North of Iskut
Reviewed: May 12, 2011
By: Tor Forsberg
Publisher: Caitlin Press
214 pages, $24.95
Tor Forsberg seems to have settled down these days. Watson Lake has been her
home now since the early 2000s and the dozens of columns archived on the Yukon
News’ website show that she has a real affection for the place and its
people. After bouncing all over western Canada as a child, Watson Lake was the
place where she came of age. She writes that it “provided me with a childhood
so ideal that I remember thinking how good it was even while I was living it.”
By her late teens, however, she seems to have acquired her father’s wanderlust.
Marriage to a pilot interrupted her plans to go to art school, and could have
taken her all over the world. It did take her to a five-year stay in Montreal
before the marriage broke up and she returned to the place she thought of as
home in 1971.
A couple of years of town life trapped her in a cycle of too many parties and
too much beer, although it also gave her a relationship with a caring older
man named Tee. It was another much older man, Lynch Callison, who took her aside
and suggested she visit his ranch for a while to get her head straight.
She had no idea that this invitation would lead to a five year love affair with
life in the bush, during which she would learn to trap, ride horses, build a
log cabin, experience a number of epiphanies about herself, and finally, move
Moving on seems to be a theme which reverberates through Forsberg’s life.
She writes that she knew she had reached the end of her days at the LV Ranch
all of a sudden one morning. It was the end of her second beaver trapping expedition
and she just knew it was the end of an era for her. Even the thoughts of the
comforts waiting for her back at her cabin, a twenty mile ride away, seemed
to pale before all the work she knew she would have to do when she got there
before she could actually enjoy them.
Like many of the transitions in her life, this understanding seemed to come
out of the blue.
“Even now,” she writes, “ I don’t know how or why I
made the decisions I did. My life underwent enormous changes without any trauma
(at least to me) every few years, and it all seemed effortless.”
Reading that, I wondered if her father’s peripatetic lifestyle had been
driven by the same seemingly random choices.
“In hindsight I am sorry for the carelessness, the youthful selfishness
that informed my decisions; some people were hurt, and confused, by my actions,
and it didn’t seem to matter to me.”
At the age of 25 she relocated to the LV Ranch for five years, maintaining her
relationship with Tee, learning how to live with less, and experiencing a lifestyle
that was sometimes transcendent, sometimes scary, sometimes filled with adventure,
sometimes routine and sometimes (usually at her own expense) funny.
She plays down her own level of adaptation to life in the bush and seems to
feel quite strongly that she made it through those five years because she had
a great support group. Clearly she was valued by the people around her, who
taught her and nurtured her through her trial-and-error approach to life. She
bought the wrong sort of boat and nearly paid the price for it. She built her
cabin in what was likely the wrong place and paid an annual price for that.
I don’t want to sound too critical of Forsberg. In this look back at her
younger self she passes quite a few judgments on herself, and seems particularly
remorseful about her treatment of Tee. Be that as it may, the book is an engaging
read, and I found myself rooting for the personal growth of this person as I
spent a couple of afternoons with her. Yes, it was a readable book, and I found
myself making time to go back to it when I actually had a few other things I
needed to do.
Just about my only quibble with the book is that I wish it had had a map. Trying
to figure out just where all of these events took place caused me to spend some
time with Google Earth, and I’m still not satisfied that I got it. It’s
not a vital omission though.