Monday, September 12th, 2011

I just got back from a camping trip where I virtually died around fifty times. Some dies because of sorrow, I do because of delight.

I currently have a huge silly smile on my face. The kind of smile impossible to take off. Gold nuggets in the eyes, I died of tons of tiny heart attacks, my heart being so tight by emotion.

We went to Haines, Alaska. In order to, we had to take -among others- the Alaska Highway. The only fact of writing the name down makes me shiver. This road is one natural wonder of the world. I found myself discreetly pinching my lower arm during most of the journey, just to make sure I wasn’t dreaming and I was in reality, my reality.

If climbing the mounts around Whitehorse made me realize the fact that Nature is the queen in charge in this part of the world, going on a trip to Alaska made me being sure of it. To get to Haines from Whitehorse, we had to drive for 393km. During this ride, rares were the moments we met people, or even a sign of civilisation. A small town here, a border area there, and nature all around us. This green, this blue, this silence, those mountains, this calm and clear water… I’d weep with joy.

On the way back, I was a bit stressed to cross the border. My tourist visa stamped a few weeks ago in Montreal inside, I gave my passport to the custom official, with the fear he would grab my arm with it. Nevertheless, still under the frivolity bought by the landscape, I looked at him fearless. After a few questions, he gave me back my passport without even smiling once. Damn it, I was surely smiling -maybe too much?- when I got my passport back, and cheerfully went back to the car. I’m gonna be able to enjoy my tourist status for a while.

Thursday, September 8th, 2011

Claude wasn’t working today so he took me to the McIntyre Mount -at 1597 meters of altitude- situated just before the mount we went to last time in Fish Lake valley. Once more, my eyes enjoyed the landscape, landscape that would make côte d’azur beaches grow pale. The nature stretches miles and miles away without reaching an end. I asked myself at the top of the summit of the summit (warning: a summit can conceal another one), if one day, my eyes would get used to such beauty and vastness. What is for sure is that they would never possibly get tired of it. 

The vestige of fall already fades to give room to winter. Our eyes even got caught on a range of snowy mountains in the background. Fall goes by really fast in this part of the world where winter is the proud dominant.

On our way back, my eyes were called out by a little animal quickly dashing from rock to rock, getting up on his back legs from time to time to check the surroundings. Uncultivated as I am, I wasn’t able to put a name on this animal. Claude taught me it was a sort of marmot called Arctic Ground Squirrels. Fauna is definitely full of surprises for my little intrigued eyes.

This time, I got this doubful impression to drag -even if with difficulties- my lungs to half of the ascent. I personally take it as a tiny victory. At least, here is one good thing being separated from you physically bought me… Sometimes, I try to put things into perspective and to have a positive look on our separation. It’s far to be easy though. Your tears mixed up with mine are still a memory too recent for me. And your words, the last ones you offered me before I resigned myself to leave your cherring arms…

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

Early this morning, thanks to some good advices, I got on my two-wheeler friend and rushed towards the banks of the Yukon River, at a time when human beings have still a hard time to wake up. This is probably the first time I got a smile on my face this early, outside of my bed. It takes about fifteen minutes from my place to my spying spot.
It has been a few days I’m moving about, in vain, to this same spot in hope to spy on my friends the beavers. I usually come during the day, because of a need of sun, as if to remind me my last days in France. This time, I changed my tune, well aware that it wasn’t the right one. It seems like beavers mainly live during the night, probably not to be disturbed by human species. I break the rules of nature and station myself in my usual spot, a few steps away from a beavers’ house I spotted a couple of days ago. Those beavers must be from the well-off, their house being situated just in front of the SS Klondike, on the other bank.
I left my bike on the path, a bit farther away, not to make any noise. After a while, I finally get to see a little ball of brown fur popping out of the water. At that moment, I could have yell my excitation to the rest of the world, which would have waken up the whole town in a start, but I decided to keep my euphoria for later on, just not to scare this cute little animal. At that time, I think I was unnoticed. I spent the next minutes observing this beaver at work. He takes branches from the shore and put them, with the only strength of his jaw, on top of the others already piled up in the water. Then, he came near me and finally saw me. After a few looks between the two of us, he went to the pile of wood and disappeared under the dark water.
At that exact moment, I think I scared the animal out. Appearance sheepish, I decide to wait a bit anyways. And to my great astonishment, I see my cute little friend coming back. And he is not by himself, he came up with one of his friends, way smaller than himself. I like to think it’s his son.
With a big smile, I grab my bagback and take my camera out of it. Timidly, I’m taking pictures of my friends, taking a break in between each shot, just to make sure Daddy Beaver gives me his approbation. More than once, he stares at me. It looks like he understands that I do not want to harm him or his family. And I am really greatful for that.
The sun slowly goes up, and the reflection of it in the river makes the sight splendid. My wish to immortalize this event satisfied, I carefully put away my camera. Then, I sit down, as close as the embarrassment allows me to, and spend the next hour to educate myself. Before going back to their house, Daddy Beaver glances at me furtively, and I give him my best smile in return. After what he disappears one more time under the water and the river is totally composed again.
What a great way to start the day !

Sunday, September 4th, 2011

This is a prevention message and in advance I’d like to apologize for its monotous parts but I do think it is important to say it, and important to read it… at least, I hope so.

In Canada, and even more in provinces like the Yukon, we are not sheltered from a meeting with… a bear ! So, of course, when you do go to the visitor center and decide to take every prospectus in sight, you are confronted to a bunch of  You are in bear country, In the wild Yukon, or How to be safe in bear country. You’d understand now, forget about psychopaths who have crual murdering wishes, bears are the enemy number one in the Yukon.

Lesson number one, know your bears.

In the Yukon, there are three species of bears : Black bearsGrizzlies, and Polar bears. Forget about Polar Bears for now, we are in Whitehorse and not in Old Crow ! So we’re going to learn the differences between a black bear and a grizzli.

First of all, it’s not because a bear is black that it is a black bear. And vice versa, it’s not because a bear isn’t black that it is a grizzli. Most of the black bears in the Yukon are brownish.

So here are four differences to make you able to distinguish a black bear from a grizzli :
1) In profile, the grizzly bear has a distinct shoulder hump. Black bears lack the shoulder hump of the grizzly. The highest part of a black bear’s back is over hind legs.
2) Black bears have a “Roman” profile, with a straight line running between the forehead and the tip of the nose. Grizzly bears have a dished-in profile, with a clear depression between the eyes and the end of the nose.
3) Front claws of the black bear are dark coloured, relatively short and well curved. For the grizzli, front claws are light coloured, 10cm long or longer and slightly curved.
4) Tracks of black bears often do not include claw imprints and the toes imprint have space in between. Tracks of grizzlies usually include claw imprints and the toes imprint are very close to touching.

We can notice that a grizzli would be a lot more massive than a black bear. Adult males grizzlies weigh about 250kg (550lbs) and adul females can weigh 150kg (330lbs). Adult males black bears weigh about 135kg (300lbs) and adult females weigh only 70kg (150lbs) on average. Huge difference !
Good to know that black bears are agile climbers.
Here you go, you now know how to recognize a black bear from a grizzli.

Lesson number two, keep safe.

Well, it’s really nice to know the difference between the two of them but… do you want to meet one anyways ? I have to say I was dying to see one when I first arrived… mmh, I changed my mind after a few hikes by myself ! In the end, it’s sort of stressful to realize that, at any moment, you can encounter one of those big teddy bears ! So this next lesson is to learn how NOT to encounter a bear.

1) Hike in a group… most bears will leave the area if they are aware of your presence.
2) Make noise! Let bears know you’re there – call out, clap hands, sing or talk loudly – especially near streams, dense vegetation and berry patches, on windy days, and in areas of low visibility. As far as I’m concerned, I learned to whistle my favorites songs and to sing nursery rhymes at the top of my voice when hiking by myself… sometimes, I even clap my hands when I can’t see what’s coming in front of me… no, people don’t think I’m crazy… do not ask yourself anymore why it’s raining all the time my Yukon friends, you found the guilty party ! And if, one day, you hear a bear singing « Il était un petit navire », you can be sure that this bear lived in my area at some point !
3) Stay alert, stay alive! Watch for bears in the area and for their sign – tracks, droppings, diggings, torn-up logs, and turned-over rocks. Leave the area if you see fresh sign. (and do not think everything you see around you is the proof of a bear being in the area as I do, this is simply called paranoia)
4) Never approach or feed a bear. Keep a distance of at least 100 metres. Running after a bear or getting closer to a bear for a better picture isn’t a good idea… no silly actions ! Houra to binoculars and/or telephoto lens !

There, you shouldn’t have any problem.

Lesson number three, what to do if you encounter a bear.

Ok, I know I said before that you shouldn’t meet one with those advices but… THERE IS ALWAYS A F*CKING BUT ! HA HA! Maybe you’ll meet one anyways so you better know what to do if it happens.

If the bear doesn’t know you’re there, pray God (or whoever you want to pray) so he doesn’t see you afterwards. Kidding… move away quietly, watching for any change in its behaviour. Make a wide detour and try to leave undetected.
Now, if the bear becomes aware of your presence, well, pray again! Hum. Seriously… stay calm (so easy to say, right?), and in a non-threatening way, let it know you’re a human. Talk to it in a low respectful voice (yes, you have to respect the big teddy bear). Wave your arms slowly. Even if it seems unconcerned, never approach a bear: if you crowd it, you might provoke an aggressive response. Instead, walk away slowly, avoiding sudden movements keeping an eye on the bear (NEVER turn your back to a bear!). And don’t run: that could trigger a chase and believe me (as if I would know), bears are good runners !

If you do as tell, you should be fine. Most of the time, a bear’s usual response to detecting a person is to move away, not to jump on you and eat you up for supper !

Lesson number four, what to do if a bear approaches you.

Yes, I know, a bear isn’t supposed to attack you but… you know, this fucking BUT again !!! So, if a bear approaches you, it might be for two reasons. Either it is trying to defend itself, or it is trying to eat you up. It’s a question of luck here…

It may be reacting defensively, perceiving you as a threat—to itself, its cubs, or its food. Whatever
the cause, a defensive bear will likely appear agitated or stressed. With grizzlies, defensive attacks almost always stem from surprising a bear at close range—when it’s on a carcass—or protecting its young. On the rare occasion when a black bear attacks defensively, it usually involves a mother
defending her young. Grizzlies are more subject to attack you. If you think a bear is reacting DEFENSIVELY, your goal is to avoid being seen as a threat. A defensive bear is stressed by
your presence.

1) Stay calm.
2) Talk to the bear, and let it know you mean no harm.
3) When it no longer feels threatened, it may simply retreat. When it’s no longer advancing, start
slowly moving away—still reassuring it in a calm voice.
4) If the defensive bear advances again, stop and stand your ground once more! If the bear seems intent on attack, use your deterrent.
5) Finally, if a DEFENSIVE bear attacks, wait as long as you can before it strikes you, then fall straight to the ground, face down, with your legs spread slightly. Lock your fingers behind your neck. Protect your face and vital organs. If the bear flips you over, roll back onto your stomach. Don’t cry out or fight back. Once a defensive bear no longer thinks you’re a threat, it will stop
attacking. Lie still and wait for the bear to leave. Moving too soon may provoke another assault.

Now, the worse situation ever. Whatever its motivation, when a non-defensive bear moves toward you, it will show little stress—and your response needs to be assertive: Stay calm and talk to the bear in a firm voice.

1) Try to move out of its way (without running!) it may simply want to continue on its path.
2) If the bear follows and stays focused on you, you’re in a dangerous situation: it’s time to become aggressive. Shout! Stare the bear in the eye. Make yourself appear as large and threatening as possible. Let it know you’ll fight if attacked. Stamp your feet and take a step or two towards the bear. Stand on a rock or log. Threaten the bear with anything you can. And use your deterrent.
3) If a NON-DEFENSIVE bear attacks, fight back with all your might. Use any weapon within reach. At this point, you’re dealing with a predatory bear intent on eating you. Be as aggressive as possible, concentrating on the bear’s face, eyes and nose. Don’t give up! You may be fighting for your life…!


Wednesday, August 31st, 2011


Breath taken, once more. Because of tiredness due to the climb of one the mounts of Fish Lake valley -situated at 1400 meters of altitude- but more because of the beauty of this landscape in front of me. Last day of august and Fall is already on his way up here. A range of shimmering colors treating my pupils very well. A little chipmunk went to hide behind a rock, before timidly showing up again, as if to make sure that the giant that I am is long gone. I got the feeling I’m in the most beautiful place in the whole world; and more important, I got the feeling to deserve it. There are only few things I, one day, reckoned to deserve, probably because of a lack of self-esteem. But those precious moments that I’ve been collecting days after days here, I’m aware that they belong to me rightfully.

However, the pain occasioned by your absence isn’t at ease. When the sun is down, this bed feels way too big without you, and those sheets way too cold without your presence to warm them up. I so wish I could share this adventure with you, face this new world my fingers interlaced with yours. A part of me is still in France, by your side. And sometimes, I find myself talking to you in silence at the top of the mounts I’m climbing. Then a silly smile comes up to my face, aware of the absurdity of the situation, and I chase away your memory, this ghost permanently following me.

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

I’m lucky to have behing “my” house tons of paths and three little lakes. Every day, I’m wandering around, on an unknown path, to discover my new surroundings. Sometimes I get lost in the meanderings of a forest during twilight, and my mind transforms a single swishing into a big black bear getting ready to eat me up for diner; as a result, I whistle in rhythm to my footsteps, to scare the enraged beast away -and get rid of my stress. Other times, I walk along the lakes, dazzled by the sun, on the look-out for the least movement of the water, in hope to see a beaver. 

There is that pretty bench made of solid wood, on a little summit, that overlooks two bodies of water. I like to linger there, to soak up the atmosphere of the place, to breath freely and to smile until I lose my mind. Often, I run down the hill, my laugh on my heels, and end up my crazy run twirling around towards the woods. Then I sing my joie de vivre to the forest’s animals in hope they would join me for some fun, like in Walt Disney’s tales.

Today, I climbed up a hill way higher than the ones I climbed until then. When I reached the top, I greeted my lungs that decided to remain at the bottom. Two weeks to the day without a single cigarette. I think they smiled at me, showing off their very best wink. Taking this path brought me to discover my neighbourhood from on high. This path, situated on one of the slopes of the hill, overlooks Riverdale, my current neighbourhood. I wasn’t that high, and yet, everything seemed so tiny from there. Once more, I had this feeling to be invincible. On my way back, I took the path that goes along the back of the houses, until this small wooden gate so familiar now. The noise that it did when I opened it made me smile. Benji, my friend the squirrel, welcomed me with his little piercing call. With a compelling want, I laid down in the grass, just under the tree where my little friend was, to have a better look at this chance companion. On my back, I closed my eyes for a few minutes and enjoyed nature sounds, smell, strength. The few minutes turned into an hour and the alarm clock on my phone ringed out: duty calls !

Saturday, August 27th, 2011

You know you’re in Whitehorse when:
- you meet more bears than hikers when hiking, or at least you are more aware of the presence of bears than of hikers with some evidence, such as footprints or droppings;
- you can drive for miles without seeing a single human being;
- you know how to use a bear spray and you’re avoiding to walk deep in the forest without one;
- you are able to distinguish a black bear from a grizzly because you’ve seen both during your first hike and you rushed to the flyers that you got at the tourist office, just in case you had to cross the paths of bears more closely;
- you know the existence of AFY, the French Association of Yukon;
- you swing between French and English as some juggle with oranges;
- you wear a helmet when you ride your bike;
- you eat seeds, all kind of seeds;
- the squirrel that took up residence on your patio is stealing your seeds;
- you make friends with the animals and the squirrel that has taken up residence on your patio is also very close to become your best friend.

This non-exhaustive list is my moral support. All these little things of everyday life that remind me why I chose to come to Whitehorse rather than listen to my irresponsible heart that would have sent me straight to Montreal. This link I’m building between nature and myself after just a few days here is precious, very precious. Finding yourself at the top of a mountain and feeling tiny in comparison to what’s in front of you. Walking on trails, smiling, with respect for the animals. Discovering a world that was unknown to me until then …

Nature, my hero, my energizer, my super power.

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

Claude and I went to the top of Grey Mountain, the nearest surrounding mountains, at 1500 meters of altitude. My lungs reprimanded me after the first meters, my legs added their complaints a little further on the path. This is totally out of breath and knees like jelly that I arrived at the top. You know, hands on knees, cheeks turning pink, and lungs on the ground. It is at this exact moment that I promised myself to find the strength -during the next 12 months- to stop smoking … Rising my head up to take a look at the view that was presenting itself to me, I could have collapsed! Not because I was tired but because I was in admiration. Wow! In front of me was exactly what I was looking for: the immensity of nature. And with it, its strength, its power, its energy. This feeling of freedom and happiness that overwhelms you in front of such a sight. For the first time in my short life, I had the sensation that the world belonged to me!

Yes, there were moments of weakness where the tears rolled down my cheeks. Yes, there were these moments of infinite sadness where I miss my close past horribly, where I miss you. But I do not regret my choice. This knotted stomach, this dry mouth, these gaping eyes … everything was irrefutable proof of a good decision. That day, after a little over a week here, the Yukon officially came into my heart. Once more, I’m falling in love.

Yukon, my long-awaited lover.

Sunday, August 21st, 2011

Tears trouble my nights. In the darkness of my room, every night, my last moments in France come back to me. Like birds signs of ill omens, there are haunting me. You are haunting me.

It has now been a week that I left home. My host family is welcoming and friendly; oddly, I already feel at home after I only spent three days here.

For my first day, I had a chance to breath Whitehorse’s open air by wandering around the paths in the surroundings, the ones which lead to the biggest wooden fishes’ ladder of the world. When you first come to Canada, everything seems disproportionate. Their roads are as large as our soccer fields, their cars can fit one of our cars in theirs trunks… and so their salmons are, while we are at it, as big as baby sharks! And by experience, I can tell that they are going farther than that… they seem to have delusions of grandeur. But in the meantime, they have enough materials to do so.

For my second daylight here, I was able to get a real first overview of the city, overview that keeps me quite skeptical. Concretely, there is to admit that the city itself has no charm. Lost somewhere in between Gold Rush and globalization, Whitehorse has the appearances of an industrial city. If the “downtown” kept -according to me- signs of the past with its hotels and bars, the place was gradually invaded by food chains, huge grocery stores… Somehow, it is a small town with a big city look; that is to say, nothing attractive. But as soon as our eyes go farther than the limits of the city, magic makes an appearance! The city is surrounded by small mounts on either sides. If the city is dull, its surroundings are shimmering.

Whitehorse is a grey stain in the middle of a greenery ocean.

Saturday, August 20th, 2011

It’s 3:15am when my bus finally reaches his destination: Whitehorse, Yukon.

Among those three days spent in the bus, the last ten hours were the most interesting: caribous, mountain goats, black bears, bisons… West Canadian welcomed me by presenting a glimpse of its wildlife. I’m already charmed.

I get out of the bus with an awckard pace and starts looking around for my new foster mum while waiting for my huge backpack to make an appearance. As if they were working ants, my few traveling buddies collect their belongings and wander around in the dark starry night. The bus leaves the platform. There is only two people left, obediently waiting for someone to pick them up, and I’m one of them. Anxiety takes possession of me. What if she didn’t wake up? Worse, what if she changed her mind ? I somehow get rid of those negative thinkings, shaking my head, and start to lie in wait again, paying attention to every single motion.

Suddenly, a car parks in the platform and a smiley woman gets out of it. I immediatly recognise this woman; it’s her, Mirjam, my foster mum. I walk towards her, half in earnest, half in jest. After some formal exchanges, we are driving towards «home».

A smile on my face, I scan what’s going to be my city for the next few months. Mirjam, such as a tour guide,  gives me a few informations: main street, Yukon River, housing project area…  At first, nothing appealing. The city looks dull, gloomy, almost lifeless. I charge up late hour and decide not to judge too easily. Few minutes later, we’re in front of what’s going ot be « my » home for a bit. Made of wood, the house immediatly pleases me. Without longing, Mirjam shows me my bedroom on the basement floor and leaves me to my sleep. With all that excitement, I nearly forgot that four days ago, I was flying off Paris to Montreal. The time difference added to my long trip calls me to order.

I am finally there, my new life in the Yukon can officially start.