When I was a little girl, the world was a magic place. The wind in the trees were a song, there were little faeries and gnomes at play in my family garden, the river that ran through the back of our home was full of mystery. The trees spoke to me, the angels and the spirits played and danced right along with me.
And I played in this magic kingdom, without asking whether it was 'real' or 'imagination', because to me there was no defining line between the two perspectives.
At age 10, abruptly, as though I had fallen out of a tree...'real' became a necessary standard for my trust. Real was equated with 'tangible', 'reasonable' or 'logical'.My 'imagination' was no longer woven into my sense of reality. I began to believe that whatever I imagined or dreamed was a lie...that what I experienced as a young child was 'just made up'. I thought I was experiencing disillusionment..and what I was really experiencing was more like heartbreak.
I developed my intellect, studied hard, worried, planned, and worked hard. The ordinary became very mundane indeed. To me, at this time, the world was not a magical place, it was a dark, resistant place...one that did not have my best interests at heart. The world seemed full of evil people, who wanted nothing more than to use and discard me. I perceived those who were kind to me as naive, or false. I played in that land, barren from magic, for about twelve years...then, one day, abruptly, I fell again: this time off the seemingly solid ground into the rabbit hole.
I had spent the summer up in Dawson City Yukon in 1994 with my boyfriend, Tomas, working at the pub in the historic Eldorado Hotel. I was at a crossroads in my life and ready for a change - I just knew I wanted more from my life, but not exactly what it was. I had decided to study Massage Therapy in Vancouver, and one of the requirements was to attend an introductory massage course at the college. I planned to drive the six hours from Dawson City to Whitehorse on a late September Thursday morning with my friend, Michelle, and then fly down to Vancouver for the weekend, returning on the Monday.The ordinary planning of this trip was exciting, but I had no idea that my life was about to suddenly shift.
On the way down, my 1975 Ford Station wagon - affectionately known as the 'Land Shark' - broke down. We made it to a place called 'Stewart Crossing', which is a settlement with a restaurant, gas station, and a garage. The mechanic, miraculously, had just returned from a long vacation somewhere south that very day. He was very reluctant to work on my car, though. After a bit of persuasion (thanks to Michelle), he had agreed to at least have a look at it.
After he assessed it, he said he could fix it, but it wouldn't be ready until the Monday. Our flight was the next day, scheduled to land around noon, so we really did need to get down to Whitehorse if we were to go at all. I decided we would leave the car to be fixed, hitchhike to Whitehorse and then I would pick the car up on my way back to Dawson City on Monday.
We got a ride to the airport in Whitehorse with no problem. In my experience, people in the Yukon are always willing to help and are generous with their time. After flying down to Vancouver, staying until Monday morning, I flew back up (on my own this time) to Whitehorse. This is where the adventure really begins.
I asked all the people who had flown into Whitehorse with me if they were driving up to Dawson City. No one was going my way, but a woman readily offered to drive me to the turnoff on the Klondike highway to go up to Dawson so that I would have an easier time finding a ride with someone going that way. I went with her the 18 km to the turnoff, and then out again, with my thumb out. It was a beautiful sunny day, but the nip of fall was in the air, and I knew it would get colder that day...still, I was full of hope that I would get a ride easily.
After two hours, someone offered to take me to Carcross, which is about two hours drive from where I was. I got in.
At Carcross, I ate some pancakes, and got back out onto the highway to get a ride the rest of the way up to Stewart Crossing to pick up my car.
Three hours went by. As I remember, it was somewhere between 5 and 6pm, and getting colder by the hour. Finally a man stopped. He said he was going to Pelly Crossing, which is a First Nations reserve , and is the geographic halfway point between Dawson City and Whitehorse. I hesitated, because if I didn't get a ride at Pelly, there was nowhere planned for me to stay the night, and Pelly didn't have services (at least back then). This man, who was very kind, offered to drive me up to Stewart Crossing - one hour north of Pelly so two hours out of his way- if I bought him some gas and a pack of cigarettes. I thought this more than fair, and gratefully jumped in.
We drove for 2 hours, pulled into the gas station, and after he filled his tank, I hugged him goodbye. I don't remember his name, maybe I never knew it. I think of him now as an angel.
At Stewart Crossing, my car was fixed and ready to go. It only cost me $40, though I am sure that was a deep discount. The mechanic was disappointed that my friend, Michelle, hadn't returned with me, but was very kind and double checked everything before I left. He offered to fill up my tank, but after having a look, I had enough to get back to Dawson (or so I thought). There was a nagging voice in my head that said "put gas in the car you silly girl". I ignored it, because I was getting short on cash, and this was the day and age before ATM machines. And cell phones.
I drove the rest of the way towards Dawson City, happy, singing Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and Joni Mitchell....excited to be back in my temporary home, and to finally get some sleep.
At around 11pm, still some distance to Dawson City, my car ran out of gas. I thought I was very close to town, maybe three kilometers at the most. I layered on on my clothes, and set out to walk the rest of the way. The sky was darker than dark, and with no other lights, the stars were magnificent. There were no other sounds but the trudging of my boots on the snow as I walked. I began to feel a bit fearful as the wolves started howling. I shivered....it can't be too far, I thought.
After walking more than 2 hours, I came to a road sign. It was covered in snow, so I walked up to it, and cleared it off. "Dawson City - 10km" , it read. From somewhere deep inside my soul, I started to cry...to scream. I felt such a sense of injustice...of betrayal. How could this happen to me? I swore, I jumped up and down and screamed into the well of silence.
I fell into silent, resigned walking. Step after step, not knowing how long it would take me,as it got colder and colder, truly feeling hopeless.
Then it happened.
The sky broke into every colour of the rainbow. The whole sky was alight...and crackling, almost like fireworks. The Northern lights danced and played...and it was all I could do to just take in what I was witnessing. It was a miracle.
For more than an hour, I watched the lights. I forgot about my anger and frustration, I felt filled with light, and joy.
As the lights began to die down, I realized that I would never see the world the same way again. And just then, a man drove up in a truck, and picked me up, driving me the rest of the way to Dawson City, even offering to fill up a jerrycan of gas, and drive me back to pick up my car. Every moment was set in motion to a perfection so that I could witness and be present to the lights without any distraction.
This day was full of miracles. It was an ordinary day. All of it was real, tangible, reasonable....and all of it extraordinary, mystical, and magical. It was visible to me that every part of that day had every need met to a perfection. Within me, the veil was torn in two again... and I started to see the Extraordinary Ordinary that is True Life.
Dawn Dancing Otter