Nevermore… My Ass

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven.
Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the nightly shore —
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”

“The Raven,” Edgar Allan Poe

Whenever I see one of this birds when I’m up north, say in the Yukon, I look all around me and say a little prayer for my soul. Seems like strange things happen most times I spot a Raven, and they’re big boys in the north, the size of Jack Russells. The black fowl in this picture was perched atop a sign in the Rock Creek campground above the Arctic Circle maybe fifty miles southwest from Fort McPherson, NWT. While walking down the lane to the camp entrance I noticed a bearded guy in a red plaid wool jacket. I nodded but he turned away and walked into the trees. When I returned to camp, Ginny said she’d seen the same man standing about thirty feet from her staring at our cook stove. She turned to some tea she was making to adjust the flame. When she looked back to say “Hello,” he wasn’t there anymore. Later we walked all about the area only to discover that we were the only ones staying in the place. We shook off the weirdness, then fished Rock Creek. Beautiful water that was totally lifeless–no bugs, no forage fish, no grayling or Arctic Char. We ate in the Suburban to avoid the mosquitoes. Lay down and tossed and turned until dawn, then headed back down the Dempster Highway towards Dawson City a few hundred miles away.

Mist, fog, and some rain turned the dirt and rock road into a greasy mess made all the worse by heavy applications of calcium chloride used to control the dust. When wet, the stuff behaves more like oil making travel a bit on the sporting side of life. Ginny drove in four-wheel very slowly down steep hills. At the top of one we saw a pickup on its side in the tundra, windows smashed, engine steaming, tail lights blinking. A small trailer it had been towing was upside down and torn open with cloths, papers, and food scattered about. A young, dark-skinned, dark-haired man stood at the side of the road shaking with shock. “I go too fast. I lose control,” he kept repeated with an Middle Eastern accent. His eyes bulged and the irises were pinned. “Stoned” I thought. Ginny grabbed her parka from our rig, wrapped it around him and led him to the warmth of the Suburban. Within a minute a road crew of three men who appeared to be of First Nations Gwich’in extraction and a couple of Northwest Mounties in a white pickup showed up on the scene. Blue and red lights revolved and winked across the gloomy land whose willow, moss, and lichen greens, reds, yellows, and oranges of autumn were muted in the gloom of the wet weather, the colors drained of their enthusiasm by the lousy weather. Here in the absolute middle of nowhere the heat appears like ghosts. I think we may have made too many of ourselves over the last few decades. We told the Gendarmerie Royale du Canada what we’d seen, what we’d done. Unintelligible radio chatter buzzed in the cold air. Drizzle clamped down on the horizon. The Mounties retrieved the man and escorted him to their truck. He didn’t look happy. Then they thanked us for helping flashing cop looks that said move the hell along.

Me thinks the man was running drugs up to Inuvik for the adventure travel crowd that always hangs around outposts like Pangboche, Agadir, Cartegena and the above-mentioned Inuit stronghold. Drugs spice the down time in these most often dreary enclaves. No doubt he wound up in the local slammer, and I’m sure he’s thinking “Nevermore.”


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