Saturday, April 30, 2011

devolving pleasantly

The days are getting long up here in the Yukon. The sun rises before 6:00 am, and sets at around 10 pm. All that sun means the snow is melting fast, which means I'm walking longer distances because I'm not wading through shin-deep snow as often.

Yesterday it was warm enough to wear shorts. The reduced weight, increased freedom of movement and the hot sun really boosted my energy, and I jogged along the slopes with the dogs. The underbrush cut my shins up, but it was worth it.

So today I figured I'd go one step further and hike in bare feet. I love wearing bare feet, and don't usually wear shoes between now and mid-September if I can help it. By September the bottoms of my feet are almost as calloused as a dog's paw.

I access the hills through a narrow, shadowy canyon, and I underestimated how much snow is still down there. My feet felt like they were on fire by the time I got through the canyon, and I really had to take my time on the first twenty minutes of climbing after that, because my feet were completely numb and I probably could have cut them open without knowing it. I was moving too fast, and it was tiring and frustrating and painful.

After a while, though, I started to remember how to bushwhack barefoot - to take long, careful strides like a caribou, picking a footplace before transferring weight. To travel on game trails, which are already worn. This means using my hands more - sometimes to crawl under low branches, and other times to hold onto trees so my feet aren't always taking the weight.

It's an extremely meditative way to move - probably because this is how the human animal moved for hundreds of thousands of years. Feeling the plants and rocks under your feet, thinking about foot and hand placement, moving more slowly, but at a steady, deliberate pace. It makes me feel even more connected with the land.

It definitely takes a state of mind, though. On the way back down I started thinking about other things and before I knew it I was wading through thorns for about twenty minutes.

If I did it every day, I know my shins and feet would toughen quickly. But at the moment I don't think it's worth it, because that long snowy canyon is really tough. We'll see.

My film premiere at the Dawson Film Festival was plagued with technical problems, so it was disappointing and I don't consider it a true premiere. I think it's a good thing - the film was obviously meant to premiere elsewhere. No blame on the Dawson Film Festival, though - it's still my favorite festival in the world, and I hope I can go back again next year.)

Saturday, April 23, 2011

dawson film festival - day 1

Dawson City, Yukon. Up near the Arctic Circle. This is my favorite community of humans on planet earth.

They say "Truth is stranger than fiction," and the term applies here more than anywhere else I've been. The show "Northern Exposure" seems kind of like this town - but the series is nothing compared to reality.

Today I spoke with Caveman Bill about the depth of the river ice, as he was hauling a sled across in the bright arctic sun. Half the town, including Bill, lives on the other side of a river, and has to pick across carefully during this time of year, when the ice starts to thin. There is a town-wide lottery on when the river ice will break - a wire is rigged from the ice to a firebell, and the whole town hears the ringing when the ice finally shifts and cracks and carries downstream. Then the people in West Dawson are stuck on one side or the other for a few weeks until the ice chunks clear and the ferry is put in the water.

(Caveman Bill actually lives in a cave, by the way.)

There are a tonne of artists and filmmakers up here. There is a writer's residence, an artist's residence, a credited art school, and a great gallery with a very savvy curator who brings in work from across Canada and the world.

There are still gold mines here, and the dirty gamblin' miners that come with them. The Trondek H'wechin First Nations is here, with all their rich history and spirit tied to this land. There are dog sleds, trappers, rough-looking dudes in cowboy hats who haven't seen another person in months, scowling in the dark corners of the bars, including my favorite place in town, "The Snake Pit", which has two sides so it can legally open early in the morning for the breakfast drunks, and close late at night for the regular drinkers.

Last time I was here, they had a weekly lottery where you put money in a pot for a peg, put your name on the peg, and hammered it onto the river ice. Then they took a helicopter and hauled a snowmobile with a mannequin on it high above the river and let it go, to smash down on the ice and explode. The person whose peg was closest to the biggest chunk of snowmobile won the pot.

There is the 'SourToe' shot at the Downtown Hotel where I'm staying, where you can take a shot of your favorite booze with a real human toe in the shot. The toe has to touch your lips for you to pass the test. (Fuck that.)

Today at the film festival I got to see a documentary I worked on a couple years ago, called Cry Rock, by my friend Banchi Hanuse, from Bella Coola. It's about her reluctance to record her mother's stories. Her mother is one of the last remaining Nuxalk elders who knows the stories and the language of their people. It's the second time I've seen the film in its entirety and it's the second time I was blown away by it. Brought to tears by it's importance.

Imagine living in a place where your language was created, and the only place where that same language has been spoken for thousands of years. Their word for "rock" doesn't just mean any rock - it means the rocks in that town, in that valley. Imagine your creation myth being about that mountain across the water. Imagine the encyclopedia of all your stories and knowledge and beliefs being passed on by word of mouth, from generation to generation. It just blows my mind.

I am very honoured to have worked on that film.

Today I learned that there's only two Trondek H'Wechin people left who can speak their language - who know the thousand-year old stories and lessons and words of this land around Dawson. Today someone told me about a place up in the mountains behind Dawson, which us whiteys thought were "nameless wastes", and was given the name of a explorer in the days of the gold rush. It's actual (Trondek H'Wechin) name is something like "The Last Place to go When There is Nothing Else Left".

I don't know what the lady's point was in telling me that, but with a language left with only two people now, there is something poignant in that. It was enough to bring tears to both of our eyes.

Friday, April 22, 2011


an unholy mishmash of different things I'm working on at the moment. I tried to layer enough on there that I'm not giving too much away, because these are all collaborations and not strictly my own work. I'm learning a lot of new software these days, which is giving me neat ideas for my own projects.

This image is a pretty good representation of my state-of-mind, as well. Way too much going on, way too much computer stuff, and a distinct lack of drawing and painting action. Long daily walks are the only thing keeping me sane.

Today I'm headed up to Dawson City - another six hour drive North of Whitehorse, and quite close to the Arctic Circle. My animated film, "The Perfect Detonator", will be showing at the festival there. This is the first time the film will show to an unbiased audience. That's not entirely true - I know quite a few people in Dawson. But still, body language does not lie, and I'll get an idea of how people really feel when I'm sitting in the audience with them.

I really have no idea how people are going to react to my film, and I have no big expectations. I know I put my heart into it, and did my best, and I'm personally proud of it. Now it's just a matter of turning off that sensitive creation side, and throwing it out to the world as much as possible.

I guess what I'm getting at is that I'm nervous. Gah! First festival for The Perfect Detonator!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

the surroundings

If that ain't purdy, I don't know what is. Look up the south slopes and you'd think it's all easy-going...

...but if you look behind you, the shadowy sides are still covered in snow. It's fun to climb to the top of a snowy incline, knowing that the other side is going to be warm and dry.

More purdy. I think one of the dogs, Freya, is starting to get the hots for me. She keeps giving me long looks - constantly hoping for a little eye contact. She's eyeing me right now from across the room.

This happens to me way too often with dogs, both male and female. I get dog-humped way too much. I wish I knew a way to turn off a dog, I would do it all the time. Maybe if I made retching sounds or something.

They are pretty hot though.

Monday, April 18, 2011


Four pages of stuff - initial character designs for myself, and notes for a scene in a dance collaboration.

I've been going on progressively longer walks up through the back hills of the place I'm house-sitting in the Yukon. There's a hill with a radio tower on top, and that's my goal for today. The radio tower means it's the highest hill around, so there's probably a great view from there. I'm sure there's a service road going up to the tower, but I'll stay the hell away from that. Besides, my vibe is that it's on the northeast slope, and I want to stay on the south slope, where there's more sun and therefore less snow.

The tops of the higher hills are covered in a blanket of snow over my knees. It's hard work hauling around up there, but usually I can find some moose tracks to step into to make it a bit less work.

Most people don't realize that most of the Yukon is in an arid climate zone - there's not a lot of precipitation throughout the year, so the snow doesn't usually get too deep. In the summer it feels like a cowboy movie up here. Dry air, sandy ground, lone pinetrees, the shadows of clouds rolling across long slopes and valleys.

The dogs know two of my whistles now - "Come Here" and "We're Changing Direction". One of the dogs, Freya, is incredibly intuitive. She almost always knows exactly where I intend to go, and when I get to a landmark I've been aiming for I usually find her stretched out in a patch of snow, waiting for me.

I want to figure out how these dogs were bred to track, but to do that I need to find some fresh tracks first. I found what looked like a 2-3 day old deer track, which seems weird because I didn't think deer wintered up here. Maybe they're already coming up from the coast. I don't want to get the dogs onto squirrel tracks, or we won't get anything done - there are squirrel tracks everywhere. I saw some fresh rabbit tracks too, but didn't think about calling "the girls" over.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

finding focus

I'm having a hard time focussing on my work. I think it's because I have to switch over to non-painting again, and I'm really enjoying painting. I left my house a week ago, and I've only done a day's work since then.

I have a couple exciting collaborations to work on, but I still can't get myself to start.

I work well when I have a good routine, and I need to find one here. I think it's going to go something like this:

Morning - paint and doodle for my own fun.
Afternoon - walk the dogs
Evening - work on collaboration stuff.

Yesterday I did the morning and afternoon stuff. Maybe today I can make it through the whole routine.

I miss my daily trips to the coffeeshop to draw people. Maybe I should bring my sketchbook and camera on my walks. But I really don't want to be weighed down by things bumping around in my pockets.

The temperature dropped overnight, and now it's snowing hard.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


I've had dogs around for almost my entire life. They've always been mutts, but there's always been a good portion of sheepdog in the mix (i.e. Sheltie or Border Collie.)

Sheepdogs are very smart and active, and very attentive to their masters. In the bush, they'll stay pretty close, but they're bred to herd, so they will gladly chase any little creature that's willing to run away from them.

These hunting dogs I'm sitting are a whole different story in the bush. This is what they're bred for - to range in the distance and find shit.

It already feels like we're some kind of three-person organism scouting over the topography. It feels so amazing to be bouncing down a long slope with one dog on a far ridge, checking out what's happening in the next draw, and another dog far to the front. I don't know how to describe it. You can just tell they're naturally scanning, and I feel like the nerve-centre of the operation, dictating our direction and watching the two dogs for signs of something out of the ordinary. It feels very natural. Like dogs and men have evolved to co-operate for thousands of years. Which I guess we have.

Just over the first line of hills behind the house I'm sitting, I found a long gully that was covered in moose scat and old tracks. The moose tracks look like huge smooth-sided snowshoe tracks, because the original print has melted outward in the spring thaw.

Some big old bugger spent a while there this winter - sheltered out of the cold wind, munching on sapling-ends and rooting for ground plants and whatever else moose do. I'd like to find out how often moose shit, on average, and go back there and count the poo-piles to get an idea of how long he was there.

Near the tracks, about two feet off the ground, the the bark of a poplar was torn and scratched right to the wood underneath. I imagine the moose had an itchy scalp or leg and itched the crap out of it on that tree. Who knows.

I also found a few piles of old porcupine poo on the south side of a hill, where the snow is starting to melt. I wonder if he hung around longer on the warm south slope last fall, or if that whole hillside is marked with sign.

The wildlife up here is spread fairly widely because it's so hard to find enough to eat. Also, signs stay preserved for a long time because of the dry weather and relative lack of insects and microbes that break things down. For those reasons, you see animal signs far more often than you see animals. When I lived up here I learned to really enjoy finding signs like that. It's as rewarding as seeing wildlife, if not moreso. It's fun to follow signs and think and imagine the story behind them.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Here's the backyard of the place I'm house-sitting.

The homeowners have a whole network of trails along the ridges and canyons back there, but the snow is only halfway up my shins, so off-trail walking is totally bearable. When it gets up around the knees it's too hard without snowshoes or wide cross-country skiis.

Two two dogs I'm sitting are big Gordon Setters - Scottish dogs bred for hunting and tracking. It's a total thrill to wander around these ridges with the two dogs. They range far in front of me and to the sides, most often out of my view. Occasionally I see them trotting along the opposite wall of a ravine, or dashing far ahead on a rocky shoulder where the snow has blown off. Then they'll rush up to me to say hi, and run off again.

We're still working out a way to communicate where I'm headed. I like using whistles because it's easy to do and travels far and doesn't sound as invasive as shouting the dogs' names. These dogs are fast learners - they already know my "I'm turning in another direction" whistle means something. I'm not sure if they know exactly what, yet.

Apparently there is not a lot of big wild mammals in the area shown by the above photo, and by the lack of tracks I saw today, I would tend to agree. Apparently a moose comes down here every spring (she's already come and gone), and one of the dogs was attacked by a wolf a few years ago, but not much else.

If there's any big wildlife, I have a feeling they travel on the other side of the big ridge. Animals aren't stupid - they know where humans live and they like their peace and quiet. Why walk around in a area that's been well-marked by territorial dog-stink when you can stay on the other side of the hill and hang out in peace?

Tomorrow I'll head over to the other side of the hill and hopefully not interrupt any animals, but it will be nice to check out the lay of the land over there and maybe see some tracks.

Monday, April 11, 2011

yukon walkin'

About 10 km outside Whitehorse City Limits. Down there are the 'burbs.

The first time I entered the Yukon, I was walkin'.

I hiked the Chilkoot trail, following the footsteps of the Klondike prospectors up a valley from Skagway, Alaska, and over a steep pass called "The Golden Staircase":

At the top of this climb a small cabin is perched on the ridge. Falling steeply behind you is the United States, and the gentle glacial valley sloping down ahead is Canada and the Yukon. A Canadian Flag flew on the cabin, and a park ranger sat out on the porch whittling a stick. "Welcome to Canada", she smiled, and kept on whittlin'. No ID required on this border crossing.

It was the proudest entry I ever made into this country, and it was love at first sight with the Yukon. At the end of my two-week visit, I flew home to Vancouver and quit my job and moved up here soon after.

Maybe it's because of my means of entry into the Yukon, but one of the biggest attractions of this place to me is the walkin'. Unlike the cliffs and dense rainforest of the West Coast, the mountains are low and worn, and there is very little undergrowth. You can literally head off in a direction and walk straight, for as long as you want. Pick a mountain and walk to it and climb to the top - easy as that.

I also love that there is plenty of wildlife up here. From elk to bison to grizzlies to wolverines to caribou to wolves, coyote, lynx, martens, moose and more. And you see this stuff fairly often (and their tracks n' shit even more often).

Walking up here is like swimming in the ocean down south. You're completely immersed in your surroundings, because you need to be, because there's a whole lot of animal action taking place around you. And, like swimming down south, you're pretty safe if you use some common sense.

Among other things, I'm going to be house- and dog-sitting for the next month on an acreage just north of Whitehorse. The dog owner is an ex-olympic biathlete, so I know the dogs are going to be fit, which means I'm gonna be walkin' - and I can't wait.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

nothing is true

Oystercatchers got funny beaks and bright red eyes!

Strange weather today - everything was still and heavy and silky-grey. The sky felt like a big blanket draped over the horizons and drooped down low overhead. I think it must be low pressure or high pressure in the air or something. I wonder if some weather is due to come in.

Even the Oystercatchers, which are famously shy, didn't bother flying away and sat on the rocks, staring at me lazily as I walked by. The river otter, seal and sea lion all swam very close to shore tonight - as did I.

For my entire childhood, all I drew were animals from Robert Bateman books or wildlife encyclopedias. I feel like I'm going back there again for some reason. I wonder if I'm unlearning all the art I learned. That would be fantastic. I'd love to start back again with children's scribbles and make it up all over again.

Friday, April 8, 2011

a few leaves go a long way

Just finished this painting. This is the kind of delicacy I was looking for in these "Spring Bud" paintings I've been working on. The trick was to change my mindset. I had to treat every little piece with lots of attention, and put down each line and each brushstroke very carefully. If I get big and spontaneous, it doesn't look as soft and light.

I did a few other things very differently than I usually do, as well. Lots of learning.

Sometimes I hate that paintings are always such a struggle for me. But maybe that's a good thing - I think I'm always pushing the edge of what I'm comfortable with. I never know what I'm going to end up with. It's always a bit scary-feeling, because I can spend a lot of time on a painting and the wrong move (with watercolour) will destroy it. I have to ride the line between small methodical steps, and bigger instinctual decisions.

Goddamn, it's addictive!

Here's a bigger pic.

now and then

Sloppy ocean at sunset last night. I was standing out in the splashes with my pants rolled up when I noticed an immature bald eagle hovered right over me, wings outstretched, looking out to sea. It was really low, and stayed there for a long time. Low enough for me to notice his eyes, and the way his long feathers were stretched out like fingers. Long enough for it to feel like a powerful good omen. Thanks, eagle.

Today is another gorgeous bright spring day. Bugs are hovering over the salal like little faeries. My window is open. A raven is croaking in the far distance. Big dopey bumblebees are bumping around outside the window, looking for a good place to make a summer home.

I'm headed north to the Yukon in four days. It's hard to imagine it could be any better than this, but I know it will be beautiful.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

hot mammal party 2011

morning ferry ride

I did some mulching today for The Old Farmer on the Other Side of the Island. It was supposed to be a two-hour job, picking up the branches that fell in storms over the winter. But Old Farmer felled two giant trees yesterday, so I have to go back and mulch all the branches from those trees as well.

Imagine packing a large bedroom floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall with huge branches, twigs and bark. Then imagine feeding each individual branch through a flowerpot-sized hole lined with ultra-loud dull metal blades that spin and squeal and rip and bang and whine. It kinda sucks. But it's nice to be outside, I guess.

I went for a sunset skinny-dip tonight, and after I crawled out of the water I heard a long low belching sound around the edge of the cove. I thought it had to be the sea lions, so I put my clothes on and snuck quietly around the rocks to check it out.

I didn't see anything, but the water at the head of the cove was really pushing around in the tide. That kind of current means a lot of nutrients moving, which means lots of plankton, which means lots of fish. You could just feel the life underneath.

So I waited a few minutes, and a sealion surfaced. Then another. Then a mass of them approached from further down the coast. In the next half hour I saw a total of at least a dozen sea lions! Probably more. They were surfacing at high speeds, smashing out of the water together and spreading their fins, then pounding back down again with a huge splash. Some would come up some slowly and give out ultra-low belching groans. I think there must have been a lot of fish-eating, but it felt like some kind of mating action was happening too.

Solo sea lions were passing closer to shore, right in front of me, watching the big hubbub from a distance. The real party was about 60m offshore - I think there was between three and seven sealions out there. Then another raucous sealion party approached and made several loud farty noises at the first party as they passed by. It was quite the scene.

I climbed the bank to head home and looked back at the darkening sea. The whole coastline was pockmarked with the heads of sealions. I think I was very lucky to have decided on a quick skinny-dip instead of a long-distance wetsuit swim tonight.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

conversations and trees

overheard conversation, and overhead tree

I haven't been posting much because I haven't been drawing much. I've been fixin' up my website ( ), and starting on a website for my film, and getting the film ready to send out, and other write-y think-y things.

Today I'm headed to the other end of the island to do some mulching for an old farmer I worked for last summer. I miss getting out there and working hard, and I'm happy that he called with a job. I'm looking forward to working for him again this summer - shovelling in the rain, long bike rides across the island, tired but strong. It's amazing how regular exercise relieves stress. I never really realized that until last year.

Mulching involves pulling around a huge gas-powered nastybox, starting it up, and throwing in branches that have fallen off the trees over the winter. You get a fine organic mulch that you can mix in with your garden soil, or layer on top of the garden.

Mulching is loud and violent. This is the device Steve Buscemi used at the end of Fargo to dispose of the body - remember the leg sticking out? Sometimes a branch gets stuck inside and I have to turn it off and get my hand in among the mulching blades and pull it out. It makes me cringe.

I don't especially like gas-or electric-powered tools like that. I would way rather use a handsaw than a circular saw, and I would way rather use an axe than a chainsaw. Those power tools just feel like they're more than we need. It feels like I'm giving the gods a big "fuck you" whenever I start a chainsaw. That probably doesn't make sense to most people. Most guys love that power shit, but I prefer using my own body power to do stuff. It feels so good to hand-split huge rounds of wood and know you did it with your own hands. I fantasize about building a place in the bush one day, using only an axe, a hatchet, a saw a hammer, a mallet and and chisel.

Anyways, today it's Chainsaw and Mulcher, but it'll still be fun.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

nighttime thoughts

My favorite sound is the sound of wind moving through trees. If I had to be more specific, it would be the sound of wind moving through evergreen trees at night, when I'm alone. I'm not exaggerating here. This isn't like Facebook bullshit where everything is the "best ever". I've thought about it a lot and this is actually my favorite sound.

We always think of wind as "blowing" - which makes it sound like it's being forced or pushed. What's actually happening is the air is flowing from high-pressure areas to fill up lower pressure areas. In my mind, it's more like the air is being drawn-in, or sucked, than blown out.

I think it makes for a nicer image, as well. It's like a long steady inhalation. Relax your mouth open and draw in a nice slow breath. It's like that. Relaxing. Your lips are like the canopy of a forest.

I also like to imagine that the trees gather something from the wind. Kind of like how barnacles use their little fronds to gather in plankton from the water. But more like the cilia in our guts. Trees feel like giant filters on the surface of the earth, combing and cleaning the air as the planet takes a long, slow breath.