As soon as we came in the door, however, it became abundantly clear that there would be no acclimation period. Marlaine's kids jumped right in as though no time at all had passed since I'd seen them last. Hugs, tours of the house, questions... it was awesome. The kids had even helped their parents put together a wonderful little apartment of sorts for my stay with them. It was practically on par with the Fairmont Vancouver Airport!
I had my own bathroom...
and my own bedroom (complete with a little welcome gift on my pillow!)...
and a basket of Body Shop items and towels to make my bathroom time fantastico!
We had a wonderful dinner, prepared by Marlaine's husband, and then the children and I drew pictures of each other's heads with animal bodies. It was also awesome. So much awesomeness! While the two youngest were reading bedtime stories, Marlaine's daughter and I hung out downstairs and chit chatted. What a gift it was to have some quiet time with her. We looked at the pictures I had taken that day on our road trip, talked about life in Whitehorse, went in the back yard and looked at the constellations, and talked about her new school. What an amazing thing it is to be able to witness the alarmingly fast rate at which children grow and learn. I swear it was just a year or so ago that I held her as a baby!
Once the kids had gone to bed for the night, Marlaine and I ducked out to go to the drug store for a few things, and took another drive up Grey Mountain to see if we could catch any wildlife... well, not with our bare hands or anything. Just a peek would be fine! LOL Grey Mountain did not disappoint! Not only did we see a porcupine (unfortunately not caught on camera), but a fox bounded across the road in front of us on they way back down into Whitehorse. This, I DID capture on camera!
I know... it won't make the cover of National Geographic, but I still got a picture of it, and went to sleep that night with a smile on my face, as my running list of animals-seen included mountain goats, a bald eagle, a porcupine, a fox and one fake wolf! My only regret was that I couldn't help my sister-in-law Kerry answer that infernal question that has been plaguing her, because the fox didn't say anything at all. Ooooh man... *wiping tears from my eyes after prolonged laughing fit* I am just so darn hilarious!
The next morning, I joined Marlaine and the children at their curling lessons. Her two oldest were the ones taking lessons, and they are very enthusiastic about learning the sport. They certainly showed a LOT more curling prowess than I ever have. Did I ever mention the time I played in a curling tournament and managed to take out the entire house... on the sheet NEXT to us? That was humiliating.
After lunch, we needed to fill a bit of time before Marlaine's daughter needed to meet her Girl Guide unit to help sell cookies, so we all piled into the car and I was treated to a visit to Yukon Brewing! While I was there, I was introduced to the concept of "growlers" (pictured below). Growlers are refillable glass bottles generally used at breweries as a means to sell take-out craft beer. The fantastic part about visiting the brewery is that you can taste each beer they have on tap! I had a nice beer glow on once I'd tried them all, and it was only Marlaine's 6 year old son who noticed that I tried to get into a nice young couple's car when we left the store! I am a lightweight when it comes to alcohol. Lucky for me, he won the argument I had with him about whether or not I was an expert on what the family car looked like.
After the cookie selling shift was over, we headed home and Marlaine and I got ready for our next big plan - an overnight getaway to the Sun Dog Retreat! Our hope was that we'd have a fantastic girls' night away together and get to see the Northern Lights by a roaring fire as a herd of caribou quietly walked by and a pack of wolves howled at the moon AND a bear came by on a unicycle. At the very least, we'd have some much needed quiet, relaxing and reflective time away together.
On our way to Sun Dog, we stopped at the Bean North Café - a hidden treat in the woods! This café is in a secluded woodlot outside of Whitehorse, and serves AMAZING roasts and some good eats!
On our way in, we checked out the Little Free Library #7713. Since returning from Whitehorse, I researched this initiative a little bit, and found out that it is part of a much larger, worldwide movement! Simply stated, a Little Free Library is a box full of books where people can take a book or two and leave another book or two in their place. Find out more here!
We carried on after a leisurely latte, and finally arrived at our destination - the Wolf's Den cabin at Sun Dog Retreat! I was so excited! It was very cabin-y, and was surrounded by trees. Once we got inside, we found a little basket of knitted slippers for us - which I of course insisted we wear and document for posterity!
After we had giddily checked out the entire cabin, we decided to have a drink from our Growler and enjoy some of the brie and asiago cheese we had brought with us. We happily chatted away, occasionally looking out into the trees to keep tabs on any wildlife that might wander our way. Oh how wonderful it was to have time to breathe and gab and enjoy ourselves! And of course, I was amused to observe that the more beer I drank, the more passionate I became about the asiago cheese. It was as if I'd never had cheese before in my life, the way I was going on and on about how good it was! I think Mar was secretly happy that I didn't have eyes for her precious brie.
As luck would have it, something DID wander our way after a while. I looked out the window at one point, and saw a woman wandering around our cabin with a beer bottle in her hand. We were just on our way out the door to go for a short hike to the Yukon River, so we opened the door to see who she was. Turns out she was a traveller from Australia who was spending time at Sun Dog with her boyfriend, and she was lost. Lost, but still drinking. A traveller with a traveller! And she was very, very friendly. She gushed about how much she loved our accents. I loved that part. As a child, I prayed nightly that I might suddenly wake up one day with a British accent, so this was almost as good.
We were driving out to the hiking trail, so we offered to drive her back to the main cabin - her original destination. She happily accepted, and immediately started making plans for Marlaine and I to join her and her boyfriend for the night. She encouraged us to bring all of our drinks and any "party music" we had over to their cabin and we could all hang out for the night. In her mind, this was the perfect plan! It was like the fates had come together when she tipsily stumbled across our cabin to make for the BEST PARTY NIGHT EVER!
Well, she couldn't have found 2 people who were less in favour of this plan even if she tried. Luckily, Marlaine was quite adept at politely ditching her at the main cabin, and we laughed in spite of ourselves as we drove away, and I immediately felt very old. Old, but content with the fact that my ultimate dream night consisted of sitting around in my jammies quietly chatting with my best friend.
We drove halfway up the trail to the Yukon River and parked the car when the terrain became undriveable. We hiked the rest of the way to the river as the day slowly began to wind down. we soon came to a spot where the woods seemed to open up, and we suddenly were overlooking the mighty Yukon river. It was impressive and huge, but at the same time, the mood was undeniably serene. Marlaine and I stood side by side, humbled by it all, hand in hand for a long time. I don't know how she felt, but I felt a strange mixture of a lifetime of experiences all leading up to this quiet moment with a childlike innocence or newness - kind of like I was seeing something with new eyes. It was my favourite moment of the trip.
And then we got a bit silly, 'cause sometimes that's just how you get back to real life after moments like that. :-)
Realizing the sun was now setting quickly, we headed back to the car. Marlaine took this amazing picture on our way back up the trail. It's one of the only pictures I have from this trip that really does seem to capture exactly what we were seeing with our own eyes. The sunset was fleeting, but stunning, as it created a colourful, smoky backdrop to the tall poplars that lined the trail.
Once we were back at the cabin, Marlaine prepared us an absolutely freaking mouth watering meal. Local Yukon potatoes, elk and greens with a glass of white wine. That was it... the trip could have ended right there, and I would have felt completely fulfilled. As it turns out, elk is quite tasty - so glad I tried it!
As the sun fell below the horizon, the moon blazed above us. And when I say 'blazed', I have to stress how much I am not kidding. I think it must be the lack of pollution or humidity or something, but the moon is almost blinding at night that far north. My eyes hurt if I even accidentally looked at the moon. It really was something else to see!
Marlaine, who I swear has a paranormal gift for figuring out exactly what I want to do before I even know I want to do it, turned out all the lights, made us a cup of tea, ripped open a bag of Reese's peanut butter cup chocolate chip cookies, moved the table out of the way, and dragged two chairs up to the window sill so we could rest our chins on our hands as we leaned on the window sill and looked out into the night. We sat that way for ages, quietly talking, discussing things that were really, really important, and then sometimes laughing so hard it hurt as we discussed things that were really, really goofy and embarrassing. You'll notice I didn't say 'unimportant' - because as every girl knows, the goofy and embarrassing stuff is what sisterhood is all about.
We finally turned in for the night, cursing the Northern Lights for evading us, but with souls and tummies that were full. I fell asleep to the soothing smell of a wood cabin, and the absolute silence of the north. And I woke up about a zillion times to go to the bathroom thanks to the Growler, the wine and the tea! :-)
The next morning, as I stumbled out of bed, Marlaine informed me that there was a neat looking bird outside, and that she thought I might want to take a peek. She knows me all too well. Not only do I love wildlife, but Ken's parents have fostered in me an interest in birds. I looked out the window, and about 20 feet from the cabin I could see a quail-like bird strutting through the tall grass. I quietly crept outside and tried to track the bird. It was a fun game of cat and mouse. Or cat and bird, I guess. Or, if I'm bothering to be technical, it was a fun game of Kirsten and bird. There... I have satisfactorily butchered that little turn of phrase! Anyway, the closer I got, the more the bird's expressionless face betrayed the fear deep inside. That bird was freaked out by me, but was totally trying to play it cool! I glided in and around baby pines, and stepped over shrubs, trying to get a closer look, but by now, the bird was in panic/strut mode, and was speed walking as far away from me as possible. It really was comical. I was sure it was a ptarmigan, and a quick internet search when I could get a signal told us that I was right. Yay! Another cool animal to add to my list!
The Ptarmigan Tracker!
I came back into the cabin, and we enjoyed a hearty breakfast overlooking the woods. After a lazy morning, we headed back into Whitehorse to meet the rest of Marlaine's family for lunch. We had lunch at a local spot called "Baked Café". As the kids and I joked around and ate our lunch, I couldn't help but notice how healthy and fit everyone was. Marlaine confirmed my observation during a later discussion where she shared that a healthy way of life is very core to the culture in Whitehorse. It is very common - almost expected - for employees to take 2 hours during the middle of the day to hike or ski. Executives can be seen on their bikes with their children in chariots in tow as they drop their children off at Montessori school before work. Organic food is standard fare.
So, it was no surprise that after lunch all 7 of us (the family dog joined us!) headed out for a 3km hike. The hike was a great chance for me to spend more time with the children, and learn more about the local flora. The kids egged me on as I tried a Kinnikinnick berry - although edible, it is disgusting - and rosehip - edible AND decent tasting. We explored streams, climbed downed trees, and pointed out evidence of wildlife through out the trail - my favourite being some trees half eaten by beavers.
At one point, we came to an amazing lookout. It was hard to take in for me, given that we were standing on the edge of a cliff that made me want to hurl when I looked down. When I was able to get past that, however, the view was spectacular - blue green river nestled in mountains and forests as far as the eye could see. Nature truly is miraculous - I couldn't help but think of the forces that created those mountains as I looked out over the river. It was amazing.
At the end of our hike, as we all sat in the car on our way home, I felt a surge of happiness for Marlaine and her family that they had this amazing opportunity to experience life in this gem of a city for a while. Her kids were clearly happy and thriving - revelling in all of this activity and accessible nature - as was her husband, who was giddily planning to WALK to the airport the next morning to catch his flight to Chicago. Most of all, though, watching Marlaine still be mesmerized by the mountains 6 weeks after moving there was a really refreshing thing to see. Wonder and marvel in an adult is such a fantastic and rare thing to experience. Whitehorse suits them - and I as I rode in the car, listening to the sounds of a family who has found their place, I felt so lucky to have the chance to experience it with them.