Flash freeze-up: Speculation and rumours

There is excitement in the air, at least for those of us living on the west side of the Yukon River in Dawson City. Freeze-up is coming, and it’s only a matter of time before the ferry, our only connection to town, will be pulled. Speculation and rumours abound.

Judging by the slush coming down the river, I determine that I should start my preparations this weekend. There are many things to think about, as I am one of the West Dawsonites who will be leaving.

Those lucky enough to stay at home must make sure they have enough food, water, gasoline, and propane (there are no amenities on our side) to last up to six weeks. Those of us leaving due to work, school, or other responsibilities must make preparations and find places to live in town.

We are all in the same boat, but with different circumstances. Shelley Brown lives down the road with her partner, Sebastian, and 13 sled dogs. Sebastian is away until Tuesday; as Shelley will be staying in town, this is the first time that she must prepare for both sides of the river by herself.

When I call her, she is in the middle of blanching, pickling and putting away the rest of the garden vegetables, moving the dogs to their winter homes near the house, and making sure Sebastian has enough supplies. Shelley is a veteran at this, so she is ahead with her preparations and has already secured a spot in town at a friend’s place.

Lynne Fezatte, my closest neighbour, is recovering from back surgery and can’t lift anything over five pounds. She is also getting ready by herself.

Due to her back issues, Lynne needs help with water, propane and chimney cleaning. She tells me that she has had 10 emails and phone calls from friends offering a hand. Lynne also needs to bring her 18-year-old cat into town and must make sure she finds a place to stay that can accommodate him. While she normally house-sits, this year, she will be staying in a motel just outside of town.

I too will be heading to town. Two of my older sled dogs are coming with me, while six others are being left behind. The yard behind my partner Dan’s house, where I’ll be staying, has been a construction zone of doghouse and fence building. Dan’s pickup truck has also come in handy as mine chose to die just a few days ago.

At our weekly Sunday brunch outing, Lynne, Dan, and I are speculating when the ferry might be pulled. Suddenly, my cell phone rings. A friend tells me that they have decided to pull the ferry tomorrow and that a 24-hour notice is now in effect. This is much earlier than we thought! We instantly spring into action. I call Shelley to let her know, but she’s already heard from several other neighbours. Lynne calls a friend to help move her things.

We pay the bill and run to our cars to step up the preparations. Once on the ferry, the deckhands come to our window to confirm that the boat will be pulled tomorrow. Before they are finished speaking, an announcement booms over the intercom; plans have changed. The ferry is now being pulled at 7 p.m. that night! Out come the phones again—support, help and communication are key for a community such as ours.

As I am letting my cabin freeze, Dan ends up making three trips to town, filling up water buckets and emptying them into a barrel of the neighbour who will be taking care of my dogs. I stay home and madly go through my two-page list, trying to anticipate what I might need, how cold it might be and what I can carry back home, as there might not be driving capability for weeks.

Once Dan is finished with the water, we start to load up the things I’ve spent the last four hours gathering. I’m thankful that I already have brought all my freezables to town and that propane and gasoline are done.

There is enough stuff for two more trips before we’re done. As we move from house to truck, I see Lynne and her friend packing up her car. “Just don’t let me forget the cat,” she hollers at him.

There are already people gathering on our street, beers in hand, celebrating the upcoming isolation and community spirit that is freeze-up in West Dawson. Down by the ferry there is a line-up—everyone has a water tank or supplies, making several trips back and forth in order to make the deadline.

Before our last trip, I manage to let the dogs loose for one final run around the yard, and then we are gone.

That night at the local bar, re-enactment of the adventure and things forgotten are discussed. I managed to forget both my suitcases, leaving me with only the clothes on my back. Shelley’s partner didn’t make it back in time, therefore a dog-sitter had to be arranged until he crosses over by helicopter. Lynne brought her 12-volt battery, but forgot the charger.

We laugh. No matter…now is the time to live the life of luxury—electricity, running water, baths. But the thought of home is not far away. When will the river freeze so that we can go back? Speculations and rumours abound …

Gabriela Sgaga lives off the grid in her West Dawson cabin with her eight sled dogs. She enjoys mushing, skijoring and writing about everyday life in the Yukon.

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