Yukon Journey by Daniel Westbrook
I watched the smoke curl and rise slowly toward the big Yukon sky. I was mesmerized by the bright orange hue it took on from the last rays of the eternally setting sun, beginning to drop behind the mountains. The whole sky, the bush, and even the faces of the family sitting around the campfire, took on this surreal orange color. It was 12 am, and the Yukon was again living up to it’s reputation of being the land of the midnight sun. We were all drinking tea, talking, and listening, contemplating and laughing.
During these times as a wilderness boy, my family would sit around the campfire up on the riverbank, as evening turned to dusk. The surrounding nature, closing in like a warm blanket, provided a private safe place of peace and tranquility. I became fascinated by the stories my folks would tell. Only they weren’t stories at all, but, just fresh news and gossip, that trappers would bring in from up river, or shared experiences from minors, or prospectors when they came to town for supplies. What seemed to me to be tall tales were real experiences that grew from sharing with friends or family that would come and visit our little homestead in the wilderness.
I could see the Stewart River slowly flowing by, it’s silty water smooth as glass. I could smell the dew of the evening coming on, mixed with fresh cut burning spruce. My knees and face warmed as I leaned closer to the last of the dying embers surrounded by rocks gathered from the river, and placed in a perfect circle. Then a hush fell over the family as we listened to the longing moan of a wolf howl from across the river. Lasting seconds, then, fading off into that silence where no one dare speak. In the stillness of that moment, where nothing seems real, and time is hanging on the edge of wonderment. Was what I just heard only imagination? Was it real? Then, in the distance, came the answer, a loan wolf howl, faint but audible enough to ring true to our ears. It seemed ok to talk again, and we wondered what the wolves were saying. Then the whole night began to come alive with the soft low base tones of the owl off to the evening hunt. In the marsh not to far away, one could just make out the sounds of the belly grunts from the moose adding to the orchestra. The night song birds longing flute echoing through the poplar trees. I smiled with excitement as I wondered out loud what the wilderness was talking about.
These were the sounds I grew up listing to. This was my entertainment, my communication, even my definition. Without the interruption of internet, cell phones, cars and city noise! I could only be entertained, and taught by natures simple mystery and beauty. Now, looking back all these years through the faded glasses of memory, I am in aw of moments when time is broken, and I’m instantly transported back to these vivid feelings. From simply a smell, a noise, a feeling or taste. All I have to do is close my eyes, and I’m there, alive, in the stories that span history.
Inspired by the Yukon’s rich history, stories of the people my folks would talk about, life in the wilderness, sharing around a campfire, and my life’s experiences, this is, Yukon Journey.
I’ll see you ‘round the fire my friends,
Daniel J Westbrook