It’s mid-winter when I finalize the tentative plans I’ve carried with me since leaving Ontario to drive to the Yukon a year ago. This summer I will leave again: the myth of an uncle I’ve never met pulls me to New Mexico.
I’ll slip down the West coast, visiting friends as I go, then cross into the desert as the season cools, avoiding America’s pelvis at its sweatiest.
I’ll winter there. In the South. In my camper. The following spring will return me to Ontario, the completion of a two-year continent-circling loop.
I begin to save my money and tell my friends. I give my three months notice on my cabin. I start leaving my sweaters and coats at the free store, culling a desertappropriate wardrobe.
I plan to go mushroom picking with a friend – we’ll drive out caravan-style in our own vehicles, make some money, then I’ll continue on my way.
I look at maps, plan my route, count kilometres. And from the people in my life I begin to accumulate something that is neither envy nor disbelief, yet tinged with both.
Because I’m getting out. I’m leaving the Yukon. With no plans to return. Unlike the thousands of others who arrived from Ontario for seasonal visits before me, I’m not staying.
Spring returns, my first in the North. Light rapidly re-enters the sky, four noticeable minutes every day, half an hour every week. I leave the house without gloves on, then without a toque. Soon I’m out without my long johns.
I start to feel as light as the sky at 9 p.m., then 10 p.m., then 11. The days lengthen into possibility. The forest fills with birdsong. The mountains lose their white hair, grow younger, fleshier, turn their faces to the spotlight of the sun.
I start going on walks every morning, finally getting to know the bit of the Yukon River I’ve lived on all winter. I take my shoes off, meditate in the sand. I bring my notebook down to the water to write. My living room expands into the forest; my office now has a river running through it.
I spend more time in town, navigating the endless errands of departure. Every day gifts me a happy chance encounter with someone I haven’t seen in months.
I realize how many people I’ve gotten to know here. How recognizable the faces of this city are. One day I run into someone I’ve been hoping to run into since I last saw him in October. We make plans to cook dinner at his cabin before I leave.
Two weeks before my scheduled departure, I go on the kind of first date I used to imagine all Yukon first dates must be like: a handsome solitary man invites me into his beautiful, private home in the woods. We stay up all night drinking tea, stoking the wood stove, sharing the intimate details of our lives.
Around 3 a.m., coming back from the outhouse, he calls me outside. The sky is lit with the dancing green of the Northern lights. I lived a full winter here without catching them. Tonight they reveal themselves to me.
Two days before leaving, my mushroom picking partner and I suddenly question why we’re both driving 2,500 km in separate vehicles. Why wouldn’t we carpool? We can take her car. I’ll just leave my camper here. I’ll come back for it.
The handsome solitary man offers me a parking space on his property.
When I arrive back in the Yukon six weeks later, no one is surprised to see me.