The king salmon that travel furthest swim 2, miles against the current to reach the spawning grounds of their birth, navigating, it is now believed, by their sense of smell. It is two days to the western end of Teslin Lake, where, beneath a bridge, it becomes the Teslin River.
There is a diner here, and I stop for eggs benedict and coffee. As I get back on the water the weather shifts, I can pinpoint the very moment.
Yukon River peregrine falcon’s recovery
The wind swings round to blow from out the north, gusting blackly across the water. The pressure drops out of the air like a stone, the clouds pile up, and then, for some days, it rains. The Teslin River moves quickly once it strikes out from the lake. The surface roils like cauldrons. Beavers rise beside the boat and, startled by my presence, slap their tails and duck beneath again.
I slap my paddle back at them, the biggest beaver on the river. I stop one night on the beach at Mason Landing. In the woods back from the river, out of the rain, there are a cluster of collapsing cabins, built a century ago, following the discovery of gold on Livingstone Creek.
Mason Landing would have been the quickest way in: a float down the Yukon River from Whitehorse to its confluence with the Teslin, poling the boat upriver to here, and then a tramp through the bush to Livingstone. Once there was a roadhouse and a stable here, a small trading post and a telegraph station. The police delivered the mail from Whitehorse twice a week. That is to say, in , it was significantly easier to make contact with the outside world than it would be for me to do today.
My quickest way to get a message out would be by paddling to Carmacks, about four days away. The buildings are fading back into the landscape now, overgrown with wild rose, sagging beams and fallen timbers. They look less manmade, more a peculiar constellation of natural elements.
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The roof of one is so thick with moss that it looks no different to the forest floor, and a 30ft-high spruce projects from it. On tin beaten into flues and back plates for the wood stoves, thick with rust, I can still make out the brand names of the products they once held. All down the river are remnants from a time when the Yukon thronged with human life. Old gold-mining paraphernalia; the remains of roadhouses every 20 or so miles that were the stop- off points for travellers, rhubarb and raspberries still growing in their gardens; mooring rings drilled into rock.
On Shipyard Island, the steamer Evelyn is rotting where she stands. Finding it among the trees is like coming upon some ancient Inca temple: ft long, as tall as the spruce, with accommodation for 85 first-class passengers. Her hull splintered, the floorboards fallen through, the names of lovers scratched into her boiler. I walk along the upper decks, peering into cabins.
It is at Shipyard Island, two weeks into the journey, that I finally join what is, by common consensus, the main stem of the Yukon River. Flowing from Whitehorse, it is swimming-pool blue, so clear one can see fish, but here the Teslin muddies it, and until it meets the ocean it will not run clear again. It is a milky, soupy brown. The silt, rubbed from distant mountains, whispers at the hull, and if you dip your paddle and hold your ear to the shaft you can hear it clearer still, as though the river is deflating.
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Each new tributary, many of which are big rivers in their own right, adds to the load of silt, so much so that by the time I have passed the eponymous White River it runs so murky that you cannot see deeper than a single knuckle beneath the surface. The high-cut banks give way to basalt cliffs, their lower slopes thick with juniper and the vivid pinks of fireweed, now pushing out their first flowers.
And the river widens, too; at points it is maybe half a mile from one bank to the other. One afternoon I see a wolverine, swimming crosswise to the current, like a piece of drift with a mind of its own. It climbs out of the river and shakes itself before it sees me, and darts into the scrub.
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A wolverine! When my grandparents moved into the house they live in now, they found a walk-in store cupboard covered with scratch marks on the inside, as though some beast had been kept in there. What sort of terrible creature could have wolvered this cupboard, I wondered. It has forever been an animal mythic in my imagination.
And no less mythic for now having seen one. See details for description of any imperfections. Pierre Berton is an excellent author and story teller. Verified purchase: Yes Condition: Pre-owned. Skip to main content. About this product. Stock photo.
Pre-owned: lowest price The lowest-priced item that has been used or worn previously. Paperback in Good condition. See details. Buy It Now. Add to cart. This compelling story of the later journey is a valentine from son to father, a magical tale of a family adrift, and a poetic exploration of the region's rich history. In experiencing this great wilderness, Berton and his family discover their deep connection to nature - and each other. Additional Product Features Dewey Edition.