Homecoming: An Old Friend Returns

My friend Mike Bertrand was in town for the 21st Annual Peter Gzowski Invitational Golf Tournament on June 15.

Mike, son of Annette and legendary Yukon Mountie Chuck, grew up playing the links at the Mountain View Golf Course in Porter Creek, but when he left Whitehorse at 19, he didn’t look back — not because he didn’t love the Yukon, but because doors opened in front of him rather than behind.

Now he lives in Los Angeles with his wife Mooney and daughter Kaylee. And he works as a golf pro for a club that has two Picassos in the lobby.

Mike used Whitehorse as a cannon from which to launch himself into the world. I took a different tack.

I’ve lived in half a dozen different cities since high school graduation, but Whitehorse is the only one that exerts a magnetic pull; my travels fan outward, but I inevitably return to this pivot point.

For a long time I wanted to be more like Mike — leaving town with eyes focused squarely on the distant horizon. But unlike Mike, who has a talent for opening doors, I tend to paint myself into corners.

For example, the last time I moved home, in November 2008, I’d just been laid-off after a year at the bottom of the construction-worker totem pole in Edmonton. No discernible career opportunities lay ahead of me.

Without the benefit of retrospect, it felt like returning to Whitehorse was admitting some sort of existential defeat. I no longer feel defeated.

But as I went tramping through the streets of my hometown with Mike Bertrand last weekend, I was given a fresh perspective on my good fortune.

A bit of context:

Mike and I were friends during high school but the year after graduation we became inseparable. We would invariably start our evenings with a pair of Tim Horton’s triple-triples (our taste in coffee has matured), and then we’d just fling ourselves into the night with a spirit equal parts adventure and optimism.

Some nights we would end up smoking cigars in a graveyard; other nights we would receive percussion lessons from a Baha’i drummer in Rotary Park. But we were never bored.

So on the Sunday night after the golf tournament Mike got a “hall-pass” from Mooney and we hit the town to re-create our old magic.

We hopped from bar to bar and I caught him up on the locations and vocations of various people from his past.

Wistfulness came over him.

He spoke of the ways he’s tried to bring his Northern heritage to L.A, — camping with the family, for instance. He spoke of his love for Yukon’s endless summer evenings, and the pioneering thrill of being so close to the wild.

He, like I, was forged in this territory, and it’s Yukon’s tradition of self-reliance, adventure, and determination that allowed him to excel in California.

Unlike him, I need to have these lessons drilled into me more consistently.

Luckily, I’ve selected the right pivot point.

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