Archive for October, 2014

Civil-Lies Me


It was mid-September and we had pulled stakes from our Yukon Outpost.  Our last night in the Territory, we stayed with dear friends who served us up a fine supper of a big black bear roast, salad and spuds from their garden. A huckleberry pie put us to bed out in their big wall tent. It’s tough to leave with these compelling ingredients easing into my soul. “Stay here,” is the message.

Alas we are aliens to this foreign country. (Why does it feel so wrong to think of Canada as a foreign country?)And our time is up so we must head south to the Big Noisy.

A few years ago, a three-year-old, absurdly precocial, bush kid named Juneau was chatting about leaving the Yukon to visit relatives in the “Big Noisy.” He was referring to his mother’s home ground in New York City. And in a nano second after telling us about the big city, he had jumped subjects to livestock. Juneau understood that their big, home-grown pig had to be kept close to the house because the animal was a porcine delight for the local grizzly bear. But he also understood that the hog was going to provide his family with winter sustenance and that was perfectly okay.


For the next two days we enjoyed our drive down the Alaska Highway, a highway we have gotten to know quite well. We have travelled this corridor of civilization for half a dozen years and we know where to dally and where to keep driving.

Gold is abundant on the mountainsides in the fall. If you travel the highway in the ten days from September 15th through the 25th, you will be treated to slopes loud in their chorus of gilded colors. These grounded fireworks can be distracting so don’t be shy about pulling over for a good dose of amazing “wows.”


However after having our annual “recalibration” in the Yukon where we are lullabied to sleep every night by a tumbling river, Miss Nancy and I both felt the insipid creep of “civil-lies-ation” as we headed south. An Alberta friend wishes us well and waved us off with a stretching grin and cheer, “Good luck on your re-entry into the “Excited States of America!” I smiled at his joke, but dammit we earned that title! According to a story in the Washington Times, the USA is the most overworked nation in the developed world.

Who cares if Canada is consistently number 5 or 6 as one of the worlds happiest countries! Who cares if Forbes magazine calls Canada “the most prosperous nation in the Americas and ranks first in personal freedom”?

As we make our autumn migration towards an easier winter in Minnesota, there is a very real shift in energy. The pulse quickens exponentially the closer we get to Minnesota. The accelerated heartbeat is not from excitement or even the eventual approach of family. No, the blood begins to race as the gaze goes from glaze to furtive and increased glances in the rear view mirror. There is a direct correlation to an increase in human population to an overall harriedness on the highway. I don’t like it.

However, we found some unexpected solace in North Dakota. It appears that the Peace Garden State has embraced the seductive sell of the extraction industry. But like all boom and bust cycles, their high days will taper and disappear. So just swallow the Kool-Aid flavored, “Git While the Gittin is Good,” and the hell with aquifers, farmland, wildlife habitat and our children’s future.

Our Dakota hideout was the Theodore Roosevelt National Park where we surprised ourselves by staying four nights. In an 1899 speech, Teddy Roosevelt implored, “. . . our country calls not for the life of ease but for the life of strenuous endeavor.” TR would have been proud of us because for three days Miss Nancy and I mountain biked through the bison, forded the Little Missouri River with our hiking boots knotted and draped over our shoulders and packs on our backs to go beyond the civil-lies.

Pulling out of Medora, we found ourselves sucked up in the current of Interstate 94 and swept east towards Base Camp in Minnesota where a summer’s worth of fecund mice hailed us home. We are once again one happy family tucked into a small patch of woods where images of vast, wild Yukon landscapes will be relived all winter.

A Good Trade

banjo kim export

We use knots a lot. While Nancy and I don’t pretend to be knot experts, we have what we call our “necessary knots.” These are the handful that we often rely on when setting up a camp or tying canoes on top of the truck.

Neither of us is a knot master but we each have our strengths. I am quick with trucker’s hitch and timber hitch and love the bowline ,but when it comes to a taut-line hitch Nancy can tie it in her sleep and do it quickly. This knot is an adjustable knot that is useful for tightening and loosening a line under tension. It is great for setting up tarps and tent guy lines.

Recently, Nancy made a good trade with our Yukon friend, Banjo Kim. She bartered a lesson on how to tie then taut line hitch  for a book titled The Pig Plantagenet. Kim had raved about this tale of fantasy that expounds the world of wonder while reminding us of the constant and fruitless war man has with nature.

Banjo Kim is a black belt nomad and she lives in a world of barter and foraging. She is a pert young woman who was born in the Northwest Territories so she wears her northern stripes honestly. Rarely have I met someone so comfortable with his or her life.

For the time being, Banjo Kim resides about three miles from our Yukon Outpost. She lives in a small wee house that she built on the bed of an 8-foot by 16-foot, double-axel trailer. She can avoid buying property and paying the associated taxes by pulling the trailer to a friend’s land and setting up for awhile. Easily heated with a small wood-burning stove Banjo Kim lives a simple but rich life.

One of my favorite images of Kim was seeing her stride with her decal-covered banjo case in one hand and her other hand hoisting a Pulaski tool over her shoulder through the Whitehorse Farmer’s Market. The Pulaski is hand tool resembles a hybrid between an axe and an adze and is very handy in fighting fires in backcountry and in grubbing out trails. Kim had used it for digging up a piece of garden space.

As she strode confidently through the market and crowds, she looked so utterly normal; and she hardly drew a stare. It was just another day in the Yukon.

Not only does Banjo Kim put up her own wood, but she hunts, fishes, gardens and is an expert and highly regarded forager for wild edible plants and mushrooms. Inside her small abode she had clumps of various plants hanging upside down to dry and scores of jars with wild herbs. It smells like a sage-covered Yukon hillside.

A few years ago she, and likely her banjo, travelled to Scotland and since she was on a tight budget she foraged for wild edibles the whole time she was there. Once could say she grazed across Scotland.

This summer she has become a Johnny Appleseed of sorts as she has wandered all over the Mt. Lorne area planting Siberian pines. Someday she is hoping she and others can harvest pine nuts for culinary delights.

Last year, Banjo Kim was with Nancy and I when I took a fall while rock climbing up on Needle Mountain. I had a very nasty gash in my shin and a broken metatarsal in my right hand. We were 3+ hours from the nearest road so Kim immediately had me chewing willow leaves (nature’s aspirin), while she found some lungwort or bluebell leaves for a compress that was placed under a splint she fashioned over my hand. As for the bloody cut, she had me chewing yarrow leaves to make a poultice that we placed directly on the wound. Yarrow has properties that make it a reliable styptic to reduce or stop blood flow.

Over the past summer she worked contractually as a field biologist for the Yukon wildlife section. She paddled her canoe around the perimeters of Snafu and Tarfu lakes looking for river otter “latrines.” These are sites, usually at points of land, on large exposed rocks, fallen logs or even beaver lodges where otters leave the water to take care of the business of voiding wastes, scent-marking and grooming themselves. . . you know an otter bathroom.

She set up 26 remote game cameras, each overlooking an otter latrine. Then a week or two later she would return by canoe and recover the memory cards from all the cameras.

Besides being a fine banjo picker, songwriter and forager, Banjo Kim is an indefatigable dancer and a skilled butcher of livestock. These are all skills that can earn you a place in what is known as the “colorful five per cent” in the Yukon. (Anyone in this eclectic group is set apart from the remaining 95% of the population.)

Kim has a recently fabricated summer kitchen that she put together out side of here wee house. She also has a canvas wall tent that serves as guest quarters. It was the wall tent that drew the attention of Nancy. She had noticed that some of the guy lines were loose. So she offered to tie some taut line hitches to tighten everything up. Kim was excited to become acquainted with the knot. So a trade was made, a book for a knot.

Knowing we were soon heading back south to Minnesota, we exchanged hugs and good wishes. We left Banjo Kim and her collection of new found taut-line hitches stretching out her proud standing wall tent and we held a tale that would carry us to a land of whimsy.

Damn good trade.