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All that Glitters is not Gold

Updated: Aug 20, 2021

"It costs so much to be a full human being....One has to abandon altogether the search for security, and reach out to the risk of living with both arms. One has to embrace the world like a lover, and yet demand no easy return of love. One has to accept pain as a condition of existence. One has to court doubt and darkness as the cost of knowing. One needs a will stubborn in conflict, but apt always to total acceptance of every consequence of living and dying." - Morris West, The Shoes of the Fishermen


© Peter Mather's, Maclean's Canada, 2019


As I'm cooking some crepes in a crepe pan salvaged from the Dawson dump, I have to chuckle thinking of this treasure found in a place where the Klondike River once flowed- All that glitters is not gold. The river was rerouted when dredges roved through the riverbeds in search of gold during the Klondike Gold Rush. What's left are a series of dredge piles from large machinery sifting through the rocks.


You must know- we are not crazy or the only people digging through the garbage. Roaming the dump for salvageable treasures is a favourite pastime for many northerners with limited access to affordable household items. (Read about Ykea if you don't believe me.) My son pulls out a patio umbrella, ecstatic: "Look Mom! It still works! Who would throw this away?!" It's a bit faded, marked with a Yukon Brewing logo. "Perfect!" I reply, snapping a photograph for him to treasure when he becomes an adult. Remember that time you celebrated finding a perfectly good beer umbrella at the Dawson dump?- I can hear the memory echoing in my mind as we recall this moment laughing at the photograph in years to come.


It's not just about up-cycling or trying to find something that can be put to use, but we are trying to develop a recently purchased section of land and don't have much of use for this purpose. Despite three return trips between Marsh Lake and Dawson City, YT, we only have a garage full of tools, records, a record player, winter clothing, dog houses and some basic furniture. Not having much is already having too much in my opinion though.


Living in tents with a small netted gazebo, I feel so grateful to have finally set up a table to eat and cook on after months of using a Tupperware bin as a table. And crepes on top of that! How lucky we are this fine morning! Thinking of the gratitude I am feeling for this table and the dump crepe pan, I recall having a conversation with a few of my colleagues shortly before moving to Dawson. One of them, having recently purchased a house as a first time homeowner posed the question to the others: "What is your favourite must-have appliance that you absolutely cannot live without?" Going around in a circle, everyone began sharing: "My vitamix!..."Toaster oven for me"...."Definitely, my air purifier!" I was baffled hearing this as they excitedly blurted out various appliances- some I had never even heard of. My turn approached and somehow confused about what I should say, I replied, "Well...I have been living without electricity for almost two years now so I would have to say a dutch oven. I use it to cook everything on the fireplace from bread to soups to bath water. :)" My point was dismissed. Next!- "my insta-pot!" "Oh yes definitely need an insta-pot!".............


While the dump is useful for finding some garbage to repurpose, it's hideous and awful to think about all of the waste humans create. Watching the birds feed off the garbage saddens me and knowing that a river where salmon once spawned used to flow through here, makes me cringe. Air purifier? At what cost?! Is the air not pure enough for you?


I promise you that waking up and going to sleep in a tent and living with the bare minimum is more satisfying than an air purifier or an insta-pot. While our Mongolian yurt which is meant to be our home is stuck on a ship en route from overseas, I don't feel any lack of comfort living in a tent but rather the opposite. Bathing in the river, dirty feet and mosquito-bitten legs are reminders of how we embrace and respect the world without material needs. Life in a yurt, I imagine, will further inspire this reality.


A recent trip to Tombstone Territorial Park, a remote, protected area of rugged peaks, permafrost landforms and abundant wildlife including the Porcupine caribou herd- one of the healthiest barren-ground caribou herds left in the world numbering about 218,000, furthered my curiosity of migration, untouched wilderness and longing for less........less materiality.


The migration of the caribou herd- one of the longest and harshest of any land mammal-takes place across the north for the caribou to reach their calving grounds. The Gwich’in nations have relied on these caribou for tens of thousands of years. Yet, the "black gold" under the ground and development threatens this herd- the only herd in the world that is not in steep decline.


In addition to these beautiful, fascinating creatures, the park boasts some of the rarest species of butterflies and plants in the world. As I gaze across the open fields of arctic cotton grass at the butterflies in search of the caribou, I can't help but think that all that glitters is not gold....



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