Living in the Yukon, it’s hard not to feel distinctly aware of time, of its passing and of our relationship to it. The remnants of bygone days that can still be seen all around us make the past feel much closer than it might feel in other places. A recent example of how very present the past still is, and how far back it reaches, is Nun cho ga, the 30,000-year-old mummified baby wooly mammoth that was discovered earlier this year in the permafrost of the traditional territory of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in.
Hiking the Chilkoot Trail or taking a guided boat trip to Fort Selkirk are very-tangible ways to connect with the past. Walk the streets of Dawson City and you may feel like you took a step back into the 19th century. However, it’s not just the past that weaves its way into our daily lives: the past, present and even the future are intertwined here. Gatherings and festivals like the Adäka Cultural Festival and the biennial Moosehide Gathering have to do as much with the future as they do with the present and the past. Hearing one of the Yukon’s eight main First Nations languages, spoken by an Elder teaching her grandchild, is simultaneously a link to the past as well as a glimpse into the future. A visit to the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre, the MacBride Museum of Yukon History or to one of the various beautiful cultural centres around the territory (such as the Da Kų Culture Centre, the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre or the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre) can remind us of how where we are today is tied to what came before us and how much that informs where we will go in the future.
The passing of the seasons and the ever-changing hours of daylight make time feel more cyclical than linear sometimes. If you spend time outdoors, it’s almost impossible not to notice the seasonal changes. They’re the same cycles that have repeated themselves for millions of years. And even then, within those cycles, time doesn’t always seem to be going in only one direction; sometimes it feels as if it were possible to move back and forth in time. In the spring, when the prairie crocuses are already blooming in and around Whitehorse, a short drive up Fish Lake Road can take you back into winter. Or on a hot summer day, if you take a hike up in the mountains, above the treeline, you’ll be greeted by a scene that feels more reminiscent of spring than summer, with willow leaves just starting to come out, and spring flowers still looking fresh and bright. Take a drive up the Canol Road or the Dempster in late summer and you’ll feel like you’ve travelled into the future, as you see the foliage that’s already turned bright yellow and orange, the first snow on the mountain tops and ripe cranberries adorning the ground. Head back towards Whitehorse and autumn can still feel so far away.
To me, life in the Yukon is like having access to an ever-present time machine that lets us jump back and forth between seasons, witness the rhythms of cyclical time and feel connected to history, going as far back as a time when giant beavers and wooly mammoths roamed the North. It lets us see into the future and allows us to appreciate the present. Here, we can all be time travellers.