Welcome to Frozen Danger Land!

10 03 2012


Last year on this site, I reviewed Mad Dogs and an Englishwoman, a Yukon dogsledding memoir by British travel writer Polly Evans. I was pretty hard on the book – in large part because, as I wrote, it seemed that Evans tended to “exoticize or dramatize the Yukon, which, really, is dramatic enough on its own terms.”

It seemed like Evans felt a need to introduce a (not entirely genuine, in my view) sense of danger: There are references to the proper techniques to prevent drowning, should she happen to fall through the ice on a frozen lake or river — this, despite the fact that she’s being taught how to mush by experienced guides at one of the region’s best-known tour operators, well able to avoid any potential weak spots in the (very thick) mid-winter ice.

At one point Evans referred to her arrival in “one of the harshest climates on Earth,” and I thought to myself: Come on, lady. We have not one but TWO Starbucks franchises in town. Sure, it gets cold, but when you get down to it Whitehorse is really quite a civilized place.

Later I referred to my home receiving a “sort of Frozen Danger Land! theme park treatment.” Evidently, said treatment made me a tad touchy and defensive.

It’s a dilemma. I like to point out the quirkier or more frontier-like aspects of life here to friends down south, but at the same time I’m irked when outsiders fixate on the extreme. I came across another example yesterday, in this slideshow from a road trip up the Alaska Highway: “The Yukon territory,” the writer declared on the fifth slide, “is the true definition of wilderness and isolation. Very little has changed since the days of Jack London.”

How do you even begin to respond to such an absurd statement? Do you point out the cell phone towers, the chain restaurants, the freakin’ asphalt highway the author is driving on? Do you note that in the days of Jack London, both banks of the Yukon River were clearcut for hundreds of kilometers, deforested to power the river steamers, and the scene bore little resemblance to today’s empty wilderness?

I guess what bothers me is the fixation on the empty, wild, frozen and – yes – dangerous land, at the expense of the people who live here. In the bits of writing that bother me most, Frozen Danger Land! has been depopulated, stripped of the warmth and character that make it home.

At the risk of seeming cranky, I’m planning to collect future examples of this Frozen Danger Land! theme park treatment here on the site. Keep an eye out.

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