BY DONNA CLAYSON
Dad always said the Yukon kept calling him back, whispering his name over and over. With no relief from the internal voice, after 20 years, Dad declared to his wife, “I have to return and I’m hoping you’ll come with me.”
In 1961, we drove up the Alaska Highway from Dawson Creek, to Dad’s beloved North, settling in beautiful Haines Junction. He worked; I played – not quite understanding why we were here.
Around the campfires and while exploring faded trails in the mountains, Mom and I listened to the memories of those long-ago years. Love was etched in every line of Dad’s face, and his eyes twinkled as his soft voice reminisced, bringing back stories of the building of that infamous military road he was part of and the months he endured the cold, the heat and, of course, the mosquitoes.
I truly couldn’t understand the fascination that Dad had with the Yukon and, in 1978, I moved out of the territory. Mom followed me. Dad’s love was complete, and we both realized she was not the focus.
Both of us were doing fine the first year out of the territory, but when the second winter rolled around, I started asking myself why I didn’t return to Dad’s beloved home. There was an ache in my heart I didn’t understand. Mom felt the same; tears could not ease the longing she had to return to the lakes and mountains she had adopted years previous.
When dad died suddenly, in 1991, I knew his repetitive stories would be sorely missed. It was then I began to understand why he refused to cross the territorial border, to leave in search of something uncertain. He was on permanent vacation, enjoying the mountains and the rivers, fishing the deep clear lakes, not catching any fish, just having fun.
As the seasons changed – from the heat of summer, to the brilliant colours of fall, to the white-blue snow and finally back to the sounds and warmth of spring – he was like a kid in a candy store.
Inhale quickly, before it’s gone. And too soon, it was, once he passed away. I missed the North. No words could explain why, even to me. All I knew was that, after a 30-year absence, I was going home … back to the land that Dad loved – and that love he had instilled in me.
I am now the one telling my stories and gathering them from those that live here and from those that wished they still were. Now I’m creating my own memories such as gold panning, dog racing and visiting with old friends and creating new ones.
My home is the mountains, the glacial rivers and, yes, the white-blue colours of winter amongst the aspens that stand tall. Soon my children and grandchildren will join me as well. As I stand proudly near the top of Grey Mountain, arms outstretched, I yell, as loudly as I can, “I’m home, Dad!”
The Yukon has called my name …