A bear's silken tongue unfurls from his mouth, smelling of salmon if he's lucky. Photo by Émilie Folie-Boivin.
Earlier this summer, Gentedimontagna contributing koan editor James Sturz flew to Edmonton, Canada, and drove to Jasper National Park in the Canadian Rockies, and then took an overnight train to Vancouver, before exploring VIA Rail Canada's partnership with Yukon-based Air North. Along the way, he saw a beguiling amount of life — although not all of it, strictly speaking, was living.
While on his Canadian Odyssey, James stayed at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, Overlander Mountain Lodge, VIA Rail Canada, Edgewater Hotel, Eldorado Hotel, Inn on the Lake, and Fairmont Pacific Rim.
WHAT ARE KOANS ANYWAY?
They're the paradoxes that Zen Buddhist monks ponder to achieve enlightenment.
Dense summer flora blankets the Canadian Rockies. Camouflage is certain.
The snowshoe hares may need to hide, or at least hop out of the way.
The moose is unworried.
The mountain goat is reflective.
The bighorn sheep lift their somnolent heads, posing in pairs.
The bear has many tricks that allow him to sneak up on you and pounce!
There is an unbearable pleasantness to Canada, extreme and exquisite pristineness, monotonous beauty, grandeur, magnificence, and hypnotic repetitiveness.
There's also great respect for nature.
And solar-powered outhouses.
The VIA Rail Canadian train from Toronto to Vancouver — 19 cars and 1,900 feet — takes 83 hours to cover 2,775 miles. People on it look like this.
But outside it looks like this.
I boarded in Jasper, ate and slept (AAA Canadian prime rib with an Okanagan cabernet merlot, a mint on my pillow in my private cabin), then got off in Vancouver, where I was charmed to meet this handsome beaver.
Not surprisingly, there were also Canada geese.
And skyscrapers and skyscraping masts, too.
Then two short Air North flights later, I found myself in Dawson City in the Yukon, home of the 1896 Klondike gold rush. In summer, the temperature can reach 90 degrees, but later it can sink to minus 40. Unlike other parts of Canada, Spanish is more popular here than French, because residents like to escape to Mexico in winter.
Back in the day, gold miners also escaped to "cribs," where the "soiled doves" and "goddesses of liberty" worked.
Gold is still the main source of income here, and $46 million worth is removed from the mineral-laden soil annually. Of course, there's more modern lodging and tourism, too.
Inside is where one-time marine engineer Captain Terry Lee works. For $9, he'll induct you into the exclusive club of the Sourtoe Cocktail.
Which means taking this toe...
Putting it into this drink...
And then chugging it down.
"You can drink it fast, you can drink it slow, but your lips must touch this gnarly toe." Yes, that is the Yukon.