Why Yukoners Secretly Love it When It Hits -40

Happy Nonetheless-- by Amanda GrahamLiving in the Yukon is a unique experience. We are a place of extremes. The long winter night, no stars in the summer, the snow layers caked on the downtown sidewalks, the wilderness at your back door. We are proud of our bison and moose encounters, spotting red foxes and coyotes drifting down lamplit streets, and, yes, we are thrilled to see temperatures drop below -35C.

Oh, you won’t hear it in our driveways. We ain’t “whistlin’ a happy tune” as we’re scraping our windshields; and the only joy about turning on our cars a half hour before we need to go anywhere is the glee from punching Command Start from your kitchen window (if you can afford it). And the wrong gloves can cost you digits if you ain’t careful. (Thank You, Katrina Brogden, for your timely save this afternoon, and for the new mitts!) Our cars act like we woke them up in the middle of a long nap–they are cranky and moan down the street and the ride is bumpy and aching. And there’s nothing like not being able to reach your keys in your pocket, forcing you to remove your glove and do the mental countdown of how long exposed flesh can last…and if you DROP the keys…well, metal keys at 40 below burn your fingers. And if there’s a wind—well, they don’t call it bitter for nothing. Oddly, it doesn’t seem to turn Yukoners bitter.

That’s because we enjoy living here for the stories we can tell. If we don’t experience -40 once every winter, Yukoners will want their money back. Oh, we already want our money back for the Celestial reneging of the past three summers, and that’s part of the same issue. We are both owed our amazing Summers and our -40. If we don’t get them, the Yukon ceases to be that place of extremes. Without the summers, the place is just damn cold and wet. Without -40, we might as well be in Winnipeg, or anywhere in Alberta, or Ontario. We get special honors for enduring the cold–and we damn well know it. We don’t want the dudes in Alberta to be able to say that THEY have endured the worst, right? We want Vancouver-ites to live in awe of our ability to withstand nature’s onslaught with a hearty laugh. We need the scientific weather proof to back up our mythos.

So, perhaps our worst fear involving global warming is that we might be turned into Wisconsin. Cold, but not that cold.

So, today, Yukoners are happy to know that for one more Winter, we had our litmus test of Strength, the Charlie Horse on the leg of our Winter, and I’m sure we phoned every southern relative and friend we had to let them know that we earned our frostbitten stripes, every last one of them. Let there never be a year that our children will only be able to say that they remember when it got down all the way to -20. We won’t be able to look them in the eye if we can’t bring them the very depths of Winter. They are Yukoners, truly, at -40; at -20, they are just Canadians who live way too far away from their relatives.

This is why we smile inside every time the mercury falls down. Really, -40 is our Blue Badge of Courage.


The Photography of Amanda Graham

While many of us know Amanda Graham as both an editor of the Northern Review, a professor in the University of the Arctic and at Yukon College, she is fast becoming, IMHO, one of the best photographers around. She calls it a hobby. I think her work is fascinating. I have borrowed a couple of her photographs for advertising classes at the college, but you really must see her collection on Flickr.

What I love about Amanda’s photos is that she has a great eye for quiet moments. These are photographs that deserve to be much bigger, hanging inside a room where you want to feel peace. Sometimes, I think they bring me solace–that maybe if I look for it in the real world, I’ll find the peace in the chaos. She finds the arrangement, the composition, that brings out the peace in discarded carts, peeling paint, arranged fruit, abandoned rags–and makes them beautiful.

She’s also quick to take advantage of a moment of light, an odd juxtaposition that’s there for a second, revealing something I may not catch if I wait for it to happen. I mean, most of these subjects are in Whitehorse. Can you find them?

I’m reminded of the waltz of the bag in American Beauty. It takes the right eye to see the beauty. But that eye can be trained. And thank goodness, that beauty can also be shared.

Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world I feel like I can’t take it, and my heart’s just going to cave in.”–American Beauty.

Please take a moment and wander through her Flickr collection. You’ll be glad you did.