“Everyone is looking to Canada’s north except Canadians.”
This is the title of the article I read from the window seat of the Air North flight from Whitehorse to Yellowknife – 400 km south of the arctic circle. I feel Yellowknife, though pointed out on a map to me in grade school geography, isn’t a city that has come up too much in conversation, and to give the headline some truth I know only one Canadian here.
Jess picks me up from the airport, and drives me through the maze of subdivisions on our way to her house. It is – 7 today and the sun is out, the wind has died, and extremely white people are walking around without coats on squinting into the sun like they have never seen it before. The streets are full and Jess is laughing because everyone looks like a dazed zombie – surprised to find themselves alive after the dead of winter.
Jess and I are friend’s from childhood and she has been living just outside of town, in a double wide trailer for two years. Most people here live in trailers if they don’t live in “Old Town.” – the permafrost makes building foundations almost impossible and the transport cost of supplies this far north is exorbitant. Actually, everything seems priced exorbitant to me. Her utilities are more expensive than my rent in Vancouver, and a beer is $10.25. The trailers seem out of place with expensive cars and obviously heated seats parked out front, but that is the way it is here.
We drive past the Snowking’s ice castle, which we end up returning to the next night for the Dead North’s horror movie festival. Local filmmakers of all ages make short films to contribute, and they gave a little glimpse into the darkness that eats away at most people when it is dark all day. Hunting and guns, repeatedly made appearances in the films all evening, and though I shouldn’t be so shocked to see teenagers nonchalantly going out with rifle into the winter, I am. That night I learned that watching movies in an ice cave at -16degrees for two hours is finger numbing. It was amazing to see the community here come out and support all the films, but I am not cut out for the cold.
At home Jess and I binge drink tea to warm up, and for a week I feel like a local. I can see the northern lights from my bedroom window at night, and during the day I watch the frozen cattails dance on the ice. We snowmobiled and helicoptered over the landscape and fought off the cold with an outdoor fire. I heard about the Arctic Games and ice roads, and places like Hay River and Nahanni National Park which have never been on my radar before.
Canadians who aren’t looking north are missing out. Yellowknife is quirky and dark, and has a dress code of Canada Goose jackets and muck luck boots. It is remote and isolated and in that embodies the idea of “northernness” as a part of our Canadian identity in the most honest way that I have experienced.
My send off was unceremonious my friends on the island had all but stopped texting, and I could barely keep up with myself come September. I flew across Canada three times, across Europe, to the Caribbean and back twice all in the span of four months. It was an insane schedule and took a toll on all of my relationships. I felt guilty for not being there, I felt even more guilty that I decided to move again. I couldn’t bring myself to tell anyone.
My car was full of both my junk and my most prized possessions, my books and my photo gear, my business and all my memories from the last two years. I drove myself squished to the steering wheel to the ferries. I’ve timed my ferry rides with sunset since the moment I arrived in Victoria two years before and this was no exception. It turned from day to night over the hour and a half ride.
It only took a few trips down our skinny ally way, and up the stairs at the back of the house to bring my world indoors. It was a move to the city I’ve talked about, but surprised even myself when I decided to actually do it.
If you told me I would be living here a year ago I wouldn’t have believed you. I was in love with the island but after a week of debating and just a few hours of packing Jacqueline and I (my new roommate and friend from childhood) were sitting together on the scuffed hardwood, wine in hand, pizza on the way. No furniture to speak of but happy to be home. It was July since we had last seen each other, and both of us had been around the world since then. We spoke fast and laughed, catching each other up until my eyelids were heavy with jet lag and my muscles ached from the heavy lifting.
Welcome to the city, surprise, you live here now, and good night.
Lighthouse Park, Vancouver BC
“Of course, a writer’s journal must not be judged by the standards of a diary. The notebooks of a writer have a very special function: in them he builds up, piece by piece, the identity of a writer to himself. Typically, writers’ notebooks are crammed with statements about the will: the will to write, the will to love, the will to renounce love, the will to go on living. The journal is where a writer is heroic to himself. In it he exists solely as a perceiving, suffering, struggling being.” – Susan Sontag
I shipped my first journal home after I finished it, too much to carry and too much angst to fit in a backpack in Asia. As I arrived in Vancouver in 2012 I was on my third book of scribbles and thoughts. It overflowed with train stubs and maps, and was tied together with a leather cover that was no longer bound to the pages themselves. I found this map folded there; a remnant from a time I was still a tourist on the coast, between stories I’ll never let anyone read, and where of course I am my own hero.
Whistler, BC, Canada
A Marmot is a particularly stunning rodent, a species of squirrel that has spurred a plethora of outdoor adventure branding from Marmot Clothing to Marmot Mountain in Alberta to the more obscure Whistler Mountain Resort named not for the wind that whistles between the high altitude peaks as some would suspect but for the high pitched, excited squeal of the Marmot.
The Himalayan Marmot claimed his fame in the ethnologies of history as a bit of a gold digger. Minaro tribes would frequent their burrows often and excavate the gold dust they would hoard inside. I don’t know for sure, but if the brains behind the resort town’s construction in Whistler all those years ago named the Mountain in a proverbial nod to the mammal’s tendencies to occupy a space where money would stick to walls as the tourists filed through, they were right on the money.
Whistler and the Marmot are truly beautiful cash hogs (groundhogs that is).