Rodger Thorlakson cuts a unique figure amongst the early Christmas-season shoppers.
He wears a hat that would look affected on a lot of people but, on him and Indiana Jones, it looks perfectly in place.
His belt buckle is the shape of The United States — complete with red, white and blue background colouring — and he walks with a cane. It’s a beautiful wooden cane which he informs me was made “by a friend out at Lake Laberge.”
Thorlakson is the type of person who has earned the right to be himself and, as a result, he has a quietly self-confident manner. It’s the self-confidence of an older man who has worked hard all his life and is still not afraid of a little hard work.
His age is tough to pinpoint and when I ask a question designed to needle it out of him, he looks at me flatly. “Oh, I don’t think that’s important,” he says.
He’s probably right.
What I can tell you about Rodger Thorlakson is that he first came to the Yukon in 1953 and he settled here for good in ’64. He helped build the Faro mine and was there when the town burned to the ground in 1969.
And his reason for moving here? As concise and romantic as one could wish for: “The Lure of the North,” he says.
Thorlakson has made his living in a variety of ways over the years: He has been a heavy machine operator and a “highway ambassador”. This is a job that consists of driving up and down the Alaska Highway and helping fellow travellers who are in trouble.
More recently, he worked at the juvenile penitentiary. He did this for 16 years.
Now Thorlakson has settled on acreage out on the Mayo Road. “I’m not a city person,” he tells me. And It’s obvious he enjoys the peace, tranquillity and freedom of living on the edge of the vast Yukon wilderness.
But despite the remoteness of his home, he is certainly not a reclusive, Mad-Trapper-sort. “I’ve got friends in every town, from Old Crow to Beaver Creek.” He says. He’s not being boastful; he’s just reporting the facts. Thorlakson enjoys bringing people together.
When I first contacted him, I was hoping to interview Thorlakson at his acreage the next day. However, he told me that this would not work for him because he would be pouring concrete. This is part of what he calls “setting up another cabin (on his lot) for hospitality.”
Thorlakson envisions his new cabin as a venue where fellow musicians can gather (Thorlakson, himself, plays the acoustic guitar). It is also a place where friends can go to meet for meditation and relaxation sessions.
He tells me, “If there’s something wrong with someone else, there’s something wrong with me. If I blame someone else for something, it means there’s a problem with me as well. You’ve got to live and let live.”
It’s a philosophy of reconciliation and self-discovery. And once the cement dries on his new cabin, he will have created a space where this philosophy can be made manifest.
It seems that Rodger Thorlakson does not merely talk the talk; he also walks the walk … with the help of a custom-made, Lake Laberge cane.