West Dawson Time

I’m not sure where the second week of freeze up has gone. After the protracted nature of my preparations, the flurry of activity upon arrival, and the pleasantly systematic organization of the cabin once here, time itself has taken on a different feel.

Maybe it was the sudden transition from fall to winter that came with driving 500 km north; maybe it was the clocks going back; or maybe it’s the lack of electricity, schedule and daily commute to the office.  

Or it could just be the West Dawson pace of life.  

I’ve heard that running on Yukon time means being 15 minutes late and Dawson time is an extra five minutes behind that. But perhaps there’s an additional little bend in the space-time continuum on this side of the river.

Regardless, the days have settled into a rhythm. We wake when it gets light. I work in the mornings while The Frenchman reads or tackles small projects. In the afternoons we walk, run or bikejor with the dogs. We bump into neighbours here and there and we amble down to the river most days to check on the serious business of freezing.  

At first a tiny, fragile layer of ice clung to shore. It’s hard to imagine this substance, resembling cling-wrap, will ultimately become strong enough to drive over. Thin sheets of ice also floated past, tinkling as they turned, bumping into one another.  Sometimes flat, sometimes protruding from the surface like glassy shark fins, their random motion through the eddy line was mesmerizing.

Then slush pancakes arrived, flowing down the east side of the Yukon River. Slopping past, they bump into each other and the shore, sticking together a little at a time.  One afternoon our observations of ice were interrupted by a boat crossing – first we heard it colliding with patches of slush, then the driver found an open channel and made a good run across. He skillfully slid into shore, whereupon a dog and a girl jumped out, laden with supplies for their freeze up.  

A couple of days later, when more slush made boating impossible, we met the helicopter dropping off another freeze up latecomer.

In general, the warmer temperatures have made the river’s progress somewhat slow.  And just as I’m unable to envisage the ice bridge that will eventually come to be, I’m equally incapable of comprehending two weeks have slid past. I suppose the days add up to weeks, analogous to the slush clumps that, fused together, span the water and bring the river’s run to an end for another year.

Still, I remain convinced time in West Dawson is different than elsewhere.

It seems fitting to discover this in 2015, the year marking the 100th anniversary of Einstein’s presentation of the complete Theory of General Relativity.  To misquote Einstein, “Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute and it seems like an hour. Sit in West Dawson for an hour and it seems like a minute. That’s relativity.”  Or freeze up.

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