words will ruin one's virtue; the lack of self-restraint
in small matters will bring ruin
to great plans." - Confucius
Junction 37, the Yukon
Junction 37 is
where the Cassiar Mountain Highway meets the Mississippi of northern roadways:
the mighty Alaska Highway. It consists of a gas station and an old saloon that
is already closed for the season. There is also a campground that's closed.
It's so quiet and my hangover is so intense that I can hear the grunts and
calls of wildlife echo from the world of spruce and yellow poplars. Life stirs amid
the hum of Nature. My nerves are raw and my head is in a vice but I enjoy the
cool air and the quiet of the Yukon. I wonder if it's the first bout of silence
and calm I've had since my departure in 1997. I can't remember the last time I
experienced such stillness unsullied by the noise of man's motorized toys. I
can hear the swoosh of wings of the birds flying south above me and the
woodpeckers hammering away to build their homes. Up here the birds fly in
seamless arrows all in a symmetrical line down to the last bird. And as I watch
the birds pass overhead, the sky looks close enough to touch.
from walking Inge around the campground and exhausted from my restless
late-morning sleep. I can't stop reflecting on my night's drive from Dease Lake
and I keep asking myself the sober questions I should've asked myself before I
left: what would have happened if my rig broke down from overheating or from a
flat tire? It's only this morning upon pained rumination that I realize I don't
have a jack. Despite having a spare tire, I don't have the right tools to fix
it. And now, as I sit here with Inge in my fragile state, I'm crippled with
worry of how I'm supposed to track down Remy if he doesn't show up. My
walkie-talkie is out of juice and I don't have the re-charger. Recklessness is
nothing new to me but when my recklessness puts me in mortal danger, it becomes
just plain stupid. I still have yet to adjust to the pace of life in rural
The quiet of
the day makes the time pass slowly. Inge looks at me as if she were asking
where Blue is. My hands shake and my stomach is a delicate bundle of nerves so
I reluctantly sip on one of the beers that are leftover from last night's party
to try to calm myself. I read through a book I bought at the gas station about
the Tlingit tribe that inhabit the area around Atlin. It should be good reading
but I can't concentrate. I keep looking up for Remy but am continually
disappointed by the big trailers with American licence plates that drive by. It
takes me a while to realize that it's not so much me that I'm worried about but
Remy. When I was away, I purposely lived my life as carefree as I could muster,
but now, reconnecting with my brother, I feel a long-overlooked responsibility
returning. That carefree life of reckless irresponsibility not only affects me
but now Remy as well. Being such a scallywag for so long, it's strange to think
of anyone else other than myself. Just as these thoughts are crossing my mind,
I see the brown Dodge emerge from the distance driving along at a very moderate
speed. There is mud covering most of the front grill and I can see Blue first
before I can make out Remy's face behind the sunglasses. He pulls up and parks
right beside my road buggy.
"God, I found
you!" His voice is weak with the same killer hangover.
worried sick Remy. Let's not split up
again." My voice is weak like his.
"OK, deal. No
more splitting up." We are both feeling tired but are soon feeling better
eating pretzels and drinking Coors Light at a picnic table in the campground.
There is so little traffic up here that the forests are deafening with silence.
"How was your
ride?" he asks, his eyes bloodshot but brave.
"It was wild.
I flew over the potholes at 80 or 90
most of the way. It was like...like road
sailing: sailing on rubber tires over choppy roads. I went fast enough to
skim over the bumps for the most part. I hit a few biggies but hopefully no
permanent damage to the rig."
sailing. I like that. Road sailors."
fact that the campground is closed, we both park our rigs in separate berths
give each other his space. The layered grumblings of coyotes and a chorus of
birds singing fill the hung-over silence between us. Again I am reminded that
the forests here in the north are teeming with wildlife. An old world unseen by
most. Only extremists make it here.
morning we take our coffees and dogs into our respective rigs and leave the
campground unbothered by any campground officials. We depart Junction 37 for
Atlin due west along the Alaska Highway with Remy leading the way. The smooth
road slips and turns its way through the passes, and the exposed grey rock is
arresting to my eye after a thousand miles of thick woods. Then I see a beacon:
a small red-and-white radio tower perched high on top a small peak not far from
the highway. There is what looks like a huge sub-woofer in the middle of it
facing east and another one on the other side facing west. That pilot in Dease
Lake was right, and Remy's theory about geomancy is holding true.
We only stop
once all day for gas until we hit Teslin, a town about halfway to Atlin where
we find a deserted campground near a river. We camp for the night in separate
berths. During the night the temperature drops to below zero and my sleeping
bag is tested. The Yukon's sharp mountains scream in bitter cold silence. Only
a deaf man cannot hear the cackling laughter in the shadows of the Yukon night.
Up here I there is no sugar coating, no diet soda for the weak at heart. Only
the primal scream of that which the weak call injustice is experienced this far
north. Hard laws of nature are still in power up here, a land that can kill
those who choose to ignore man's healthy instincts and who choose the comfort
of cotton over the scratchiness of wool.
the next day, Remy and I walk with Inge and Blue to the river where we stop and
read the historical plaque beside the fast-moving water. It reads:
This region has traditionally been the home of the Tagish
Indian people. The word ‘Tagish' has evolved from the Tagish name Taagish Too' E' and the related Tlingit word Taagish Heeni, meaning the place where the ice goes out.
Contact with the outside world came in the last century. In
1897, during the Klondike Gold Rush, the North West Mounted Police established
a post upstream from here. The post operated as a post office, customs station
and mining recorder, as well as checkpoint for the thousands of boats that past
this point on their way to Dawson City.
history is whispered from the water. The coldness of the water seeps into my
denims and the wind bites through making my kneecaps feel like pieces of ice
ready to shatter at any sudden movements. I feel the endless rhythm of nature
at my feet from the sticks and the mud and the ripples of the current under the
bridge and I hear Mother Nature in the wind through the trees and am aware of
the vibrations of time flowing in front of me. Hardship and suffering and death
lie muted and trampled in the gentle soothing hum of the water. The Yukon
really is Canada's true north.
to think that the first contact with white men was only a hundred years ago," I
strange is that this place is called Teslin and Tagish Indians came from here,
but the town of Tagish is another day's drive due west."
Back at the
campers we eat a breakfast. Mine consists of corn chips, Dill pickles and
coffee as we both study the map.
Atlin today," I say with alacrity.
Let's do some road sailing."
The mischief is there in his grin when we both start our engines, but since
it's so cold we let the engines warm up and each proceed to roll a joint. We
spark them up at the same time and drive off laughing on our way to Atlin. We
pass by the purple mountains beside the curving Alaska Highway to where there
is a break in the mountains. The winds shake our campers like toys.
We reach the
natural part in the land at the top of the hill and the crest in the landscape.
For most people it's just a sign along the road, but for me it's like reaching
the Arctic Watershed: a tangible mark on the map. It reads:
THIS HEIGHT OF LAND DIVIDES TWO OF THE LARGEST DRAINAGE
SYSTEMS IN NORTH AMERICA. THE YUKON RIVER AND MACKENZIE RIVER WATERSHEDS.
WATER DRAINING WEST FROM THIS POINT FORMS THE SWIFT RIVER.
THIS RIVER DRAINS INTO THE YUKON RIVER AND CONTINUES A NORTHWEST JOURNEY OF
3,680 KILOMETRES (2,300 MILES) TO THE BERING SEA (PACIFIC OCEAN).
WATER THAT DRAINS TO THE EAST FORMS THE RANCHERIA RIVER
WHICH FLOWS INTO THE LIARD RIVER THEN THE MACKENZIE RIVER. THESE WATERS FLOW
NORTHWARD AND EMPTY INTO THE BEAUFORT SEA (ARCTIC OCEAN) AFTER A JOURNEY OF
4,200 KILOMETRES (2,650 MILES).
A few hours
past the continental divide, Remy stops on the shoulder so I park in front of
him. This time it's Remy who gets out of his rig.
"This is it.
We turn left here and go due south, and we'll hit Atlantis." There's only a
decrepit road sign that indicates the turn off. I'm surprised he saw it.
There's a lake behind the sign along the road to Atlin that sparkles under the
then," I say. Somehow Remy lights a smoke in the wind.
"It's about a
hundred klicks." We turn off the Alaska Highway for the road running south that
will bring us back into northern British Columbia. For the first few miles it
is a smooth, beautiful drive beside the glittering waters but soon the road
turns into pothole hell. Road sailing is heavy going until finally we stop
after an hour of not seeing a soul. Before getting out of my road buggy, I
crack open a beer and then bring Remy a couple cold ones for the ride because I
think we'll need it for the chewed up road. I tell Remy to go faster so he can
sail over the turbulence, then we leave for Atlin. This time we both go fast.
Sailing over the bumps from Dease Lake is enough to prepare me for this anarchy
on the road. Gunning it, I fly over the majority of the bumps while Remy can't
keep the pace and returns to his pussyfooting. I want to see Atlantis so I keep
the throttle open and surf over the ruts. Avoiding potholes for me along the
gravel road becomes a new art form. Rivets left by chains on truck tires have
to be avoided at all costs because at high speed it causes a vehicle-long
rattle that makes me fear I'll blow a tire, or worse that I'll break an axel. Only
with delicate hands can I negotiate the steep inclines and uneven angles of the
road to Atlin, running through mixed forests beside a peppering of ice blue
lakes to the west. The beauty is dangerous: as soon as I look away from the
road I risk hitting a pothole dead on. The beer soon makes me fearless so I hit
some bigger bumps head on but knowing Remy is behind me and has a jack, I go
forth with serious automobile bluster, carefree and worry-free like a condemned
man on the way to his own hanging. New rules of moderation take time to fully
I reach Atlin
and drive through a village untouched by the hand of modernity. Hardware store,
wood-built hospital, saloon and general store still the same as they were
during the Klondike Gold Rush. Like most of the time for our generation, those
who came before us plucked the fruit from its vines so we had to go without,
but Atlin remains unsullied by cultural poachers as if Wyatt Earp himself had
been running the saloon here and not in Dawson City. Three mountain peaks rise
up from the lake like a cathedral reaching the sky.
road beside the lake I come to a campground where I park at the shore. Letting
Inge out, I walk to the water's edge and look at the clear bottom of the lake.
I am looking at my unshaven reflection as I hear Remy's Dodge approach. He
parks just out of eyesight from my camper and in a moment the dogs are busy
playing. There is no one around except us.
say, as we both look at the three distinct peaks across the water.
avalanche-striped mountains of Atlin have three equal summits that divert the
eyes away from its most remarkable feature: a symmetrically balanced
pyramid-shaped sister mountain that looks identical in geometry to the Temple
of the Sun in Mexico. It is like a natural landing beacon right beside the
highest island on a fresh water lake in the world. This island glacier is like
one massive graphite antenna sticking up to heaven. It occurs to me that Atlin
is the sanctuary and Garden of Eden Remy has sought for years. It is here to
which he wanted to escape, his fortress against the eyes he thinks are looking
at him, his safe zone from the unseen eyes in the sky. A place far off the grid
and far away from a system that's broken down. Up here we can only hear the
roar of the Great Quiet until a small Cessna airplane circles the lake and
lands right in front of us, then drifts over to an old Klondike Gold Rush ship
moored to a wooden dock behind the saloon.
still follow me," Remy says. "I try to get away and yet they still come." These
words mar my revelling of the landscape, my utter euphoria of this great
discovery, this special symmetry that creates a synergy greater than its parts.
that plane followed you? C'mon, man."
"Of course it
did! Why else would it land just at this moment? Of all the times for
the plane to land. You can't tell me that's a coincidence." Remy doesn't look
too upset about it; he looks indifferent.
"The sun is
setting. It's rush hour here," I say.
"One plane." We both stare at the strange symmetrical mountaintops. The
site is breathtaking and conjures up different thoughts.
beginning to feel as though all this outdoor beauty is affecting me," I say. "I
don't know if it's because I'm a philosopher or because I've been city-bound
for so long, but the forces of nature are putting me back into my original
dimensions of natural elasticity. A bit more malleable and more in tune with
the flow and that type of thing." Remy nods in understanding.
"Which is a
good thing. You are reconnecting to the holy fabric, not so much to
Christianity, but to the Holy Fabric of
the symmetry of landscape." An energy is lifting me as if there's a hidden holy
gemstone emanating from the glacial waters of Atlin Lake.
"I hear you
pilgrim," he says as though he's reading my thoughts again. "It's the Indian in
you that's coming alive - your love of nature. Being part Indian, we have a
need to be outdoors because we get medicine from being in the bosom of Mother
Nature." I can feel the flush on my cheeks, not from embarrassment, but from
the wind and the sun and the vibe.
"I feel like
I've been here before. It's an ancient déjà
"Vibe el grande," he says. "It's the Holy
Grail of geomancy My Son."
Just as I
turn around to face Remy, a golden eagle swoops down and brushes my shoulder
with its wing. Startled, I look over my shoulder at the massive bird gliding
just above the ground until its long wings begin to flap, rising slowly into
the sky. The eagle is so close that I can hear the delicate brushing of wings
in the air.
"Did you hear
that?" I say. When I look at Remy his eyes are as wide as they can be.
"Did you see that eagle? It swooped right down
and bounced off your shoulder."
"I felt it
brush me with its wing. I heard it too - the sounds of its wings." We are both
still staring at it. The bird is the size of a flying beaver.
"Do you realize how hardcore that is, man? It
was huge. Its wing was longer than my arm!" There is only the sound of
the water lapping on the stone shore as we stand at Atlin Lake lost in our own
thoughts. Still we watch the golden eagle ascend higher towards the peaks
across the lake. Our dogs play beside us but we only hear them. Somehow I know
the golden eagle is a big deal in Remy's life view, and I wait for him to speak
because it's his turf.
"The eagle is
the totem animal of the east," he says finally. Remy looks closely at my
shoulder where the eagle has brushed me for evidence of feathers. "That was as
close to a hug you could have with an eagle. Did you see that? It swooped down
and touched your shoulder! It was flying right towards me, and then it floaties on your shoulder." I see an
intensity radiating from somewhere in his person emitting power. Lit up like a
match to oil.
"It's a sign
from the Creator," he says. "We are meant
to be here." He takes out his cigarettes and lays a tobacco offering for the
eagle. I can't hear his muttered prayer except for ‘Amen.'
rankle him with questions, I let him enjoy the event with the eagle, and sit
down on the picnic table by the water's edge. I realize that Remy's utter
immersion in the serendipity of fate enables him to always be on the lookout
for reading divine signs from above. Living in this point-zero of incongruity allows him to distil life down to the
immensity of the moment - an art that has made him into a man who lives
entirely in the moment. It's a way of living I had not mastered but Remy had
learned how to manifest his life philosophy by becoming an artist of how to
live life in the now, and in the process he had learned how to be free.