in.

I know this won’t be our last move. I’m tired of moving. I want to be rooted. For now, though, I’ll have to put down roots like grass: wide and shallow.

When Your Choice Doesn’t Feel Like a Choice

Both yesterday and this morning, I woke up with my stomach in a nervous knot, feeling like I could cry. I’m short tempered with the kids: remaining patient with them requires a lot of mental effort. And now that I’m writing it, I realize that for the last four or five days, I’ve been struggling with all of my usual go-to, escape reality habits: screen time and strong urges to overeat and have a few drinks. My mind is trying to hide from an impending return to reality.

Of course, the last month of staying with my parents here in Ontario has been reality, because it’s what we’ve been living. And in that month, I’ve gotten myself back on track. Back to self-care, back to self-awareness, back to some connection with my kids. It’s easy when there are two other adults to help with the kids. This is the way we should be raising our families: in extended family groups. This is the way I’d like to be doing it. It’s the way I feel most sane.

This return to reality, though, a return to my every day reality. And how it’s making me feel sick to my stomach. When I first went to Dawson City, I was unfettered. Sure, I was still fucking up, making mistakes, depressed and far from my true self, but I was free to do it. I had no dependants. I could go where I felt taken. If I wanted to go home tomorrow, I could. If I wanted to move to Quebec City, I could. If I wanted to travel, I could. But now, I’ve got a boatload of responsibility that calls be back to Dawson. I can’t shake it, I can’t run from it. Our livelihood is there, the business that supports my family. And I’m tied to that business because I had children with, married, the person who owns and operates that business.

When we made the decision to move back there last spring, I spent my final therapy sessions circling over the same thing. (And crying. Lots of crying). Over and over, “I don’t want to do this. I have to do this. I don’t want to do this. I have to do this.” I try to frame it as us making a choice, being active in the course of our lives. But really, what kind of choice is it when the alternative is to run the business into the ground and go bankrupt? How do we handle these non-choices in our lives?

Call it being responsible, call it adulting, call it “doing the right thing”; call it what you will. It is fucking hard. Hard to stay focused on the positives, but I’ll list them anyway: we own a well established business. It affords us the luxury to travel across the country several times a year to visit our family. My partner and I can make our own work hours. We have a home there. We have wonderful friends there. We are surrounded by wild beauty. We are a part of a thriving, creative community of people who largely choose to be there.

And yet. And yet. If I could, I would choose to raise my kids close to their grandparents, their aunts and uncles and cousins. I would choose to stay in the place where I got all the help I needed to get my mental health back on track. I would choose the support, the village I already have here. I’m making a choice that I don’t really want to make. Is that even still choice?

The fact is that we have to do these things sometimes. We go where our paths take us, and this is where mine leads. No matter how I look at it, this is the only thing that makes sense. I’ll go into it calling it my choice, because I suppose that feels empowering. I’ll stay focused on each step directly in front of me on the path. Instead of thinking about the things I don’t have, the people I’m missing, I’ll focus on what I do have and the people who show up for me. I’ll keep my eyes open for the opportunities that appear.

It’s the leaving that’s so hard, the taking off, the leap. Not to mention the actual travel: packing everything again, flying across the country with three kids. The whirlwind of Whitehorse, the 500km drive back to a house that will be cold and dark. Taking up life again there. The doing of the thing weighs on me, makes me wish I could just live wholly in one place or the other. Not this straddling the country. But that’s how it is.

I’ll see you on the other side, friends, when I take the next step.

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