Thanks to The Writers’ Trust of Canada, I’m heading up to Dawson City, Yukon, to be the next Writer-in-Residence at Berton House. I leave just before Christmas and will be there through January and February.
Berton House is actually the boyhood home of the late, iconic Canadian author, journalist, and media personality Pierre Berton. He paid to have it restored, and donated it as a writers’ retreat. The House is now owned and operated by the Writers’ Trust with help from the Dawson City Library and the Klondike Visitors Association. Over 50 writers have bunked at Berton House since its opening in 1996.
Like the vast majority of fiction writers, I typically need to maintain a day job, so I couldn’t be more thrilled to receive this opportunity, albeit temporary, to completely get away from it all and to write full time. I’m hoping to get almost a month’s worth of scribery done each week.
As a born-and-bred city boy, I’m also excited about the prospect of travelling to the Arctic Circle and getting the full-on northern exposure. Sure it’s going to be freaking cold and dark, but it’s also going to be so darn Canadian. Good heavens, Robert Service’s cabin is right across the street. I may be moved to poetry. Being there in the off season, I am admittedly going to miss the tourist extravaganza that the Klondike puts on in summertime — complete with gambling saloons and dance hall girls — but maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
I am finding some of my friends’ reactions to the pending posting rather interesting, though. Of course, everyone comments on how cold it’s going to be (lows in January can reach -40°F), but there are fur-lined, down-filled antidotes for that. No, it’s the prospect of the continuous darkness that raises many of their eyebrows. During the solar trough of the season, there will only be a couple of hours of sunlight each day, and apparently the sun will not actually shine directly down into the valley where Dawson City sits. Many seem to think that such a prolonged period of prevailing darkness will result in a whopping case of Seasonal Affective Disorder that will drive me into the pits of despair … or at least into the pits of The Pit, the town’s legendary bar.
At the risk of tempting fate, I’m confident I’ll actually enjoy the experience. Oh, I’m fully aware that we humans are naturally tuned to the sunlight, and I’m not denying there will be some psychological challenges, but I say bring it on. It’s actually not fully unprecedented in my own case. I remember having a job where, during wintertime, I arrived at work before the sun came up and left after sunset … and in between I toiled all day in a windowless cubicle. For that matter, one summer I worked in a windowless -30°C freezer hauling around skids of ice cream. Not quite the same thing, I know, but good practice nonetheless.
As a Zen Jedi Phasmatian, I am taught to beware the darkness in the light and to seek light in the darkness. So, towards that end, I am especially looking forward to sitting in the dark on the balcony of Berton House (comfortably wrapped against the cold, of course) and basking in the magnificence of those celestial lights in the dark — the aurora borealis. There will be plenty of opportunities for sun bathing later when I return to my normal routine in Canada’s deep south, but The Northern Lights will be one sight worth going over to the dark side for.