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"Wild Freedom 10" By Rolly A. Chabot
Hi again everyone... We are in the midst of what is called the Canada Day long weekend. A time to celebrate this great Nation we live in and all it has to offer. There will be many out and about this weekend and like many of such long weekends in the summer months what follows is a toll taken in lives lost on the highways.
Thus the reason home looks better. I will stay around and get a few things done. On tap is painting the two large decks and what appears to be a never ending fence. I cheated this time and pressure washed the old paint off. Maybe a little unethical but it was much faster. A light sanding after and it is ready to go. The decks will need to be done by hand but the fence I will do with a sprayer. I did a small test section with the sprayer and found out quickly you do not spray in the wind. I had the cutest white freckled body you have ever seen.
Sunday was the start of what is called the greatest show on earth. The Calgary Stampede is in full swing and yet another thing I prefer to avoid. The crowds are crazy and parking is impossible.
The weather has changed and we are having some sun for the next several days so it should be nice to get this done. After this the summer has been set aside to get in some travel and time at the cabin. Looking forward to some R & R. Maybe get in some serious writing in the process. Well all that between naps. Please gather around we are in the final chapter of this mini series called Wild Freedom. Tannis and I have just arrived back home after being on the river for the past five weeks. Lets see where we go from here...
I was standing on the west facing deck of my cabin with the Golden Horn mountain looming off in the distance. The morning sun was just touching her tip and it was the same magical moment that took place each time. The mountain would change from a drab grey colour to a golden reddish orange. Shadows would appear in the craggy sides from top to bottom. It was a sight I had never have grown tired of. I had climbed her many times, camped on her very peek and the feel of that sun would always warm the heart knowing it was a spectacle many would never see.
It was September already and the tops of the mountains had their first skiff of snow. Winter would not be far away from the signs the land was speaking. I had already gotten my winter supply of wood in and the freezer was filled with my fall moose I had shot. He had appeared one morning while I was out bucking up wood on my assigned wood lot north of town. One well placed shot and he was down. It was that simple here in the Yukon. Between all the fish I had dried, smoked and frozen along with the few vegetables I would be good for another winter. Now it was just time to sit back and wait again for spring and fishing. Spring here arrived mid June because that was when the ice moved off the lakes.
It was shortly after 7 in the morning when the phone rang. It was the crusty voice of Dr Benson. "My friend I have some bad news. We lost Wilson. Sorry to have to tell you he passed away early this morning. He made me promise to never tell while he was alive but he had kidney cancer and it spread throughout his body long before anything could be done. I know you two had grown very close and I would think he would have wanted you to come to the funeral. We are holding it at the mission on Friday."
"I will be there. I suspected he was hiding something Doc. You see I could hear the pain in his voice when I called. We talked every week and he was a man filled with wisdom. What about all his writings. Did he say anything about them. As far as I could gather he was attempting to have them published?
"The one thing he was clear on was he had tried several different publishers and they had failed to see the value. He told me to stuff them in the box with him. Doc started to laugh. Wilson added and a few boxes of matches so at least I can stay warm during the winter months. Not many got to see the humorous side of him like I did but he did say they were to go with him."
"I will be up Thursday afternoon on the freight flight. I can stay at the hotel?
"Not a chance you can stay with Della and I. We have some news to tell you anyway. See you at the river. I will pick you up on the scooter." He hung up.
It was then the sadness hit as I sat thinking of Wilson and all he had taught many about pain and suffering, rejection through your own ways and for me the greatest teaching was learning to forgive yourself. Wilson would be missed. Tannis would be going to Wendy's for another visit over the weekend. Once the funeral was over I had one more trip planned. A few weeks in the back country at a remote lake. It had been a favorite place for the past 11 years and generally the last trip of each fishing and exploring season. It was like going home.
The plane came in for its final approach to the river landing. The scene was familiar people, kids and quads and pickups waiting for the necessary supplies. Today was fuel, moose meat and bag after bag of flour and sugar for baking. The unloading was a community affair and all were expected to help and they did. Get in the way and you were soon shown a place in the line and found yourself passing whatever up the bank to the waiting forms of transportation. The Doc waved from the far end. Once finished the plane needed to be loaded for the next stop in the pilots run. Mail and supplies This was a city that was only linked to the outside world by air service. It was essential to keep the service on the move. The entire operation lasted 20 minutes and the plane was already on the water and lifting off.
"I see you made it Rolly. I know you have to ride on my chariot but it is better than walking. Come along I promise I will drive slow today. Della has lunch ready and is waiting for you. Says she misses you and that dog of yours." A few minutes later we pulled up in the usual cloud of dust and the front door opened and there stood Della. It caught me off guard as she was very pregnant. Doc slipped his hand over my shoulder and laughed.
"You better close your mouth son or it will be filled with those terrible black flies. That's right we are going to have a baby. It was about the only way I could get her to stay. He stopped about halfway up the gravel path to the house. Now son you are looking at the loveliest lady in the north. Just look at the radiance. Better than any morning sunrise or evening sunset. Go give her a hug she has been waiting to see you."
Della reached for me before I made it to the top step and hugged me hard and long. I could not even get my arms around her. She stepped back "Like hugging two bears now. Good to see you come inside and lets have some lunch. Moose stew and fresh bannock and lots of news about what has been happening. Lets see that hand. "See hardly any scar the combination of the moss and the vitamin E and look at you as good as new."
It was obvious a ladies touch had been added to the Doctor's house. All the stacks of papers and books were neatly stacked on book shelves and the kitchen was spotless. Pictures lined the walls and the old bedsheet that once served as a drape in the front window had been replaced with some colourful drapes that reached to the floor. "What ever is wrong with you. Have you never seen a man get domesticated Rolly. Why look here I even have pressed shirts and slacks. Della and I were married in a secret wedding a few months back. A little late as you can see but we are legal and Della is now a permanent resident of this fine city and soon to be proud parents of not one but two baby boys."
"Now that is all good news but last I heard there was a bit of a turf war going on between you two as to who was going to live where?
Della smiled. "I gave in once I learned I was with child. Would you look at this once shapely body of mine all ruined because of this man. What you see here Rolly is the product of true love. She smiled while holding her tummy. So I caved in and moved north and something I learned is never get stuck in a rut. I love being here with Doc and the country has started to grow on me. I do all the nursing at the Mission now so I still can stay busy."
After the meal I took a walk down to the mission and helped prepare the evening meal. There were hardly any words spoken. Each person knew what needed to be done. At 5 o'clock came the sound of chairs being pulled out and a tall rough looking native man recited grace in his Cree language. After the meal the tables were all stacked and the mission was transformed into a church with all the chairs carefully placed. Fresh cut wildflowers were placed in vases on either side of Wilsons picture. All was ready and I slowly walked back to Doc's and Della's thinking of my old friend.
At 10 sharp the organ started to play and all stood as a simple cardboard box was placed on the table next to his picture. On top was an Eagle feather with a sharpened point and a small bottle of ink. Next came his crutch which had been hand made by Ellis a native artist and then came his artificial leg. To me and the many the leg seemed out of place and maybe a little gruesome. Dr Bensen stood and looked over the many before he lowered his head in prayer. He then looked up again and down at what lay before him. What was left of his dear friend Wilson.
"Today we gather in a place that was created in love for each and everyone of us. A place where a man so filled with wisdom. This place has built from nothing. It is a place where all of us who have come through the doors have been changed. What happens here today will change us all even more. Many of you may ask what all this means that lays before you. Well let me share with you it is what remains of a friend. Wilson asked this be a celebration of his life not a time of sadness. With his last breath he spoke his last words and said. The time has come."
"Here lays what is left of a man who cared and loved many. A simple cardboard box is what he requested. The urn costs a few thousand dollars. That money he said could be used to feed many or buy glasses for those who are in need. Just use a box and a plastic bag out the kitchen. See to it the money saved is used well."
"His crutch which was handcrafted by Ellis and he had asked it be leaned up over near the doorway in the event another came along with a need to help get around. Ellis he thanks you for the heart to serve and reminded me to tell you the back door still needs fixing.There was laughter that filled the room and Ellis blushed. See what I mean Wilson is still with us because we can still laugh with him."
"The Eagle feather quill and ink is a reminder Wilson wanted us all to listen to what is on our hearts. In his words "A man can suffer through a great deal when he can openly search within and write down his own thoughts when he has much to say. There is something very freeing about being able to go back and read about where you have come from. If you cannot see change in yourself then you need to write more."
The last thing he left behind is his artificial leg. He wanted it placed somewhere here in the building where it could serve as a constant reminder to you and the others who follow. He said it would become a marker or a milestone of his life. It is where he said he had stopped and found love and peace. I think it should go right there on the wall on a small shelf. I think it fitting a small plaque be made in our friends honour with the years of his birth and death recorded. Wilson laughed when we spoke of this in his own words he said the thing would not burn anyway so use it for a doorstop or something." Again laughter could be heard throughout the many gathered.
He had said he wanted this service to be an open service where anyone could come up and speak about what the Mission has done for them. So I open the floor to all of you. This is Wilsons home and your home and none of us have anything to run off to so lets just take all the time we need to celebrate the life of our dear friend. The coffee is on and there is some baking. Should you feel moved to share the microphone is open. Lets just relax and have some fun. There will be a small ceremony later at the rivers edge. Wilson had asked his ashes be carried away the same way as he was carried here. It is the way he wanted. Help yourselves to coffee and lets see where Wilson will take us today."
The room was filled with many people. They sat in small groups, every once in a while someone would come forward and share with the others how this man had touched their lives. Some stories were very touching others very funny. Wilson had a side to him that I never got to know. There were tears and there was laughter. I felt moved to speak and stepped up to the microphone.
"Many of you have shared today about our friend Wilson. Your personal contact with him and the way he touched your lives. Many here know that I arrived late on the scene. Not as a resident but as a friend who had been requested to carry something special back to the owner. I do know that I have been a blessed man by what Wilson taught me. I had the privilege of coming to know this man on a very personal level and I think it would be ok to share with you today what I learned of him."
"Two summers ago I came across a cabin on the Yukon River which had been abandoned and in a state of disrepair. Inside I found a note and an old ammunition case. The note requested the finder deliver the contents to Dr Bensen in Yellowknife if found. Inside were several journals of the journey he had taken through suffering a great loss in life. His journals were filled with anger and bitterness and his search for why this had happened to him. Over the period of the remaining time I had on the river I was able to get to know this man in a very close and personal way."
"If there has been anything that I have learned it is there is a God who loves us through the good and the bad. When we are in the bottom places of life we have a choice to stay there or simply reach up and ask for help. Wilson learned the ultimate in humility in his journey to seek help. What he suffered we will never know but He reached up and accepted the help. From that this Mission was created in thankfulness and compassion for all of us here today. For me personally I got to know a man who became a friend just as you all had gotten to know him. Keep this dream and vision this man had alive and continue to accept the lost of the north. Love them as he loved you and know that the Father above loves you even more. He is a friend who taught me many things about life. He is a friend I will miss but with each act of kindness I will be reminded of him. Is Wilson gone. No I think not because he lives here among you. Wilson has encouraged all of us to write about what we have seen in life and how it has changed us. Write for Wilson and write for yourself."
What followed at the river was a simple affair. A few words were spoken in Cree by a Native Elder as he brushed sage brush smoke over the open box of Wilsons ashes. Each came forward and took a small handful of Wilson's ashes and gave it to the river. Dr Bensen was the last and he took the remainder of the box and slowly shook the contents into the river. "Go in peace my friend. Well done good and faithful servent."
We all stood and watched the last of the grey film on the river surface slowly disappear. Wilson was at peace at last and had returned the same way he had arrived.
I had stayed in touch for the first few years after that day. The twins were born and they both carried a part of Wilson's name. One was called Will and the other Sonny. Della and Dr stayed in the north for a few more years and eventually moved south into Manitoba. Della had developed a sickness that required constant monitoring. The Mission flourished and became the model for many other missions in the far north. The last I heard it was still operating. Dr passed away in an auto accident while stopped to help another along the highway. A drunk driver failed to see him out on the road. His two sons are grown now with children of their own. One is a missionary and the other a Doctor like his dad. Della's life ended in an extended care unit in a small rural town in southern Manitoba. I have attempted to have contact with the boys but there is no connection
For me, well life has changed as well. I have left the loved North. A hard decision but the far north is a place for the young. Each adventure became harder to manage the canoe I could carry once became heavier. The gear needed for isolated trips seemed to be more. Maybe the close calls woke up a sense of danger I had failed to ever look at. We all change when we take the time to realize there are other interests in life. People move on in life as we do. Some choose to maybe just remember the way things were. Maybe they stay stuck in a rut and fail to look outside of the box or the world they have built.
One thing I can say for certain is people like Wilson and many others shaped and moulded my thinking and yes even my way of life. Wilson's story opened my eyes to my own anger and bitterness that had shaped my life. His words about being humbled have proven true a few times in life. Wilson I thank you my friend... "Humility and humbleness can and will break a man. When you are broken you are never alone" These were some of your favorite words. May they bless another this day in finding their way ... You have always been right.
© Rolly A. Chabot ... All Rights Reserved and Monitored