The subconscious is so much smarter than we give it credit for.
I’m not anti-technology. I can’t be, since technology is what’s allowing me to take on this awesome job as co-editor of What’s Up Yukon, and to continue living in Dawson City, the wild northern town I’ve grown to love.
But so often it’s the unfolding of seemingly simple thoughts – loosely shaped ideas that leap up into flashes of insight – that end up directing our lives so strongly, even as the internet, solar panels and high-tech clothing give us new ways to live in Yukon.
The first half-winter that I spent in Dawson City, I was making art in the short dark days. I thought I was there to morph conversations into drawings that could be played as musical scores.
I did work on that project during my two months as a Klondike Institute for Art and Culture artist-in-residence, but one day it struck me that I was living inside a gigantic outdoor freezer. I couldn’t help but respond with curiosity. Soon, I was obsessed with making ice drums and rattles.
That playfulness gave me an excuse to ask other Yukoners about their experiences with ice. When I moved here full time in April 2009, I continued to ask those questions and I heard amazing stories that taught me a lot about Yukon itself.
A Yukon Parks employee showed me fantastic photographs of grizzly bears catching late-season salmon up at Ni’iinlii Njik (Fishing Branch) Park, in the Northern Yukon. Turns out there are shallow limestone waterways in the area that keep Fishing Branch River unusually warm. This means the bears can fish into late October, and they end up with long icicles hanging off their fur as they gnaw their way into hibernation-ready plumpness.
A former Diamond Tooth Gertie’s dancer talked about crossing the Yukon River in her baby blue Ford pickup every winter, using the ice road that gets plowed smooth between West Dawson and Dawson City proper. She joked that when the ice road began to melt away in layers each spring, she would drive with her seat belt off and the door latched open so that she could dive out if the river cracked open. Eventually, she and her husband built a log home in Dawson, but you can see in her eyes, years later, that she loved it all.
Someone I have yet to meet told stories, through emails and her personal blog, about living off the grid. An Austrian woman and her husband live in the wilderness near Green Creek, dozens of kilometres away from any town, chopping the ice off their water hole each morning during winters and watching caribou cross the nearby Yukon River during fall and spring. They’ve been living there three years.
Why am I telling you all this? These exchanges reinforced my belief in the beauty of conversation. For close to two years, I’ve been reminded that the time spent sharing a coffee, a beer, a walk, a plane ride South, with either a friend or a stranger, offers some of the most interesting, surprising and sometimes downright useful stories I could imagine.
So much of the art, entertainment, and even outdoor activities that we love are deeply worked ideas that were probably pretty simple conversations at some point. Jam sessions.
Think about it: isn’t it curious that someone formed Table Tennis Yukon? Curious because ping pong isn’t always considered a Nordic sport. Why is there an art school in Dawson City, a town of fewer than 2,000 people? How did Nakai Theatre come up with the 24 Hour Playwriting Competition that they’ll be hosting for the 24th time, as George Maratos wrote about in last week’s issue of this paper?
I don’t know for sure, but I’ll bet these now-established events and organizations were once just a gleam in someone’s eye as they chatted with a pal.
What’s Up Yukon itself is the product of conversations on the Beese back deck, and it turns six next February.
This column will be a place where I look for the conversations that sparked people to try something unusual, put a new idea out in the world, or simply moved them in a personal way when they weren’t expecting it. It would be swell if these Subarctic Sessions could include these kinds of conversations from all Yukon communities over time. I hope you’ll contact me with your ideas and experiences if you have something you want to share with the Territory.
Meg Walker is a writer and visual artist living in Dawson City.