A collection of episodes out of the amazing kaleidoscope of my life.
Luckily they are not really lost
A Yukon Winter Tale
People who liked the
I just read your imposter story, & I love it!
Excellent read, like I could almost be there with you!
I’ve really enjoyed reading your stories over the past while.
I enjoyed reading your story. Did they ever catch up with that old bear at Kathleen Lake? I heard the warning that he was around on the radio.
I enjoyed your Christmas story. You do have a gift for writing and thank you for sharing.
… I already liked the story … a true story – in the sense that you painted a good picture of how it is to stay in a cabin in winter in modern-day Yukon.
And it also felt true to me, as it described how also my mind can wander that way.
A Yukon Winter Tale
December 23rd, 2020 – Getting out of Town
I got up to a pitch-black sky, where a few stars valiantly tried to sparkle the night away. Very slowly, the snow-white landscape appeared, glittering in the low solstice morning sun.
Before noon, I was on the road. The back of my Jeep chock-full: a metal fold-out couch for the cabin, water canisters, a small cooler with delicious Christmas food, the duffle with my personal belongings, mostly warm – very warm – clothing. A number of colourful paper bags, containing Christmas gifts from friends had to be stuffed into remaining cracks and corners. A couple of blankets and my thickest winter down coat on top.
That left Stella to ride in the front, shot-gun. Which she normally likes a lot. But only for a short while, then she wants to stretch out, – and there is no room for her big body on the comparatively small seat. So, I had thought ahead and built a “sleeping platform”: the foot area was built up with one of the water canisters. Another blanket and a couple of plastic bags filled up the area around. And then the best: her new dog bed – huge and soft and with a bulging collar around the top.
Eagerly Stella jumped on the driver’s side, checked the loaded hatchback with apparent horror, then eyed the shot-gun seat. Her head turned and two reproachful brown eyes caught me.
“What did you think …?”
“No, it’s OK, you will be fine, just move over, we’ve got to go.”
The weather report had given out a snow storm warning and my friend, living close to the cabin, had texted that she already started to shovel.
I left the North Klondike Highway and turned onto the ALCAN, my Jeep’s hood pointing due west to Kluane National Park and its magical wall of steep mountains, the St. Elias Range.
Eying the sky, I felt happy. A baby-blue band spanned the hills, with flocks of clouds sliding across it, like white laundry in an aquamarine lake. The low midwinter sun elbowed its way between the banks of clouds, suddenly bursting out with a flood of light, that washed the landscape in a band of molten gold. Still, while hidden behind the clouds, she streamed her light around and over a pocket of clouds illuminating the crescent of it like fire in a glass of milk.
The road was terrible. Long stretches of bare ice, dulled by the recent days of cold and gouged with groves the snowplough had etched into it to give us drivers a bit of grip.
Leaning back, I prepared for a longer – but hopefully safer – drive at a speed of 90km/h. I had tons of time.
Stella apparently not.
She sat up and would not lie down. Her front feet eventually stabbed between the car seat and the water canister, molding the crack deeper and deeper, until she could hardly look out of the front window. Repeated rearrangements of her front legs only made the gap deeper.
I should have stopped and rebuilt the whole thing, but those tons of time were getting smaller by the minute. So, I grabbed my thermos with hot coffee and stuck it in the gap between the seat and the water canister, hoping again hope, that it would hold Stella’s feet up. Hardly.
But who would have guessed it? She finally curled up on this soft and relatively wide cover, draping her front legs around the gear shift (lucky me, I drive automatic) with her head softly on top of her paws. Amber eyes looked up at me, no longer apprehensive, but still a bit disappointed. “How could you?”
But for a while, she even fell asleep.
The road worsened after halfway and my speed got a bit down, too. I was the slowest vehicle on this 160 km. Everybody passed me, this being five cars and one truck. I passed nobody.
Past Haines Junction Stella had enough. Standing again she began to whine, first lightly, then a crescendo into high pitched keening. I talked to her and played nice music. Nothing helped much.
On our right side, the icy and snowed-in mountains of Kluane park streamed by.
Eventually, we got to the cabin and rolled down the freshly plowed driveway.
The guests had not left. A black car was still sitting at the end of the lane. Immediately I was inundated with the so typical self-doubt: “Did I get the dates wrong?”
No, I was right, and they were just about to leave. We talked shortly and I was informed of a broken cup, otherwise, everything was good.
Unloading the car, I noticed with stoic resolution that the thermos I had used to bolster up Stella’s bed, had leaked and was as good as empty, all the needed caffeine sloshed onto my favourite wool blanket.
The previous guests had trampled a narrow trail from the car to the cabin proper. Two feet side by side wide. Not more.
However, the black plastic toboggan, I keep at the cabin to lug things up to the cabin door is wider. My first load got dumped into the snowbanks after the sled had run up one side and tipped over.
So, I grabbed the shovel and sliced off slaps from the snow banks to make it wider. 15 minutes later the sled passed through. It took me an hour to bring everything inside.
Luckily it was quite warm outside, so the wood stove kept the cabin cozy. My neighbour a few kilometers down the highway had stopped by to help me bring in the new couch. When we did not get the old couch, broken as it was, out of the door, my problem-solving streak prevailed. I broke it completely throwing my entire weight on it. It now was flat and passed through the door.
After everything was inside, I closed the door and stared at the mess. Bags, canisters, blankets, more bags, and Stella were grouped around the new couch and its phenomenal mattress. For a short moment, I was tempted to weep, but no, there is plenty of daylight still and time for coffee later.
With extensive calmness, I figured out how the new couch works and had it set up. A couple of strings tight to strategical locations to make folding and unfolding easier.
Oh, Stella, so patient, so lovely, so quiet. Safely under the table on her belly front legs stretched out and the nose on the paws, her kind brown eyes followed me through the small room. “Just let her do her thing, she will feed me eventually.”
Which I did. After I had everything unpacked and organized, I threw on a coat again, grabbed tuque and mitts and the leash. A black arrow of flesh and fur shot from underneath the table out the door.
Alas, our walk was short. I then realized I had forgotten something essential: my snowshoes. And the last snowstorm had brought on 50cm of fresh snow – laid on top of what had fallen earlier. I knew there was a trail back in the meadow behind my cabin, where I could see the faint snowmobile tracks. But getting there!
Only 300 metres away, but I had to give up after ten minutes. Every third step broke through the fine crust and I got stuck thigh-deep in snow with the tentacles of covered willow bushes around my boots. I fought on a little more. Maybe I could try on all fours, distributing my weight. But no. After a few face-plants, when my arms disappeared to the armpits into the soft snow, I realized this is not going to work. Not without a heart attack, which was already knocking at my heart.
I turned around, snow in my boots and coat arms, and down my neck. I just got myself upright again when I noticed Stella on a huge heap of plowed snow, watching me all the time safe and close to the cabin. No way was she going to attempt THAT with her definitely shorter legs and “arms”.
We enjoyed a cozy afternoon inside. With candles, dog cookies, and Lebkuchen. I was completely exhausted.
When I turned to unpack the food and separate the things that needed to be in the cooler and what does not, I made the next disastrous discovery. I had packed a lot of fine bakeries, a special bread, bretzels, chocolate, eggnog, and apple cider.
But no meat. What I had taken for the nice slab of frozen tenderloin was instead half a baguette.
On Christmas Eve, there should have been tenderloin, red cabbage, and German Knoedel.
Well, I now had to dig into Stella’s food, I guessed. For her birthday, exactly on December 24th, I had bought a bag of Wienerli. They would have to do. We will be sharing them.
And it’s not as If she knew.
Dinner tonight was good, gnocchi and cheese, followed by some Lebkuchen and a glass of liquor. When I stretched my feet out in front of the nicely grumbling wood stove, accompanied by peaceful snoring from the floor, I reached for the fine book I had brought especially for these nights.
That was when I noticed I had forgotten to bring my glasses.
December 24th, 2020 – Christmas Eve
Slowly, I surfaced from sleep, wrapped up in my favourite sleeping bag, topped with my favourite cabin blanket I carefully poked my head out of the warm and cozy wrapping. Eyes still closed I got the whiff.
Ahhh, someone has already brewed coffee! My favourite picker-upper, something I was in desperate need of right now.
I quickly remembered I am on my own out here, aside from the dog. And I haven’t been out of bed yet. With some disappointment, I realized the wonderful smell of caffeine came from the blanket close to my face, which got soaked in that special drug of mine yesterday in the car. Reluctantly, I emerged from the warmth and coziness to get some real coffee going.
Having thrown some logs on the fire and some clothes on my body, wiped the sleep out of my eyes with a handful of cold water I felt I am ready for this day. Outside the great mountain shapes appeared from the nightly darkness, fir trees began to stand up against the slopes of white snowfields stretching from the cabin to the near hills. It was still going to be a couple of hours before the sun’s brilliant face will have crested the mountain ridge.
But with stern determination, this winter day pushed more and more light onto everything: on the COVID-deserted highway stretched along with white and icy in its loneliness, the soft meadow under its snow-duvet, cross-stitched with animals tracks from moose to lynx and the odd little fir poking its evergreen head out of a meter of snowfall, right beside a tousled head of alder and willow bushes.
I turned away from the window and its panes partly obstructed by hoarfrost-paintings like grey flower-stenciled on white paper.
Breakfast and a dish full of dog food were in order. Soon we were both warm and filled up and ready for a nice winter walk. As we had tried the deep snow already, we decided to head back to Kathleen Lake and its lookout parking spot on the highway. Close by a summer trail leads off to the Lower Kathleen Lakes and we saw yesterday that skidoo tracks led down it, making it walkable for us.
We had a blast.
Stella was down the trail in a full-out gallop, her ears tucked in, her tail low and the feet pounding the hard-packed snow. Then there was the abrupt full stop, a half turn, and the intense sniffing of a spot, missed while running past. Nearly missed. A few scratches with one paw to unearth the mystical smell, more reading, then finally a lifted leg over it.
And down the trail again.
I was taking pictures galore, not getting over the beauty of this winter landscape, trying to catch the slanted shadows of trees standing stock-still in the emerging winter sun. I got lost in the glittering of light on the pale snow or marveled at the sudden flash of red, where shriveled-up rosehips on skinny leafless branches poke their heads out of the snow as if waiting patiently for the next summer, they knew from experience will come. Again, and again.
We managed the last stretch of the trail through soft snow, halfway punched out but snow-shoe tracks. I stumbled from hole to hole, arms stretched out sideways for balance, trying to keep up with the footsteps, that certainly were made by someone with a much wider stride. I valiantly tried and, eventually, we reached the lake.
A frozen plain leveled out in front of us, covered with evenly strewn icing sugar, except for that wide arc a snowmobile had carved into it, connecting this side of the lake with the one yonder. There a small cabin sat primly on top of the cut bank.
“I belong here.” was what the cabin seemed to tell me.
“Not like you. You come and go – and maybe you do not come back.”
But the cabin is always there, and so is the lake, and the banks and the hills reaching up Canyon Creek to the pass across the mountains. Fiery green in the summer, eternally white now. But always there.
We got back to the cabin, tired, exhausted, and hungry.
I fed Stella, rekindled the fire, and warmed up the left-over coffee from the morning. This time with self-baked German Stollen, and surrounded by the small Christmas decorations I had managed to hang up, centered by the tiniest Christmas Tree I ever had, a one-feet baby spruce, decorated and lighted up with a string of led lights.
While the red cabbage simmered with diced apples on the woodstove, I prepared the Knoedel. Unknown to Stella I decided to share the Wienerlis, which I had intentionally bought for her birthday. To be honest I got a few more than she did. But again, she isn’t even aware of that.
I pulled down her new dog bed from the cupboard and placed one sliced Wienerli on it. There is always a bit of getting used to new things and we know a lot about bribing. She also received her new toy, a tiny fluffy-fox also rubbed down with another Wienerli. Works like a charm. Always.
We were both happy.
I finished my adjusted dinner, opened my own presents, then settled beside the roiling woodstove with a book and a glass of Winter-Liqueur. Stella snoring away in her bed, her nose pushed against the soft border. Once in a while, a leg twitched. Down that trail again.
And I had remembered that I used to keep a spare pair of glasses in the Jeep’s glove compartment. It did not matter that these are a few years old, from a time when my eyes weren’t as “weak” as now. Well, I wasn’t going to be reading that much anyway.
December 25th, 2020 – Death Deferred
It had gotten cold that night. Very cold. Arctic cold. The temperature showed -30 Celsius on one of my nightly pee-trips outside the cabin. I stared up at the empty ink-black sky, void of stars, where a half-moon dominated like a silver dollar split in half.
By morning, the fire was out and the temperature inside the cabin had dropped to Zero. Only with hard-won determination and in expectation of that life-saving morning drink I got up, traipsed along the ice-cold floor, and fired up the woodstove. On my way back to bed I caught the glimpse of a dog eye, only half-open, looking at me in disbelieve. “Who would get up under these circumstances?”
An hour later things changed and we were both busying ourselves with starting a new day. One of us went for a quick pee-trip outside and then started hypnotizing the one in this room with thumps and skills to open the cooler to put down the dog bowl, filled with delicious things. The other one in this room was warming up croissants on the woodstove, and getting homemade black-currant jam on the table while sipping from the first – or maybe second – cup of coffee.
We still had enough batteries to listen to the radio, now playing straight Christmas music. To which I can always listen endlessly, but this was much better, the songs were all in Gospel style.
Then out again.
To the trail.
Where the dog was going to save my life.
Unbeknownst to both of us.
We had heard of the bear. A grizzly. He had been sighted a few days prior in different places. All close to Kathleen Lake and Kathleen River.
A bear roaming around in the middle of December means he has not denned up. For whatever reasons, but surely not for good ones. What had prevented him from hibernating has made him even more desperate now that he is awake with no food available. He is bound to be hungry, maybe sick, most certainly angry.
We were warned by the local Conservation Officer to carry bear spray, keep it with us, inside our coats, warm and deployable. This was the first time that I heard of a bear in the winter.
No, not the first time. I remembered when I had stumbled upon a medium-size black bear, years ago, sleeping under a spruce, with the tree’s branches covering him in his sunken hole of snow. That then had been a black bear and he had tried to den up under a tree. The contacted CO conjectured the bear might make it through the winter. He might have been too late or inexperienced to build a proper den. In Northern BC this seemed to happen from time to time, with lucky results. But up here?
Anyway, this was reportedly a grown grizzly, sighted to be angry and not at all shy.
We had just left the warm Jeep parked at the look-out and were walking along the ditch to the start of the trail. Stella straining in the leash to get to run and have fun.
Barely off the highway I unclipped her and she zoomed away, white-lined ears pressed flat to her head, she disappeared out of sight.
Normally she roams around, investigates, “reads notes and news” that were left on the trail, either at the base of trees or sprayed over a bunch of grass poking their dead stalks through the snow. Quite often Stella leaves replies that she has been here, too.
Only this time she was back. Within 2 minutes.
No sniffing, no scenting, no digging. She held her head up, testing the air. Her tail was down, a stiff whip close to the ground. Behind her head, a thick bunch of ruffled black hair stood up.
She remained stock-still and stared ahead where the trails ascended to a ridge behind which it dropped out of sight.
While she usually growls, squawks or barks angrily when we encounter anything bigger than a rabbit, which without a doubt would get chased, she remained dead silent. Not a muscle moved. But her whole body seemed to vibrate.
Finally, she turned around, hurried back tome, and looked up – with terrified, shock-driven brown eyes.
No anger, only solid terror.
There was no way she wanted to continue down the trail; she passed me and trotted back towards the car and only stopped when I told her to. She stopped, but she was not going the other direction.
Part of me wanted to see what there was beyond the trail ridge if there was something at all. I stepped ahead a few strides, called for Stella to follow. No success.
My dog made me turn around and leave. Back to the vehicle. She saw reason where I was temporarily tempted to explore.
Much later, days actually, we heard from the locals that tracks were found of an injured bear, right on this path. Still out and roaming the wide wilderness, which had been his natural habitat and now became his guaranteed death trap.
December 26th, 2020 – Turkey Delight
Our field of activity has shrunk. From an endless wilderness setting in the summer to a deeply snow-covered winterland, then to paths only navigable by snowshoes, skis, or snowmobiles, and finally to routes where this bear wouldn’t be. And where was that?
We were invited to lunch at my neighbours’ 2 kilometers up the highway.
And so, we walked. Walked on the highway, icy sheets of polished snow under our feet and paws. An eerily pale-blue sky spanning the space above us. From the parks’ mountain range on our left to the snowy hills on the right of us embroidered with green and brown spruce trees. They stood guard, up to their chests in deep snow, like soldiers in the wild, to warn: Whoever steps off the highway to the East, will leave the park, its protections and all.
It would not have helped the grizzly. Neither way. Inside or outside the park, he will most certainly be shot, unless he dies first on his own.
The highway was rimmed on both sides with icy walls, two-to-three feet high and ironly packed by the snowplow. That kept Stella on the pavement and prevented her from disappearing into an exploring excursion into the bush. Not that she would have gone far in these masses of snow. Higher than she stands herself, she would have had to leap and lunge and still be face-planting into spaces where the snow was too soft to carry her weight.
I have seen it before. She has done it before. Now she stayed with me.
Our friends invite us in, Stella was offered a blanket, in spite of the one I had carried in my backpack, we sat down and the Christmas dinner began: turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, and red cabbage. The whole program. And also, my favourite Christmas meal.
The Cheer was on.
Hours later we still chatted, having added a dessert of home-made ice cream immersed in cranberries and drizzled with hot chocolate, after finalizing the dinner with a steaming espresso and cake, after Stella was rewarded with a piece of turkey breast and after she had collapsed in a dreamland of sleep, on her blanky, feet still yanking across whatever imaginary wild trail.
The Next Day
we were on our way, home from this paradise-like place in the semi-wilderness to our permanent tame home closer to Whitehorse.