Back in 1971, Canadian sportswriter nonpareil Jim Coleman published a book whose title alone deserves a place in history.
He called it A Hoofprint on My Heart.
I can’t say I ever read it—I believe it had something to do with horse racing. Still, you don’t easily forget a title like that.
For some reason, that title swam to mind last week when I started musing about some of the more memorable experiences I’ve had since moving to the Yukon 21 years ago.
Without question, one of the most memorable was the time I spent on horseback in the Wind River area during my first summer here.
When I arrived here in 1991 to take up residence in Mayo, I was chagrined to learn that there didn’t seem to be a whole lot of employment opportunities for someone with my particular set of skills.
So when a poster popped up advertising a guide-training opportunity through Yukon College, I thought, “What the heck. Why not?”
There was nothing in my resume that even hinted that I had any kind of qualifications for this course, apart from being unemployed.
For some reason, I was accepted.
I soon found myself perched painfully in the saddle for hour after endless hour, day after endless day, in the company of course leaders Jack Smith and the legendary Na-Cho Nyak Dun hunter, guide and sage, Jimmy Johnny.
Our group consisted of several adults of disparate backgrounds and interests, as well as a number of residents of the Young Offenders Facility released for a summer in the wilderness.
I didn’t finish the eight-week course (ironically, I flew out early for a job interview) and I never did become a hunting guide.
Still, that golden time in the magical Yukon backcountry will remain with me forever as one of the highlights of my life.
When Robert Service wrote in The Spell of the Yukon about “the strong life that never knows harness”, his song-song metre and rhyme captured the essence of this remarkable place with unerring insight.
Like the ex-pat Yukoner in whose voice he wrote that poem, I can relate readily to the couplet that states:
“There’s a land — oh, it beckons and beckons,
And I want to go back — and I will.”
Like many, many others, I came to the Yukon intending only to check it out and then move on.
The fact that I have actually lived here longer than any other place still surprises me.
And, like so many others who have left the Yukon only to return a year or so later, I have twice heeded the call to return.
Not sure why. Is it because a spell in the Yukon renders one unfit for the world outside?
Or is it because a spell in the Yukon renders the world outside somehow wanting?
Perhaps it’s a bit of both.
In any case, by the time this column sees print, I will have left for a third (and likely final) time, to take up a new life with a new partner at the opposite end of Canada.
Farewells ain’t easy, especially when one is approaching a stage in life when farewell might actually mean good-bye.
Every box I’ve packed in the past couple of weeks carries reminders of why it is so darned hard to leave this place—its myriads of unforgettable people, work (and play) that I have thoroughly enjoyed, and a land unlike any other I have ever known.
I’m not the first person who’s come to that realization, and I certainly won’t be the last.
So, at the risk of seeming maudlin, let me just say this:
Thanks, Yukon. You’ve left a hoofprint on my heart.