Monday, December 8, 2014

“The bear gets confused.”

Eventful day in Dawson City. I met a new friend. A visual artist who moved to the Yukon after fifteen years in Toronto. She couldn’t stand the ubiquity of  “economically minded” art anymore. Only fifteen years up north, and she’s noticed a change in the winters. January used to be reliably below 55 degrees celsius in the first week, minimum. One year it tapered off. More and more, each ensuing.

Peculiar night in Dawson City. In an effort to keep my creative energies separate from my administrative work, I ventured into town, away from Berton House. The first thing I learn from the lovely server is that there is a boil water advisory for the town - makes me wonder at what sort of shit belies the warning, and how anybody had planned to let me know. The Downtown Hotel has a little bar that is well lit enough to work in, and with a stereo system low enough to focus on the task at hand. Tonight the lower volume of the all 80s hits served up an auditory intrusion at a table not far away.

A group of men, all with white or salt and pepper beards, playing euchre, talking mining and trucking, hunting and trapping. As I made notes for my overdue grant reports, I also made notes of the little gems that floated into my orbit from theirs.

“He went down in a plane, and survived. Then he tried to pull people outta there. Ran back into the plane, and he just never come out. To Stan!” - cheers all around for Stan Rogers. At this, I considered buying them a round.

“In Jamaica I got a blow job for two bucks. But that was a long time ago.” Apparently some remember the 60s in rosy, ethnocentric tones. Decided to keep to myself at this.

“We are all Viking bastards. I told an Eskimo that the one time and he said you know, you’re not too far from the truth on that.” and a brief lecture about the Inuit, lactose intolerance and Charlemagne.

Then, with a grin. “By the way, how’s your sister Irene? We were together for six weeks, there. I went through six thousand bucks, and she went to jail.” Huge laughter.

Two or three of the men lay down their cards and make their way elsewhere - one citing family obligations is called a “fairy.” The table switches to French and laughter continues. Back in English, one man asks the loudest why he’s due in court tomorrow. Loudpants speaks of hunting rights and what fucking bullshit it all is. He tells a tale, which features - in slightly hushed tones, three times - “And then I threatened ‘im, eh?” And once “But I didn’t say i WILL kill you, i said i SHOULD kill you.”

This inspires other hunting stories. “Last year I got fucked for nothin’- well, for caribou.” and “I did ninety days and paid three thousand dollars to feed my fuckin’ family.”

From this, Loudpants unleashes a rant about “Indians.” It seems he blames us for hunting and trapping laws that inconvenience him. Somehow he has come to believe that the first peoples of this land decided to create regulations that are at times kind of stupid, and at times necessary. Either this, or he believes the laws are to control our behaviour, though it was settlers who nearly murdered all of the bison. He opines he is sick of these laws that keep only serve to keep  “Indians from being fucking idiots” because they are unfair to people like him.

A friend of his at the table quietly says something that feels a bit more sound. Loudpants (LP)  says “Ya, I know, but you know what I mean? You don’t even trap. Around here, all the Indians are like halfbreed or quarter breed. I don’t want some one-thirty-second fucker telling me what I can’t do.”

The third man at the table tells a story about a Cree man in Quebec who is very much in favour of changing hunting and trapping laws. Said Cree fellow mentions a word in Cree - so the story goes - that speaks to how unjust the laws are. Loudpants interjects “Ya, that’s the kind of Indian I like. Real Indians. Who speak their language. Fucking breeds around here don’t even fuckin’ speak French.”

And I decide to leave my dinner and hardly touched second glass of wine. As I pay my tab, the server asks if I want my dinner to go. I explain I don’t want to waste it, but I’ve lost my appetite due to the man behind me. She apologizes and whispers “That happens a lot around him.” She quickly packages my food, which I appreciate. As she does so, Loudpants speaks of someone who was trying to speak with him about over-fishing salmon. This is my breaking point.

On my way out, I nearly leave because I am embarrassed that I am close to tears. Instead, I muster my courage, fix a firm jaw and walk up to the table where Loudpants sits.

“Hi, men.”

Loudpants - “Hello, sweetheart. Pull up a stump!” 

“No, thank you. I just had to say… I’ve appreciated a lot of the camaraderie here at this table tonight, and I thank you for that. I also, however, want to let YOU know that I am a halfbreed. And we are everywhere.”

LP - “Wull. Good for you.”

“I want you to consider something if you will.”

His friend - “Sure, honey.”
LP - “Sit down!”

“No, thank you. Half of your DNA comes from a woman. Does that make you any less of a man?”

Loudpants “Huh?”

Even though he may never be aware that it’s not his mother’s genetic contribution that makes him ineligible to be a man, I’m glad I put it out there. On my way out, I see a mixie-looking fella at the bar smiling at me, and hear LP shout “Hey, come sit down, sweetheart!” and I’m so happy I spoke up.

Earlier today my new artist friend spoke of her concern over climate change. “It gets too warm too soon. We used to have ice fog. I haven’t seen it in years. It effects everything. The birds. The squirrels have their young a week earlier, I hear. And the bears. It’s so warm, the bears wake up early. In February. And it’s still winter. The bear gets confused.” And we grew silent.

Growing, silent. Something Loudpants may never do.

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