Last month marked a very important event in my life: I’ve been a Yukoner for 20 years.
Of course, we all understand that I didn’t become a Sourdough until eight months later, when I saw the Yukon River break up.
As a side note, I have never subscribed to this definition. Instead, I consider anyone to be a Yukoner if they live here and they love it. I even consider those who have moved away, even though they love it here, to be Yukoners.
I remember that first day as a Yukoner well: My wife, at the time, and I (congratulations to Ellen Brian, too!) were picked up at the airport by my new boss, Shelley. She had left a Thanksgiving Dinner to welcome us to Whitehorse and, so, she had asked if it was OK if she stopped at an Off Sales before returning to her party.
“What’s an Off Sales?” we both asked.
Waiting in the gravel parking lot of the Airport Inn, we hoped there was more to this town than the highway to Fairbanks.
Please know that this was long before the days of the Internet. I couldn’t just take a “street view” walk down Main Street via Google Maps.
Just a week earlier, some guy, I had never met before, told me there were no paved streets in Whitehorse. Why would he lie? So, of course I believed him.
Oh well, we thought. We would only be here for six months and then I would be transferred again.
If I can be allowed to count myself, I was the first person I ever heard to say that.
I reported to work the next day and then called in sick the second. I was mortified to be so unreliable, so soon. But it was waved off as I was told many people get sick when they move here from sea level.
A month or so later, a bunch of us Cheechakos decided to drive to Haines Junction for the day to see the rest of the Yukon. We had heard it is a pretty little place. Yeah, I know now how funny this is as the touristy places in Haines Junction are boarded up in November. Meanwhile, the cold was whipped into our faces at a furious rate.
On our way back – earlier than we expected – we decided to make a left turn and visit Otter Falls. It was so beautiful, we told ourselves, that it was on the back of the five-dollar bill.
Alas, we didn’t realize that we needed to make an appointment to see waterfalls. They were “turned off” by the Aishihik dam and only came back to life during certain times during tourist season.
And yet, we felt at home. There is something about the surrounding mountains that are instantly cozy. And the fact that we flew over so many of these mountains, before landing in this frigid oasis, forced a sense of community upon us.
As I celebrate 20 years of being a Yukoner, I celebrate 20 years of having left the Rat Race behind. I celebrate 20 years of freedom to be who I am, and not of what society demands of me.
So, what does this get me, this month of my 20th Anniversary? Hallmark doesn’t make a card for this, so I didn’t get anything.
But I would be grateful for just one thing: When I meet someone else, who has been here a year longer than I, do I have permission to not feel inferior to them?
Is there a “club” of 20+ Yukoners that doesn’t require its members to keep their heads lower than those who have been here longer?
When I leave a room, in which a Yukoner of 25 years is holding court, may I turn my back to do so?
May I now forget the year and month that I arrived here – Oct. 8, 1990 — and just tell someone who enquires, “I’ve been here over 20 years”?
Because, you know, I totally have.