The Devil in the details

Dear Uma: Strange that I talk more with you about Watson Lake than I do with those who live here. It couldn’t happen if you were not a…

Dear Uma:

Strange that I talk more with you about Watson Lake than I do with those who live here.

It couldn’t happen if you were not a devoted reader of the Yukon News.

It does seem slightly mad, I agree, to talk of a $25-million hospital for a town of 800 people. But that is the tip of the money iceberg in the Yukon. There are just over 30,000 people living in the whole of the territory and the dollars getting spent here make an unbelievable total.

A lot of the dough never rises, a lot is half-baked, and a suspicious amount is devoured by people and persons unknown to the taxpaying public. There are lots of tax dollars being wasted here, but likely no more than anywhere else; it’s more visible in a small place.

Don Taylor’s letter was amazing; it has the town abuzz, I can tell you.

From a purely selfish point of view, I was really glad to see someone with a long and honourable history with this community speak to these issues: I’ve often had the feeling when I am telling friends about my experiences here they think I am exaggerating.

A lot of what Taylor said was news to me, too, and not good news.

I had no idea of the situation with the sewer and water systems, for instance, and as someone who moved here and purchased a home, this is disturbing indeed.

As is the news that the water supply couldn’t handle a major fire.

The school situation is one I had some idea of; many of my friends here are involved in the schools and, though they don’t say much that is concrete, I get the feeling their jobs are far more stressful than they need or ought to be.

The schools are full of angry children waiting for adults to do their job of being adults; the creation of strong and healthy boundaries is not the responsibility of children. For some unknown reason, there is a lack of will when it comes to making the school a place to prepare children for the world. A world that will not be treating them kindly, given their lack of ordinary commonplace manners, let alone an ordinary commonplace education.

I have heard of fears of retribution if one speaks out on any of the issues mentioned by Taylor. One woman told me if she were to speak out, not only could she be in danger of losing her job, but her husband’s job might be threatened.

She also believed her children would suffer from her “sticking her neck out.” She is not the only person to suggest retaliation of some sort aimed at those who go public with their concerns.

Whether there would actually be a tangible negative result for those who would speak out is really not the point; the thing is, they believe there would be and that is enough to maintain the silence. Sort of like voodoo in Haiti…..

Of all the things, good, less good and bad I have felt about this town, the silence is the most powerful. The lack of trust between people is hard to understand; the most casual of encounters can sometimes feel fraught with things unspoken, unacknowledged.

The Yukon News being your only source of information about Watson Lake, aside from me, of course, your suggestion we move from here is entirely understandable, especially after that particular issue.

Remember though, newspapers everywhere feature more negative news than positive. We are led to understand that is what sells and we have long accepted that selling is what it is all about.

As I have told you before, one can live a pleasant life in this town and scarcely be aware of the darkness below the surface. This is most easily achieved if one is economically independent of the town and is not in any way involved in the local activities or organizations.

Though Pete works sort of locally and I have gradually made some friends and gotten marginally involved with the community, we still can honestly say we are happy to be living here.

In the beginning, the land and the accessibility to the wilderness were the attraction, but now the place and the people are, too.

There are a lot of folk here who strive to make it all better and there are enough indications of some success to keep them encouraged.

Not long ago there was a gathering of clubs for a volunteer fair. There were twenty-one tables in the main hall of the recreation centre, each one a display of information about the clubs and organizations.

Who knew there could be so much available in a small town?

Some examples were:

Therapeutic riding, as well as a hugely active riding association. Hockey and curling, of course, but a very busy badminton club, too.

An outdoor association featured a stunning DVD of their snowmobiling activities.

Brownies, 4-H, and a play group/learning program for preschoolers.

The local women’s shelter has a group which meets weekly to learn beading.

The event began at 5:30 p.m. and, as it was also the opening day of the new concession at the recreation centre, many people were sampling the menu at Growlie’s Snack Shack.

One could buy a burger from Growlie’s, take it to the tables that were set up in the main hall and have a free coffee, tea or juice. Then, the Grade 5 class from the elementary school, serious and sweet, would come around and offer homebaked treats from wheeled carts.

The turnout looked good; lots of socializing while people checked out the tables and talked to the representatives of the clubs. The atmosphere was busy and upbeat. My friends and I enjoyed our Growlie’s burgers and fries and took full advantage of the free tea and delicious desserts.

Last weekend there was a celebration of the new barn on “the Grounds”; the venue for the 4H club and the Watson Lake Riders’ Association. I wasn’t in attendance, but I hear there was a good turn out, good food and a bonfire.

These are events hard to equate with the grim picture of the town that is often painted by the newspaper.

Through my own sense, and through talking to people who are new to the community as well as some who have been here a long time, this is a troubled town; it is very likely darker with troubles than are most little towns, but it is not all blackness.

Here’s a poem to sum it all up, courtesy of Natalie Goldberg, with one small liberty taken by me:

The Devil has left Watson Lake;

there isn’t enough pizzazz for him.

He knew this kind of cold doesn’t produce evil,

only drunkenness.

The true darkness glints off a black Cadillac,

not this dead grey haze.

People here don’t have the energy to work for the Devil;

the heat of hell is a dream.



Heather Bennett is a writer who

lives in Watson Lake.