On the first evening of our drive home from the Yukon, the sun was slow on its decline over the spruce forests beside the Alaska-Canada highway. Mountains rose in the distance, torn from the soft hills nearer the road.

Transition time. My mind wandered to the questions my freshman and sophomore high school history classes asked me to answer: What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be American? At age 14, the former question fascinated me. I’d answered twofold: to push limits, and to question meaning.

The latter question interested me that evening, as I lay in the back of the van, driving south. What does it mean to live in the West?

My travels have lent me context, some understanding of what living in North America means in different places. I’ve seen the change in latitude where black spruce and birches begin to grow; connected lakes and rivers to greater watersheds; visited rural communities and overheard local conversation; driven through farmland and learned which crops grew there; read histories of why cities were laid where they remain today.

In the front seat, Lorna and Madaleine talked about the country we were passing through. After spending more than a month together, 24-7, we were often on the same page. They read aloud from a tourist guide with facts about the Yukon Territory:

223 different bird species

160,000 caribou

50,000 moose

33,000 people

Mount Logan (19,551’) is the Yukon’s tallest peak

Whitehorse is the capital

The next morning we woke and talked to the man camped next to us in the Buckinghorse River Provincial Park campground. He lived seven hours south in Grand Cache, Alberta, a coalmining town. He’d moved there two years earlier, when the mine was shut down, and bought his house for $100,000. The same place now sells for $300,000. Industry was up, and in Grand Prairie, the town he’d moved from, the mills were all doing big business again. Halliburton, he said, employed at least 200 people, including his son.


About Emily Stifler

I grew up in Vermont and live in Bozeman, Montana. I love topography: mountains, rocks, weather and people.
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