Archive for April, 2008

Becoming Spring

Saturday, April 19th, 2008

Today, in our yard, the scattered juncos seem to feeding in the grasses with greater fervor than in mid-January when the below zero temperatures should have inspired such tireless foraging.

Tireless. It is a trait that I have tried on recently. You see like the juncos, Nancy and I will soon join the northerly migration. Though I would rather depend on fat reserves, our journey will be measured in dollars and cents, actually mostly dollars, as we pump gasoline into our 8-cylinder truck as we begin a 2,500 journey to our log home on the Watson River, 34 miles south of the territorial capital, Whitehorse.

The truck will be engorged with Yukon congruent playthings and adornments. Summer and winter clothes with the bulk of that being taken up by cold weather gear are part of the cargo. There is a box of favorite cooking accoutrements and tools for our kitchen.

We also have spiritual cargo. There are musical instruments, skis, ski poles, snowshoes, bicycles (We have chosen to wear our indulgence proudly in that we are toting a pair of scarred mountain bikes and a pair of sleek road bikes.), tents, paddles, an assortment of colorful packs, some waterproof and others not, and a pair of backpacks will match our hiking boots. For the walls we have a couple of old framed sporting prints and a larger Clymer print that is Yukon appropriate. And of course we hope to slide the big Yukon map that is mounted on foam core into the truck.

Two boxes of books, mostly Yukon related or natural history reference material, have made the cut for me. I wanted more but agreed that the Whitehorse library and the computer could serve as nodes of learning.

Two laptop computers and one desk top with added speakers that will serve multiple roles as our CD and DVD player have made the cut.

What hasn’t made the cut? Basically furniture. We have chosen to bring a small oak table (with legs removed) and a cedar bench that can work indoors or outdoors. The bench might be cut if it prohibits the packing of other priority gear. Our super favorite mattress might make the cut. While my big bull buffalo robe will not make it.

This packing list is opulent, downright decadent, when I think of my great-great grandparents and their children leaving Småland, Sweden in the mid 1880s for the new world. They likely crossed an ocean with a single trunk or two filled with the barest of necessities.

Why should we uproot ourselves? I like to think it is the work of latent genes that remind us that we are of a lineage of nomads. I want to see part of the route that the earliest North American tourists took when they hiked across the Bering Strait. Recent evidence has backed that period to some 30-50,000 years ago.

Like a compass needle that locks its direction to magnetic north, I have a similar urge to face that direction. But there is more than a homing instinct that pulls me north.

For once I want to be a sign of spring, a phenological note penciled in a calendar.

MAY 12: “Tom and Nancy heading north.”

Undertaking the odyssey of a migration is usually a dangerous and risky undertaking. There must be benefits to subject one to such dangers. Let me share a few of the reasons we will follow the swans and the budding of aspen.

Why go to the Yukon?

• Thus far there seems to be no urban sprawl in the Yukon. The human population there has actually decreased in the last 100 years. I find comfort in going to a jurisdiction that has experienced a significant drop in human population since 1900.

Today roughly 32,000 folks live in the Yukon Territory; an area that one could fit the states of California, Maryland. West Virginia, the District of Columbia and still have a few square miles to boot.

•I like the idea of living in a land where there are far more big wild critters than humans. There are roughly 185,000 caribou, 65,000 moose, 10,000 black bears, 6,300 grizzly bears, and 4,500 wolves. And there are also a few thousand mountain sheep and goats living in the Yukon.

•I want to find a decent winter like those of my youth. You know the type where I can count on good snow, no January slush and a good cold spell once in a while to remind us how puny we really are.

• I like the idea of picking my own fresh lingonberries rather than pay top dollar for a can of the Swedish imported berries. After all, they are the same species.

•I want to avoid an overdose of political pollution with the saga of the 2008 election year. An added benefit we will reduce the likelihood of dangers of frequent mudslides from excessive mudslinging.

•To avoid the glut of corn being planted for the production of ethanol.
This means that there will be even more Atrazine, the most common herbicide, spread over the fields resulting in even more Atrazine in our waterways. They don’t grow corn in the Yukon.

•Ticks are almost non-existent.

•Sultry humid days are as rare as ticks.

• I want to grow bushels of organic potatoes (and other oversize cool weather crops such as broccoli, kale and cabbage) without having to think of battling pocket gophers and potato beetles. The Yukon is a foreign land to these beasts.

•The summer days are very long giving more time to paddle rivers and climb mountains. Conversely, the winter days are short and nights long. Some would call this season of brief daylight dismal. I believe it will encourage more potluck gatherings, novels read, music played and lovemaking.

•Art and creativity are highly valued products in the Yukon. There are more artisans per capita in the Yukon than found in any other Canadian province or territory.

• I’m an unabashed romantic. I want to live as an adjective rather than a noun. I want to know how the Yukon inspired Jack London to write:

“I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.”

I want to feel the winter as Robert Service did when he penned his poem The Cremation of Sam McGee, particularly the line:
“Talk of your cold, through parka’s fold it stabbed like a driven nail!”
I will paddle, hike and explore hoping to discover the language of romance.

•The only highway congestion happens in downtown Whitehorse when the tourists occasionally jam the streets in the summer. After all the Alaska Highway passes through Whitehorse. There are only two maintained public roads west of our Yukon home. . .until you hit the Pacific Ocean. And to the east there are four or five maintained public roads until you splash into Hudson Bay. That means there is a fair amount of ground to hike and paddle without having to cross any barbed wire fences or worry about posted land.

•How can you not want to go where the dollar is graced with the Minnesota state bird: the common loon. And the five-dollar bill has a gorgeous belted kingfisher. Seems their values are right.

•We want to study the Canadian health care system for us. It is clearly better than the USA system or lack of a system. In Canada, not only
are prescription drugs far cheaper but the average life expectancy is 80.22 while in the U.S. it is 77.85. I will try to stay clear of he meds and earn the years.

•I want to try living in a land that has wind blown peaks for me to explore. Where I can climb and feel my heart fill my chest with a workout. Where I might bump into more sure-footed climbers like dall sheep or mountain
goats and finally gain a summit and gaze out at the topography of infinity where the horizon will not be cluttered with power lines or cell towers.

•It will be much safer than the Yukon. While there are grizzly bears in our neighborhood, I’m less likely to encounter a stressed out human, the most dangerous of all animals.

•Besides, the bite of the winter cold or the threat of a grizz’ bite will keep me far more alert and observant and in doing so I will hopefully feel more alive.

• I simply need to rejuvenate in a land that is so utterly wild where I won’t feel out of place because I don’t own a cell phone.

•I love maple trees so consequently I think the Canadian flag is stunning.

•When I step out at our rural home in Minnesota, I get to hear the white noise of distant traffic, some 4 miles away, on the freeway heading to the cities. The white noise I have to deal with in the Yukon will be a rushing river located twenty or so paces from the house.

•Here the starlit nights are becoming more and more difficult to see since the excessive lighting of the cities is easily visible and even my hometown of North Branch, only 7 miles away sends up far too much sky busting light. In the Yukon the stars will have to compete with long summer sunsets and winter northern lights.

•And who wouldn’t want to live in a territory (Yukon) where the origin of its native name, Yuchoo means “the greatest river.”

• And Huck Finn, one of my favorites, perhaps said it best to his chum Tom Sawyer:

“I reckon I got to light out for the territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Polly’s tryin’ to civilise me. I’ve tried it , and it don’t work. “