I pulled out the flat, round, ceramic piece, which looked like a patterned cookie, and held it in my hand. Under glorious sun, I surveyed the stony shoreline and calm waters of Stewart River. This spot, off the Klondike Highway and linked to the Yukon River, was the perfect confluence of history, adventure, and wilderness — all of which Janet had loved.
I knew this was the spot.
Although we had come to the Yukon from British Columbia for my niece Julia’s wedding, I was now about to fulfill a personal mission, a friend’s request.
An avid traveller, Janet died of cancer at 55, before she could visit all the intriguing places that still awaited her. But death wasn’t going to slow her down; she was determined to keep globetrotting even after she was gone.
And indeed she has, thanks to dozens of these ceramic forms, made by a friend. Each one contains some of Janet’s ashes, baked like sacred flour in a kiln.
I picked up the “cookie” at the end of Janet’s memorial, after rows of attendees had sung along, with glowing light sticks held aloft in church, to a YouTube clip of Monty Python’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”. Janet planned the proceedings before she died, including the bowl of ceramic pieces that sat on a table next to the guest register. Beside the bowl was a sheet of paper; everyone who took a clay memento of Janet was to list where they were going to “take her” on holiday.
Originally, I wrote “Cuba”, but later considered possible restrictions transporting human remains across international borders. Besides, I imagined explaining, in broken Spanish, to a dubious official in a beret and army fatigues, that this item contained a special powder that was worth a lot to me.
I then planned to bury the cookie while visiting Dawson City, somewhere between the cabins of Robert Service and Jack London.
A long-time freelance writer, Janet would have loved to remain forever in this hallowed literary company, where she’d settle into the same ground that young Pierre Berton roamed and romped.
But as an author, world traveller, and freelance writer myself, I was so inspired by the photos and stories in the Jack London Museum — White Fang and The Call of the Wild fuelled my own young desires for adventure — that I completely forgot about Janet.
I hope she’ll forgive me.
Instead a small part of her lies at the bottom of the Stewart River.
Rest in peace, and pieces, Janet. I know that you’ll enjoy your time in this rugged land of gold seekers and storytellers. Maybe you’ll pick up a yarn or two.
Like the ever-flowing current, keep chucklin’.