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Preview: Every Day Life in the Northern Yukon Wilderness

Wilderness Life in Canada's Yukon Territory

A family's subsistence life on the Yukon River

Updated: 2017-07-23T03:53:33.233-07:00


Just before the snowmelt


The night-temperature is barely below freezing. During the day, the meltwater is dripping from the roof. The first insects are humming in the sun. The ravens are finding their mates in the trees around our cabins. The latter is driving Lance mad. He thinks their clucking sounds are meant to insult and mock him. … After a winter of ravens picking on Lance’s bones when they were left unattended that is not an unreasonable association. 
Our winter – and it is not over yet! - has been a very pleasant one with lots of playing in the snow. Anya still loves her building toys, her books and her artwork.

Our pantry and freezer hold enough food to last us until after breakup, easily.


From Dawson home at minus 45 degrees Celsius


We arrived back in the Yukon on January 30 from our trip to Austria. That night, we measured minus 18 degrees Celsius. Overnight, the temperature dropped to minus 35. The next day, minus 40. The day after, minus 45. And it stayed there. For a week. We stayed in Dawson to wait for our flight back to Poppy Creek. And we did our shopping. At minus 45 degrees. With Anya all dressed up. Still, she was either getting tired when she walked, or she was getting cold when I hauled her in the sled. It was tedious to get her from point A (my friend’s house) to point B (the store, 20 minutes’ walk away).  We managed. After a few times, I dressed Anya in my warmest down jacket and put a warming bottle in with her, before I sat her on an insulating pad into the sled. She stayed warm and happy. On the way back to the house, she even fell asleep! On Tuesday, February 10, the day to fly home had finally arrived. At 10.45 we received a call from the pilot, that he wanted us to be at the airport at 12.30. We walked to town to pick up a friend’s car. 20 minutes at minus 40 degrees. No problem. We took the car to the grocery store and picked up our groceries. We had bought, paid for and boxed them the day before: six big boxes of fresh groceries. Anya was waiting inside the car while I carried and packed. Then we drove to my friend’s house, the one we had stayed with and picked up our luggage and another box of groceries. Four more boxes, a duffel bag, a dry bag and my backpack. After that was all loaded into the car, we went back to our car-owning friend’s shop and picked him up. He gave us a ride to the airport and dropped us off with our luggage, inside the heated airport building. We still measured minus 35 degrees outside.  It was 12.45. We were late, but the pilot had not arrived back from his previous trip yet. We had a sandwich. Then the pilot arrived. I gulped down the last piece of sandwich. Then we moved all our luggage to a little luggage door at the wall, while the pilot fueled up his plane and brought it around to park it right in front of the luggage door. He loaded all our boxes into the plane. I was astonished and very pleased that it all fit. But Anya did not have her own seat in the three seat plane. She was to travel on my lap.  I had to enter the tiny cockpit first and buckle up. Then the pilot handed me Anya. I put her on my lap and we tried to find the most comfortable position for both of us. Then, the pilot entered the cockpit and I felt a bit like a canned fish in the can would feel.  The plane took off seemingly without effort. And as soon as we were airborne, Anya fell asleep. She woke up 28 beautiful flight minutes later to my words: “Anya, look, it’s Papa out there!” Gaetan and Lance were standing there, next to a fire, smiling. We were smiling inside the plane.  We unloaded our boxes from the plane onto the snowmobile sled. After the plane had taken off in a cloud of powdery snow, we embarked on the short trip home: Lance (running), Gaetan (driving the snowmobile), Anya (sandwiched between us and therefore protected from the cold), Manuela (in the back of the snowmobile), and the sled. The cabin was warm and our boxes were quickly unloaded into the cabin. The following hours and days I spent storing things away, sorting through and storing vegetables and fruit, and moving into my own space, finally!  [...]

Fall hike amongst yellow leaves


It was an enchanted afternoon when we took Anya on a hike up Sheep Rock. Gaetan carried her in the toddler-backpack, while I was rushing ahead so I could take photos looking back at them. When we reached the top of the hill after about 30 minutes, we had a little picnic and then walked back down to our boat.

Hike up Sheep Rock, 12.9.2014

Hike up Sheep Rock, 12.9.2014

Harvesting days


While the trees are changing colors and the night-frost has made its way back to Poppy Creek, we have been harvesting our gardens.

Anya pulling out carrots, 5.9.2014

River and mouth of Poppy Creek, 4.9.2014

Anya with carrots, 10.9.2014

Yellow birches, 10.9.2014



Much of Anya's time is spent playing. Here is the evidence of Anya's new passion: playing frisbee!


Child in the Wild's fourth berry season!


Anya's fourth berry season just started. She is now collecting her own berries to eat, and even some that we make juice from!
Anya's fourth berry season, 9.8.2014

Summer in full swing


We are finally measuring temperatures in the 30's. Aside from our household chores, Anya and I are busy with the gardens and with the organization of our storage area which will be developed into two bedrooms. In the afternoons, Anya gets to play in her pool and when it is too cold for that, she takes me to the river, where she plays in the sand. Summer is so much fun! 

Wilderness picnic


Anya loves picnics. At her urging, we eat many of our snacks outside. Yesterday we went on a short hike along the river and into the forest where the mosquitoes were strangely contained. We all enjoyed an apple, cracker and fruit-gummy picnic on the beach afterwards.

Sitting down for an apple picnic, 3.6.2014

Goldeneye duck carving


The Common Goldeneye duck calls the Yukon Territory its home, at least during the summer. Gaetan carved one and it looks so real, I had a very hard time seeing it go.

More information about this particular duck can be found at:


Common Goldeneye duck carving (by Gaetan Beaudet), May 2014

Common Goldeneye duck carving (by Gaetan Beaudet), May 2014

Passing on a cultural tradition: Birch Syrup


Gaetan is from Quebec, Canada. And the cultural tradition is about maple syrup, but since we do not have maple trees, we used a birch tree. The principle is the same: one drills a small hole, about one inch deep into the tree, then a spigot is put in place and a bucked affixed to catch the water. Our birch was drawing about one liter of water in less than three hours. The water tastes faintly sweet and it is clear, something we cannot say about the water from the creek this time of the year. Sampling birch water, 6.5.2014Drilling a hole, 6.5.2014Putting in a spigot, 6.5.2014Affixing the bucket, 6.5.2014Our birch, 6.5.2014[...]

Yukon River Breakup


Over the past weeks, with temperatures above freezing (during the days), the snow has been melting, the ice has been getting soft an porous and finally, the river-ice broke here yesterday.

We had been watching and waiting all day, but nothing much had happened until about 7pm when Anya and I were sitting at the dining-table and I half heard and half felt a rumble. I looked out the window when the solid sheet of ice started to drift by slowly. I grabbed Anya and called to Gaetan, and we all headed to the river.

Here are some images from the time right before, during and after breakup.

Before: Ice cover is still largely intact and anchored to the shore, overflow along the sides, the water level is rising slowly, 29.4.2014 - 1pm

During: Ice sheets are moving and grinding against each other, the water level is coming up quickly,
water moving slowly, seemingly with effort, 1.5.2014 - 8pm

After: Ice "parked" along the shoreline, water moving freely, 2.5.2014 - 7.30am

Ready for the next winter


In time for spring, Gaetan has finished collecting firewood for the 2014/2015 heating season. We will stack it once the ground is thawed and all the snow is gone.
Firewood for winter 2015, 27.4.2014

The child who loves water puddles


No matter if it is clear water or a muddy puddle, Anya loves it all. She is still in the process of coming to terms with the consequences (wet pants and dirty hands). But we are working on a healthy attitude toward that.

Great water puddle!... What could I do about that? 19.4.2014

Nice! 19.4.2014

Pouring water! 19.4.2014

Looking for the Easter Bunny


When I prepared lettuce, Anya wanted to eat the dry leaves I had pulled off. I told her that we do not eat those but that she could put them outside and maybe a rabbit would come and get them. I made the mistake of mentioning the Easter Bunny as another potential visitor. Now, Anya keeps checking the site for signs of the furry creature.
Putting out some salad leaves, 16.4.2014

Spring - finally!


We have been experiencing temperatures above freezing for the past three days. Finally, it seems that spring is just around the corner. Still, it will take weeks at best, before all the snow is melted and the river ice is ready to break.

Anya and I had our first spring picnic a short way up the creek, in the sun. On the way back I was the target for Anya's snowball-practice.

Creek overflowing


As the days are warming up, more water is coming down the creek, some of it under the ice, and more and more over the ice. Slowly the water is moving and freezing along the way.

For Anya and myself that means dealing with slippery ice, when we haul water from the creek to the house.
Overflow ice, 8.3.2014

Sun + Person = Shadow


Anya has discovered her shadow. Funny, since we had not seen the sun in almost four months, shadows are new food for thought for Anya. She keeps pointing out how big her shadow is (with the sun still low in the sky), and Mama's is even bigger!
Shadows, 26.2.2014

Shadows, 26.2.2014

Amazing Mind!


Anya's mind never ceases to astonish me. Her latest passion is building puzzles. After a period of trial, error and lots of persistence, she knows now how to assemble puzzles of up to 24 pieces. She can sit there for more than 30 minutes in full concentration and then present the finished piece proudly! (In the background of the photo: the broom with floor cloth she dropped when she decided it was time for another puzzle).

She also asks a lot of questions about the world: "How come the moon does not fall from the sky?" and "Maybe it is holding on to a handrail?"
Anya assembling puzzle, 15.2.2014

Yukon Quest sled tog teams


The Yukon Quest dog sled race is passing by our home right now. We can sit in our living room, look out the bay window and watch them go by. Thanks to "Live Tracking", we know when to expect a team and can perch ourselves by the window. Anya loves spotting dog teams!
Dog sled team on the river, 4.2.2014

Child in the Wild driving snowmobile


A few days back the snowmobile had invited Anya to go for a ride around the house. Anya accepted. Prior to that, Anya had kept her distance to the machine that she had deemed too loud for comfort. After the trip around the house Anya asked if she could accompany Papa when he goes to pick up firewood. Her request was granted the following afternoon.
I helped Anya get dressed. While she went outside to join Gaetan, I put on my snowsuit. When I followed, I found her standing beside the trail in deep snow, in a safe distance from the snowmobiles that Gaetan had already started, so she would not get run over in case the vehicles moved (Mama's recommended behavior!). 
Anya and I were assigned our own snowmobile. I had fastened a pillow in front of Anya on the handle bar for protection. She was sitting in front of me. On the 10-minute ride, Anya was sitting absolutely still. I could practically see how her senses were wide open to take everything in.
When we arrived back home, Anya's first comment was "again!".
Riding the snowmobile, 19.1.2014



There are parts of the roof that need to be emptied of snow (the valleys mostly), otherwise the heat that escapes through the roof will melt some snow and the weight of snow and ice on top of it will push melt-water into the house.
Gaetan sweeping snow off the roof (6.1.2014)

Gaetan sweeping snow off the roof (6.1.2014)

Thoughts on minus 50


When spilled water freezes to the floor, when a child cannot roll up her sleeves, because there are too many, when plants are freezing on the window sill, when the propane gas turns to gel and the propane bottle and the generator move inside to warm up, I know the outside temperature is close to minus 50.

While my range of motions shrinks and my lungs wince, the mountain vista is usually breathtaking: clear air, sharply outlined mountains tainted in orange light, and frost covered trees that seem to ignite in silver-cold December sunlight (up on the hills in a distance and out of my reach of course, because we are without sunlight for a total of 3 ½ months).

Mountains in the distance (26.12.2013)

Mountains in orange sunlight (26.12.2013)



As we went to get water, Anya and I came upon a flock of red-polls. In a distance, the small birds were feeding off alder-seeds. Anya wanted to go closer to get a better look at them. I told her that if she did that the birds would fly further away. She was wondering about that, and I shared with her what I know about flight initiation distance and the birds' instincts with regards to us being potential predators.

Later, I started to wonder about the extent to which I convey my beliefs along with what I know. And what do we really know? Science is not static, it evolves, expands its insights constantly. In 100 years from now, some of what we take for "granted scientifically proven facts" will be obsolete.

I would love to hear some of your thoughts on that topic!

Believes in snow angels (December 22, 2013)

Solstice Fire


We lit our annual winter solstice fire last night. It was windy and cold.

While everybody else watced the fire from the living room window, I spent some time enjoying the cold, the darkness, the gusts of wind and the thoughts about light and darkness, warmth and cold and about life in general.

Here is a link to a video I took:

Keeping it simple: Man & machines


We do like to make use of man's modern inventions, like electric meat grinders. But it seems that the durability of so many tools has suffered over the past decades and - in order to keep sales booming - the quality of many items of everyday use has gradually been decreasing.

We found that out - yet again - a few days ago, when we processed moose meat with our two-year old (hardly used) "industrial strength" meat grinder (stainless steel, electric, 1 HP). After about 60 pounds of meat it broke down - the gears had been ground down faster than the meat we were going to process into sausages.

Now, Gaetan is looking into buying a manual meat grinder (cast iron, made 1904). It would fit nicely into our collection: a sausage stuffer (made around 1910) and a Singer sewing machine (made 1914), both of which work reliably, are easy to fix if necessary, and will most likely survive us by generations!
Anya with our Singer hand-crank sewing-machine (November 28, 2013)

Using our manual sausage stuffer (December 16, 2013)