Perhaps it was when I was waving to someone with a rusty hammer across a dusty runway, dragging a sledge full of dead leaves. Or perhaps it was when digging sunflower seeds out of the snow at 6am, while listening out for birdcalls and watching for bears. Or maybe when burying teabags on a wet mountainside, hoping they didn’t blow away in the wind. Whenever it was, I came to the realisation that this mad adventure called a PhD is soon to be over.
After a total of six months, spread out over three different years, my time in the north is drawing to a close. The final measurements are taken, wet pages of my field book filled up with tiny scribbles. Mountains have been scaled and sampled, boots have been worn through, bags have been torn to tatters. Shrubs carried, cut, caressed, planted and replanted, grown and died and grown again. The last scraps of data have been pulled out of the ground and worked through the night that never grows dark.
In some ways this is a celebration. After three years of hard work, from my desk in Edinburgh to the snowy mountainsides of Canada, an end is in sight. The experiments have been successful, the science exciting, the chapters and manuscripts drafted. I can reclaim my summers: the friends’ weddings, the chaos of Edinburgh fringe, the lost time with my wife. This time, though it has been my shortest season yet, there is a real sense to homecoming. A departure with no promise of return. A clearly defined, bold and underlined, full stop.
Yet there is no doubt that I will miss this ridiculous and fantastic part of the world. The mountains that stretch from trees to sky, with the tundra almost (but not quite) out of reach. The endless expanse of…everything, as if the Yukon has simply never heard of the word ‘moderation’. The endless days, and occasionally dark nights lit up by the promise of the northern lights. I’ll even miss the mosquitoes, but not for very long. Most of all I’ll miss the people that have made me feel so welcome here, especially Sian and Lance at Icefield Discovery and the Yukon Parks Rangers on Qikiqtaruk.
And so I will sign off for this year, and leave you with the words of another that could say things far better than I ever could.
“I am one of you no longer; by the trails my feet have broken,
The dizzy peaks I’ve scaled, the camp-fire’s glow;
By the lonely seas I’ve sailed in — yea, the final word is spoken,
I am signed and sealed to nature. Be it so.”