The Bradley ranch was a real little paradise in the middle of the bush. They had cows and chickens there. They had fields of hay and wheat and oats and also sunflowers. It's right by the Pelly River. Vic and Huey Bradley, who are brothers, had been farming this area for 33 years. It is a land of unlimited possibilities. While we were putting our canoe in the water Vic was washing potatoes. They looked very good. A rainbow said goodbye as we left this little paradise. We are now thirty miles west of the Pelly Crossing. The sun went down. We had to paddle two miles along the Pelly River to where it meets the Yukon, then six miles down the Yukon to where we were supposed to find the log cabin. On the left shore, we could see a fort, Fort Selkirk. On the way back up we hoped to have time to explore this place a bit. It started to get dark and somehow in the bush Doug did find Paul's camp and it was a real miracle because it was hidden well. Our next problem was to find the key but we couldn't find the hiding place. We looked everywhere with candlelight for about an hour. I heard a "cough" and Doug was just ready to give up and find out where we could maybe put up our tent or sleeping bag. I decided to take the candle one more time to that same woodpile even though we had already searched it about ten times. But this time I tried to be very calm, no fingers in it or fast looking, just very slowly and it did help, we did find it. We opened the door and I was so tired, I never even looked around the cabin but just went to sleep. Next morning Doug came back from a little exploration tour. He had disturbed a mother bear with two young. He had heard them running through the bush. They were very scared of people. Maybe this was the bear I heard cough last night. I hadn't known that bears cough and I'm glad that Doug only told me later. Doug tried to catch a salmon with a hook and took another little tour. I was getting worried about him because he had been gone quite awhile but then we also went on a little exploration to the log cabin on top of the hill. Paul had told us about it. We climbed up the cliff along the shore of the Yukon River and found it. The window had been taken out just like Paul had said. He had explained that if he didn't take the window out, the bears would break in at least once in the fall, so he decided to leave the windows open and let the bears come and go as they pleased. Three windows faced the river which was a long way straight down. The cabin stood there just like a castle on the Rhein. It was a place to relax, to sort things out. Here I'm king and nobody can interfere. We had mashed potatoes and chilly for supper and of course, thought of salmon late that evening. After a long discussion and thoughts of yes or no we decided to let the net into the river. Doug had a license, but what if he caught twenty fish? But maybe we won't catch anything. It took awhile before we were able to get the net apart, set the anchors and all that, and we read in the evening by candlelight about bears and slept pretty well. In the morning I woke up and thought of the net right away. Should we start at the back or in the front? Hey, I can see a tail! It must be a salmon! But when we got closer it was a beavertail. That was sad. We felt awful. This poor little guy must have had a terrible end. What have we done? As we got the beaver fished out of the net we weren't even thinking of salmon anymore but Doug continued pulling the net and there! Four salmon. Two were dead and two were still very alive. Doug freed the smaller living fish. They would have been better eating fish but what will we do with so much fish? We have two big salmon in the canoe, a twenty and a sixteen pounder. One was a male and one was a female. It was really interesting and it was hard to believe that you could tell that so quickly from the shape of the heads. Most of the morning was spent taking the fish apart and getting them ready so we were able to store them for awhile. For dinner of course, we had a whole frying pan full. We did try the cavier but I really didn't enjoy it too much even though it is supposed to be a delicasy. Washed the dishes, had a little nap, then we went on another exploration hike. On the way there we had seen an old trappers cabin and we did want to try the different paths leading away from Paul's cabin. The vegetation around here is somewhat different. I don't know how to call it. It was there instead of the wild grass. Lot's of wild berries. Found many berries like currants and raspberries and strawberries. I've also found some new ones that I've never seen before. One looked like a small strawberry plant, but only had one bright red berry that looked more like a blackberry. Later in the book I found that its name is "cloud" or "salmon-berry". And there are many names for these plants. One was called Kinnikinik or bearberry. Looks like a small blueberry. While I was sitting at the picnic table studying all these different kinds of plants I heard some rustling in the bush behind me. I was feeling fairly comfortable around this cabin now but I still always turned with every sound I heard, usually it was only a whisky jack or a squirrel but this time I did see a big black spot moving around. I'm not sure how come I was able to stay calm but I got up very slowly, went over to where Doug was sitting, reading, and whispered to him, "Doug, bear!" But instead of coming into the cabin with me he went towards the bear and started taking pictures! The bear was just ten meters from him, sniffing the teeter-totter that Paul had made for his kids the summer before. He probably wanted the rest of the salmon we had left for an attraction for bears. We followed and the bear really did go towards the scrap-pile and then all of a sudden he turned around and ran away. It didn't seem to be because of us but why? He took the same way back he had come from and ran into the bush. We thought he might have been one of the young ones, a one and a half year old, and that the mother was calling him back. We were hoping that we would see the mother and those young ones another time but waiting for them didn't work out, so we decided to have supper, salmon again! This time I enjoyed it even more than at dinner. I thought of all the people at home and would really have liked to offer all of them some of this treat. And then, I also thought of the next winter when we would sit in the city and remember it. For now we're here with too much of it and we don't want it to go bad. Doug started to read in the cabin, I washed the dishes, made some coffee and a desert with berries that we had picked. By then it was dark and the candlelight and the reading-man with his pipe in the corner looked very inviting. I joined him and got out my embroidery and Doug started to read out loud. "Grizzly". The author tells of various situations where he follows grizzlies until they feel uncomfortable and start following him, about Johnny and Jenny the grizzly babies that he raised himself and lots of other stories. It was such a very nice evening that I really didn't want it to end. We sat there until 1:30 in the morning, my stitching was finished and Doug's voice was starting to sound sleepy. Goodnight! Another sunny day. Just right to try and dry that second salmon. Doug cut it into little strips. Just the way Paul told us. We dipped it into a saltwater solution and spread it on tinfoil. Bacon and eggs for breakfast! Doug read again and I started to fold two bags out of cloth to store the dried fish in to transport it home. Doug found some tracks of the bear mom. She is very careful. Through the bush she must have come to take her part of the salmon leftovers. The ravens and the whiskey jacks are not that careful. Doug did want to try the trail that was Paul's trapline. I stayed in the cabin to watch the salmon and turn it over and over. I read and I played cards. When Doug came back quite tired at eight o'clock, we started to make our final, special, salmon supper. We made a nice outside-fire. We filled the last piece of salmon with onions and butter, salt and pepper and rolled it into tinfoil. We rolled the potatoes into tinfoil too. Everything went onto the coals. We cooked some corn and coffee and at about ten at night we finally sat down more tired than hungry but it was still a very special supper. Next morning we got up late but it rained outside so who cares? We thought of walking along the trail that was driveable to check it out but when the sun came out I thought I should take the fish out and finish drying it. Doug enjoyed cards so we went at it again and it was really great to have the time for it. Doug wanted to try to fish some more. He did like the dried fish so much that he is now sorry we did let the other two fish go. Well I sure hope he doesn't get anymore because I sure don't want to spend another two days turning fish pieces around in the sun. He went down to the Yukon River and I turned fish pieces behind the log cabin. I walked towards the picnic table and there'sa bear! Thirty meters right on the trail at the clearing in front of the cabin. But he didn't stay long. He turned around very quickly and ran off. At first I stood there a little shocked. Then I decided to run and get Doug and we went and looked at the tracks. Well, Doug was not concerned about me, he just thought it was too bad that the bear was gone. Then he took his fishing rod and went back to the river. Sometimes I tell you that I actually am more mad at myself. I'm just so scared! I can hardly go ten steps away from the cabin, even to get water. At around seven o'clock I did feel like walking so we decided to try that trail that you can drive. Before that Doug followed the bear tracks again and noticed that it swam across the channel onto the sandbank. He came back smiling. "Congratulations! You have seen your first grizzly bear today!" Now of course, my heart went deeper into my pants, but we sure went on our walk. Just a small little round is what I wanted to do. But all of a sudden, we had the idea that we could maybe walk the ten miles to the truck. That way we wouldn't have to take the canoe up the river. Because you can walk the whole stretch, we could also see if there are any parts that are hard to drive. Three hours we walked and walked until we got to a bridge which had been lifted off the road by ice during the winter. There we stood with all our smartness. It was getting dusk. It was three hours to go back and we couldn't drive over this. No gun. No matches. No tent. What idiots. After Doug finished shaking his head, he got past his pride and we walked the last kilometer to the Bradley farm. Hue and Vic were just sitting down for tea and invited us to join them. We had a nice little talk and we told them about the bridge. They smiled. And after awhile they said they had a little secret. There was a way around the bridge. That was great! They talked about bears, about farming, about mushrooms. We found out that that beautiful log cabin that we had met halfway along that trail that looked like out of Hansel and Gretel was actually Paul's ex-wife's cabin. But he had built it and all the bridges along the way we had travelled. Pretty impressive! Then we drove to the cabin. The long day of the Yukon summer has our clock pretty turned around. Of course we slept late. Around ten-thirty I had to leave the cabin. I opened the big wooden door, looked around carefully to the right, where the bear had sniffed the teeter-totter- nothing there. Straight ahead where the bear had stood when I was drying fish, and then to the left, then around the cabin across the field where sure enough, a grizzly walked! So back in the cabin, I told Doug about it. He grabbed the camera quickly but the lens was too short. He fiddled around, upset his camera wasn't working, and I watched the young bear walk across the clearing, straight for the hole where the beaver lay. He picked up the animal like it was nothing and ran straight for the bush. According to the book Doug had read, this was typical of grizzlies. Very shy. Black bears play more but you still have to watch them. Doug's photo did not work out. The sun was right, the distance, there was even a scene. But now its all gone forever. Too bad! Doug stupidly tried to follow the bear. I was really quite scared but he said it was just very hard to follow the tracks in that kind of bush and the bear was probably pretty scared and well hidden. Probably just as well. After that we had something to eat. We read and lazed around. Doug was getting somewhat depressed. Why go back to the city. Especially why go back and try to persuade people to buy insurance? Why would anyone want to have to work for money anyway? We have to pay so many taxes and stuff and we only need it in civilization. And here you need so little. Of course, there were loans to repay so what choice was there? People are against hunting but they buy meat on sterilized styrofoam plates with lots of plastic around it, live in apartments and have nothing to do with nature. They might buy a plastic plant that they don't have to water. The grass in front of the houses is kept dandelion-free. Maybe a plastic deer lighted with green spotlights stands on the lawn. Here it all sounds absolutely ridiculous and very, very sad. At about five we decided to take the canoe up the river to Fort Selkirk. Four miles in two hours to Fort Selkirk against the current. Here the motor is really quite special. Fort Selkirk is a small little town which was built in 1846. The fur trade with the Indians and later the goldrush gave the little town at the Pelly River junction an important role. The big steamboats needed this stopover as well. Indians attacked the place in 18?? and many of the inhabitants moved to Dawson. Another boom time in 1950 gave the Post Office and the police station and the two churches, a school and a repair shop something to do. But most of the rest of the people moved on to Dawson City on the Klondike Highway, the Yukon River. Now this little place is getting fixed up to be a tourist attraction for the canoe traffic but our attention was mostly paid to the fruit found there, nice raspberries and gooseberries, right behind the old repair shop. We ate and we picked and I gathered them all into my jacket and I looked forward to a nice bannock and berry supper. The way back went quickly. Not far at all. We took the berries to the picnic table. I washed my hands. Where is the towel? I had hung it on the line to dry and now it lay on the ground. The towel was laying in one dirty clump. Doug, before I touch this I want to know if by any chance it had been a squirrel. But I was right, it had been the bear. We looked at the holes. You could count the claws. The biggest piece that had smelled like fruit was lying a little bit away. I guess it wasn't so good after all. We did find his tracks even right in front of the cabin door. He was getting pretty brave. I made the bannock and washed the fruit and added sugar and milk and we ate inside. That with the towel was just a little bit too daring. Besides it was pretty cool and dark outside. Sunday we packed, cleaned up, managed to get the canoe back up on the rack and left. We hoped to make Whitehorse. But that little trail, packed and loaded as we were, was not as easy as before. We had to drive slowly and Doug thought he could use this opportunity to learn some tree identification. Which is the pine, which is the spruce? I do find this very interesting but I do think he should rather watch the road. This was driving me nuts and finally, half way there we punctured a tirewall on a sharp broken tree. We only have a small spare tire and the lugs had been tightened with an impact so they were very hard to remove. With oil and banging and patience Doug was able to remove all six, finally, and then we found the spare tire wouldn't fit the front wheel because the hub was too big! I started to cry. So the whole thing had to be done on the back tire. He put the spare on the back and the back wheel on the front. After coffee at the Bradley ranch, we drove thirty miles to the highway. Now, the city kind of drives me crazy too.
NT WATERFALLS by Doug Martens
The end of our Yukon summer came all too soon and, maybe listening more to my wallet than to my heart, we left Whitehorse, grinding up the hill past Jacob's Industries, where I had begun my Yukon adventure ten years previously. It felt sad to be leaving once again. This sadness didn't last long as we soon began arguing about whether or not we had Andy's phone number and address or not. The arguing continued right up the hill and when at last, the stop sign was noticed, and the double-pumping brakes applied, there was no time for the second pump. A van had come to a stop without telling this driver and the nose of our green canoe dug into its back on the left side, pushing in the metal and attesting, once again, to the structural qualities of our good old canoe, also to the length it extended beyond the grill of the Landcruiser! The driver was not inflamed but rather incredulous. "I don't believe it!", he said over and over. Then he went on to inform me he had just had that very spot on the van repaired. It had cost him a hundred bucks and he would be willing to settle on the spot for that. Fine with me and off we plodded, my wallet and heart a bit lighter, thanks to the mercy of the man. On the highway, after some travel, I noticed the cruiser when he blew his horn behind me and we pulled over. The officer was not impressed with our Landcruiser packed full of supplies to the point where it was impossible to see anything in my rearview mirror and he did an adequate job of letting me know how he felt about it. But Yukon officers are merciful too and are used to seeing various misshapen piles of half-rusted-out junk clanking down their roads and highways, and he let us off with a strong warning. God bless him. After restructuring my mirror, we were off. Fueling up at the station, I recognized again, one of the bald triplets I had seen photographs of in the shop window in Whitehorse. In the first scene the bearded triplets, tall and around forty years of age are seen in a barber shop, one trimming the others hair. A bottle of something strong also appears in the picture. Next picture, some hair is coming off a little close to the scalp. Third scene, they are all bald and strangely shaven and a little droopy around the eyelids! Just above Fort Nelson in northern B.C. there is a turnoff to the north. This highway, we knew would lead us near the Nahanni River and over to Slave Lake, in the Northwest Territories, and so, loathe to go back home just yet, we made the corner, knowing we could travel from Slave Lake down to Edmonton and thence home. This trip proved to be one of the most enjoyable of the whole summer, though the road itself had its long and dusty stretches, alright! Indeed it is four hundred miles in length, much of that over a sort of forested plain and when the rains don't come, the dust billows out from under your grips and settles on your supplies, on your hair and in your ears. With the gas-tank float clanking the bottom of the tank we noticed the first gas station on the stretch, a hand-pump model. I've seen only one other gas station using one and that too was in a remote region of Alaska. A half-ton full of friendly Indians pulled up at just the right time and filled our tank. The business day should have been over but they were eager to help. We had to take a little stop-over here and spend a day or two as this was very near the spot were the beautiful Nahanni River enters the huge Liard River on its way to the MacKenzie and the arctic circle. Wanting to phone our family to let them know the bears hadn't got us, we pulled into town. Five or six Indian children raced up to the Toyota, all dressed up in bright and shiny clothes, and full of life. "They're from Saskatchewan!", we heard them say when they saw our license plate, just as if no one from Saskatchewan had ever entered their little rivertown. "Are you comin' to the dance?" , they asked excitedly. "There's a dance in town tonight you know!" They told us a phone could be found at the store or at the school where the dance was to be held. I headed for the store. My second clue that this wasn't a typical reserve came from the posters I saw pinned up all over the place at the store, telling their viewers not to be "Mooseheads", not to drink alcohol. The store was closed so the only alternative was the phone at the school. As we pulled up the dance was beginning and a loud scraping and clanging came from within as the band played a contemporary song. At first I didn't even look inside, picturing in my mind another smoke and booze filled, violent degredation of humanity. But, of course, I had to at least have a look. We had been invited, after all! Rows of tables were neatly positioned along the two walls, with chairs only on the viewing sides of them. In these chairs sat the members of the little community, old and young all together, drinking coffee and coke and clapping after each song was completed, just as people show their appreciation for any fine performance. The room was indeed, set up much as a church, but with one young couple dancing together at the front. It was altogether a beautiful sight! If only this community can hold to its stand in the years to come. That night we slept under a picnic table in a beautiful birch-treed campground near a pond complete with large lilly- pads and a floating walk-way and next morning we were awakened by the laughter of young boys on that walkway. They had a .22 rifle and were talking about shooting a moose, the boy firing a round once at some inanimate target, then seeing us under the table and hollering a cheery "Good morning!" our way. I responded in kind but cringed when he, pointing the rifle out of a hole in a campground shelter, allowed another child to lean on the muzzle and talk to him. Some safety lessons would be in order here, I decided, but they soon walked away and we got up and got dressed. The driver of the motorhome which had pulled into the campground the night before, drove away shortly thereafter. I don't think he even once left the false security of his motorhome, even to walk around and explore this beautiful place. One could only wonder why and I found myself pitying him and all the rest who see the north only from the sterile confines of their motorhomes, missing out on the smell of the bush, the crackle of the campfire and the songs of the loon and the wolf. "The risk of pain is the price of life", some wiseguy once said. Neither my wife nor I would have had any interest whatsoever in trading our travel experiences for theirs. But then, I'm certain I've let my own fears rob me of plenty of good things over the years, too. Next day we stopped at the government establishment in honour of the Nahanni National Park and thoroughly enjoyed the stop. It is clear these people have a sensitivity for the value of the land their mandate it is to protect and care for. There we watched a video of Albert Faille taking a passenger up the Nahanni in his flatboat. The movie camera faced back. It made my skin crawl to watch the "frail" old man there in the stern, coaxing the big racing outboard along, feeling the riverbottom with a stick for depth, bright orange fuel barrels rocking back and forth crazily all around him in the impossible standing waves, and all the while grinning as if there were no greater thrill in life than riding the wild, bucking, kicking Nahanni. Ever since reading and re-reading R.M.Patterson's "The Dangerous River" I have harboured an ambition to see this river up close personally for myself and it was a little hard to turn down the opportunity of seeing Virginia Falls from the government helicopter. To me this would have been like opening a present before Christmas. I want to see it, but I want to see it the way R.M.Patterson and Albert Faille saw it, from a canoe after a long trek up the river, or maybe just floating down to it, finally rounding the last bend and feeling the pounding thunder and watching the plumes of spray challenge the heights. We spent the night in the campground here, one of the few times we used a campground during the entire summer. During the night, some animal was heard routing around outside but after having a peak out from beneath the tent and seeing nothing, I went back to sleep. My wife had a bit more trouble I think and, in the morning, down on the riverbeach, blackbear tracks were seen. I was sorry to have missed seeing him. After stuffing our tent and arctic bag into the brave little Toyota, we lit out once more, myself feeling as if I was being torn from a place I needed to spend a great deal more time at. But the miles rolled by amid the choking clouds of dust and we marvelled at the endless flatness of the plain we were crossing. Once we noticed a sign "emergency airstrip" and got a bit of a chuckle, also the dust-covered signs declaring this and that section to be dust-free seemed a bit ridiculous. Maybe that's why they were there. After a long time, though, the topography began changing into a more rolling type of country and then we began noticing some waterfalls next to the road. We must have burned a whole roll of film on one, first seen from the bridge above it. We admired the way the good-sized river rounded the bend, and dropping and narrowing, formed huge standing waves before sluicing through a narrow chute in the rock and plunging into a strange bowl-shaped hole, before dropping another 30 feet and flowing on through the rocky canyon below. Actually the only unimpressive thing in the scene was the bridge on the highway which passed nearly above the falls themselves, detracting from a view we never would have seen had the bridge not been there... We had a ball watching the action of the water and listening to the steady roar. It was just amazing how such a large river could pass through such a narrow spot so quickly! Then, it was off again until we made the Lady Evelyn falls on the Hay River, a truly magnificent sight. This large brownish river travels through the bush sluggishly until suddenly, without warning, the bedrock sheers off and drops fifty feet or more. The whole river plunges off this precipice with frightening power. I couldn't help but wonder how many river travellers had been swept over that edge, never to paddle again. To get an especially impressive picture, I found a small jut of land just above the falls where a tree had snagged and gingerly tiptoed out for a look. I could just imagine how I'd feel in a canoe at this point. Believe I'd back-paddle! Hay River was a real surprise after all that driving through the forest. Large ships dock in the mouth of the Hay and Slave Lake itself reaches out toward an invisible shore. Standing on that beach was just like standing on the shore of a saltwater ocean. Imagine such a huge body of water inland! The summer's trip could be said to have ended here, with the pair of us gazing out over an open sea, wondering what new delights the Lord had yet to bring us.
The Yukon has its scenery and its wildlife but to really know a place, you must know the people. Live there. Ed Jacobs left the states many years back and founded a machine shop/ oxy-acetelene plant which made him a very wealthy man. Yet no one seeing him drive that old yellow wagon with the bald tires, himself dressed in green workshirt and pants held up somehow by an ancient leather belt, and living in a house trailer which should have long ago been donated to the squirrels, could make an accurate guess of the size of his wallet. His machine shop proved to be an invaluable source of new friendships and income when I first entered Whitehorse in 1979. There I met Zdenek, a Czechoslovakian who, with his wife Jana, fled his home country to escape the politics there. There I met Paul Paquet, the quickest and best welder I've ever known, who was first told me of the Big Salmon River, and showed me kindness in inviting me to his home for a meal of delicious fresh moose roast. There I met John the Greek, who usually, with one rather glaring exception, showed great patience in instructing me on the use of the lathe I was supposed to operate there. There I met Danny DeForrest whose whole family I grew to appreciate for their well- disciplined and kindly natures. And there I met Paul Rogan, one of the greatest influences on my life. And, of course there was Andy. Andy Petersen, a gifted taxidermist who works so he can fish, treated me well and taught me a lot in his own way. He had no particular aversion to showing me his choice fishing holes, though he must have known I'd take full advantage of them all. A man of about fifty when I first met him, he carried a certain sadness with him all the time, due to certain events in his history, which sorrow he attempted to relieve by meeting new people in cafe's and whereever, discussing the topics which most interested him, namely hunting, fishing, and the mistakes and tragedies of those who had died in the bush. There were always plenty of these at hand in the north and every year someone and sometimes more than one added to the pile of discussion material by swamping a boat, or returning to their moose without a rifle, or by crashing their bush-plane. And if there weren't enough of these, there were always the incredibly near misses the Great Spirit uses at times to gain our attention! On a fishing trip with Andy, we listened while he related his story of near disaster on Asiak, where the wind had whipped the waters of the forty-mile body of water into a hilly and watery graveyard for ill-prepared laketrout fishermen. I gathered he'd come pretty close, but with his experience and the motor not conking he'd made it. We sat in a roadside cafe a hundred miles from Whitehorse waiting for the fishing partner I had yet to meet for the first time and the hours dragged and his wife became steadily more worried hoping Larry hadn't gotten into the sauce again as is the custom of several individuals in the north. Finally his pal staggered in and related a story the events of which still had him shaking and off-plum, even after travelling from Whitehorse. The details came out all in a clump but after awhile, we strung them together in what we believed might be their true succession. Apparently, after successfully purchasing the diesel fuel, the two men had decided to stop for a quick one before going home, the temptations of the big city being too great for them to withstand after all the isolation of living at the Andy's one-armed friend soon found himself on the floor of the bar about to have another opening made into his chest by means of the knife his assailant held high in the air over him. To his eternal credit, his partner had booted the knife from the man's hand, whereupon they'd apparently been sent outside where there had been some further problems involving a hunting rifle. We had to return to Whitehorse to collect our fishing partner at the jail-house. The subsequent fishing trip itself was uneventful. On another fishing trip that summer with Andy we noticed a car burning in the ditch by the highway, apparently un- occupied. Upon inquiring casually at the restaurant at Braeburn, as to the events of the burning car we were told simply that one of the locals had become frustrated and had decided to do battle with it. Both the man and his car apparently had lost this battle. This reminded someone of a story of a man in Whitehorse, who becoming frustrated with his wife, had lit his house on fire. Maybe we'll have to start registering matches.
Then there was Sylvia. More interested in the great outdoors than in what rpm to run Ed Jacob's lathe, the weekends usually found me somewhere in the mountains. One such trip led me to meet a woman by the name of Sylvia, originally from Saskatchewan, who had developed quite a roughneck life in the hard, cold Yukon. Her face and hands had a brown leathery appearance which testified of braving many a sub-arctic storm. She trapped in the winters and ran a small horseback outfitters camp in the summer months. The place had no electricity or phone, so she lived in a little breezy run-down shed heated with cordwood cut from the local bush. She obviously had an unusual philosophy of life because comforts of city living were only twenty miles away. I sensed a kindred spirit and thought there was a chance I could learn something from her. The first time I spoke to her, though, she stopped me dead in my boots. Looking me square in the eye she kindly asked, "What are you after?" Surely a simple enough question and I knew I had a very simple answer but it was one I was not prepared to give.
How could I tell such a lady about my selfish ambitions and desires? How could I begin to tell such a lady of my plans to exalt myself? She had wisdom, I sensed that even then, and I had a pretty good idea what she would have to say about my foolish ideas of self-exaltation, so I just spluttered and mumbled and said nothing much. Later on, with more time to think, her question burned in my brain and it was very hard not to deal with the issue of where my life was taking me, but in the end I found a way. I ignored the subject!
Her partner, a young man from Vancouver had found his way to Fish Lake also. Ian towered well over six feet tall and his boot size matched his height perfectly. He had no difficulty covering twenty miles of bush in half a day's walk. I was stricken with no particular desire to hike with him. Once he served me spaghetti and meat sauce for supper, telling me later with a grin I'd just eaten my first grizzly. I had thought it was beef and had enjoyed it thoroughly! Maybe I was pleased when he'd hoped for a different response for next time he served me fish-head soup. A large pike-head bobbed about in my bowl on the wooden table. Meat's meat, I guess though the parasites bears carry in their flesh discourage some. Then, there was Zdenek. I remember with great fondness an evening spent in the eight by sixteen foot square plywood box in which his family of three, not including their Great Dane, preferring the freedom of mortgage-freedom, had spent several winters before building their permanent log home. We sipped cognac and smoked cigars while the couple related their adventures in Czechoslovakia and later, those of their Canadian experience. He had, when still a young lad, learned to make a rude sort of explosive mixture, and, with grandparents gone had set the mixture on a lid of cooking soup to dry. Forgetting the concoction, he'd left the house to play... Of course there was a deafening, for the dog inside, explosion, with noodles being blown right into the walls of the kitchen, the roof nearly parting company with the walls, there being later found a crack in the plaster all around it just under the roof, and flattening the cooking pot beyond all hope of repair. More greatly desiring freedom than the comforts and paternalistic "care" of his homeland, Jana and Zdenek fled Czechoslovakia by hitch-hiking, losing all worldly possessions on the highway when they'd thrown them joyfully into the back of a stopping truck, only to have it roar off without them. After living for a few days on raw fish caught in a small stream they'd been picked up in their bedraggled condition by a woman from Paris, who'd taken them to her home where her family had treated them to the very best enjoyments Paris is capable of offering. After a week of this incredible hospitality the wealthy French family arranged for their emigration to Canada as political immigrants. This was not, at the time, unreasonable, as life in Czechoslovakia was severely restricted to the point where, every citizens every movement between cities had to be posted with government officials and your life-long occupation also chosen by the all-wise bureacracy. Reaching Canada, they had apparently un-sprung just as a tightly wrapped spring uncoils when freed from its restrictions. Getting a room and a job, the first thing they'd done was to buy a five hundred dollar television on credit. After spending some time around Edmonton they'd settled in the Yukon, refusing to borrow now, even to finance a house, so they'd be free to leave Whitehorse at a moment's notice. We talked a long time that night, or rather they did the talking and I did the listening, what they had to say about their lives truly fascinating me, coming as I did from a more localized, perhaps more sheltered life. I could identify with their love of freedom though, as I had just recently come unsprung from an oppressive, totalitarian public school regime which had forced me to spend fourteen thousand hours sitting in a series of cruel wooden desks and listening to a series of adults indoctrinating me largely against my will. At the least, I don't remember ever being asked. Truly, the treats of the Yukon for the senses seemed to me to be inexhaustible. Even the people were interesting and deeply interested in life. I found their zest for life and freedom refreshing and was glad for them, that they'd found the freedom they'd been so eager to obtain. This same attitude was seen in Paul Noirot of Whitehorse, the french gunsmith who had his own tales to tell! His desire for freedom had been so great, and his resentment for those who attempted to restrict it so great that a soul-mate and himself, in France, working as "helpers" for the French military, when bringing the large pail of coffee for the officers mess had added somewhat to the volume of the pail, around a corner and just out of sight. Their crime went undetected. Paul has a "gift of entertaining" which "must be seen to be appreciated." Not tall, he makes up for it in sheer visceral enthusiasm for his topic of the moment. The red beard and commanding voice hold attention as story and philosophy and politics get braided altogether in his speech, along with plenty of humour. Even though I rarely spoke while in his company, I didn't feel in the least put out. His survey of Canadian politics at the time and more so lately, has a rather raw and nasty edge to it, though. In his view, we are only ten or twenty paces behind the regulation imposed on so many others of the human race at other less desirable points on the globe. The threat of mass-registration of firearms terrified the man, if such a man is terrified of anything, and he determined to fight the process with all his will and ability as he saw it as yet another step in the subjection of the lethargic citizenry of Canada. He spoke of the confiscation by the Germans of his uncle's large firearms collection when their military entered France. This had been an easy thing for Hitler's henchmen to locate as the firearms were all neatly registered with the French authorities. In a recent letter he wrote, "I am at my wit's end and do not know what I can do anymore for my family, my country or myself. In my wildest dreams I never thought Canada could be reduced to this squabbling mob of under-achievers and the NDP Party is just the right one to bring it to it's well- deserved, miserable conclusion." Before labelling Paul an extremist and an alarmist and mailing him off we should at least briefly consider the perspective from which he views Canada, so different as it is from that of those of us so blessed as to have been born here. These two men, Zdenek and Paul, though largely unknown to one another, are both men who have experienced some or other degree of political oppression and both express identical sentiments. We Canadians should give them an ear rather than continuing our political snoring and failure to involve ourselves in the struggles of those individuals among us who already have been denied the most basic of human rights and dignities. It may be soon our turn to suffer alone while our apathetic countrymen walk on by us forgetting that the strength of any country lies in its ability to pull together in the right direction. A piece of high-grade steel and a man both lose their strength when they lose their tempers. No tampering with the "economy" will do us much good. Our nation will regain its strength when it's citizens regain their old determination to reverance their God and maintain their love for and involvement in the difficulties of their fellowmen. Both I think, would disagree with one or more of these last points, only adding thereby to the particular savour of the north.