Saturday, September 12, 2009

Walking to Beringia

Just north of Dawson it is possible to walk back in time. Last weekend a three hour walk up Grizzly Creek in Tombstone Park took us back some 500 million years, back before we were born, back before the Klondike gold rush, back before the arrival of Cartier, back before the fall of the Roman Empire, back before fire cooked meat, back before dinosaurs, back to a tropical lake bottom. And through the eyes of Charlie Roots, a Yukon geologist, we watched this lake bottom fold and lift into mountains, we saw mammoths and caribou clamber the hills and witnessed sheets of ice, heavy enough to sink continents, come and go,scraping a half dozen kilometres or more of lake sediment away to the south and finally we shivered as the glaciers of the last ice age, reaching north into Beringia, stalled at this point as a five thousand year drought barred further advance. And gradually the ice withdrew, willows arrived, later dwarf birch and spruce followed, First Nation hunters appeared to hunt the caribou and pale-skinned newcomers came to find gold, drink beer and go camping in a territorial park.

While the awesome span of geological time dwarfs the span of our visit, it is a warm and congenial group strung out along the trail to the long ago. On the way I chat with Nicole Bauberger, artist laurete of the Ogilvie Mountains, about the selection of reality that transforms experience into art. With old friends I trade stories of our childrens' adventures as they venture into the wide world. Time may intellectually outspan Earth's modest geography, but it bears no comparison to the distance from loved ones that only the heart understands. At stops beside the creek and at rocky eruptions beside the trail, Charlie unfolds the story told by the stones.

We arrive at a flat just before the last steep pitch and stop for lunch. A young woman has no lunch and Camembert cheese with jalapeno jelly on wheat thins, an apple, chocolate and nuts rise from the packs and pockets of those around her. We see a rain shower across the valley, drifting slowly towards us like a giant jellyfish in the ancient lake here hundreds of millions ago and six kilometres over our heads. We pack up, some return to the cars far below, the rest of us continue to the top, leaving behind the modern spruce and arriving in the old Beringian landscape of dwarf golden willows and stunted crimson birch. At the top we are rewarded by a magnificent valley view closed off beyond by Monolith and Tombstone mountains.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks dad. It's always nice to hear your voice weaving such wonderful stories across continents and oceans to reach me here and fill me with warmth and a taste of home.