Whitehorse, curtained in icefog and woodsmoke, revealed in shrouded segments

Just a reality of living in the north, these -40 nights, where the icefog and the woodsmoke turned back on the streets mingle together to hide the city.  It’s mysterious and lovely.  Dangerous to drive in.  I couldn’t see the next segment until it was revealed.  People crossed second street without tapping the crossing light button and I could barely make out their dark forms merging back in with the night.  It was like there was a wall at the back of every backdrop setting— here’s Main Street with nothing beyond it but a white wall, and now the Library and now the Bridge.  Like curtains being opened one after the other, presenting our town in segments.  It certainly robs the city of continuity, or of flow, but it really makes you think of the city in sections—as if Main street were all by itself, or the Bridge, somewhere in England, instead of Canada, the fog so thick you couldn’t tell where it was placed in the geography.

I wished I’d had my camera the whole time, but it was hard enough driving your truck through the fog.  It groaned and squeaked as if it were thirty years old instead of five.  My friend says she won’t drive after it dips below -35C.  “Everything on your car breaks.”  And I saw, like an ambulance for vehicles, five or six tow trucks dragging perfectly good-looking cars and SUVs–just reminding me that even good cars in bad weather can break.  The air is filled with particles–mostly smoke because the smoke from homes hits a certain layer of air and bounces back.  You can see that everyone’s smoke flatlines at about 100 feet, going sideways, and coming back down, like we’re attacking ourselves.  Certainly Riverdale has been warned about woodsmoke pollution….but at -40, who’s listening?  (And -40 is where all temperature worlds, both those who live in Fahrenheit and those who live in Celsius, meet)

It’s interesting to think of the city all divided up into parts, separate sections outside of their context.  Like the world ends at the end of the street.  In some ways it was like speeding through the countryside of Texas and seeing each section as if it were its own small town strung together like pearls on a string heading towards the big city.

I saw Raoul Bhaneja’s one man version of Hamlet tonight, so I’m really enjoying language.  Makes me want to read, or see, Shakespeare more often.  Also makes me think of transitions–from one street to the next–from one scene to the next–my whole town was in crossfades.

36F, or Summer in Whitehorse

Beach, by Scarleth WhiteAh, is this great or what?  January 14, 2009: Even one day of 5C in the midst of -30C  is a beautiful thing.  Yes, the roads are slick from the melting snow–but look at those words again, “melting snow”—Can May be far off?  Can grass and green and summer’s sheen be right around the corner?  I just wanted to walk around town today.  I may still go walking somewhere.   I don’t hope the snow disappears–we need the cold for the Yukon Quest, and what would we call Frostbite if it stayed at 5C?  –Sunburn?  Rendezvous would have to give up ice sculptures and put an inflatable pool out by Elijah Smith.  Nope, we need the winter to be what it has been in the past–not -30C for three more months!— but definitely -10 to -20 for a few months longer.  However, it makes you love these moments.  These balmy 5 above moments. Just look at all the happy hat-free people outside, how they bring their dogs for walks downtown, how people are stopping and talking on Main Street, outside; those smiles are growing with every degree.  Tiny Tim is throwing his crutch in the air and shouting, “God bless us, every one!!”  Okay, maybe Tim isn’t–but this is the Christmas Cheer nonetheless, frozen in place on the streets during the holidays, thawing out and drifting around in the air.  The warm, summer air.

And, Mom in Texas, I never thought I’d say how warm 36F feels, but ohhhh, it’s toasty out there.  And, no, I’m not wearin’ a hat.


Photo is by Scarleth White from her trip to Florida, but this is how we feel on a day like today!

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.


Every Clear Day From Now On is a Gift

If you are like me, you cursed the lousy summer we had this year in the Yukon.  Okay, maybe you didn’t curse it.  But I wasn’t the only one who felt a bit shortchanged.  It’s because of my expectations for Summer– dazzling summers here.  We know.  We expect that.  We live through the winter to get that summer.  We had two weeks of summer—14 days, I think.  Only 3 in a row.

But now, my tune is changing.  The last few days, I haven’t been expecting good weather—I’ve been anticipating that slide into Winter.  And I’ve been pleased at every day that thwarts that.  Like today.  All it takes is the sun to be shining, and I’m thrilled that it made it out.

Funny how it isn’t that the sunny days are more frequent, or that there is less rain than in the summer.  Really it’s just a continuation of the Yukon Summer as a long British movie …BUT my expectations for summer and for fall are completely different.  I expected more out of summer, and was disappointed.  Now that I’ve accepted my fate, that Winter will be here soon, I’m delighted when my expectations are NOT met.  That Fall has some nice warm days for us.

So I’ve been out picking berries, cutting wood, eating lunch in the forest, enjoying the surprise gifts I don’t deserve and shouldn’t expect.  It’s a kind of Weather Grace.  Next year, maybe I’ll expect the summer to be lousy and then I can be as pleasantly surprised by the weather’s good behavior when it happens.

Change yourself, change the weather.  Hmmm.  That’s an idea.  At least, the yellow is brighter that way.