Thursday, August 23, 2012

Tenacious New Roots: Whitehorse & The Yukon 2012

“When it's over, I want to say: all my life I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it is over, I don't want to wonder if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,or full of argument. I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.”~Mary Oliver

Each time you visit a place that resonates with you it is harder to leave. As my time here in The Yukon Territory draws to a close I feel even more of myself being left behind here. Have you ever visited a place that just felt “right”? That you felt an immediate gravitational pull towards? When I first visited Vancouver in 2003 I felt this way, but upon arriving in Alaska in 2008 my path was forever altered: The North was where I belonged.

The Yukon river, like a twisting muscle of blues and blacks, flows continually by..

Imagine my delight when I first arrived in The Yukon: like Alaska, but within my country of Canada. I was elated, and that elation has lasted, even when I have been in Ontario in between journeys up here, for the last three years. So when you feel that draw to a place you naturally try to get back to it. I have just spent the last three weeks here in Whitehorse, meeting new friends, hiking, sailing, painting, mountain biking and squeezing every drop of experience possible out of it all. It has been unforgettable in so many ways.

The intent of this journey was a working vacation.I was able to complete two new paintings for my upcoming solo painting exhibition: "Surfacing", at Abbozzo Gallery  in Oakville, Ontario (November 2-17th). Throughout this creative process I hiked and explored new areas of Whitehorse, Haines Junction and more. Waking up every morning and seeing the countenance of the mountains on the horizon or at my feet, never ceased to amaze me. I understand why so many Ontarians have moved here. The people are so helpful when I mention that I am a painter and what sort of suggestions might they have as to how I might integrate my artwork into the vibrant culture up here.

The Yukon is a great supporter of artists and the arts. There are lots of artists up here, working artists, passionate artists, and I didn’t even get up to Dawson, where everyone says I must visit. When I return I definitely want to do this. On a side note, I think it would be pretty amazing to canoe from Whitehorse to Dawson as so many have done, whether racing or for leisure.

I can understand how Yukoners and people who live in the North feel the urge to get out into the sunshine, traverse the tundra, and embrace the ephemeral summer months here. According to friends, it is winter for about 8 months of the year here, so it stands to reason that people are out hiking, canoeing, kayaking, biking and out in the sun as much as possible, to soak up lots of that Vitamin D before the sun starts to dip lower on the horizon after the summer solstice.

The majority of the days I was here I worked on two paintings, a little 5”x7” piece and a larger, 18”x24” painting. To wake up, feel the coolness on my skin from the window open during the night (temps would dip to about 8ºC), make a coffee and settle down in front of my makeshift easel and paint for six hours was bliss. Having such a lack of distraction from noise, advertisements, din, crowds, traffic and the like really helps with focus. Having a tendency towards being anxious and rabbit-hearted, I am particularly affected by external stimulation like this so its absence was welcome. Instead I had the rosy sun slanting across the wall and arcing high above the lodgepole pines that frame my friend’s backyard.If you walked 10 minutes outside his backyard you would be in the wilderness. It is everywhere. It is wonderful.

En route home from Haines Junction, west of Whitehorse
Oftentimes on my walk or jog to the Canada Games Centre I would hear the chortle of ravens swooping overhead, their throaty voices breaking the silence periodically to remind me that I was far from Southwestern Ontario. I would get up and stretch on my breaks, gazing at the slate blue mountains on the horizon across the river and beyond, see groups of fuschia-coloured fireweed in gardens and along the roadside. My daily walks and jogs down Hamilton Blvd became a daily ritual, except on the days when I went for a run by the Yukon River on the Millennium Trail, or met with a new friend such as freelance writer Eva Holland, who has penned stories for Up Here magazine and many more publications. I also had a coffee with CBC North's Dave White. Always nice to reconnect with him. That phrase “strangers are friends we haven’t met yet” is so true. I now feel as though I have a little place in the community here. My favourite hangout is Baked Café, where I picked up some lovely Bean North Coffee. I brought it back to Ontario with me and am savouring each cup. 

At Baked Café

On certain days I went farther afield and new experiences. I hiked in Kluane National Park with my friend before he departed on his trip this month. We had a great hike with views down Slims River to the glaciers that slide in slow motion down the mountains at the end of the valley. It was a great hike and nice to actually explore a bit of the park. I hiked in Wrangell St. Elias National Park which joins Kluane in 2009, so it was sort of a revisiting. But considering the immense size of the two parks, it was also like a brand new world too. On another occasion I met a new friend in Haines Junction, a small community of less than 400 people that lives in the shadow of the mountains of Kluane. I relaxed in her little log home with she and her husband, met their sled dogs and capped off the day with the glorious drive back from Haines Junction to Whitehorse. Perfect.
The view from "Yurtville" at Boréale Biking, looking out over Whitehorse
I was fortunate enough to meet the great folks at Boréale Biking this summer as well. I have been following them for awhile on Twitter and so we arranged to meet and do a little bit of mountain biking together. I had never mountain biked with a full suspension bike before and so it was a great baptism into a new form of wilderness adventure. Marsha and Sylvain, my hosts, were so kind, amazing cooks, and their little hamlet of yurts, known as “Yurtville” made my time there pretty spectacular. I had my own little yurt for the night, with a little skylight, the sounds of the wilderness just outside the walls and the amazingly warm comforter that kept me snug and warm during the cool night.  My biking guide Dave was very patient with me, giving me tips on how to position myself on the bike during ascents and descents, advice on general practice of what to do and not to do, and said that I did very well for my first time out. I cannot wait to get back on the trails.

The main yurt at Boréale Biking, and an inside view...
More highlights were hiking with a new group of friends who meet regularly. We laughed and they brought along a few of their dogs who accompanied us on the hike. I look forward to move excursions with all of them. Also I will remember fondly my visit to The Chocolate Claim, meeting Chantal at Unity Clothing, grabbing a pint at the High Country Inn after an afternoon of hiking on Discovery Day yesterday, and sailing across Lake Laberge on a 26 foot sailboat. I fit a lot into three weeks, but it did not feel like too much. It was enough to keep me busy yet productive with my art. I cannot thank my new friends enough for welcoming me  here and answering my questions about life up here in the Yukon, what brought them here and what keeps them here. I came away with so many riches that I will treasure always.

A panorama of the little cove on Lake Laberge where we docked the sailboat..
Gorgeous viewpoint after our hike up the ridge..didn't see a soul :)
The Yukon gets into your cells and your lungs. Its energy and peaceful spirit seep into you through a type of quiet and steady osmosis. Most importantly it enters into our hearts and we are forever changed. Or perhaps it is us that walk into its heart. 

New Paintings By Heather Horton

November 2-17, 2012
Abbozzo Gallery, Oakville, Ontario

Opening Reception November 2, 7-10pm
Artist meet and greet November 4, 2-4pm

You can see more available paintings via my website: 
and at Abbozzo Gallery's website: