Five finger green thumb
2:28 PM | 2 comments

Let’s talk about the fundamentals of greening up my home.
For one, I am not so good at planting, and do not see myself squatting over dirt wearing floral-print anything gardening up a storm anytime in my future. (I’ll never say never). People here start little buds in that dark soil around February and plant seeds under heat lamps. Then when it’s May and relatively warm outside (i.e. not freezing) they plant rows and rows of these seedlings-turn-two-leaved mini-plants. Then the constant sunlight leads to constant photosynthesis and within short weeks there are beautiful, ripe gardens. People grow potatoes (Yukon gold!) and herbs and tomatoes and eat wonderfully fresh produce from their own gardens for all of summer (which is two months).
This all sounds splendid and totally not realistic to me. Maybe one day, but not now. So I’m not going to plant little seedlings and grow them under heat lamps and presto change-o have beautiful, leafy green plants. It’s just not in my self-determined cards.
I love the idea of buying those ready-grown ginormous plants at the Wal-Mart garden Centre on my trips into Whitehorse. All I’d have to do is keep them watered, and I can handle that, even if our water tank does disagree with our average level of water usage. BUT, that would mean loading a bunch of plants in the bed of my pickup truck and driving four hours at about 100 km/hour on bumpy dirt roads. I’ve yet to see anyone in this town perform such a feat successfully. Not to mention the bed of my truck is also filled with coolers and Rubbermaid containers full of groceries and food. Humph.
So I took to stealing. My husband’s coworker has gone AWOL but did give us a random phone call asking us to water his plants. I interpreted that to mean, “Take my plants and find perfect spots for them in your own home and then water them until the end of time.” So I did!
Then the nice man who runs the “life skills” class (i.e. special ed) at school gave me one of his, since he was moving.
See, all this came from this Feng Shui for Dummies book I ordered from Amazon that told me I need more plants in my house to balance out the flow of energy in order to be happy and reap the rewards the universe is ready to offer me. Naturally, I was like “right on!” but then went through the above thought process in wondering how to acquire said plants.
Now that my home’s energy is all redirected and balanced thanks, in part, to my stolen plants (is that Feng Shui hypocrisy? If so, can the energy gods tell?), all is well.


The Longest Day
2:17 PM | 1 comments

Yesterday all across the northern hemisphere was the longest day of the year, the summer solstice when the sun is up for the longest amount of time. Here in the Yukon, it is a notable occasion celebrated in many ways. Like Christmas, each family and group of friends has its own traditional longest day activity. This being my first, I thought I’d start one up.
The sun rose at 4:00 a.m. and set at 23:44, although the hours between sunrise and sunset are not dark. The sun sets only a little bit below the horizon and so the sky stays relatively light; it’s pink on a clear night. Last night was a little cloudy but nonetheless, we took pictures of ourselves holding a clock at midnight to send back to friends and family in Ontario, so they all could see how light it was. I am anticipating it will be really weird to take my trip home to Ottawa this summer and see stars for the first time in months!
Last night I also launched my inaugural annual rib grill-off. I defrosted about seven racks of pork ribs in my fridge starting Thursday after rescuing them from the depths of my frigid deep freezer. At about ten o’clock last night I lit the barbecue up and started slow cooking them. My puppy took advantage of the missing grease trap to lick up all the fat and grease drippings, so I guess that was her longest day treat.
At midnight, I slathered them up with sauce and the husband and I sat down with his boss in the kitchen at midnight to get our fingers all sticky and our teeth full of ribs as we chowed down, sans cutlery, of course. To top it off, we all took sliver-sized pieces of the Georgia Peanut Butter Pie I’d made. I went to bed more full than I’ve been in a long time!
And that was our first longest day, and the first time I’ve lived in a place on the solstice where the sun never really goes down!

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Into the Wild
1:15 PM | 1 comments

I read Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer about two months ago, I think, and finished the book wondering if Chris McCandless was a brazen adventurer who met some bad luck or whether he was an arrogant tramper who could have saved himself with more careful planning. I decided that he had been well-intentioned but had gone too far in denying support, from communications systems, food rations and maps. After all, as the author pointed out, he could have made it over the river had he used a map showing a ranger station 2km down stream. Instead, we all know he turned around and made some more fatal errors living off the land, biding time until he could walk out on his own. The dream ended in gaunt tragedy in the wild.
I watched the movie last night and changed my mind. This is a case, I think, where the film is better than the novel. Is ay this because the film, being visual, is so much more convincing. The carefully filmed scenes of mountain chains back dropped by pink sunsets, of the Colorado River flanked by terracotta-coloured rock walls, add a whole new dimension to my understanding of McCandless. It was like, “Aha, so that’s what he was after.” The infinite beauty of untamed wild, of scenery, of scenes illuminated by sunlight and not by neon.
Part of the McCandless mystery, like that of Jeffrey Eugenides’ Virgin Suicides, is that we’ll never know whether or not young Chris made fatal errors or was too arrogant in his quest for the wild that he orchestrated his own demise. Maybe he never intended to make it out alive; we’ll never know. But watching the film adaptation and having the detailed research and analyses of the book certainly draws me in as a captive wonderer who’ll never know what happened, but who longs for more clues. After the visual argument of beautiful coastlines and barren arctic beauty, I’m now more convinced that the beauty was intoxicating, convincing the young ex-academic that all can and would be solved with surrender to the larger beauty and organization of nature.
I for one fully give myself to the comforts of civilization, knowing that solitude and self-sufficiency are not my fortes, at least in terms of basic survival, nourishment and shelter. Love is way better and love must be shared.

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Meeting the Elders
6:39 PM | 0 comments

There’s something to be noted about first nations and their oft-touted motto of respect for elders. It’s an absolute about-face from the way I grew up viewing a western societal take on the geriatric age, where old people are addressed with demeaning tones as they are shipped off to retirement homes, only to be visited or let out for Christmas, Easter and the occasional grandchild birthday.*
Today the students had a field trip led by elders to the site of the old Ross River, before it was moved to this side of the river in 1963. It is about a 20-minute hike, once you cross the footbridge over the fast-moving Pelly River, and the path is marked with grave sites, hawks’ nests and walking trails established long ago.
Troubled kids who are normally off the wall and wouldn’t listen to warnings of a nuclear attack sat enraptured by the tales of the elders. Kids who have difficulty remembering their own birthdays were able to tell me how they were related to the elders present, where the families became connected long ago. As far as I know, the age of 65 denotes one an elder. Their faces are dark and lined at the creases, their hair is black but lined in white. They speak softly, and say much with few words.
One, Amos, I estimate is almost 80 years old. He said he was 13 in 1942 as he recounted a story of how large steamboats would pass the old Ross River settlement during the war. He led a walking tour of the old site in the bush, keeping a quick pace with his carved walking stick through unmarked paths. I consider myself in decent shape and found myself taking large steps to keep up with him as he moved from the site of an old car to an abandoned house once owned by the Catholic priest. He showed us where the produce was stored for coolness and recounted what fun he had running around with his friends. Though hard of hearing, he told stories with fascinating detail, and all listened, no matter how soft he spoke.
Around the campfire, he sharpened stick to be used in a gopher trap, and talked to the students.
“Those potato chips, potato chips. No eat those potato chips. You eat potatoes, fruit, that be much better,” he said with a nod.
“And don’t be drinking. You stagger around act like idiot, that’s no good,” echoed with a face of disgust.
“That marijuana smoke,” he said, raising two fingers to his mouth as if to smoke it, “you stay away, it make you crazy like, no good. Us old timers, we know, you stay away.”
Sound advice, even if the demographic was largely between the ages of 9 and 12-- not early or too late.
Another elder, a woman, told me talking to the kids today is like talking to sticks, she said, holding up a sharpened piece of willow.
“They don’t listen, don’t know how to survive off the land.” Is that really important these days? It is here, where families still hunt in the bush for extended periods of time. “They run out food, bear eat it, these kids don’t know how to feed themselves.”
She pointed out some kids that are eager to learn, but lamented that most fall victim to junk: food, family structures and alcohol.
This was the first time, since arriving here, that I heard such candid and clear thoughts against drinking, against the social dysfunction that I witness every day. I realize there are wise people here who wish for better, who recognize the trouble their people are in.
The old Ross site smelled sweet from the thousands of sage plants growing in the field. The area is dotted with rusted-out tin roofs, cars and ovens. A couple of cabins still stand, but most are fallen, eroding pieces of wood. The kids and I learned which berries to eat (berry blossoms and rosehips) and which not to eat (bee flowers and soap berries). We learned what wood to use to smoke the fish we catch (and fillet ourselves, naturally), and finally, how to set a gopher snare. It was completely impressive to see this practice taught to the kids. It is seldom used these days, and why bother—is there not a general store to buy candy? Of course, but this is tradition, and this is an elder, and for that we respect him and learn.
*=SIDENOTE: This is, of course, a generalization. In my family, my Grama and Grampa were always hanging out with us, taking us to the park, even skateboarding with us. And my Dad’s parents were esteemed intellectuals who never lost their touch until the day they died. That said, I fear we are the exception rather than the norm

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