Along the Alaska Highway, lost in the clouds, is a quaint and quiet hamlet on the edge of the 21st century.
It is the spitting image of modern man’s struggle with yin and yang, as concrete and nature push against each other. A short stop for summer tourists, a long sentence for those who choose to stay.
A cool wind blows from the mountains at dusk, shining neon lights burn under the midnight sun. The silent city speaks when you least expect to hear it.
The call of the North has lured people to the Yukon for many years. The gold rush long buried, people still flock here in droves, especially during the endless short summers where the sun never sets.
Late July, the summer is in full swing. Blink and you might miss it. Crisp refreshing breezes flood down from the mountains. In the evening the cloudless sky burns bright with crimson. Nestled between high mountains and a mighty water vein, the river valley creates a small haven for weary travellers.
In the city of Whitehorse, even with the wide open spaces of the Yukon spread out before visitors and residents alike, there is hardly anywhere for people to live. The sweet summer evenings are filled with tense emotions.
Cutting through the downtown core a smooth asphalt path weaves around the river front, and through the natural surroundings that make this the wilderness city.
The walking path leads through shaded trees while a summer breezes whispers to the forest and caress the leaves. Suddenly, without warning the path opens up and a vast asphalt parking lot spreads out across your point of view.
At the centre of this vanquished forest a large building stands tall looking out across the conquered land. On the pavement, written in chalk faded by foot traffic and the weather, are the words this used to be a forest.
Parking spaces for favoured employees stand quietly empty. Perhaps no one who works here can afford a car; empty gestures from management hang in the air like the smell of stale bread.
The state of the parking lot echoes the state of the community and cultural creation within such public spaces, a cold mirror reflecting the town’s psyche.
Dozens of long white Winnebagos, camper vans and other squatters fill a large portion of the lot as people camp there for days and weeks at a time.
The vehicles stand tall like gleaming soldiers standing at attention waiting for their commander to bark his commands, a testament to the sense of freedom only achieved through driving a large camper van with all the comforts of home across such a pristine landscape.
The sounds of water lapping against the shoreline across from the parking lot, and ravens shouting at the sky, are overpowered by the smell of meat cooking on propane stoves, and the slurred voices of screaming alcoholics.
Even the ravens come by curiously to visit.
Store patrons shuffle past with blinders on, ignoring the people sitting on their lawn chairs.
The people come from all walks of life, from retired couples to college know-it-all hippies. They come for the happy meals and stay for the free parking.
Hiding between vehicles, tents spring up like summer mushrooms.
A man stumbles out of one of the tents and looks around with blurry eyes, stretching his arms to the sky as he groans.
Two ravens land near his tent. The ravens squawk and hop around fighting over scraps of food. He tosses an empty beer can at the ravens. Their black eyes just stare; ignoring his antics they peck and squawk at each other before flying off into the air.
A woman greets the dawn outside her camper, as she waters the planters that stand like sentinels beside her door.
She talks to herself as she goes about her work, “You know darlings sometimes I think I’m the only one who is trying to gentrify this parking lot.”
Nearby is a beaten Volkswagen van. An old man on a tattered lawn chair sits drinking a beer. Between sips he cracks a wide grin and laughs, with his few remaining teeth.
The rancid smell of beer flushes out of his mouth when he talks, “You think that’s bad, try living in a van down by the river with no job, and no other place to rent.”
The man spits as he talks, the saliva coming to rest in his speckled grey beard.
“At least it’s summer and the weather is good. Fall is coming soon and I’ve got to start prepping for winter. It gets real cold living this close to the river all winter.”
He talks but no one is really listening.
Behemoths of metal and fire stand silently in a parking lot. Nothing more than a short stop on the last great road trip, dragging along all the comforts of home for the ride.
A transient population that has no connection to the town, its people, or nature that surrounds them, they came, they conquered, and they bought a bumper sticker.
Trent Geneman was born in a pumpkin patch. He writes for pleasure, but still has a day job.