When I saw Bonny and Dan at the Whitehorse airport my first impulse, and the one I could not deny, was to laugh – a lot.
Dan rocked an astronaut look; he was wearing a parka that was so puffy it looked as though it had been inflated. His boots declared themselves, in large letters printed on them, to be Moon Boots by Prada, and he was finding it difficult to walk in them.
Bonny was in fur, from the top of her head to her ankles, an effect somewhat spoiled by the six-inch heeled boots showing under the hem. They looked straight out of an ad in Vanity Fair: Do the Arctic in Style, without having to actually go there.
My helpless giggling was beyond my control, and I was not alone with my mirth; several people in the terminal building were doing the same thing, and a couple of them were even taking photos.
Well, I thought, heading towards them, this visit is over before it even began; they’ll probably spend the night here and leave on the next plane south. But to my surprise and relief, by the time I reached them they were laughing, too, and struggling to disengage themselves from their outerwear.
We didn’t want to do any research before we visited, Bonny explained after we’d exchanged hugs and air kisses, It’s part of our new approach to life; just go, and see what happens. I never imagined we would see anything but snow and ice when we got here.
This was a radical departure for the couple who I knew as the most thoroughly prepared, knowledgeable travellers in my experience. My experience of these two had been quite different; a plan to have dinner in a restaurant was carried out like a military campaign, and any foreign travel involved weeks of preparation, and shopping.
As we waited for their luggage, they talked about the visit with you, Uma, and how much they enjoyed themselves. I asked them how they’d liked the horse show after party and lots of good-natured laughter ensued.
By the time we’d “done” Whitehorse and were on our way to Watson Lake, I had been reminded of all the things I’d originally liked about them and was looking forward to the next two days of their company.
We’d brought Pete’s truck to pick them up, another novelty – Bonny and I rode in the back seat and the guys bonded over fishing stories in the front. The drive was not as lovely as it is in full summer or full winter, but we saw two wolves outside of Teslin. Those creatures made the journey; my guests were agog at the thought of wild wolves roaming around the countryside. The countryside, too, was the subject of awe; neither could have imagined how vast the northern wilderness is, and how empty of human presence. The flight from Vancouver had showed them hundreds of miles of snow-covered mountains, frozen lakes and melting rivers. They were as stunned by the enormity of it as I was by the size of LA on my first visit there.
Our town is not at its best this time of year and elicited no comments at all, but our trailer was made much of for its comfort and attractiveness. I’d checked them into the Airport Lodge, thinking the communal bathroom would be an experience and the uber cleanliness of the place would comfort Bonny, who has a horror of grubby hotels. Indeed, they declared themselves well-pleased with their accommodations and very happy with their hosts, Michael and Elizabeth.
We went to the hot springs the next day. Uma, it was as though we’d arranged the wildlife appearances; the usual bison beside the road, but also a black bear and two cubs, a fox, and on the way home, a moose. Bonny and Dan were utterly thrilled with the whole trip and Bonny even went in the water at the hot springs. Good thing I’d packed a big picnic because we ended up staying for hours and hours. We were all pleasantly tired as we sat out on our back deck drinking martinis and staring into the fire. The extended daylight hours were marvelled at, as were the martinis.
The next day we walked; boy! did we walk. They wanted to see the edges of the town, where the wilderness began, and once again they were amazed at how close the bush was to the dwellings. Of course we added to the thrill with stories of wolves killing dogs in their yards, bears visiting gardens, and the endless clowning of ravens.
I’d planned on the pressed duck for dinner but one look at the recipe and I opted for a moose roast, a choice which turned out to be the best possible as not only had our guests never eaten moose meat, they’d never thought of it.
Then, on to the party. Cee and Don were hosting it as our place doesn’t really have room for a major gathering, and a major gathering it was. Everyone was more dressed up than I usually see them, anticipating these glamorous visitors, and they were quieter than normal. Dan and Bonny can’t help but be exotic; they are so very good-looking and so very well-maintained, and even casually dressed, they reeked of sophistication and money. However, were very engaging in their genuine eagerness to meet my friends and learn more about the north and soon everyone was at ease.
Nothing but nothing beats a room full of Yukoners at ease. The stories came out, and the guests of honour were appropriately astonished and charmed, horrified and delighted; altogether a most satisfying audience. It was a wonderful party; no one left till 2 in the morning and we didn’t get home till 4, staying till everyone was gone and then having a brandy with Cee and Don. Bonny and Dan said they had not stayed so long at a party in more than a decade, and that they had had the best time imaginable.
By the time we saw them off in Whitehorse, I was already missing them. I remembered when I first met them when Dean and I stayed with them in LA and how much I liked and enjoyed their company; they were interesting, and interested, and seemed to be very alive to the moment, set on enjoying their lives and each other. Then, years later, I spent a few days with them on my own and I was appalled at how they’d changed. They’d had two kids by then and moved into a huge place with a big staff and an indoor pool, an outdoor pool, tennis courts and an in-house theatre. Bonny was all about the kids, managing the people who worked for them, and shopping. She was a tireless shopper and all the stores she shopped in were places where I could not afford to buy so much as a belt. Dan was away on business almost all the time and Bonny thought he was having affairs. I think I met the kids once, by chance, when I found my way to the kitchen looking for tea and they were there with their nanny having breakfast. There was a cook, and I remember how surprised I was that she was serving them frozen ready-made breakfasts, like a TV dinner. After that visit I sort of lost touch, other than the Christmas card/newsletter thing and once in awhile, a phone call.
We had lots of time to talk this trip, and I was told they were unhappy for a long time, with each other and with their lives. Having a child with ADHD (a fact they kept from most of us) had been a terrific strain, and isolating. It was not until he was 12 that they’d found a doctor who was able to help them by educating them about diet and nutrition. Ensuring the boy ate only non-processed, plain food was like magic, Bonny said; he quickly became a normal child. No more tantrums, no more sleeplessness or forgetfulness. With that, they decided to change their lives, making it more wholistic all round. They moved to a smaller house, cut their staff, and found a cook who understood organic, whole food. They mended their relationship, and Dan quit travelling to spend more time with his family.
It is a nice story, isn’t it? I am glad for them, and glad for me that I can still have them in my life in a more meaningful way. Life is too short to lose friends.
Heather Bennett is a writer who lives in Watson Lake.