Today, out walking, I saw a little group of deciduous trees by the side of the road that has gone yellow. Up here in the land of seasons that means fall is coming; fall is coming before I am yet accustomed to summer! I am still coming across and unpacking shorts and T-shirts; now it is time to look for sweaters.
This will be our third winter in Watson Lake; hard to believe how quickly the time has gone by and harder yet is trying to remember what I have done with that time.
I didn’t manage to do anything I thought of doing in the last couple of years. No dog, no stepkids, no arts and crafts projects successfully completed, no serious reading done, no circle of new friends, no new hobby and no career change of any note. To be fair, I had not one but two dogs for awhile and one stepson for an even shorter while. I did try various arts and crafts and there are many more to attempt in the coming months. Decoupage interests me these days; I have begun to collect bits of fabric for a winter project.
As for the reading, I do enough of it in my work. I may not have a circle of new friends but I do have an arc. No new hobbies and no career change, however.
Just as I was beginning to feel seriously down on myself, I got hungry and that reminded me that I have learned how to cook. I was tempted to call it a new hobby, but it is more serious than that; it is a new skill.
While I may yet have issues with kitchen appliances of an electrical nature, the skill of shopping for and preparing a meal is one I have definitely acquired. That is not to say there is not ample room for improvement; the nicest thing about cooking is that the learning never ends.
Still, it seems at my ripe age I ought to be putting some effort into seeking out fresh experiences and new people in the few years I have remaining to me.
The trouble is, I have never really had a plan of any kind.
Remember the list, Uma? Most of the teens of our generation had a list of the things they wanted to do or be before reaching the age of 30. After that, no one bothered because, of course, we would be dead.
My listlessness was a concern to you, as was my attitude of carelessness about having one. Yours was long and detailed and it seems now you have accomplished most everything on it even if it did take you a few years past thirty to do so.
It always felt to me as though the list made my choices finite. A plan meant there would be no other possibilities. Not true, I know, but that is how it felt and in choosing to be without lists or plans I still managed to have a life I found for the most part to be engaging and satisfying.
These days, though, I am wondering if it is not going to take more concentrated effort on my part rather than simply being available for fresh opportunities.
Is it time to list?
I cannot decide if it is living in Watson Lake or my own aging, but I have become noticeably slower and lazier since moving here; if I am at this late date to become a lister, it will take an effort of will.
There is something soothing about living in a place where the ‘60s and all the attending raising of consciousness about everything just didn’t happen.
This is still a place of stark simplicity in most ways. Men are boys, men, or hairdressers; women are girls, women, or men. Boys wear blue, girls wear pink and gay ain’t right. No one cares what you are, just don’t be it here.
There are none of the distinctions of high brow and low brow; Watson Lake is unibrow.
There is no powerful ruling sense of right and wrong; it is more about which family or group one belongs to.
There is a wide cold space between the First Nations and the nons that it seems nothing will bridge.
After the initial disbelief, followed by the inevitable disappointment, I quickly grew to rely on these characteristics of the town and now find it relaxing and comforting to be among the predictable. Aha! I hear you say – laziness.
You would be right. It would require a list and the attendant will to seek out and learn the more intricate details of this town, and I can’t seem to make the time or create the interest to do it.
And for all its blandness, there is a spark of community spirit that it seems nothing will quench.
Though my understanding, which was once a veritable bonfire of sociability and kinship is now a mere flicker, it exists, and those who are happily, tirelessly involved in the struggle to keep it going are responsible for the warmth, the feeling of solidarity and kinship that survive in this place, that make it feel safe.
As to the larger picture, the whole territory, therein lie the possibilities for adventure for certain. Pete and I have barely scratched the surface when it comes to exploring this vast wilderness. Unfortunately, vast wildernesses have never really been my cup of tea, unless one is speaking of urban wilderness, and Whitehorse, the capital ‘city,’ simply does not qualify. It is a bigger Watson Lake, albeit with better jobs, nicer housing and cheaper groceries.
Whitehorse also suffers the disadvantage of being even more of a company town, the company being the territorial government. These days the government is like a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh.
Taboos, those crystallized knots of societal fears armed with fangs with which to puncture the brain and drain the spirit, are strong in this place of sparse population. We are waiting for the miracle to come; the public will for change is as empty as a Transylvanian blood bank.
The act of writing this e-mail to you has infused me with a desire for a plan. I may take time getting to something, but I do get there eventually; I am going to make a list.
My list will only be for the coming winter, you understand; one mustn’t get too crazy with enthusiasm and risk burnout before accomplishing anything at all. I have seen it happen.
Firstly, I will expand my cooking to exotic foods. I am going to learn to make Lithuanian suppers and Icelandic breakfasts.
I will not only decoupage our old bureau, I will embark on woodworking of some kind. Perhaps carving. How difficult can it be to carve wood? I may even go further and build things from wood, things that involve the use of power tools and tape measures – real challenges to keep my brain supple.
I will read all of E.M. Forester’s novels. Why E.M. Forester? I already have them, having bought the complete set at a garage sale. I got them for their size and attractive bindings, but now I shall read them.
I will learn to love the music, or sounds, of Bjork.
I will cultivate at least one more friend this winter to add to my arc; I may even try for a semi-circle.
I will maintain my hairdo by regular trimming and colouring. This is a major commitment and undertaken partly for love of Pete. Maybe I can read E.M. Forester while at the hair salon.
I will give up Saturday morning cartoons in favour of watching something for adults, though sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.
I could give up the cartoons in favour of getting out of bed and going for a walk.
I will try yoga again, without laughing.
I will not try to get Pete to do the list with me, thus enlisting support from him rather than an exhausting resistance which leads to neither of us doing anything.
It is said that making a good plan is its own reward; I am feeling the truth of that statement.
I count on you to remind me of my good plan when you get those dark winter messages from me.
Heather Bennett is a writer
who lives in Watson Lake.