Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Snowshoe Trek

My daughter Erin took today's photos. The camera froze up halfway through the hike. Earlier today she started her return trip to summery New Zealand for school.
 We got new snowshoes for Christmas. Yesterday we went to the Yukon Wildlife Preserve for a trek through the back hills of the preserve. It was a cold day (-30C) and while you get a little tired of the cold after two weeks that's no excuse to stay indoors. We felt the pinch on our cheeks when we arrived but within a few minutes of starting out we were warm and enjoying the bright sunshine.

The Preserve has lots of Yukon wildlife wandering  the preserve. We saw caribou, mule deer and a cow moose and her two year old bull calf. But the most impressive sight were the great steaming hulks of the bison. Their breath hung like a fog before their face and the height of their shoulders and thickness of their coat was most impressive. When I was little kid in Winnipeg in the 1950s (when the winters were cold) all the policemen on the beat wore full length buffalo coats. They weighed a ton but we never lost a policeman to frostbite and I suspect the coats were also bullet proof.

We took a two hour walk up the hills at the back of the preserve and enjoyed a great view of the Takhini River Valley from the top. We then wound our back down the hill and around the Preserve making the hike back to the parking lot just as the sun was setting. We could feel the temperature beginning to drop and were happy to head back home and fire up the wood stove.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas Morning

On Christmas morning we open our gifts under the lights of the Christmas tree. As the sun rises we dress and head up the hill behind our house to greet the day.

It is -25'C, but the air is still. We are well dressed in parkas and double mitts so by the time we make it to the top of the ridge we are warm. A raven greets us with a caw.

Lake Laberge, frozen over now, lies off to the north at the foot of the hills.

The smoke from our chimney rises quietly in the air. In the kitchen Joy is starting dinner.

Within a hour the sun moves behind Haeckel Hill and the sun dogs become more prominent as the light starts to fade. Merry Christmas to you.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas 2010 Rituals of Love

Earlier this fall I went through old photos with Dad - his and Mum’s honeymoon, some of our family travels and their emptynester trips to music conferences around the world. We enjoyed the time together, but I suspect our thoughts were worlds’ apart. It seems impossible to put yourself in your parents’ place, that is, to think about being your own parent. We are so deeply caught in our roles - as children, adults, parents - those relationships we develop are so specific to us it is hard to imagine being someone else.

I thought of these bonds when I found this 1957 photo (I’m the one with the book of course) sitting on the lap of the Eaton’s store Santa. What was my mother thinking when this occurred, aren’t they cute? Thank goodness someone else has them for a minute? But as a child I recall the excitement of the annual Christmas visit, standing in line and then, the young elf helping us up, sitting with Santa for a few hurried words and a flash photo. This was an annual ritual, one of many which became the stuff of our family. My Dad shared hockey with us. Every Saturday we were at the rink early, watching the dads shovel the rink and then, with their encouragement, we played hard, shooting, skating, falling. Our Mum shared music. On our annual road trips, Nova Scotia, EXPO 67, the Rockies, the Grand Canyon, we were taught songs, “the grand old Duke of York, he had ten thousand men...,” and she read books to us. Tintin, then only in French, was a favorite. Only years later I figured out that Mum knew no French, but there was no doubting her ability as minstrel. Through our childhood our parents shepherded us through a shared exploration of the world. These rituals of love linked us together, taught us how to live and gave us the morals and meanings they considered essential to a good world.

I believe this photo carries some essence linking me to my parents, it is a symbol of our link between generations that I want to share with my children. Sharing love is primal. We love our parents as they loved and nurtured us. We love our children, partly because we were loved, but also because we were taught to make children safe, happy and to watch them engage with the world. Our out flowing love brings meaning to our existence. Each ritual of love is a talisman, both creating and memorializing our relationships with each other. Somehow photos, letters and emails, even whispered prayers and special memories, become valued tokens of the love tieing us together.

Our best wishes for a merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

David on a late fall river trip.

Andrew at the Mija Jima Shrine near Hiroshima, Japan.

Joy preparing the Thanksgiving turkey at Silver City, Yukon.

Erin and Stephen working together, Okain's Bay, New Zealand.

Family above Okain's Bay, New Zealand on Waitangi Day 2010. I think it's great when the national holiday celebrates the moment when Newcomers made a deal with the Indigenous people to build a country together.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Perfect Christmas Tree

Erin directs Stephen, across the valley, to check out a tree. Fish Lake just visible in right distance.
Every winter, in the week before Christmas, our daughter organizes the search for the perfect Christmas tree. Generally this means a major expedition, with axe, saw, lots of rope, a hearty breakfast and deep winter gear, snow paks, three layers of parka and double mitts even in the mild -26'C temperatures. We will be gone for several hours. This year we head for Fish Lake, an alpine lake not far from Whitehorse.

Andrew with the heavy equipment.
The road to the lake is steep and winding. Along the way we can see scattered pine and spruce boughs where others have found their tree and hoisted it to the roof of their car. We pass a father and son grinning as they load their tree for the ride home. At a likely spot we pull over and climb over the snow drifts alongside the track. We are quickly up to our hips in soft snow as we break trail into the woods. Andrew carries the equipment, while Stephen and Erin fan out to check out the trees. I follow along in the deep trench through the snow.

We stop and check out a tree, give it a good shake to release the snow and see if the perfect Christmas tree is hiding beneath it. No, too many broken branches, no, that one has an open space. Next time I say no, its way too big, it'd fill the whole living room, never mind not fit through the door. We trail on, winding through the woods, looking up at snow covered trees. As we come down to the lake we come across a group of mushers heading down the lake with their dog teams.We can hear the dogs barking and yelping with excitement as they speed across the snow covered ice.

We turn back into the bush and continue our search. Eventually we narrow the choice to two trees, both tall but not too broad. Erin finally decides and the saw quickly drops it. It is a big and thick spruce. Looking at the stump we see that the first ten to fifteen years were slow growth, very tight rings. But then the branches must've spread and for the next fifteen to twenty years the tree shot up with fat wide rings showing dry, warm summers and mild winters. At home the tree warms and drops its stiff branches. Decorations come out and we have our perfect Christmas tree. Our best wishes for a Merry Christmas and a happy holiday season .