Reflections on Harsh Times

Last Friday I returned from a run to find The Frenchman shovelling snow.  The end result is like an iced cake: smooth, precise and clean.

It’s peculiar how one can go from being wrapped in one’s tiny world to having a sudden connection with things beyond comprehension. Upon reaching the cabin we found texts from The Frenchman’s brother in Toronto, about the chaos in Paris. We followed the headlines, The Frenchman talked to friends and family to ascertain they were unscathed, and we both felt strangely uneasy. 

Even here, safe in West Dawson.

Oddly, we knew about everything before The Frenchman’s parents, even though they live 5 km south of the Eleventh Arrondissement, the area in downtown Paris where much of the violence took place. 

Listening to a family Skype conversation the morning after, where I caught phrases like “étate du guerre,” I felt deeply saddened by humankind.

I struggle to find words about this. I think of it though.  And when no clear solutions are evident, I have the luxury to stop thinking because I’m at a distance, and because my thoughts will neither change what has happened, nor how lucky I am. 

The good fortunate blessing of my existence was evident on Saturday’s trip up the Top of the World Highway via snowmobile. Here, I tried to process how the absurdly beautiful and serene environment before us is part of the same planet that experienced such horrors the previous week.  

Everything was frosted and crystallized, the trees Disney-esque with lopsided blankets of snow, the sky spoke in pastel colours and the mountains marched with monochrome stoicism to the horizon.

Caribou from the Fortymile Herd meandered across the road, napped in ditches and dotted the hillsides. They seemed as perplexed by our presence as I often am by the rest of humanity. I hated disturbing these innocuous herbivores with the snowmobile, yet I also wanted to snatch a moment from their world.  

As peaceful as their life looks, I fully understand it’s not. We saw one young caribou with a bloody neck, likely the result of a failed wolf attack. Two days later The Frenchman arrived home from a walk announcing the discovery of a caribou in a ditch near the cabin. It seems this poor bull fell from a cliff above the road and broke its back. It was still alive and had clearly been there for several hours, but could not use its hind legs.

With permission from conservation officers and help from knowledgeable neighbours, it was quickly dispatched, skinned, gutted, quartered and the meat shared around.  Later, over a feast of fried heart, with warm words and new friendships, I realised that although the world may be damaged, West Dawson is indeed a good place.

For all my thoughts about terrorism and caribou I’ve only reached one conclusion: I hope when my end comes it’s not with fear and it’s like the snow: smooth, precise and clean.

Post Script – The river stopped Nov. 17, the same date as 2014. In several days, once the ice is thick enough, West Dawsonites will be physically reconnected to the world.  This too makes me strangely uneasy; I feel unready to rejoin its unruly ranks and would prefer cloistering in a cabin indefinitely. Still, I suppose this is idealistic and reality beckons.

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