Chapter 15: The Ozone Rangers II

More Fun Than a Barrel of Monkeys

“You visit, and you are knocked out by the place. Then you move here,
expecting the charm to wear off, but it doesn’t. It never goes away.”

Thus spake Christine Dickinson, local teacher and wife to Dave – one of the saints on my cement pour.

For me, Atlin was perfect. It embraced its history – a history still alive with miners, outfitters, trappers and bush pilots operating, for the most part, the same way they always had. There was plenty of technology, but folks were still running sled dogs and working old style sluicing operations, and the aircraft had barely changed at all.

This was a place you could build a trapper’s cabin – in rough log, with a tin clad roof, a tin airtight and kerosene lanterns, and still feel you were keeping up with the Joneses. No need to sign on to utilities; it was all wood and water if that’s the way you wanted it – you cut wood and you hauled water – along with the rest of your neighbours.

Occasionally, I would wax eloquent on the subject, and my southern friends would make that face …

“Sure sounds like a lot of work,” they’d opine. And I would reply,

“More work than slaving in an office building under fluorescent light, commuting in traffic, paying off a mortgage and dealing with one regulation after another as you struggle to keep afloat in less than attractive surroundings? No. In fact it’s a lot easier, and you have total control over your life.”

That’s how I felt anyway. I’m not sure I changed any minds.


Atlin was rich with new experiences. I was thrust into an environment where my friends were those same outfitters, trappers and pilots, and I was invited into their worlds without reservation.

Hilary Craig was a decorated Vietnam vet with two tours who came to the North, as he occasionally let slip, to escape his own government. He and Ilene Hart were building a house a short distance from mine. Born in Florida, the nickname was inescapable. Hilbo he became, and Hilbo he stayed. He was a five string banjo player and a ball of fire. Born to literary parents, I’m not sure they even had a mould for him, much less one that could be broken. Everything Hilbo did was balls to the wall. It was exciting just to watch him. If the shit was hitting the fan, you wanted Hilbo there.

Ilene Hart was from Iowa. She was clever, funny, and startlingly beautiful. It seemed unlikely that she should have ended up in the North but, as she was fond of saying, it was the gypsy blood – a condition all of us could relate to. Hart played flute and sang and, while we were all socially adept, she was the queen of connection. Hilary’s mate for nine years, she and I eventually married. But that’s another story.

Dave Stecker was a renaissance man. A bow hunter, fly fisher, philosopher and guitar player, he could sing and talk your head off ’til dawn, or at least until you split a gut laughing. AWOL from the US army, he travelled north like the rest of us to get out of the craziness. He was born in Pennsylvania and had a degree in something or other, but it was hard to tell what, because he was good at anything he turned his hand to.

Howard Damron was a pilot who sang and played guitar. Brother of Dick Damron of Country Music fame, he had those musical genes and knew more songs than you could shake a stick at.

We were part of a gaggle that included Freddy Morris, Liz Andrade, Alex McConnell, Gary Robinson, Jeff McPherson, Maureen Morris, Doug LeMond, Judy Currelly, Francoise Dubois, Andrea Ross, Phil Langevin, Bob McKerihan, Kate Fisher … We were the new crew of the Good Ship Lollipop, and we were off on a trip that was about to make Jack Kerouak’s ‘On the Road’ look like Sunday school.