Anatomy of an Effigy

Brian Oman wants to put the winter blues behind him this weekend.

The young baker is now in his fourth Yukon winter.

“Just sitting around for the winter, waiting for summer to come, to be more productive and get on with my life, is really the big challenge I’ve had since I came to Whitehorse.

Two years ago, Oman decided to take part in Burning Away the Winter Blues, the annual spring equinox event sponsored by Yukon Educational Theatre.

“It was the most pagan community festival I’ve ever experienced, and it made me really happy.”

After attending a second time, Oman was determined to get involved in creating the effigy that gets tossed onto a huge bonfire in Robert Service Park to symbolize the banishment of winter.

He had never tackled this kind of project before, but his more artistically-experienced friend, Eleanor Rosenberg, readily bought into the scheme—including Oman’s vision of what kind of effigy to make.

“It’s like a winter ghost. It’s a long, low-hanging serpent kind of thing,” he says.

“It’s made to represent sort of the way the wind comes down through the valleys and rankles the trees and brings the cold with it, as well as the snow. It’s got a lot of snow character to it as well.”

Part of that character was inspired by Oman’s dog—named Winter, incidentally.

Brian Oman at the mid-point of building this year’s Winter effigy for burning.

“He’s big and white and fluffy, and he kind of looks like Falkor from TheNeverEnding Story, who also ended up being a bit of an inspiration.”

As the project unfolded in Oman’s Range Road basement, he and Rosenberg fashioned a 25-foot figure that will require four people to carry along the parade route from the S.S. Klondike to the park.

“We wanted light materials, obviously, so we could create a large structure without it collapsing, or being too heavy to carry.”

They decided on a combination of cardboard for the head and willow branches for the body—materials that were available free.

Ten days before the event, the pair still hadn’t determined whether or not the creature’s body would be clad in some kind of fabric, such as burlap.

“I kind of like the wicker-man look to it, and just the branches all askance and rickety-looking,” Oman says.

The first-time puppeteer still has no idea how much the effigy weighs.

“It seems reasonable right now, but we aren’t carrying it for several hours at this point. We’ll see how easy it is to carry when we actually have to carry it for that long.”

While the creature’s head has a dragon-like appearance, Oman didn’t have the Chinese lunar calendar in mind when he started.

“That’s kind of a fun coincidence,” he says. “I thought about the Chinese dragon kind of head, and how it’s really fun to shake around and make it dance and stuff. But I didn’t think about the Year of the Dragon.”

Oman considers the annual event a good example of “community building” that allows people to let out a lot of pent-up energy.

“There’s a really good feeling about walking down the street in a big people’s parade kind of thing, with drums going and torches and stuff,” he says.

“It reaches back in time to something that we don’t really touch very often. Some older ritual, some older kind of motivation, and why we get together as a community.”

As he waits for a chance to “freely move about and get out into the woods” on his bike, Oman sees this weekend as a turning-point.

“Hopefully, this winter will be the last time I have to burn away those blues. I can just live out in the bush after this.”

Burning Away the Winter Blues takes place Saturday, March 24. Participants are asked to leave their vehicles at Robert Service Campground and take the shuttle bus to the S.S. Klondike for the 8:30 p.m. start.

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