Last weekend, my friend Georgia Sauve picked me up and we drove 50 minutes south of Whitehorse to Nares Lake. We pulled of the highway onto an unpaved road and followed it until forward progress was no longer worth the risk of getting stuck in the snow. Then we hiked along the shore of the lake until we came to a beautiful log cabin surrounded by the expansive darkness of a Yukon night.
The cabin — co-owned by friends — has been a favourite destination of mine over the past two years. Its tongue and grooved walls have hosted a wedding ceremony, a pig roast (Oinktoberfest) and more than a few nail-biting games of cribbage — all enhanced by the electricity-free ambiance of lamplight and wood heat.
I’m not naïve enough to believe these trips to the cabin constitute “roughing it” in a robust sense, but I enjoy leaving the trappings of the city, if for no other reason than to appreciate the northern lights without the din of urbanity.
But urbanity is insidious these days. As I ate a dinner cooked in one communal pot, I was horrified to hear the ringing of my cell phone. The experience was even more out-of-context because my phone plays a pseudo-Hawaiian hula tune. I let it go to voicemail.
In retrospect I shouldn’t have been surprised. Geographically speaking, I wasn’t far from the town of Carcross, so the disconnection I felt was just an illusion.
But the illusions we cling to help to illustrate the values we hold dear. In my case, the false belief that I was out of cell phone range indicates the importance I place on a distinction between human civilization and Yukon wilderness.
One of the best articulations of this distinction comes from our own Robert Service. In his poem, “The Pantheist,” he writes:
Though peoples perish in defeat,
And races suffer to survive,
The sunshine never was so sweet,
So vast the joy to be alive;
The laughing leaves, the glowing grass
Proclaim how good it is to be;
The pines are lyric as I pass,
The hills hosannas sing to me.
For Service, nature took on a religious dimension, and by extension, he would have considered the destruction of true wilderness to be not only a physical blight, but also a spiritual one.
A century later, times have changed. Resources are dwindling, commodity prices are high and affluent members of our species (myself included) are addicted to a lifestyle not conducive to Service’s idealism.
With yet another round of Peel Watershed consultations coming down the pipe, the Yukon is playing host to a messy collision of priorities and values. Does someone with a large carbon footprint open themselves to charges of hypocrisy if they support protection of the Peel? Perhaps. Does that mean they’re wrong? Not necessarily.
I don’t know exactly what should be done to protect Yukon wilderness and to pretend that I have The (capital T) correct opinion would be arrogant, but maybe Service was on to something when he wrote:
I wanted the gold, and I got it —
Came out with a fortune last fall, —
Yet somehow life’s not what I thought it,
And somehow the gold isn’t all.
Peter Jickling is a Whitehorse playwright and the assistant editor of What’s Up Yukon