In the fall of the 2005, before Todd Hardy knew he was ill with leukemia, I ran into him outside the cafeteria on the lower floor of the main government of Yukon building.
The Yukon legislature was in session, so we were both in a hurry to grab a quick bite to eat and then to rush back to our respective camps to ready ourselves for the day’s activities.
During legislative sittings, the Yukon government cafeteria is sort of like a safe house for political folks where the normal thrust and parry of partisan rhetoric is put aside daily to facilitate the acquisition of a little sustenance.
I worked for the premier’s office then, and when I had time I always enjoyed my trips to the cafeteria and the brief hiatus from “toeing the party line.”
Outside the cafeteria that day, Hardy told me about an amazing bicycle trip he just completed where he’d travelled all through Alaska - pedalling hundreds and hundreds of kilometres.
I asked Hardy what was his motivation for such a challenging undertaking and he told me that he just wanted to get out and physically work hard - that he wasn’t feeling good and he thought he needed time away from his job and to get some exercise.
It was then that he asked me if I knew of a cabin somewhere, a remote place that he might be able to visit on occasion - to continue with his personal pursuit of respite and wellness. He reasoned that time in the Yukon wilderness - a little cabin somewhere, away from the trappings of society’s formalities and job protocols, would be just what he needed to recharge his batteries (those were Hardy’s exact words).
With that I undertook to get back to him after pondering the matter and after a few days I contacted Hardy to suggest a location and cabin that might be available.
Intrigued with his plan, I offered to fly him there in my floatplane to reconnoitre the prospect and he graciously accepted my offer.
A few days later, Hardy showed up at our farm north of town and we climbed into my Cessna and departed the Yukon river heading for the location and cabin in question.
While flying, Hardy and I enjoyed great conversation - we shared our thoughts and ideas on important issues and we laughed at the paradox of politics. But probably more than anything, we enjoyed each other’s company and the amazing scenery as we winged our way across the Yukon countryside.
The time went by too quickly and I remember thinking to myself that I should have suggested a cabin further away!
One last ridge to cross then, sure enough, the lake appeared before us looking quite small, directly off the nose of the aircraft. We let down to arrive at our destination.
It was a beautiful day and the lake was calm - not a ripple on the water as we slid gracefully onto its surface and without any indication that we had succumbed to gravity’s embrace, we fell off the step - settling gently into the water.
There it was - a little cabin tucked away in the trees and it beckoned our arrival.
Boy, was Hardy excited. He was out of the aircraft like a shot and in and around that little cabin like ant on a hot rock!
It was perfect!
Hardy’s excitement was contagious and we both busied ourselves with putting the place in order for what would clearly now be his eminent and prompt return.
We had to curtail our cabin domestics, however, leaving just enough time for the flight home. We climbed back into the Cessna and a short time later arrived - landing on the river just before dusk.
All was well.
We secured the aircraft, then Hardy and I sat by the river and talked some more - about lots of things - and then with the first signs of darkness approaching, we cordially parted company with almost animated formalities - copious hand shaking followed by backslapping followed by yet more hand shaking!
It was all quite invigorating.
We were both very excited, and Hardy was chomping at the bit to get back to the cabin just as soon as he could. I was envious of his plans as, clearly, there would be an opportunity for me to be part of Hardy’s adventure albeit a vicarious experience.
Hardy got back several times to that cabin and it was a cruel paradox the very place he sought out to help him with his quest to personal wellness became the place where he got seriously ill and probably gleaned the first inklings that what ailed him would require more than the peace and solitude offered by his remote Yukon bush hideaway.
I visited with Hardy shortly before he passed away and we laughed again at a plethora of things - from politics to that first trip to the cabin where we raced around like 10-year-old boys visiting Disneyland - too excited to really do or accomplish anything.
Since the day we first visited the cabin, I have felt particularly close to Hardy and with his sad passing I have tried to understand what I liked so much about him.
I believe I now have done as much and, hence, I am prompted to write this letter to tell this story and to state the following:
Hardy and I did not always agree on the best way to handle matters important to Yukon, but we were always genuinely interested and respectful of each other’s opinion on an issue.
A discussion that precipitated debate between us was always rich with attentiveness and thoughtfulness. The care and attention Hardy took to ensure he had fully garnered your perspective on a given matter was amazing and it prompted you to be equally as attentive and caring with the proliferation of your ideas.
Hardy would not compromise his principles or personal beliefs with or for his political stands or to make a deal. He spoke passionately from the heart - even if it put him at political risk.
Some folks would argue this strategy is not conducive to political longevity, but Hardy didn’t care about that. I think a lot of people liked that about him.
All Yukoners should recognize what a significant contribution Hardy made in our legislative assembly to make Yukon a better place to live and work.
While Hardy is no longer with us, the little cabin on that lake still is, and it certainly will be my good fortune to return there from time to time - to reflect on any number of things and I expect that Hardy will be there too, albeit in spirit.
I know he will weigh in on these matters and, as has always been the case, it will be my pleasure to consider the same.
Rick Nielsen is a pilot and farmer who lives a little north of Whitehorse.