The Spell of the Yukon – A Poem by Robert W. Service

Emerald Lake, Carcross, Yukon. Photo: Gurdeep Pandher

A Poem by Robert W. Service

I wanted the gold, and I sought it;
I scrabbled and mucked like a slave.
Was it famine or scurvy—I fought it;
I hurled my youth into a grave.
I wanted the gold, and I got it—
Came out with a fortune last fall,—
Yet somehow life’s not what I thought it,
And somehow the gold isn’t all.

No! There’s the land. (Have you seen it?)
It’s the cussedest land that I know,
From the big, dizzy mountains that screen it
To the deep, deathlike valleys below.
Some say God was tired when He made it;
Some say it’s a fine land to shun;
Maybe; but there’s some as would trade it
For no land on earth—and I’m one.

You come to get rich (damned good reason);
You feel like an exile at first;
You hate it like hell for a season,
And then you are worse than the worst.
It grips you like some kinds of sinning;
It twists you from foe to a friend;
It seems it’s been since the beginning;
It seems it will be to the end.

I’ve stood in some mighty-mouthed hollow
That’s plumb-full of hush to the brim;
I’ve watched the big, husky sun wallow
In crimson and gold, and grow dim,
Till the moon set the pearly peaks gleaming,
And the stars tumbled out, neck and crop;
And I’ve thought that I surely was dreaming,
With the peace o’ the world piled on top.

The summer—no sweeter was ever;
The sunshiny woods all athrill;
The grayling aleap in the river,
The bighorn asleep on the hill.
The strong life that never knows harness;
The wilds where the caribou call;
The freshness, the freedom, the farness—
O God! how I’m stuck on it all.

The winter! the brightness that blinds you,
The white land locked tight as a drum,
The cold fear that follows and finds you,
The silence that bludgeons you dumb.
The snows that are older than history,
The woods where the weird shadows slant;
The stillness, the moonlight, the mystery,
I’ve bade ’em good-by—but I can’t.

There’s a land where the mountains are nameless,
And the rivers all run God knows where;
There are lives that are erring and aimless,
And deaths that just hang by a hair;
There are hardships that nobody reckons;
There are valleys unpeopled and still;
There’s a land—oh, it beckons and beckons,
And I want to go back—and I will.

They’re making my money diminish;
I’m sick of the taste of champagne.
Thank God! when I’m skinned to a finish
I’ll pike to the Yukon again.
I’ll fight—and you bet it’s no sham-fight;
It’s hell!—but I’ve been there before;
And it’s better than this by a damsite—
So me for the Yukon once more.

There’s gold, and it’s haunting and haunting;
It’s luring me on as of old;
Yet it isn’t the gold that I’m wanting
So much as just finding the gold.
It’s the great, big, broad land ’way up yonder,
It’s the forests where silence has lease;
It’s the beauty that thrills me with wonder,
It’s the stillness that fills me with peace.

Source: The Best of Robert Service (1953)

A twelve years old writer and already writing 5 books – A literary dialogue with Ursula and her mother Rachel Westfall

Ursula and Rachel Westfall

Ursula is a twelve years old published writer. She has a passion for writing and is already working on 4-5 books. Ursula’s mother Rachel Westfall is also a writer and an avid fiction reader. Mother and daughter were going on walks through the forest in the evenings, they were trading thoughts back and forth, many characters were being evolved, and finally came up with an idea of writing a book together based on a Sasquatch tale. Mother-daughter team met me at the Yukon College to talk about their book and future writings. So here is a literary dialogue  – Gurdeep Pandher


 

Yukon Times: Congratulations to you and your mom for writing this book!

Ursula Westfall: Thanks!

Yukon Times: Tell me about your book, what’s your book about, and what’s the title of the book?

Rachel Westfall: It’s called Estella of Halftree Village: A Sasquatch Tale, and the main characters are a couple of young women who live in a village, and their village is an intentional community that broke away from the city to get away from all the crime and violence that was going on in the city life. So they live in a very old-fashioned way – very low-tech society – and they’re in the middle of the woods. And there are sasquatches living in the area, but they’re still sort of a legend, so not many people know they’re real. But a sasquatch starts to make friends with one of the girls and starts leaving presents and things for her. And they develop a friendship and then some bounty hunters come from the city and they’re looking for sasquatches. They want to catch a sasquatch to take back to the city to sell to some researchers. So there’s a lot of the story is built around the tension between the city life and the village life, and the struggle to keep the sasquatches a secret. And there are other secrets there as well that they have to keep from the city people. They don’t want the city people to know about certain things about the area because they want to preserve their lifestyle

Yukon Times: What inspired you both to write this book?

Ursula Westfall: We always go on walks through the forest in the evenings. And we trade ideas back and forth. Like ideas about stories and things. Me and mom were just having a nice walk in the forest. We started talking about this book and then we got enough ideas collected together that we decided to write a book. So it was an ongoing, continuous dialogue.

Yukon Times: Can you let me know how this idea was developed?

Rachel Westfall: Really, like Ursula said, we go for walks every evening together, and we talk and we share a lot of story ideas. And when we started writing the story, it was really a romance in the beginning, and then as the story developed, we started to build a lot more drama into it and a lot of humour. So a lot of our conversations in the woods were around character development, or around funny scenes, things that could happen that would be entertaining. And then we took turns doing the writing. So each of us would write a scene and switch back and forth. Like most of the sasquatch scenes, Ursula wrote, so she really created the sasquatch’s character. It just evolved like that. Once we had enough ideas, we started writing it right away. We wrote almost the whole first draft over the winter holidays.

Yukon Times: When did you start writing this book and how long did it take for both of you to complete this book?

Rachel Westfall: So it was over the winter holidays, and it took us about a month to do the first draft. And then after that it needed editing and proofing. And so there was probably about another month of that type of work before it was polished up. It took about two months, I think, altogether.

Yukon Times: How did two of you work together to write this book? Did you face difficulty working together to write a book? When we work together, especially in a closest family relationship; like son or daughter, sometimes people face some sort of challenges teaming up for a mutual project. Did you face any difficulties, challenges, or things like that?

Ursula Westfall: We didn’t really. We worked together really well.

Rachel Westfall: Yeah, it was beautiful. Yeah. There weren’t any problems working together on it. If anything, we kept each other going, because both of us have started novels before, but we never finished them. And so, to do it together, we were really able to work together, work through any of the blocks that we ran into, the challenges. And I think it was much more successful because we worked together.

Yukon Times: Who contributed more to this book, you or your daughter? Is this 50-50 percent contribution, or one contributed more and the other contributed less? 

Rachel Westfall: I did most of the editing. But I think we shared the writing a lot more evenly. I just have experience as an editor, so for me to do the editing and make sure that the voices float smoothly, and that kind of thing. I did most of that. Ursula did a bit of editing. It was more around the story and what happened in the story. So each chapter has a few scenes in it, and we switched by scenes rather than by chapter. We set up the chapters after all the scenes were written.

Yukon Times: This is a question for you, Ursula, specifically. Was it easy for you to balance the work of writing this book and your school work? 

Ursula Westfall: It was easy, because I usually don’t get much homework. So right after school, I’d just start writing.

Yukon Times: Is this your first book?

Rachel Westfall: Yeah. I’ve done academic writing and published that before, but this is my first fiction novel.

Yukon Times: What is the hardest thing about writing, according to your experience?

Rachel Westfall: I think envisioning the whole project, and getting beyond that first three chapters. I think that’s the hardest thing; to be able to envision where you’re going with it, and then just make it happen, give yourself time and room to do that. Because it’s so easy to start something, and it’s so hard to see it through to the finish. So I think it’s envisioning that product to the end, and then getting there.

Yukon Times: Is this the final story scene which you envisioned the very first day, or is the final story different than the first day?

Rachel Westfall: It’s definitely different. It got a life of its own.

Yukon Times: Who published your book?

Rachel Westfall: We published it through CreateSpace, which is an Amazon group. So it’s self-published, and it’s available through Amazon and on Kindle. And I can order copies through CreateSpace, so Mac’s Fireweed Books carries it.

Yukon Times: Is it mainly in electronic format?

Rachel Westfall: It’s paper and it’s also available through Kindle, as any book. Most of the sales so far have been the paper version though.

Yukon Times: How can readers discover more about you and your book in the town, and where can they go to buy your book?

Rachel Westfall: So in Whitehorse people can buy it at Mac’s Fireweed Books. If they’re outside Whitehorse, they can go through Amazon – any of the Amazon sites, so amazon.com or amazon.ca. We also have a website: sasquatchtales.com.

Yukon Times: Do you read much? And, if so, who are your favourite authors?

Ursula Westfall: We read almost every day. We read very often. And my favourite author is Brandon Sanderson.

Yukon Times: Do you read mainly fiction or non-fiction? 

Ursula Westfall: Yeah, mainly fiction.

Ursula and Rachel Westfall
Ursula and Rachel Westfall

Yukon Times: Science fiction too?

Ursula Westfall: Sometimes.

Rachel Westfall: I love fantasy, the whole genre. I’ve read all the sort of famous epic fantasy books. Ursula is named after Ursula Le Guin, who is an epic fantasy writer. I really like Steven Erikson – he’s one of my favourite writers right now, he’s Canadian. Again, a fantasy author. Together we read a lot of Brandon Sanderson. We’ve read Ursula Le Guin, we’ve read Tolkien. Who else? Lloyd Alexander. All these fantasy genre writers, we’ve read out loud. As a family we read a lot of the books, so we take turns reading out loud.

Yukon Times: Are you both planning to write more books?

Ursula Westfall: We are. We’re already starting a sequel for Estella of Halftree Village.

Rachel Westfall: Right now we’re hoping to get that one done this summer. But Ursula has several other books that she’s working on as well. I’m only working on the one. She’s working on four or five!

Yukon Times: So you’re working on four or five books?

Ursula Westfal: Yeah, I might not get them finished, ’cause sometimes I just start the books ’cause I get some good ideas. But then I just can’t get through them all.

Yukon Times: So you are going to be a future writer of Canada, Ursula!

Ursula Westfall: Yeah.

Yukon Times: It’s great that you are getting great encouragement from your mom, Ursula. Are you both getting a good support from the Whitehorse community for your book?

Rachel Westfall: There’s lots of support for, I think, the arts in general, in Whitehorse. And, certainly, we’ve had lots of interest from friends and family, and the community at large, in the book.

Yukon Times: Thank you so much for joining this conversation, and I wish you both the best for your next books!

Rachel and Ursula Westfall: Thanks!

Learning about our dear writer Alice Munro

Alice Munro's book "Dear Life"

By: Gurdeep Pandher

Author Alice Munro has been in the news a lot lately, because she recently earned a Nobel Prize for her achievements in literature (2013). If you’re curious about the life and times of this living legend, you’ll enjoy this article.

By detailing some of her most impressive literary efforts, as well as a bit of biographical information about her Canadian upbringing and her personal life, we’ll allow you to gain a deeper understanding of the author and her unique sensibility.

First, let’s talk about her early life…

Biographical Information

Alice Ann Munro started out life as Alice Ann Laidlaw. Her father farmed, while her mother worked as a teacher. During her teen years, Alice Munro began to write stories which already displayed her unique and resonant knowledge of human relationships and their endless (and fascinating) complications. After graduating, she moved on to post-secondary education at the University of Western Ontario.
While studying English and journalism, she earned money by waitressing, picking tobacco and working as a clerk in a local library. By 1951, Munro decided to take another path. She eschewed university in favor of marriage, to James Munro, whom she’d met at UWO. At this point, the couple moved west, to Vancouver, so James could work in the retail industry. By 1963, the couple were ready to make another change. They journeyed to scenic Victoria, B.C., where they opened a book store.

Career Highlights

During the late 1960s, Munro’s anthology of tales, Dance of the Happy Shades, was awarded the Governor General’s Award. Afterwards, she penned her famous grouping of interconnected stories, Lives of Girls and Women, which was published in the early 1970s. Everything that Munro touched seemed to turn to gold, as she continued to produce top-tier work, such as Who Do You Think You Are?
During the late Seventies, Munro became a globetrotter as she visited a range of nations, including China and Sweden. By the Eighties, she was ready to settle down, by taking on the esteemed position of in-house writer at Vancouver’s UBC.
In fall of 2013, Alice Munro earned the Nobel Prize which has triggered so much media fanfare. Because her mastery of short stories is virtually unparalleled, she is clearly very deserving of this literary price.

Munro Has a Unique Voice

Alice Munro celebrates the culture of Canada by setting the majority of stories in her childhood home of Huron County, Ontario. In addition, she creates atmosphere by utilizing an all-seeing narrative style. Her characters typically balk against the conventions of the region, in understated, yet powerful ways. In this respect, she shares some style similarities with another literary great, William Faulkner.
As you can see, Munro is a highly-accomplished woman who is a great credit to her country. In addition, she is a loving mother, a screenwriter and a contributor to some of the world’s most important magazines, such as New Yorker and Vanity Fair. If you haven’t read Munro’s works, be sure to experience all that she has to offer as a writer. You will surely not be disappointed.

The Works of Nobel Prize Winner Alice Munro

OUR own Canadian writer Alice Munro, “master of the contemporary short story,” has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for her body of work. Here is a list of books by the 82-year-old author, who recently said she was retiring from writing:

Best-of collections:

Selected Stories (1996)

Vintage Munro (2004)

Carried Away: A Selection of Stories (2006)

Stand-alone books:

Dance of the Happy Shades (1968)

Lives of Girls and Women (1971)

Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You (1974)

The Beggar Maid (1978)

The Moons of Jupiter (1982)

The Progress of Love (1986)

Friend of My Youth (1990)

Open Secrets (1994)

The Love of a Good Woman (1998)

Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage (2001)