"Wild Freedom" By Rolly A. Chabot
Have you ever had the desire to write something on the fly. Well this will be such an attempt one of yet another in my life several years back I feel the desire to share. Who knows it may be the start of another book. One thing about writing is you never really know the direction something will head. This is one of such many trips I made along this river.
The faint hearted could travel this river rather nicely. That is till they come to a place called Five Finger Rapids. It is here where skill, courage are brought full circle and you are tested. It is here you you can stand and say "Yup... and I made it."
Gather around and get comfy, Coffee, Tea and some goodies and yes even some cookies for you... take the time to come along and and have some well deserved rest. Quigley is always looking for a good rub and loves the attention.
Even above the sound of the rain pounding against the side of the tent and the relentless wind in the trees I could hear the raging rapids that lie just ahead. It was the dreaded stretch of the Yukon River known as Five Finger Rapids. Each finger created its own challenge. Five different channels to choose from. Each demanding endurance and stamina and above all fortitude of those who dared to brave taking them on. I had been here before and when the run started towards them the point of no return was drawn. Once committed you were left to be at the mercy of the river. Your fate would be decided well before emerging at the other end.
That morning I lay thinking of the reasoning that had brought me back year after year. By river the journey was 430 miles in distance. In general the river is considered to be quiet with the exception of this feared and unpredictable section. Folklore from many years past had been written and told. Stories of tragedy and hazards and yet people still attempted to test fate here. Maybe it was to simply say that you had completed the challenge. I was here and about to test my skills again and take on the river to earn another year of bragging rights.
For those who know me now or those who knew me back then and the history of my past. It may be a clear understanding of why I found myself laying in my tent that morning. This was another of those foolish things I did back then in search of the ultimate experience. This was not one of those death defying moments in life but from past experience it was something that could alter life quickly from a challenge to fighting for your life in a matter of moments. After years of battling with the demands of alcohol abuse and drug addictions this was a cake walk so to speak in my minds eye. I had been over the rapids 5 times in the past. Two of the five had ended in disaster and yet here I was again ready to take it on in a fully loaded 14 foot canoe with all my equipment and Tannis the Braveheart at the helm. After a few times capsizing she had gotten wise and headed for cover under her seat and left me to guide us to safety. Maybe she was the smart one and not me.
This day would be an instant replay of the past few days. It would be an inside day and rest was all there was to do. Several days before I found an abandoned cabin up river at what I would estimate was mile 150. We had stopped on a sandy beach and made camp. There is little known about the area. I had stopped here before but this trip led me on a discovery of both blessing and sadness. While gathering firewood I found an overgrown trail leading up towards a hill. I took my rifle and Tannis and I were off o another adventure. Ten minutes later I was standing in a small meadow and before me stood a cabin that had seen better days. The better part of the roof had caved in. The door had been nearly ripped off the hinges. Claw markings indicated a grizzly bear had gained access. I chambered a bullet into my rifle and moved slowly forward unsure of what I may find.
Inside the small cabin there was little to signify anyone had lived there in recent years. The only thing that stood out was a metal ammo tin and a note left on what had once been a sturdy table. Weathered and the note was hard to read. "If found please deliver to Dr. Benson in Yellowknife. He will know where the contents are to be delivered if I make it. Bad cut on leg and the infection is bad. Leaving today and hopefully able to get help." It was signed Wilson.
I scoured the contents and it was filled with journals penned by Wilson B. Warden. Inside was also a well worn King James Bible. Dog eared and hand written notes in the margins of most pages. That night I started to read this mans journal and learned of his life. He had been married in 1935 to his childhood sweetheart Bess McGee. His journals had been written by a man with a heart and had captivated me over the past several days. He had started by telling the story of why he had ended at the cabin. Bess had passed away a few years before along with his children over the years. The children had died at an early age. There had only been three but after the third they had decided to not have more. His words were "This was too hard on my Bess. Conceiving and losing what we both had loved. Today I sit looking out the window of this small cabin at what appears to be my life. Alone after the loss of Bess. Who do I have but myself. What words can I write that would comfort me after all the pain I have seen."
"I must tell you the reader of the anger I have towards God for taking all that has been a comfort to me over the years. How many times have I looked at this Bible and threatened to toss it in the fire. The only reason I have not is because it is my only company other than myself. The only contact I have with anyone since I arrived. I have come to search out some answers. I have been here close to two years now and the anger still haunts me. I have known God all my life. He has watched over me all these years. I suspect He has laughed at some of the antics. He has been quick to point out my mistakes. Yet He has not heard one tear fall over all this loss. There has been no comfort, only pain and yet I still seek. At least here I do not have to face people. I have no desire or need to look at the pity in their eyes or eat another frozen casserole dinner prepared by the church ladies. The sun has dropped again and here it is only 2:30 in the afternoon. I wish this winter was over so I could at least get out again." It was dated January 16 1970. This was the last entry in the journal marked number one.
That night I had started to read. Wilson had been a Pastor. He and Bess had come North to take over a small church in a native community in Carmacks in the Yukon after the loss of there third child. His writing had opened the door for me to follow his path and journey. By the end of the first evening I had read the first entire journal. His hand writing was exquisite and without flaw. All completed in fountain pen.
There were two constants in his journals one was the pain of all his loss and the other was his search of why God had done this to him. Over the past several days I had come to know this man Wilson. It was as though he had wanted someone to listen to his story and I had been the one to stumble onto his inner most thoughts. I found through his writing I myself was questioning things of my own life.
In the days that followed I found myself immersed into his life. He had shared his childhood, younger teen years. Married life and even some very personal and intimate writings of the years he had with Bess. He had written "It was four years ago today my best friend Doc Benson and I happened upon this place after choosing the sandy beach to camp on. I had been in search of fresh berries for pancakes when I stumbled into the meadow below. Bess had just passed away that spring and the minute I laid eyes on this meadow I knew I was home. It took a week for us to fall and peel all the logs needed to build this cabin.The following year Doc and I returned and built what you see. If I had a good friend in life it was Doc. Steady as they come, God fearing and as strong as any oxen. Never once did he question the reasoning behind why I was building this cabin. He just served and did so without complaint. We had come this year with two canoes fully loaded with supplies. It was with sadness I watch my friend disappear around the bend in the river. Now I have what I have come for. I have come to search for answers to questions I can not be certain of, but I have come."
I reached for the next with a faded number four on it and started to read. "I have seen many a winter here in the Yukon. this is by far the most harsh. My thermometer only records to -60 below and I have not seen the red mercury for the past three days. The stove has been going night and day. My food cache is close to empty. I was out to it three days ago and carried the last of the hind quarter of moose to the cabin. The only way I have to cut the meat is with an axe."
"Today has been a hard day as the axe glanced off the meat and I have a large cut on my right leg. The axe grazed my shin bone and kept going and stopped only after it had penetrated deep into my calf muscle. I have drank the better part of the last of the whiskey I have and am about to attempt to start to stich myself up. The last swallow has been saved to hopefully kill any infection in the wound. The obstacle now is to do the task at hand knowing that I have become drunk. I pray for a steady hand and the fortitude to do this... signed Wilson. May 27th 197.
The next entry was was June 1st 1970. "It is hard to focus on what I write but I have managed to get all I think I will need to the canoe. I will leave this box here in hopes someone comes along and find it. Should I capsize at the rapids my story would go untold. This box would sink like a stone. The cut on my leg has become infected. Really past the point of infection and I have become afraid that I have gangrene as the flesh is smelling badly and I must get myself out of here and seek help. The river is open and Dawson is the next closest medical care. If nothing else I would ask who ever finds these journals carry them to Dr. Benson. This is not looking good. I pray the river carries me somewhere safe. The next obstacle will be the dreaded Five Fingers. I have been told the best way to beat them is to lay low and let the river take you where it may. I have no strength to guide the canoe. I have as much food and water as I can carry. The best I can do is lay in the canoe and pray the river is kind to me. I have become very weak and it is possible I will not make it. I love you Bess and the children. May the mercy of God travel with me on what lay ahead ... Wilson.
Here I sat in my tent and the comfort I had knowing this man had a choice to make. His choice was to survive. I had no idea if he made it or not but his story I held in my hands was an incredible story of survival. My job which had been assigned to me was to do what he had asked. Deliver the journals to Doc Benson in Yellowknife. It was the least I could do for a fellow wilderness man. Yes Wilson was a true wilderness man and I assigned myself to the task. After all it was all I could do for his unknown man Wilson. After all he was a Yukon man. If nothing else I would carry out his last wish.
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