Editor’s Note: The following essay recently appeared in a slightly different version in the Globe and Mail. The author is busy preparing for a trip to Italy as Foreign Correspondent for What’s Up Yukon.
A while ago, we were at a bar mitzvah in Toronto.
Meeting and greeting relatives we have not seen for the better part of a decade, we received resounding wonder that our adventure of moving to Canada’s North more than a dozen years ago was no longer a temporary adventure but an ongoing reality.
We moved to Whitehorse for a year or two in 1996 and laughed at all the people who told us they had done the same thing… 25 years earlier.
That was not our plan, we assured everyone. Yet here we were, 16 years later, with a house, a dog and two children and a few more wrinkles than when we started.
Interest in our “adventure” grew from amazement to gentle disapproval. What could we possibly still be doing there in the middle of the frozen North, a tiny city, a hinterland?
I was answering questions ranging from, “What do your children do for schooling?” to “Take me through your day from start to finish.”
Honestly, if I’d been there any longer they might have asked what we do to run lights in our home.
This all naturally led me to wonder, what are we doing in the middle of the frozen North, a tiny city, a hinterland, years after we started a to-be-short-lived adventure, full of love and excitement?
It’s not that we have settled down. We have spent endless hours deliberating what our next move should be.
Do we move back to the city in which we were raised? The one where we were educated?
Do we venture to another southern city, less known to us, but more populated?
Do we head overseas for a temporary or long-term stint, leaving Canadian destinations to be determined at a future time?
We have spent even more endless hours deliberating why we are deliberating the question in the first place. Is it for bigger, better work opportunities? For family and friends down south? The future of young minds in our care?
One of the Toronto cousins may have provided the answer to the unintended question.
Meeting newly-acquired family through marriage allows for conversation and contemplation. When I talked of our deliberations, new smart cousin asked, “Why do you want to move?”
I said, “I’m sure that we are missing things,” and she replied, quite simply, “I don’t know, are you? “
I don’t know. Am I?
We have an eclectic group of friends who are travelled, worldly, accomplished, intelligent, self-sufficient, interested and interesting.
We have a community that is caring, vibrant and completely lacking in pretension. Who you are matters, not what you, are in a place where the latest fashion may range from Bogs and Carhartts to Lululemon, the latest microfibre to cutting edge Canadian designers.
I have interesting work that allows me to try to change our community, our society, our country, for the better.
We can leave our house and arrive three minutes later on 80km of freshly groomed ski trails with nothing but blue sky, happy dogs, freshly waxed skis and endless trails ahead of us.
Our children have been raised bilingually from birth, despite the linguistic failings of their parents. They attend French school and I did not have to camp out all weekend to ensure their spot.
With their entire school, they performed a rendition of The Little Prince when they were four and six that rivaled a Parisian performance I saw many years ago.
I can bake cookies with the kids, head out behind my house into the woods for a run through the lupins, prepare a gourmet meal for 12 and be involved in strategic planning, all within a day.
Sometimes being in a big city or being where you started means expecting that all other places should be like yours. There is never that expectation here.
There is an expectation that it is unendingly cold here, unendingly dark. And don’t get me wrong, it can feel that way at -40 in the middle of January.
But the darkest day in December reminds you that we start gaining light at the rate of six minutes a day to the point that by the beginning of March, my five-year-old wonders why she has to go to bed before the sun does.
One becomes qualitative rather than quantitative. We may have less light in the winter, but the light we have has a warm ethereal glow. The crispness of the air at -30 literally snaps. The clarity of this northern sky is something I carry with me when I hit smog-ringed cities on my trips out.
We have few good restaurant, but we have exceptional foodies in our lives who prepare incredible meals at the drop of a hat.
We don’t have the symphony, but we have the time and resources to travel around the world to experience cultures not right outside our door.
We don’t have a Jewish community complete with rabbi, congregation and new outfits for the high holidays.
We do have children who believe that the lights they see in December on other people’s homes are beautiful Hanukkah lights—and a lively crew of transplants to create new traditions out of old ones, adapted to be meaningful in a way that many of us lost in our big-city lives.
We learn that winter is something to be embraced rather than feared or avoided because, quite frankly, there is no avoiding it when you live where we do.
Instead, we grab our skis, kids and friends and go check out Jessie the muskox at the game farm. She is as far away from us as your paper is from you right now.
We head to the natural hot springs and practise our dolphin dives. And when the eternal light of summer days comes, along with the crocuses, lupins and delphiniums, we marvel at the superhuman energy that comes with 3 a.m. twilight.
We don’t just survive. We thrive.
To be here is to live life deliberately.
When we were teaching our eldest how to ski, we headed to the ski hill as the sun was hitting the trees in a way that silhouetted their form as we drove into the heavenly abyss.
“Whitehorse is a nice place to live,” our eldest mused. “It’s peaceful and quiet here.”
And she’s right.
What I have found in the North is home.
As Robert Frost put it nearly a century ago, there were two roads, “…and I, I took the one less travelled by. And that has made all the difference.”