Three Decades of Hold

It was 29 years ago today that I found myself wandering for the last time around the little one bedroom Toronto apartment I shared with Joe; the apartment with the drafty front room, the life sized poster of Bogart, the red shag carpet and the pinkish-red leopard skin patterned curtains that I had hand sewn myself.  Joe and I must have been in an altered state when we bought that slippery fabric, spotting it in a store on Bloor and Bathurst beside Honest Ed’s.

While on that particular day those garish curtains still hung in our livingroom window, there was little else left in the place.  The movers had carted off most of my wordly possessions, meagre as they were at that point in my life. Little more than books, records and a sound system. Little treasures.

The boxes were bound for Baffin Island. I was bound for the same place…Frobisher Bay, later to be named Iqaluit.

I don’t remember much of what I thought about during those last few hours before I boarded the plane. Joe was to join me six weeks later and I do recall wondering if he really would take such a leap of faith. For me it was easy…I had a job to go to: my first full time position as a reporter with CBC Radio. And after all, I always had wanderlust in my blood.  I couldn’t wait to embark on this new adventure. Joe had no job and at that point was a city boy through and through.  For him it must have felt like falling down the rabbit hole blindfolded and head first. And while it was tough for him at the beginning, we both stayed. When we chose to leave three years later to travel and later settle back in Toronto, all we could think about was coming north again. And so we did. And we haven’t budged since apart from holidays and Joe’s educational sabbaticals.

So what keeps me here? It’s sure not the weather. I don’t like the cold and I don’t like the darkness in the winter. I desperately miss being able to grow corn and vine-ripened tomatoes in the field. I don’t like being at the other end of the country from my family and some of my oldest friends. But for most of 29 years, something has obviously overridden all of that; something that I’ve never really been able to put in words when people ask me why I choose to remain in the North.

Sure, there’s some obvious stuff, like clean air and water, beautiful scenery, the ability to live so close to nature, and the lack of traffic jams, crowds and noise pollution. But it’s more than that. A lot more actually.

So here’s where I need the help of those other Northerners who are reading this. How do you explain to non-Northerners why you live here? Maybe collectively we can help people better understand the magic hold this place seems to have on all of us; a hold that for me has lasted nigh on three decades.


8 thoughts on “Three Decades of Hold

  1. I could feel some of it when I came to visit. Not the same as living there, I know, but I like coming up from Vancouver. I have the greatest sense of that ‘thing that can’t be described’ when I’m away form town, and even away from houses. It’s when I’m out on the road or in nature. It’s also in the people I meet there, who seem to me to be open and perhaps less jaded than many of the city people I know.


  2. There is definitely a warmth and welcoming nature that you don’t find in many places. I think Lucca’s on to something: There’s a tremendous sense of inner peace that comes with being able to get away from it all. Here, you can just walk out into the wilderness and enjoy some simple solitude. I know that’s a big part of it for me. I’m always revitalized by that.

    Or, it could just be everything we’ve mentioned where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.


  3. Here’s a mundane detail. I had band practice tonight, which starts at 7:30. I left my house just after 7, went to the store to pick up some desperately-needed cat litter, and made it to band with a few minutes to spare. Gotta love that you don’t have to waste a lot of time getting around — it means more time you get to be doing meaningful things, like putting the kids to bed.

    Then there’s the amazing support in the community. That first year of Jade’s seizures where friends and neighbours and near-strangers brought us meals and kind words just blew us away. And then there were certain people who were willing to search high and low for ingredients for Jade’s new special diet. I think in a bigger town it would have been easy to get lost in the anonymity of the multitudes.

    And there’s the arts community. And the farming community. And just so many neat, eccentric, creative wonderful people.

    Gonna have to go with the whole is greater than the sum of its parts thing. 🙂


  4. For us, the north allows us family time. We are not living a rushed life where both adults have to work to make ends meet and the commute to and from does not take up a large portion of our day. Our lives are simple up here and we focus on spending the time doing family activities.

    And where the heck else would I be allowed to drive my quad to check the mail!?!


  5. Well, what can i say…
    I loved the big snow flakes today. mmmmmm
    And read my blog:) Skip the last two months, i was kind of not my usual self. Actually me being a little off track, i found i got an incredible amount of support, love, here in my Yukon. And i am not from the Yukon, no family around beside Don and Alexander. I realized my Yukon friends are truly my family, when times are a little rough.


  6. Hi, I came upon your blog through onthecamino which I have been reading now for over a year. I wanted to wish you a buen camino and also to say that it will probably be the most important thing you ever do for yourself in your life. I walked Sept/Oct 2008 for 40 days. I suppose it is difficult to come back to your life but the gift is the clarity of sight that you will view yourself and all situations around you with. Will you be keeping a blog while you walk? I wish you the best on your journey.
    a fellow pilgrim, Barbara


  7. Just refer back to Robert Service and the “Spell of the Yukon”

    The whole poem is pertinent, but certain parts always stick with me

    “No, there’s the land (Have you seen it?)
    It’s the cussedest land that I know
    From the big, dizzy mountains that screen it
    To the deep, deathlike valleys below.
    Some say God was tired when He made it
    Some say it’s a fine land to shun.
    Maybe. But there’s some that would trade it
    For no land on earth
    And I’m one.

    There’s a land where the mountains are nameless,
    And the rivers all run God knows where;
    There are lives that are erring and aimless,
    And deaths that just hang by a hair;
    There are hardships that nobody reckons;
    There are valleys unpeopled and still;
    There’s a land — oh, it beckons and beckons,
    And I want to go back — and I will.

    And after almost 5 decades of being here, it still rings true for me


  8. I love the light – the quality of the light (winter and summer) as well as the insanely easy access to the outdoors. As others have mentioned, I also really appreciate not having to commute hours to get to a job. But back to the light….and the geography….I’ve only been in the Yukon for three years, but I am indeed having a torrid love affair with the land.


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