The night before last, my brother forgot to check on a house that he had been watching until late at night. When he remembered, it was 11:30pm and dark outside. There were clouds covering all of the stars and the moon, covering the whole sky, which made the darkness even heavier. Mom and Dad let us use their quads; Vince asked that I accompany him for safety reasons. The was a definite ‘nip’ in the chilly air, one that is only made by snow up in the mountains. It had snowed for the first time up on the mountains at the beginning of the past week, and ever since it has been cold, dropping to -4C or lower at night. The quads roared to life, the highbeams slicing through the shadows and hurting our eyes with the sudden light.

I stuffed my big heavy-duty flashlight inside the gigantic pocket that my coat has, and tucked my cellphone inside my camera case which hung off the handle bars and lay between the side of the quad and my leg. Zipping my warmest hoody up all the way and putting on my thin firehall coat over top, Vince and I set out into the night.

At night everything looks and feels surreal. While driving the quad down the gravel road past the firehall, shadows moved and the roar of the quad became a comforting drone. Doing a speed that would feel quite slow in the daytime felt crazy fast at night. I was in the lead because Mom’s quad (the one I was driving) has the brightest lights. Even so, the lights were being absorbed into the thick darkness and I had to squint a little in order to focus past the fuzzy edge of the light. The spruce on either side of the road were blurs, but you could see the craggy, twisted spruce tops against the night-time sky. Blacker against black. The smells were wonderful; the icy scent of frost was just beginning to creep into the air, and the scent of colouring and decaying leaves mixed together with the smell of the quad exhaust. If smelled like fall.

Out of the dark on the right side of the road in an almost dreamy state, a magnificent Great Horned Owl flew in front of my quad right through the headlights, metres away. It beat its wings in a purposeful manner, not slowing down even when it turned its head and looked directly at me. Its eyes like little yellow lamps flashed at me before he redirected his gaze to his direction of flight. I could see the dark markings like Vs patterning his plumage, and even saw his ears almost completely flattened against his head. He was in my view for only about 2 seconds before he melted back into the shadowy spruce forest, but in those 2 seconds I had just had my best look at a Great Horned Owl in my life.

The rest of the ride to the house was uneventful but no less beautiful. During nights like this, I feel so alive and elated I can hardly stand it. I feel like laughing and running invincibly at inhuman speeds through the night without a care in the world. Instead I suck in as much of the smells as I can, and silently rejoice that I am alive and able to enjoy the world around me with my loving family. The Yukon has her hooks firmly embedded in me;, and I am fully under her spell.

Are you under the Spell of the Yukon? The Yukon provokes stong feelings in a person, both love and hate.

Robert Service Bust in Whitehorse

The Spell of the Yukon, by Robert Service.

I wanted the gold, and I sought it, I scrabbled and mucked like a slave. Was it famine or scurvy — I fought it; I hurled my youth into a grave. I wanted the gold, and I got it — Came out with a fortune last fall, — Yet somehow life’s not what I thought it, And somehow the gold isn’t all.

No! There’s the land. (Have you seen it?) It’s the cussedest land that I know, From the big, dizzy mountains that screen it To the deep, deathlike valleys below. Some say God was tired when He made it; Some say it’s a fine land to shun; Maybe; but there’s some as would trade it For no land on earth — and I’m one.

You come to get rich (damned good reason); You feel like an exile at first; You hate it like hell for a season, And then you are worse than the worst. It grips you like some kinds of sinning; It twists you from foe to a friend; It seems it’s been since the beginning; It seems it will be to the end.

I’ve stood in some mighty-mouthed hollow That’s plumb-full of hush to the brim; I’ve watched the big, husky sun wallow In crimson and gold, and grow dim, Till the moon set the pearly peaks gleaming, And the stars tumbled out, neck and crop; And I’ve thought that I surely was dreaming, With the peace o’ the world piled on top.

The summer — no sweeter was ever; The sunshiny woods all athrill; The grayling aleap in the river, The bighorn asleep on the hill. The strong life that never knows harness; The wilds where the caribou call; The freshness, the freedom, the farness — O God! how I’m stuck on it all.

The winter! the brightness that blinds you, The white land locked tight as a drum, The cold fear that follows and finds you, The silence that bludgeons you dumb. The snows that are older than history, The woods where the weird shadows slant; The stillness, the moonlight, the mystery, I’ve bade ’em good-by — but I can’t.

There’s a land where the mountains are nameless, And the rivers all run God knows where; There are lives that are erring and aimless, And deaths that just hang by a hair; There are hardships that nobody reckons; There are valleys unpeopled and still; There’s a land — oh, it beckons and beckons, And I want to go back — and I will.

They’re making my money diminish; I’m sick of the taste of champagne. Thank God! when I’m skinned to a finish I’ll pike to the Yukon again. I’ll fight — and you bet it’s no sham-fight; It’s hell! — but I’ve been there before; And it’s better than this by a damsite —
So me for the Yukon once more.

There’s gold, and it’s haunting and haunting; It’s luring me on as of old; Yet it isn’t the gold that I’m wanting So much as just finding the gold. It’s the great, big, broad land ‘way up yonder, It’s the forests where silence has lease; It’s the beauty that thrills me with wonder, It’s the stillness that fills me with peace.


One response to “Nightfall

  1. A lovely piece of writing Shyloh. Thanks for sharing.
    I know what you mean about being ‘under the Yukon spell’. Rachel is one of my contacts on Flickr, she is a talented photographer. I also have four other Flickr contacts from the Yukon.

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