gingerphobia a walk in the watson lake woods

Dear Uma: Sorry for not writing, but I was feeling inexplicably low these days; nothing was pleasing and everything was either sad-making or irritating to some degree.

Dear Uma:

Sorry for not writing, but I was feeling inexplicably low these days; nothing was pleasing and everything was either sad-making or irritating to some degree. I was thinking I was coming down with something, or even possibly getting depressed.

The weather has been nice and I have been un-nice, stuck indoors trying to get some work done and feeling utterly out-of-sorts.

Yesterday I declared a day off. I drove out to Watson Lake, to a sort of lagoon across from the airport buildings. Someone had told me it was a popular place with locals and I can see why. There is a large sort of marsh,

bordered by deciduous trees, and the clearing means a nice breeze to keep the bugs away.

Usually on my summer jaunts outdoors I cannot stand still long enough to appreciate anything, because the instant one is not moving the black flies and mosquitoes are honing in for the feast. Bug jackets are effective, but

I find them awkward and too warm. Most insect repellents I have tried work, but not for long enough to achieve a state of blissful meditation in the Yukon outdoors.

So, yesterday was quite perfect. I took a flask of tea with me, and an apple. A deck chair, the canvas folding kind, and a book completed the list of necessities for a lakeside afternoon.

It was mid-morning when I arrived and there was no one else in sight. I took a slow ambling walk beside the water and ended up on a trail that continued through the bush to a serious-looking fence; the trail ignored the

obstruction and continued around it and once again I was beside the lake.

A pair of loons was feeding and calling, their vivid black-and-white markings clearly visible though they were a fair way out from shore. Some sort of small hawk swooped past me, and the air was full of the sound of

songbirds.

My wandering took me past the end of the runway and farther along the lake. Moose droppings littered the ground, and some scat that was crescent-shaped — an owl? There is so much if I am to understand what I am

seeing; once again I vow to get books on local wildlife.

I didn’t get back to the car and my chair and book till well past noon and when I did, I had company.

He was a tall, skinny fellow carrying a backpack and accompanied by a large black dog of indeterminate breed. The dog was wearing a little backpack, too. The guy was wearing those khaki shorts that are covered with

pockets and his pockets were full and sagging, and he had on beat-up hiking boots and a cowboy hat. Clearly, they were a pair of travellers.

He immediately introduced himself as Mike, and the dog as Chuck. I introduced myself as Martha and we exchanged pleasantries. I then indicated I was about to leave, deciding to go in search of solitude, but Mike quickly

began to talk and since I lack the wherewithal to leave someone in mid-sentence I soon realized I wasn’t going anywhere until he had to stop to draw breath.

Well, he didn’t stop to breathe; it was as though he’d been saving up this conversation since he left Vancouver on his way to Alaska and I was to be the lucky recipient of every thought he’d had on his weeklong journey.

He was camping in his van at the public campground across the lake and had arrived in my chosen sanctuary by means of a canoe which I now noticed pulled up on the beach.

Mike was a dancer; he was with the company Holy Body Tattoo until he got into drugs and was consequently fired.

The reason he got into drugs was one with which I could totally identify. The company got a new dancer and that dancer was a redhead, a real redhead, the kind with white translucent skin that showed blue veins; the kind

with crispy ginger hair and white eyelashes; the kind with The Smell.

I knew about The Smell, though I didn’t interrupt Mike to tell him. I too have an old prejudice about people of the red-haired persuasion and though it has never driven me to drugs, I suppose it could have, in the right circumstances.

How very odd, that I should end up in this place listening to this man talk about this particular issue. Though I have had this aversion as long as I can remember, I have rarely spoken about it; it seemed too weird.

Even after I’d discovered I was not alone, that the Australian Pulitzer Prize-winning author Patrick White had written about redheads in this very vein, as had Colette, my own feelings were largely kept to myself.

Studies about redheads have shown them to be less resistant to illness and disease, be left-handed more often than blondes or brunettes, and be the victims of schizophrenia more frequently than the quieter-haired folk.

As to The Smell, I have likened it to the bottom of a guinea pig cage. Mike said he found it like freesias mixed with Roquefort cheese.

Are there some people who are more tuned to the smell of redheads than others? I wondered as I listened to Mike, is our susceptibility as odd in its way as The Smell itself?

In the midst of pondering thus, I became aware that Chuck, too, was listening attentively; he was sitting in front of Mike with a look of deep interest and wonder on his furry face. It seems he had not heard this story before; he was seeing a whole new side of his human companion and he was profoundly interested. When Mike talked about The Smell I swear Chuck nodded in sympathy.

The face of the dog was so expressive, the day so pleasant, the conversation so very odd that before I could stop myself, I started to laugh.

Remember, Uma, that kind of laughing that comes on for no really good reason and is completely unstoppable? Well, it was like that and even the hurt look on Mike’s face and the irritation on Chuck’s did nothing to stop it;

indeed, it seemed to intensify it and I was soon sitting on the ground with tears coming down my cheeks, emitting those awful sounds of wheezes and snorts that occur when one is laughing hysterically and trying to apologize at the same time.

Mike and Chuck got into the canoe and left, both looking as though they were escaping the company of someone demented.

Their departure didn’t help me; I laughed until they were a tiny dot on the lake and for the next couple of hours I spent in my chair on the little gravel beach the guffaws would come on every few minutes.

On the way home, I caught sight of myself in the mirror and saw the round-faced buoyantly jubilant look of the famous laughing Buddha.

I felt wonderful, cleansed and rejuvenated, peaceful and grateful.

Laughter is truly the best medicine and sometimes the dose comes in the most remarkable and unexpected way.

Cheerfully,

Heather

Heather Bennett is a freelance writer who lives in Watson Lake.