The big drama at school this week on the playground was who’s going out with who. Now, going out seems to be a title. I mean, around here, I wouldn’t be surprised if a “couple” in grades 3 or 4 were up to no good after school hours when nobody’s watching them, but at school, being someone’s boyfriend or girlfriend seems to mean sitting beside each other at assemblies, and saving the last Gusher or piece of gum for them.
I laugh and remember my first boyfriends. I also laugh that between grades 5 and 7 I had more boyfriends than between grades 8 and 10.
My first was Kyle. He was a football player and I was a cheerleader, it was like a match made in after-school-special heaven. I’m sure this all freaked my parents right out. I mean, who expects their 10-year-old to start dating? They kept tight reins over what our dates were allowed to entail. We went on bike rides and one time he even came over to watch “Billy Madison.”
I don’t remember how things with him ended, but I do remember that I was ready to get right onto the next one. My grade 5 boyfriend was Brendan and man, we were like the Zack Morris and Kelly Kapowski of Miss Buckle’s class. All I can remember is that when we made Valentine’s Day cards in art class we made some for each other, instead of making card for our parents, like the other kids. And at one point he gave me a blue and turquoise-coloured plastic jewelry box that I still have, actually. The part of our relationship I remember most, of course, is the breakup.
Our class had just begun the gymnastics unit in gym class, and I was stoked. All things bendy were where I excelled, being double-jointed. This phys ed. unit drove us a part. Brendan was a natural athlete who rolled in high grades in every gym unit; sports were a cake walk for him. But when final gymnastics performances were held and I scored higher, he could not take it. Brendan broke my grade 5 hear breaking up with me, all because I was better at doing the splits. To rub salt in the traumatic wound, he ran right into the arms of another Northern Getaway-clad classmate, Michelle.
After Brendan there was Blake and Steven and Michael and Dan and Matt. All were dramatic, and all ended, either me with my face in my pillow sobbing that the world was unfair and boys were stupid jerks, or me making an awkward telephone call to tell the poor dude he just wasn’t cutting it.
Then, as we all know, I struck the jackpot in Grade 10 and started dating the dude who is now the Mr to my Mrs.
RIP Zola's Cafe
One of my favourite downtown Whitehorse landmarks announced this week it is closing, succumbing to the pressure of big business moving in.
Zola’s Café Doré is a coffeehouse on Main Street owned by a coffee bean brewer famous in Whitehorse. Whenever I had the chance to do a face-to-face interview while writing for the paper, I almost always chose the quiet back room, painted red, at Zola’s. Everyone knew where it was, the clientele was loyal and frequent, and the coffee was phenomenal. It had my favourite: decaf chai latté. The walls were lined with the paintings and photographs of local artisans, the walls muralled with scenes boasting a coffee revolution.
When Starbucks announced they would be opening a second location in Whitehorse on Main Street, I surveyed coffee drinkers and business owners for an article, gauging whether or not the coffee giant’s infringement on the street’s independent coffee shops would cause their demise. Most thought the mom and pop shops’ customers were loyal enough to continue offering their business, despite the corporate competition down the block. The Starbucks staff and the small shops’ owners all told me they thought there was room for everyone to strive and prosper. Not so, it seems. The Main Street Starbucks opened its doors a month ago, and now Zola’s has announced it is closing.
True, there is a Tim Horton’s around the block, another small coffee shop down the street and Java Connection a few streets over. That’s a lot of coffee in one area. Then again, that’s where all the government workers are stationed from 9 to 5.
I don’t know if this is a case of corporate box store using its solid and internationally-backed franchise structure to dominate the downtown coffee market with its jazzy familiar menu and predictable interior, but it sure is coincidental that Zola’s is now closing.
I like Starbucks. I like their chai lattés too, and their hot chocolate isn’t bad. In the summer, they’re the only place I know that offers green tea lemonade. I like jazz music, and I really listen to it, while I sit in their plush seats in the warm coloured décor. I think it’s comforting. I still think that if I had to choose a spot to do an interview, I’d choose Zola’s. Not only is it taboo in Whitehorse to express admiration for “the man” or the corporate giant, especially considering the hippie and neo-hippie demographic, but Zola’s was always Zen, always calm- even for a coffee joint.
On my shoulder
Because it’s summertime, (meaning a weather forecast that doesn’t linger at two degrees) and the living is easy (read: few social or entertainment outlets), I am happy to say I have time to do the things I always said I’d do “later” or “when I have a bit more time.” Indeed, there are no newspaper deadlines for me, no Monday night council meetings or Wednesday night aerobics classes.
Not that my life was so crazy bad. Like, I was nowhere near the point of an overworked, intervention level. I am an A-type personality who accomplishes much with a packed-full schedule and thrive in busy days planned by the hour. Some cringe at such a daytimer, but not me. Now? Now, when I have one thing, one errand to accomplish, it’s a days-drawn-out affair of “tomorrow I will drop off that application.” Then, “Oh, maybe the next day I’ll swing by the post office.” Slowed right down.
This is where the little angel on my shoulder pops up. Or as I like to think of it, a little Buddha, wearing spandex shorts and sweatbands. He reminds me now that there is this “time” I was always waiting for, it’s time to work on me.
Yikes, I even hate how cliché that sounds. I don’t mean in the twentysomething “I have to FIND myself” kind of way. I mean there, alright, we have very little to do, so let’s use that time to accomplish some personal shifts. As in, shift back into daily yoga, shift back into the kind of dinners that take awhile to prepare from scratch but taste soooo good because of it. The kind if shift that prompts me t read on the back deck rather than watch another damn episode of Tila Tequila’s Shot at Love 2.
I’m re-reading books I remember as interesting, even…get this…SCHOOL texts! I know! I am catching myself in bad habits, or trying to, like touching my face all the time. I had no idea how much I rested my face on my hand, or swiped at my forehead. Near crazy levels! I’m writing letters to friends and family, by hand of course, and even pitching quirky columns to the Whitehorse paper again, just to keep journalistic. And, of course, to get paid for writing again, which is nice.
More importantly though, I’m doing all these hokey hippie things like Feng Shui and meditation and having smoothies with weird things like what germ in them. Things that I think make me a better, more mindful and healthy me. Hence, the spandex-clad Buddha on my shoulder.
It’s my happy-healthy tag team against the general sadness vibe of Ross River. I’m going with the “I’ll smile at you until that one day you might smile back at me” practice.
Just the Two of Us
It has all come down to this weekend: Here we are, just the two of us, left to our own devices. Isolated, no social entertainment outlets (because really, the town bar is not our scene), no video rental store even. We had always remarked how nice it would be when it was just the two of us in Ross River. “Oh, what time we’ll finally have for each other.” Friday when the work whistle blew, it was on. The moment had arrived. Could we indeed last an entire long weekend, just he and I, without driving each other crazy?
Things could have gone quite cranky. I mean, I had a list of long weekend to-do’s: Replace hallway light bulb, wash truck inside and out, bake a pumpkin chocolate cake and grill a beer chicken. He gets nervous when I make lists, because he knows if he doesn’t look busy, he’ll be assigned a task sooner or later. And then the “you nag me” “well you don’t do anything around the house” arguments begin.
They never did! Saturday we stayed in bed as long as we could, finally letting our growing puppy lie in bed between us. When we did rouse, we made a slow breakfast and decided it would be a nice day to take a drive and a picnic lunch. He was patient as I asked him repeatedly to stop driving and let me get out to take pictures. I cursed him out when he didn’t believe I saw mountain goats, but apologized when I realized he didn’t see them because- duh!- he was driving. We had an awesome picnic lunch by the shallow lake melt, and enjoyed doing something new together while holding hands and stuff.
He helped me clean up after baking my cake and he got supper started. We watched Hitch on TV and laughed together. When he became bored with the movie, he did his own thing and that was that. We laughed at each other for things you all probably would not find funny. But that’s exactly what makes it funny, and kind of special for us, it’s like our own language, our inside jokes that we know only the other will appreciate.
I washed the truck Sunday morning and he was quite firm in letting me know the day was a write-off for him: International hockey and NHL playoffs, of course. When that was over we went to the gym together and though this happens quite regularly, I enjoyed watching him workout. It was kind of like seeing him through different lenses. Noticing him.
We ate supper and he complimented my cooking and thanked me, saying, “That was really good food, I like it when everything tastes good.” As opposed to when it does not? I’ll take the underhanded compliment as it was meant, with kindness.
Even though we are spending the weekend doing things quite in the ordinary, it is just us, free to sleep in, enjoy all of each other, and I love that I can just get up walk over and snuggle into him anytime I want. Six months in and I know that the married life is definitely for me, I’m loving it.
He knows when to hug me and when to let me be.
He knows where to draw the line and he knows when to concede.
He knows how I like the bed made and to put away DVDs,
He knows why I love him and I’m happy he married me.
Not Winnie the Pooh
“Do you guys want to come over some night for bear nachos?”
I thought this was a cute saying, like bear claw doughnuts that aren’t really bear claws, but pastries. Until she followed up her invitation with a clarifying sentence.
“Yeah, we caught a bear last weekend.”
Indeed, she was asking if we wanted to go over to her cabin on the lake to eat actual bits of bear meat on nachos! Only in Ross River…
I’m very curious right now about hunting. It fascinates me and definitely impresses me. Coming from Ontario, the concept of subsistence hunting is still a little lost on me. I mean, who would need to hunt for food in this day and age? Well, people in Ross River, is the answer.
The bears have just started coming out of hibernation, and are looking for food and rearing their young. They aren’t big and fat like they are before winter, but apparently their coats continue to grow in winter and many of the black and grizzly bears have pretty yummy meat on them.
This couple caught a bear with one shot, dragged all 200 pounds of it to their cabin and dressed it that night. That means cutting it open and taking out all the bits and pieces. I imagine this to be kind of like a real-life version of the board game “Operation.” They plan on having the hide tanned by a local tanner to make a bearskin rug. All the meat will be eaten, they say, lasting them until their next hunt, likely a moose later this fall.
I’m not sure how fascinated I’d be if I were a vegetarian or a big-time PETA proponent or whatever. But this is the culture, the tradition around here. And I’ll be darned if I leave here without having gone on a hunting trip.
Labels: Ross River
I never thought I’d say it but my trip into Whitehorse, i.e. the social milieu with which I’m most recently familiar, was actually overwhelming. It was odd to be amassed with a group of people I knew. I found it kind of odd and uncomfortable having people talk to me for lengths of time. Me! The journalist of only a month ago! It surprises me how much even a month in a small northern town of first nation land has changed me.
I can feel it, kind of like Spiderman realizes how he’s changed after the spider bite. I can feel myself slowing down, taking it easy. I can tell I am more reflective and certainly more appreciative of simple things like special cheeses (what a treat!) and hugs. I can also feel myself being pulled away from who I used to be. Not that this is a bad thing, I know I will always be changing, or evolving, as I like to say.
I can feel my skin thickening as I learn to deflect misguided anger and discrimination. I can feel myself becoming more independent and self-sufficient because I have to solve problems myself, there are no yellowpages full of answers. I can feel myself humbling, finding joy in things that, only weeks ago, would have gone unnoticed, unappreciated. I live for quiet moments petting my sleeping kitten and sharing a meal with the husband.
I learned more about what’s changing inside me by returning to Whitehorse for the weekend, where the familiar settings and routines seemed different. They are unchanged, and it is me who is seeing things from a changed perspective. Call it the self-discovery of a twentysomething on her own in unfamiliar waters, but I like how difficult life in Ross River can be. I enjoy that it challenges what I know, what I once believed. It does come with tough days, and feelings of despair and sadness I had not experienced before. But change comes slowly, it’s a process, and I am computing it all, figuring out what it means to me, how to deal with it, and where I stand.
The difficulty, I’m finding, is how best to articulate this change and describe it as I live it, not in retrospect. I’ll enjoy having you along on this journey with me as readers, and I hope that as it all unfolds, I can be clear in my descriptions. I don’t think it’s possible for me to paint a complete picture of what this huge upheaval and major life change is like from a personal experience. I’ll try, but there really is no way for you to understand what living here is like unless you do it. I’ll try, of course, but be patient, because I’m in an unfamiliar place, metaphorically and geographically, and as I maneuver my way through it, I may lose you just as I am confused myself.
But now that the initial shock has worn off and I keep moving forward with eyes and mind wide open, we’ll see where it takes me.
“The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.” – Flannery O’Connor, American author, 1925-1964
As you can imagine, not everyone is a fan of the detention supervisor. Wednesday afternoons at school, all the students attend special workshops they’ve signed up for. Cooking class, quilting, welding, native appreciation, stuff like that. If a student is late for their activity, they must go to the homework room for the whole period. Some students just get sent to homework automatically, perhaps because they have misbehaved earlier in the day. Either way, I sat at the desk in the homework/detention class and read my book to myself. Students opened up sketchbooks or started origami projects. I didn’t really care what they did, I was just there to make sure they weren’t jumping out windows or running away. This is not a dramatic exaggeration for storytelling purposes, but rather a reality at Ross River School.
Two girls decided that my habit of asking them to stop running away from class was unfavourable. I didn’t give them the benefit of my attention when they decided to write “shit” and “fuck” on the blackboard, giggling and looking over at me, waiting for me to get all teacher-angry. At that point it was more productive for me to count down the ticking clock than try and reprimand them. I decided they did not in fact need to take a fourth bathroom break in under 20 minutes, so I reminded them that they could choose to stay in class or see the principal. This worked for a little bit, as they’d shuffle back to the detention class giggling and whispering, making sure I heard my name interjected in their gossip.
This dance of leaving class, being called back, sulking and giggling circulated for about another 10 rounds before they tried again and I stoop up and headed to the door, indicating I’d be involving the principal.
“Girls, stay in the room. You don’t get another break for at least 20 minutes.”
One girl pretended she didn’t hear me correctly.
“What did you say?”
“I can’t understand you,” she said. Giggles shared between them. One whispered something to the other, and nudged her to say it to me.
“We don’t understand white speak.”
I asked them what, exactly, that meant, because as far as I knew, we were both speaking English.
“You’re too white and stupid to understand,” said one.
“Well, maybe you should teach me then. Explain to me what you mean so that I may learn from you,” I answered.
“We’re smarter than you, we speak the language, and you’re too stupid and white.”
Quite a mouthful of racial epithets to come from the mouth of a ten-year old, I thought. One needn’t wonder too long to deduce from what gardener such thoughts may have been planted in a majority native community.
I knew the principal was busy, but I wasn’t about to argue with these kids or put on a show for the other students in class. We took it to the principal, a white male of Slovakian descent. He was not too impressed. I doubt the girls are sorry, and we’ll see what happens next time. For now, I sit on the other side, wondering what it’s going to be like being the racial minority belittled for my skin colour. Who would have thought a white, Gap-wearing girl from Orleans would be saying that.
Imagine the amounts of dog poop
Now that I’ve settled into something of a routine and figured out some of the parameters of my substitute teaching job, I figured I’d entertain at least a couple of the job offers thrown my way when I first arrived in town. Among them were ambulance driver, health centre secretary, librarian, computer class teacher, youth programs organizer and jail guard. Since school’s only in session 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., that leaves time to fill. And with little to do recreation-wise and a husband whose job sees him out of the house, I thought it’d be best to fill the empty hours with something ore productive than watching The Hills and Shot at Love.
I thought I’d go over to the head nurse’s house across the street to talk to her about helping out as sort of an on-call health centre secretary whenever they needed a backup and community librarian, filling in. What began as a quest to diversify my work portfolio ended with chains around my ankles and violation of my private parts. But, let me backup and explain this.
When I knocked on the nurse’s door, she asked me to come in.
“Quickly, just scoot in here, I’ll keep the dogs out.” She has ten dogs. They appear to be German Shepherd-Husky mixes with some weird mutts thrown in that she’d collected over the years.
I told her I wouldn’t stay long as I could see she was cleaning house for dinner guests. I explained that I was interested in helping out, and asked how I would go about applying formally. She had a bit of a confused, displaced look and quickly explained where I could drop off resumes and what forms to fill out. Then she started showing me around her kitchen for some reason.
“This is where the carrots are, they love carrots, they get all excited when they hear me say the word.”
Her dinner guests?
“I keep the chewees and treats up here, and you can give out as many as you want.”
Does she mean “you” in the generic way?
She had me follow her out back where five of her dogs live, to introduce me. I figured, why not? I might as well meet my neighbours, canine or human.
I had five giant dogs jumping at my back, my face, my arms.
“Don’t be afraid to be firm with them,” she advised.
I felt one large dog’s snout forced strongly between my legs from behind, kind of like a bicycle seat.
“Thanks so much for offering to watch them while I go into Whitehorse this week.”
“Oh, did your husband tell you? You’ve been conscripted!”
No, he most certainly did not. But he sure does have some ‘splaining to do.
“Anyway, here’s the puppy food and the dog food. The cats are in this room and they don’t require much care.
The other five dogs, I learned, live in the front yard tethered to industrial-strength posts with industrial-strength chains.
“These guys are all pretty strong, and I keep them on the chains otherwise they tend to scrap.”
As she toured me around, pointing out water bowls and behaviour tendencies, the excited dogs ran circles around me, resulting in my ankles being encircled by their chains.
She handed me a key, thanked me again, and pointed out the emergency phone numbers where I could reach her.
I walked back across the street wondering if anyone would notice if I cared for these ten giant dogs by spraying water towards their dishes with a hose from a safe distance away. I’ll send husband to do the feeding.