“I cannot cross the river,” I told my friends as they were about to move on. (The truth was I didn’t want to cross the river.) We were a group of seven people hiking … two of us were staying behind on the beautiful sandy beach at Kusawa Lake, as the others went farther. I felt like sitting back and relaxing. My other friend was feeling the same. We are queens, we said. We don’t like to cross rivers.
It was the third day of my stay in the Yukon. I had been dreaming about coming back to the Yukon for the past seven years. The place I used to live, for almost two years, had so much impact on my life. This was the place that made me a writer and a journalist. This was the place I had “found myself,” but coming back didn’t feel as joyful as I had expected it to. Whitehorse had changed so much that I felt like a stranger there, but my friends were still there and they hadn’t changed.
One of them was still “a queen,” as we liked to call her, and I was joining her in her “royal attitude.” We are queens: we love to stay in hotels with a spa. We love to go hiking when there is a bed in the evening waiting for us—not a tent. We love hot showers or taking baths. What if there is no bed and no bath? Or just a bucket full of water?
We love to send pictures of our vacation to our friends. What if there was no internet? As we drove the Alaska Highway, earlier that day, I saw two people in the distance, waving. Did they have an accident, I wondered? But as we came closer, I saw that they were holding their smartphones and searching for a signal. No internet. When I arrived, I had the same problem, but I figured that out. I found a spot at the place where I was staying, where I could catch a signal, and was able to send pictures to my friends in Germany—photos of the garage where my friends are living while they were building their cabin, with the hills and trees in the background, the midnight sun and, of course, the outhouse. “Is it decoration or do they use it?” my one friend from Germany asked. I answered that we were indeed using it, and I realized how much I liked sitting there (it had no door) enjoying the view into the aspen and pine trees. I wondered if I could build an outhouse in my garden in Germany. Back home, the view would be of the next-door neighbour’s garden and the street where people were walking by—not very appealing.
In Germany, vacations are for relaxation. Many of my German friends like to stay in a hotel in some tropical place. Not my friends in the Yukon: they are working all summer to get their stuff done—gardening, finishing the cabin they are building, cutting wood. Hikes are for relaxation. Sitting at the beach at Kusawa Lake is for relaxing. And taking a bath in a hole filled with pine cones is amazing. As I was playing with the pine cones, I realized that my friend and I are not queens. We really are cheechakos. We don’t know how to live in the Yukon. We couldn’t even survive if you left us at the beach for two days!
Back in the days of the gold rush, being a sourdough meant that one could survive all of the seasons in the Yukon. It didn’t mean escaping to Hawaii during the winter, as I did when I was living in Whitehorse. But this time, the Yukon showed me how to live here. My friends told me about their kind of relaxation: when summer ends, they pack up and go to their trapline where a helicopter takes them into the bush, to their cabin, where they cut wood, haul water from the river and build traps. No internet. No other people to talk to. “It’s the best,” they said.
Why did I come back here? I came back to learn that I am capable of almost everything. I can live without a shower and the internet. I am a “queen” whenever I want to be one. I don’t need to stay in a hotel to relax. All I need is to be here. Am I a sourdough now? I will find out the next time when I come back!