Some people should live forever; I felt immense loss as I heard about Alex Van Bibber’s passing on November 26, 2014, at the age of 98.
I first heard about Alex van Bibber when I came to Canada in 1985. I was living in Atlin and had not yet heard about all the amazing things he did for, and on, the land. Most people referred to him with a smile, noting what a great person he was — how fun he was to be around. Fun stories were told, like the twinkle in his eyes he never lost.
He was already old-in-years back then. I was 25; he was almost 70. But he never became old-at-heart.
The last time I saw him was a few months ago; I ran into him at Whitehorse General Hospital. He was using a walker.
“ It’s my legs, they don’t want to go anymore,” he said.
He still had that twinkle.
Over the years I often heard about him, not realizing I would become his neighbour when I moved to the Mendenhall subdivision in 1996. I am proud to say “neighbor” , which is, of course, a relative term around here. When I look in the direction of his house in Champagne, some 15 km from here, there is nothing in between our homes but bush. It is the land he lived on that I am blessed to call my backyard.
I do always look at the Champagne Aishihik people as having the inherent rights to this area, and Alex, for me, was their spokesperson. Initially, I would always ask him if I could walk a certain trail.
The last time we talked , there in the hospital , we spoke about a trail he takes to Granite Lake.
Today , I will write the particulars , as I remember them, of that conversation , because when I am ready to walk that trail, I won’t be able to stop by his house to ask where it starts exactly.
In honour of him, I promise I will do the hike next summer; he seemed eager for me to explore the area.
I found it very profound that everything Alex did was done with great care. He looked after everything he touched meticulously. He always acted with purpose.
A few years ago he was fixing up an old cabin with a family member, close to his recently deceased wife Sue’s cabin at Taye Lake. We sat down with them to share a drink and a laugh.
Actually, way back, before I lived in Mendenhall, I heard about the trail to Taye Lake and looked forward to hiking it one day, not knowing I would travel it so often, by foot, bike, skidoo, and other vehicles.
Nowadays traffic on the Taye Lake road has greatly increased and it is falling apart. This is not necessarily a bad thing; it might turn back to a trail again.
I wonder now what Alex thought about that.
I asked him about the trails because he was totally open, and always keen to share the land without inhibitions.
My fondest memories of Alex are the times I would meet him by coincidence on one of his trails, which was quite often , considering how few people I meet when hiking.
I remember how excited I would be to meet up with him. It seemed he was always happy to come across me , and my party, as well. It was a sharing of love for the land. But for me — and I feel safe saying this for him , too — the joy would always lay in the sheer pleasure of being alive , and meeting a person in the world where everyone counts.