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When I was growing up I was sure I lived in the middle of nowhere. I couldn’t walk to our neighbour’s house. All of my friends lived a car ride away. We were a half hour drive away from the nearest grocery store. And then, at 24, I moved to the Yukon, and here my definition of isolation changed drastically.

If you look at a map of the Yukon- found at the very top left of Canada, a vaguely triangular shape that lists to the west, towards Alaska- you will see large wide open spaces untouched by roads. The south of the territory is criss crossed by highways, but then there is only one solitary line that leads up from the south. The Klondike Highway travels the 532 kilometers from Whitehorse, the largest city in the Yukon, to Dawson City, where we live. One road. It travels past lakes, through the remains of forest fires, past bears and wolves and swans and ground squirrels. About halfway to Dawson you stop seeing pine trees. You reach the end of their natural range. Spruce rule here, the black ones growing like stunted q-tips in the bogs and hollows, white spruce growing tall in the river valleys. A small black spruce, not much to look at a few inches in diameter, can be decades old. Like many things that live here, in the cold and dark, you need to be little gnarly to survive, let alone thrive.

About 40 km outside of Dawson, you reach the one fork in the road, the Dempster corner, where you can choose to turn left, and continue North, cross into the Arctic Circle and over ice bridges to Tuktoyaktuk. Keep driving on the Klondike Highway, towards Dawson, along the Klondike river, and you come in a few kilometers to our landing.

We live on the North side of the Klondike River. In the summer we cross the river with canoes, in the winter we cross by foot or on snow mobile. Our “driveway” is two kilometers and a river away from our house. We park the car, cross the river and walk through the forest for twenty minutes. We break out of the white spruce, come out into a field and there, past the willows, is our home. It is a plywood palace, with a shed style roof. Small, but cozy, and most importantly, ours.

We have built this home out of pocket. Because we have no road access to our home, we have moved all of the materials for our home with snowmobiles, canoes, and our own muscles. With the exception of our drywall, which arrived by helicopter, we have moved every piece of our home on our own. This has helped keep our building modest, and our hands calloused.

We moved everything we had, all the building material we anticipated needing and could afford in the winter two years ago. Moving lumber is relatively easy in the winter. We have it delivered to the landing and move it by the sled load, pulled behind the snowmobile, to our property, where we unload, and then return to the landing and repeat.

Moving large amounts of lumber in the summer is another story. We spent a whole day once pulling canoes up the creek that borders our property. When Chris decided to change the design of our floor, to make it thicker and warmer, we needed to move all of the floor joists over by canoe. We spent an entire evening in two canoes paddling the lumber across the river, two or three boards at a time in our canoes. passing each other headed back the opposite way. It took us far longer than we thought, it got dark, Chris tipped and got jammed into the canoe by the boards before we realized it was foolish to continue and called it for the night. It took a borrowed tractor, two more days and the aforementioned tractor being stuck in the creek for an entire day before all of the floor joists arrived at our homestead.

We spent much of the first summer and part of the winter living in a wall tent. In order to pay for this whole adventure we rented out our house in town and spent our time living out at the property and working on our house. We harassed Chris’ parents for showers laundry and invaded their guest rooms when we needed it. We built the house ourselves, with help and expertise from friends and family. We spent our evenings, our weekends and two years of our life moving lumber, swatting mosquitoes, commuting by canoe, hammering nails, insulating walls, learning as we went, trusting in the skill of our friends, and making the rest up in between.

After two years without our own home, living in a wall tent, housesitting for Chris’ parents, losing a dog, adopting two dogs, sweat, tears, splinters, the help of many many friends, my entire pregnancy and the first month of our daughter’s life we finally moved into our own home this past December.

You may be asking what many people have wondered- why do all this work to live somewhere that is, frankly, a lot of work. We have no running water. We use a generator occasionally to charge our phones, computer and turn on the lights. Otherwise we use battery packs, work lights and beeswax candles to light our long winter nights. Laundry means hauling bags to town and back again. We have an outhouse and head outside to answer the call of nature even at forty below.

There are many things that would be much easier if we still lived in town, or at least on grid, or on a road even. But there are many things that are incredibly easy here in our small home. Trails lead from our front door up the creek, crossed by wolf tracks and otter slides. Being outside, which for me means being fit and healthy in both mind and body, is easy here. Owls hunt in our field and call out to us in the night. Breathing is easy here. Hearing your own eyelids blink in cold quiet is also easy. I watch northern lights from our bed while nursing my daughter. Drinking entire pots of tea is easy. Quiet is easy. Sleeping is easy. Waking is easy.

In short, being who we want to be, being as we want to be, is easiest for us here. Though we may occasionally curse ourselves for planting our feet so far in the bush, with so much work ahead of us, we are happiest here- in our woolens, with the wood piles, wood smoke and tired backs in a plywood palace with the wolves singing and northern lights dancing all around.

building Sept2013march2015

You can find Rian’s beautfiul blogspace HERE

5 Responses

  • Your last paragraph made me tear up, Rian. As we’re in the process of giving up our own peace in the bush in exchange for extended family in the city, I hope and pray we can hold onto ourselves, somehow.

    You’ve captured beautifully just why people choose this life!

  • Just beautiful. You guys are so brave! And thanks for inspiring me to get ourselves ‘off grid’ a bit more in our everyday lives-and that it can make things easier if we let it.
    Ps. I just love your blog too!

  • i’ve enjoyed Rian’s blog for quite some time, and loved reading this piece here as well…as always, this space always keeps me coming back for more.

  • Wow. My father lives like this in the deep woods of East Texas and has most of our lives. He actually left our lives to pursue a life “off the grid”. I of course, feel like he abandoned us but your writing has given me a bit of perspective on the “easy” he is looking for. I always just felt it was easier for for him to not parent us but maybe he couldn’t live without the easy sleep, easy stillness and quiet you talk about.
    Thank you for sharing and wording so well.

  • Absolutely beautiful. As my wife and I make our own way, we hear often that we’re plumb crazy for doing it – for living without convenience and frills. I love to see others living life for themselves, for finding their peace, internally and externally. Again, lovely words and sentiments.

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