local politics and a cure for smoking

Thank you for acting as a sounding board, once again.

Thank you for acting as a sounding board, once again. It is the very best thing about having a very best friend: the forum such a relationship provides for open discussion, for mulling out loud any and every subject that sticks in the mind and demands examination. Your input is invaluable because you don’t always agree, or you often are able to add another perspective to my view, pointing out something I overlooked.

I have come to appreciate more than ever this arena for debate as the world becomes more and more a place where it is difficult to find a place where it feels safe to talk openly, to be able to risk being inappropriate or politically incorrect while finding the way to a thought or an idea that feels as though it is where one takes a stand.

Taking a stand is something I am not historically inclined to do; I was never known for being very adamant about anything, being susceptible always to a good argument. I have yet to find the hill I chose to die on, but I do love the process. It is endlessly fascinating to see how people arrange themselves around an issue.

So, you are in agreement with the mayor and council of the town of Watson Lake on their decision to charge non-profit organizations property taxes. Well, I think I am not.

It seems to me to be cutting at the heart of the town; the volunteers here, like volunteers everywhere, are the town’s best resource. They are the ones that make the town what it is, that give it any spirit it possesses, and they are relied upon to do that.

I know everything comes down to the dollar, but maybe it is time to resist that being the case, at least for something like this. Something about it feels punitive, and the very last thing we ought to be doing to our town’s volunteers is make them feel they are now going to be asked for cash, especially in light of the fact that they have been previously exempt from property taxes.

Some non profit organizations are government funded and property taxes can be built into that budget. Others, like the Riding Association and the Outdoor Club raise their own money through activities or through applying for grants. These two organizations do not cost the town of Watson Lake a dime; they do their own snow removal and road maintenance and they are not on the town’s sewer and water system. Their facilities are entirely maintained by volunteer labour.

The Riding Association has not only built a facility that has more on offer than anything of its ilk in the Yukon, but it hosts the annual horse show. Their venue is available for other events that couldn’t find an appropriate home anywhere else, and the association members and their concession are something the town depends on for Canada Day and Discovery Day and other local events where food is needed.

I concur with your statement that a town needs money to operate, but there has to be another way of getting it without going after volunteer organizations. My hope is that there will be some creative solution to the matter and my fear is that the mayor and his council may be resolved, and that any further discussion is a mere formality.

On a lighter note, I know my Yukon bear story is not nearly so exciting as your encounter with a Yukon bear, but it was interesting enough for me. I have seen lots of bears since moving up here, but all from the safety of my truck; this one was in my yard, at the same time I was in my yard. Pete and Dave were also in the yard, but they were in the front of the trailer and the entire encounter occurred without their knowing.

Pete was doing something to my truck, filling the container that holds the solution that washes the windshield, I think, and talking to Dave, who was sitting in his truck.

I was putting flowering plants in the containers outside the door of the back porch, sitting on a short stool and plugged into my iPod, pausing every now and then to have a long draught of homemade iced tea and wish for a cigarette. Yeah, I have quit again; wish me luck.

Anyway, something caught my peripheral vision and I turned to see what it was. It was a real live bear! It was about 20 feet from me, standing at the (open) gate of the back fence and looking directly at me. It was a deep dark shiny brown, with beige fur around its mouth and a beige patch on its chest. I noticed its paws were slightly turned in as it stood; pigeon-toed, I think it’s called.

The look I was getting from my unexpected guest was one of mild curiosity and nothing more. I have often wondered how I would feel if I ever saw a bear without something man-made and substantial between me and it, and I always felt slightly hysterical with fear even at the thought of such an event. Here I was, in the nightmare made reality, and I was experiencing something completely different.

The feeling can only be called awe; I was moved beyond belief by this encounter, this meeting with the wild in the form of a bear. I simply sat, my digging tool dangling from my hand, and looked at the animal. There was no fear, and there was no sense of intended harm, just an amazing sensation of privilege, and respect.

The bear and I regarded one another for perhaps a minute, and then it moved out of the gate, along the outside of the fence and vanished into the willows without a backward glance. I sat on my stool, looking at the still-moving brush until it was stilled. Then I got up, stretched, and walked to the front of the trailer to see the guys.

“I saw a bear,” I told them, pulling my headset off to hang around my neck, “It looked like it was in good shape, fat and shiny,” I added.

Pete stared at me. “Where was it? You mean you saw one just now? Here in the yard?” He was clearly flummoxed by my calm.

I told him where the bear had been, and that it had gone back into the bush. There’d been lots of bear sightings lately, Dave told us, unmoved by yet another one, regardless of how close.

Pete still watched me closely, expecting a delayed reaction, I suppose. He enquired as to whether or not I was OK. Did he think I was going to abruptly dissolve into hysteria minutes after the fact? I wondered. I shrugged and told him I was fine; I was going to get some more iced tea and go back and finish my planting. And that is what I did, with a feeling of peace and an odd certainty that I would not start smoking again.

Don’t even ask; I have no idea of any connection between being visited by a bear and giving up a long-standing habit, but there it is – that’s what happened.



Heather Bennett is a writer

who lives in Watson Lake.