We have all walked along crowded, ultra-busy city streets…sometimes lengthy straight ones, sometimes through Jackson Pollock drip-lines of mazy corners and densely packed pavements. When you do that you tend to get into a rhythm, plotting the gaps and the best chances of moving forward, changing lanes and revising your direction from moment to moment. On good days it becomes second nature, an easy dodgem-dance involving happy co-ordination of eye, brain, feet and torso.
Sometimes though, you can get out of synch. For whatever reason, perhaps a futile thought-drift into the past or a desire-driven fantasy about the future, you lose that necessary rhythm. You bump into people, you get held up behind slower movers, you get involved in split-second two-steps with oncoming bodies. And that loss of a relaxed, mindful progress can take on a buffeting momentum of its own. You have to work a little at regaining rhythm, or even stop, step aside and go again.
After just such an unforseen loss of rhythm (jangly but interesting) on a long round trip to Calgary and back up to Whitehorse, I now feel back in a conscious, progressive stride. Maintenance is ongoing. No more colliding with coyotes or rubbing spines with porcupines or getting blocked in behind bumbling-bummed bears. Feet, brain, torso and heart are doing joined up motion again.
Q : How many years do you have to live before you stop needing to have learning experiences?
A : Tough as they may be sometimes, learning experiences just keep on a-comin’ so get used to them. It’s learning how to learn that is the key, and I am still a novice at that.
* * * *
Now that the summer solstice is here the Yukon day takes a mere hour or two for a moderately shady break around 1.30 to 3 in the morning. The dipping of the sun below the horizon happens with such reluctance and such yawning angles of light that the skies vary from night to night. There are fish-flesh ripples of orange on the stratospheric clouds, and there are darkly marooned hazes of sullen glow-halos behind the high ridges.
Where snow persists in the topmost corries of the mountains, the geometry of the fading sun gives a neon pink spotlight to the peaks. For half an hour each night the tops become pyramids of fresh bubblegum….not fancier metaphors for hot pinkness, just chiselled pyramids of vibrant, blousy bubblegum.
* * * *
One of the compensatory joys of the arduous trek back up to Yukon was the passage through the Northern Rockies, a big area full of characterful beauty and fascination. There was no time to stop on this journey but it did bring waves of exhilarating memories from 3 years ago. There are large tracts of the Northern Rockies that are remote, but where the actual mountains are easier to access. There is a thinner forest defence and you can get onto good solid rock above the tree-line relatively quickly.
There are still creeks and rivers to cross, and a little bushwhacking, but the rewards are immense. You don’t have to be a climber, skilled in severe routes on both rock and ice (required for most of the massive, serrated photo op Rockies of the Icefields Parkway). You can contour up many of the Northern Rockies and, in fine weather, use the happy alignments of slopes and ridges and tors to get up into heart-stoppingly beautiful panoramas, with vaulting connections between the tops that allow for miles of energised legwork.
And, unlike with many ranges, there is very little scree, talus and debris to negotiate. The rock is hard, compact and grainy in texture, with huge boilerplate slabs and rounded humps. On a blissful 3 night bivouac wander during that 2007 journey I felt that I was walking across those tops with spring-heels and a light touch, lungs full of pure air by day and head in a crown of stars by night.
* * * *
I was very aware, whilst writing about the joys of Kluane in a recent posting, that I tend to avoid using certain words when writing this blog. For example, whatever happened to the fine word “awe”?
“Awe” has a wealth of meaning and impact that has become locked away behind the over-used “awesome” (or “arse-um” in north American usage). Perhaps the corruption of the word was then completed by the US neo-cons and theo-cons as fronted by George Bush…the obscenity of the ‘Shock and Awe’ bombing tactic that was so awe-inspiring that it kept the Iraq war going through to the present day.
In a similar context I find it uncomfortable to use the word “spiritual”. The natural world, in macro breadth and micro detail, allows for experiences of great rapture and insight into all aspects of living. When this is linked to your own heart and mind, and linked to great compassion and mindfulness in people around you, powerful connections and awarenesses evolve. How do we sum up those moments which fuse together to become sustained knowledge?
For those who actively hold to a particular faith it can be easy, maybe all too easy, and the word God is flipped up into the discussion at the jerk of a knee. And “spiritual” has been appropriated by the myriad of New Agey, glossy philosophies and brands (I use that word deliberately as consumerism is a major factor in that whole sector). The word “spiritual” has become like the soup made out of the soup that was made out of the soup that was made out of the original ingredients.
I am interested in the development of the word “humane” or a phrase like “what it means to be a living, awake human”. Some formulation that reflects the connections between thought, feeling and action / experience. Faith feels like a superstitious, desperate gesture. “Belief is the wound that knowledge will heal”.
* * * *
Some Yukon proverbs and sayings that I have collected or simply made up would include:
- When it comes to a forest fire the technical term for even the most beautiful tree is ‘fuel’ – cease to hug it at that point.
- What’s the most confusing event in the calendar in Dawson City? Fathers’ Day (substitute your small community name of choice).
- Silence in the mountains makes a great noise.
- Share stories, time and space with the traveller.
- Bears are catholic in their tastes and the Pope shits in the woods.
- People with dogs and no children talk about their dogs more than people with children and no dogs talk about their children (there is a big dog culture in Yukon…and a culture of big dogs, understandably so).
- Neighbourliness and open, welcoming hearts are the order of the day where people don’t have to live on top of each other.
- Always wave to the roadside Raven.
- Every glacier has a crevasse with your name on it. That doesn’t mean you have to live in it.
- Don’t go to Starbucks – go to Baked, The Chocolate Claim, Java Connection, anywhere but Starbucks.
- The wilderness may be driven back by the oil and mineral companies, by the motorised trophy hunters, by the consumers of nature, but the wilderness will return, even if that is in a different form. People compete and destroy each other. The wilderness will wait for that to happen. What you think is wilderness now is not as wild as it was long ago or as wild as it will be again (Vuntut Gwitchin First Nations writer from the Old Crow community).
- Stories are compensation for only having one life.
- Robbing a bank is not as big a crime as founding one.
- Hide with the lynx, run with the wolf, fly with the eagle, find food with the bear…survive with the ground squirrel.
* * * *
This time in Yukon has been inspiring and fulfilling. I have a few more days before moving south into BC. Whilst the blog has reflected the place more than the persons, I have simple, honest gratitude towards many people here. You will know who you are. It is relationship to others that completes an inwardly satisfying circle. And there will be much more Yukonnection to come!