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The Colourful Percentage of Yukon People Part One
Home is Here
Welcome again and if you have found your way here this evening you might as well get a comfy chair and a blanket cause we are in for another snowfall. Environment Canada have had warnings out all day about the weather, We are hopeful it may miss us. The temp has dropped the last hour so I would say we will be getting snow soon enough.
Maybe a good thing as we do need the moisture. I was playing out in the backyard with Quigley this afternoon and took a shovel and was able to drive it deep into the lawn so the moisture will be safe.
Many have written and asked about some of the people whom I encountered over the years and how they spoke into a life that was spiralling so quickly down with addictions. Some have asked if I would be willing to share something about these people. Who they were and what they did in helping direct me. So here we are, and I find it hard to consider whom to speak of first. The north is filled with many very interesting people.
I have entitled this series "The Colourful 5 %", some may ask why and yet for me I can say they were so very different than most. Very individual each in their own way. Get them all into a room and no doubt you would have a riot on your hands with some and a love in with others. Yet they were the people who stood by me thick and thin, and I can honestly say I love each from the bottom of my heart. So throughout this series I will share whom they were and what they spoke into me.
Gather around, all has been made ready, coffee, tea, diet coke, extra blankets and snacks. The cookies have been made unique, so I do hope you enjoy them. Quigley is a little on the crazy side tonight. Dad gave her a bath, and she is still a little angry with me but by the time you arrive she will be telling you the horrors of living in this house. Please know that you are all dearly loved and are more than welcome to stay as long as you like.
I so wish I had taken pictures of people back then. So I have used some pictures of my Quill Collection for you. You will just need to imagine.
Sam was as unique as barb wire
Whiskey” (Sam) Olefson
Winter days are short in the Yukon, daylight in January starts at 10 AM, and by 2 in the afternoon it is already near dark. This day was similar to many as I drove some of the bush trails far off the beaten track in the Tetchier Valley some 40 miles off the Alaska Highway and 60 miles from Whitehorse the capital city. People out this far are hard to find should you end up in trouble. Well trouble I found this particular day
I had found a good solid birch tree, a prize for firewood as they burn much longer that other native trees. I shut the van off and proceeded to cut it up. Once loaded I went to start the van and nothing, just a clicking sound. The solenoid had decided it was a good day to take a rest. All I needed was booster cables, well as luck would have it the last set I had I had given to a stranded tourist and here I was paying the price for not having due diligence.
I bundled up as best I could and started to walk back towards where I had seen a crude sign along the road a few miles back. Tannis my old faithful dog could care less if it was cold or getting dark. She was on another adventure. "Trespassers Will Be Shot." Off in the distance was a rough trail that ran a few hundred yards and just ahead a second sign that said "Can't you read... Private". Then I noticed an old Dodge truck that had seen its better day and the hood was up. Off in the distance stood an old log cabin with smoke coming out of the chimney. I had not even made it within a hundred yards of the cabin when a man stepped out and chambered a bullet into his rifle.
His build was beyond huge he had to duck down to get through the door. His hair was a mess and his beard had grown down to his mid chest. His rifle menacingly pointed in my direction. Even a fool, half frozen or not could figure out this man meant business. Thus, I would say he qualified to be a part of the colourful percent.
Tannis had never been known for her manners and stood growling and snarling at this man. In her eyes he was a threat to me and I had to stop her form lunging forward. After and explanation of my plight he seemed to soften a little and motioned for me to step inside. His next words were "I hate thieves so if you are thinking of anything I think I will keep this handy, he laid his rifle across the small table. "Help your self to some tea on the stove and get warm. The law of the land here is never turn a stranger away, do the same someday and the debt will be paid back."
When I slipped off my jacket, he spotted the tell tale can of Copenhagen chewing tobacco and changed immediately and asked if he could have a chew. Of course, I offered, and he proceeded to all but empty the tin into his bottom lip and spit on the floor. "Mighty kind of you," as he passed the tin back.
"Its yours if I can get a boost from you,? was the best I could muster looking at the rifle laying on the table within his reach.
It was apparent that Whiskey lived alone and a simple life. One thing I did notice was just how tidy the small cabin was kept. The only window in the place faced the direction I had come. An assortment of guns hung on the walls, and a number of pelts hung on the outside of the cabin. He was a trapper without doubt.
In front of the window sat a chair and a notebook that was closed and it had the year 1974 written on the outside cover. Several other notebooks lined a small shelf and were placed in order according to the year. "What are you looking at," came his deep voice.
"Nothing I see that you are keeping a journal?
"Might but what is there being personal so stop looking at my stuff. Let's get your vehicle started, and you can be on your way. Do you have cables to connect to my battery. I keep it inside, and you can carry it, not me as he slipped into his coat pulled on a fur hat and gloves. Let's go," and he opened the door again waving the gun in my direction.
An hour later the van was running again, and I offered him a ride back. "I come past here once in a while is there anything I can bring you from town. Rolly is my name and yours?
He gave me that look again and muttered "Whiskey as a name is good enough. Get me some chewing tobacco, powdered milk, flour and sugar. Just drop it at the end of the lane and we will call it square. The sign here still stands, and that means you so stay away. Man needs his privacy. Now get out of here before I shoot this rig up," he said in a gruff voice.
People Can Change
A few days later I left a box of supplies at the end of his drive and left a note that said Whiskey if you need anything leave me a note under rock inside the box and I will get it for you. I will make it a point to come around once every two weeks.
The next time I was through the wooden box sat empty except for a note and a rock. "Need tea and baking powder and more chew. Here is money." That was it and a few days later I brought it back. The next time I arrived there was a loaf of homemade bread, a small jar of jam and a note. "Thanks, coffee, more flour salt and pepper." along with a twenty dolar bill.
A few days later I drop the box off and left a note. "Ever in the country here is a map to my place. Be great to have you stop and have some tea. After all I owe you some hospitality in return. Thanks Rolly, here is your change."
Next time I was through the box, rock and note were left. "Kind of you but I like it here. I need nothing this time. Bring chew next time and a bill. No money till I sell my skins. Whiskey."
That was the way I come to know the man Whiskey (Sam) Olefson.
The Power Of Caring
It was the following summer when one day Whiskey pulled into my driveway. I had been busy finishing the living room, and the place was a mess. Tannis disliked him and gave her usual welcome. Whiskey probably never bathed so it was a sure sign he was close by.
He stood looking at an old rusty stove I had bought to place in the living room and shared with me a secret to keeping a stove black and shiny. "Get as much rust off as you can with a wire brush, sweep it clean after and apply a good layer of bear fat and rub it in good. Then start a fire. in no time it will turn black, and you will have a good stove for years. I have some in my truck in my camping box. Help yourself, fair trade for the last groceries you dropped off."
Whiskey spent a few hours that day and helped a little with some rock work I was doing. I noticed he had three fingers gone on his left hand. "Bet your wondering what happened to these. I guess you have proved yourself enough to me for you to know. Back five maybe six years ago I got lost in a blizzard only a few hundred yards from the cabin. Froze the hand bad and three days later I got gangrene, and they started to turn ugly and black. The roads were filled in, and I tried all I knew to try and keep them. I made a choice one morning got a good fire going and stuck a poker in the stove and with a sharp axe cut them clean off. The last thing I recall was searing the cut with the red hot poker and I passed out. When I come to again, I cleaned up the mess, and this is what I have left, holding up his hand. I get by you know but I am not much good on the guitar anymore."
His story was simple and to the point, there was no need to pry any further. Some things are best left alone, this was one of them.
Love and Laugh
Smoke and Laughter
It was a hard story to listen to, but a man needs to respect Whiskey for his strength and courage to do such a thing and to be able to share it.
I had finished all the rock work, moved the stove in place, cleaned it up and put a good dose of bear fat all over, and today would be the first fire day. I started a small fire inside and added several pieces of wood as Whiskey had instructed. In a few minutes, I had black smoke and the smell of burning fat filling the cabin. The smell was putrid, and I tossed in some water in my attempts to put out the fire. I opened all the doors and windows as the fire burned itself out. The smell was horrible.
Tannis gave her usual tough dog bark just as Whiskey pulled into the driveway with a box of moose meat and came running. "There is fire man here let me help," as he ran in and spotted the stove smoking and started to laugh. Whiskey laughed for the longest while, and I stood waiting to hear what was so funny. Through tear filled eyes, he managed to get out the words. "I meant light the fire while the stove was outside,"and again went in a rage of laughter.
There were several things I learned from Whiskey. The first would have been the fact that when a man is faced with adversity you will do what is needed to save your life.
The next would be the blackening of a stove and the best way to complete the task.
More importantly is never judge a book by its cover. Or in this case a man by his appearance or your first impression.
The most valuable lesson is to learn to love, show compassion even when it is not received. Continue to love and eventually the Whiskey's of the world will accept the love. Can we learn from a hardened heart... we certainly can.
Whiskey and I became fast and hard friends who would sit by the hour and discuss life. His had not been easy I much later learned. His trials had been many, it mainly centered around betrayal. He had chosen his lifestyle back in the wilderness. He had written about it and once offered me his diaries to keep, and I said no. "They are yours Whiskey, they should be with you."
Many winters later I was out his way and thought it strange not to see tracks going or coming from his road. I slipped on my snowshoes and headed in to find the cabin burned to the ground. We lost Whiskey that year along with the journals I regret never taking. Whiskey was a man whom I learned to love and respect and a man who taught me much the same.
Even as I write this I can hear his laughter the day I filled the cabin with smoke. Whiskey I regret not retrieving your journals. I dedicate this to you for the many lessons you taught this new dweller to the north. The world has lost a wealth of information the day it lost you. I know you had a story to tell. It was the reason you sat by the hour alone writing about it. May the little I have written here, shed some light on the real man you were in my eyes. Rest in peace my friend.
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