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Bookends: More Tales from the Yukon in the Mind of David Thompson December 29, 2013

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends.
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Bookends: More Tales from the Yukon in the Mind of David Thompson

By Dan Davidson

July 3, 2013

– 831 words –

 

Haines JunctionHaines Junction

By David Thompson

Caitlin Press

208 pages

$19.95

 

Just as David Thompson’s first book, a collection of short stories called Talking at the Woodpile (2011) told us tales of a Yukon (especially Dawson City and Rock Creek) that never quite was, but sounded and felt like it could have been, somewhere. Haines Junction (where about one-third of this book is set) has that kind of mythical feel to it.

It’s rather timeless in tone, and it’s a little hard to pin down exactly when some of it is supposed to have happened, but we do know that it starts in 1946, when Joshua Waldo Lake Shackelton is born in New Mexico, not too far from Roswell.

Joshua (because it’s so much easier to type than Shackelton) left home the year he was to enter grade 10, the death of his mother having left his father a sodden wreck who could not support him, and went to live with his grandparents in California. Shortly after graduation he was drafted, and then rejected due to colour blindness.

For some reason, he decided to go to Canada and hike his way up to Alaska. His father warned him to watch out for blackflies and communists and wished him well.

So began a life that saw him working in a logging camp on Vancouver Island, living in isolation in the bush, and eventually hiking his way up the west coast into the Yukon. There are stops along the way to keep body and soul together, marketing his skills as a carpenter, discovering a downed DC-3 with apparent connections to the Kennedy Assassination, and assorted other adventures.

Occasionally there are diversions from Joshua’s tale, little side trips that allow us to find out what happened to some of the strange people he met along his journey.

By page 54 he has arrived in Haines Junction, and might have stayed there for the rest of the book, because Thompson’s version of the place has just as many strange and wonderful characters as his Klondike. It’s here that Joshua stalks the mythical wolfbear, rediscovers a lost Russian mine, and seeks out the raft that a group of Japanese monks left high on a mountain some time in the 19th century.

There is a clue to the timing of some of these stories in that Joshua loves Hungry Man TV dinners, and Swanson didn’t start making those until 1973, at least in this dimension. Having watched all five seasons of “Fringe” I’m open to the idea of alternative timelines.

In addition, there’s a bit of a story connected to that DC-3 I mentioned a while back. It’s not too long after Joshua realizes where it finally got to (you’ve seen it – guess where) that his life in Haines Junction approached its conclusion.

What happens is that one day there is a knock on his front door and he finds an Angel (just her name – no wings) standing there. She is writing an article for National Geographic and wants to pick his brains. She also gets his heart. Eventually, after he gets to know her and she leaves, he just has to follow. All of which brings him to Dawson City and into contact with the cast of characters from Thompson’s first book.

From that point, the book’s center of gravity (or perhaps center of chaos would be more appropriate) is dominated by the Halloo family, that odd bunch who live in Rock Creek in a sort of commune arrangement. Joshua marries Missy Halloo and finds his life inextricably entwined with theirs, although he becomes more a recorder of their doings than of his own from then on.

A lot of it is dominated by the interaction and confusion generated by the relationship between the Halloos and the McKans. The latter were a solidly rooted clan from Ontario, where generations of them had run a store and more or less run the community. At least they were solidly rooted until they visited the Yukon, caught the spell, and uprooted their entire immediate family to move to Rock Creek from sedate Kemptville.

This relocation is the source of much friction, including overcrowding (they live with the Halloos for months), cabin fever, adultery and some nasty business with gold fever. Along the way there are quite a few chuckles and the “true” story behind that statue of the miner and his dog that sits outside the Elijah Smith Building in Whitehorse. You can examine it more closely the next time you’re there, though I’m told if you linger too long the bruisers from SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. will come out and tell you to move along.

Thompson’s given us another fun book full of whimsical narration and quirky characters. A recent note tells me he’s nine chapters into his next opus, with a working title of “The McCrankys”.

 

-30-

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