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Purgatory - Sunday, Feb. 10, 2019
Friday, Dec. 02, 2016 @ 4:57 pm
The northern lights.
No, there were no northern lights. I set my alarm for 4am, rouse myself, and stumble in a disoriented haze to the window. Pull back the heavy hotel drapes. Gaze out to the parking lot, cars dusted with fresh snow. The snow still falling, cascades of flakes glittering under the halogen lamp standards.
Stepping out of the airport in Whitehorse. I'd forgotten what -17 feels like. The dry air catching in my nose, water vapour crystalizing in my nostrils. The snow squeaks under my feet. My hands bare against the biting cold. I smile and laugh. This. This is perfect.
I do the first part of my work. Clearing out our old office storage locker in the basement of a rickety old building. Pre-lit Christmas tree, empty boxes, a dusty old monitor. I drive around town, visit the Salavation Army, the recycling depot, the dump. This is how you really get to know a place.
Walk along the river in the fading sunlight. Ice built up along the edge of the river. The light pale, soft, and grey. The slow moving water sending up tendrils of steam. I pull my fur scarf further up my face. My hands are numb icebergs.
Into a coffee shop. Watch the mothers extract their children from grubby snow suits. Sip on a cappuccino, surprisingly good considering the roughness of this city.
I drive around the city at dusk, exploring suburban neighbourhoods, circling the college and the hospital, getting a sense of the lay of the land. Eventually check into the hotel. Sit for a while in the quiet of the room, two double beds. And then head out for dinner.
I go the the livliest pub, sit at the bar. Order some comfort food and sit back to watch the comings and goings. Nobody talks to me. I feel sad and alone, but a part of me is relieved at not having to make small talk with a one-tooth stranger.
I sleep restlessly. Sweat through my tank top. Up in the middle of the night to check for the aurora.
At dawn I head out on the highway. Fresh snow and low cloud. Little traffic. I turn off the Alaska Highway and head down the Klondike towards Skagway. There are zero other cars.
I stop at a roadside historical marker. Walk out across the old railway tracks to a weathered building of some importance. Brown grasses quivering and glistening with frost. The snow squeaking under my feet. And the silence. Utter silence. Everything is frozen, no life dares to show itself when it's this cold.
Further down the higway, the clouds start to burn off. The mountains begin to reveal themselves and I'm yelling out through the windshield like the Harry Met Sally orgasm scene. It's magnificent. I want to die here. I want to live here. I want to eat the mountains and have them flow through my blood.
My work is to inspect the partial construction of a road in a First Nations community. The project kind of fell apart, and the construction season was too short, and, well, it's the North so things just aren't like they are down south. I do my work, my hands burning with the cold and then numb. I take measurements, photos, attempt to dig down through the layers of the gravel road to see what materials were placed. I sit in the car trying to warm up my hands, terrified that I've developed frost bite.
I am standing beside the school at lunch hour. A small group of children run outs to play on the monkey bars. It's -18 with a brisk wind. The kids see me and wonder what I'm doing. They come to the fence and dangle over it, knowing that they aren't allowed to leave the school grounds. I go over to talk with them. Their smooth skinned faces, dark deep eyes.
I hate winter. I wish winter didn't exist.
I look at this girl, in Grade 3, her bare hand tucked into the ends of her jacket sleeves. I look at her and chuckle silently inside my brain.
When I'm done my work, I get in the car and drive. I cross the border back into BC. I stop and take photos. I stop just to stand on the side of the highway in the dead silence. I stare up at the mountains.
Wishing that I were the one that was born here.
Let's trade places, kid. Let's trade places.