save the colourful 5 per cent

Ah, the dream of a cabin in the remote wilderness … how many people have come up to the Yukon for a vacation, fallen in love with the North…

Ah, the dream of a cabin in the remote wilderness … how many people have come up to the Yukon for a vacation, fallen in love with the North and years later still find themselves living up here — some still dreaming of the simple life out in the bush?

As winter slowly descends and heightens the isolation of our little wild homestead, friends of us who would also love to live out in the bush find themselves as distant from the realization of this dream as we are now from fresh fruit and veggies.

While the imagination of people down south might still conjure up a Colourful-5-Per-Cent-type population in rustic log cabins sprinkled thinly across the Yukon, in reality the crusty hermits are probably outnumbered by weekend warriors.

Of course, life in the bush has its own set of drawbacks: isolation from friends and family, transportation headaches and the difficulty of earning money are the trade-offs for wildlife at the doorstep and freedom from city stress, noise and society.

Yet even for the people prepared to make that trade, purchasing a remote piece of land or homestead is next to impossible.

What an irony of our society, and how telling about its values, that the pursuit of a simple life out in the wild, just for the sake of one’s own happiness and love of the woods is discouraged.

People must have the exploitation of the land and profit making as their goals to be granted usage.

You want to live out in the bush to enjoy the peace and quiet, keeping your footprint on the land small?

Not a chance.

However, if you’d like to build a mineral exploration camp, haul in heavy equipment and let the forests vibrate with the machinery roar of a drill, why, no problem!

A permitting process is in place for that.

If the main value society and its regulations place on the land is its exploitation for the sake of accumulating money, how are we to treasure wilderness as such?

How can we hope to develop a sense of stewardship and live sustainably within our ecosystem when we are already no longer a part of it?

The dwindling of the Colourful 5 Per Cent is, I’m sure, partly due to a loss of habitat of this endangered sub-species.

While some of the people down south who don’t quite fit in still find their way up here, they tend to grind to a halt in Whitehorse where the tentacles of big-box stores, cellphone service and the Blackberry grope for them.

They might well be prepared to share a remote shack with a team of useless pseudo-sled dogs and weave their weird existence into the book of Yukon tall tales, but how to get that remote shack?

The homogenized modern culture makes the development of full Colourful 5 Per Cent potential in slightly unbalanced individuals next to impossible.

This is sad not only for the ill-adjusted but also for northern society as a whole: the oddballs and quirky people provide edge and focus to an increasingly bland picture.

While the regulations that disallow and discourage plain wilderness living help protect wild areas from becoming fragmented with homesteads, apparently mining and outfitting camps or trap line cabins are judged by a different standard as they exist all the same.

Long-term year-round wilderness living is hard to maintain and is not everybody’s cup of tea as the metamorphosis of many old back-to-the-landers into city-dwelling baby boomers shows.

Maybe a way of fostering growth in the Colourful 5 Per Cent sector would be to offer vacant traplines through a lottery system to folks seeking a time-honoured Yukon lifestyle, if only for a year or two.

Or with the settlement of land claims, First Nations could consider offering leases for remote .8-hectare parcels here and there.

If Crown land is supposed to be co-owned by the Canadian people, it is strange that most of it seems to be at the exclusive disposal of industry and corporations!

Our friends who want to realize their dream of a simple life in the bush are apparently left with the choice of becoming either bogus miners or bogus trappers.

Come to think of it, that might already make them good potential candidates for the Colourful 5 Per Cent!

Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.

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