The Gift Must Always Move-Yukon Hospitality

Syd Bryd visiting Kewa School in New Mexico

A wonderful and unexpected package arrived at my door today.  It’s a box containing dozens of pieces of fatwood  sent by my wonderful friend Sid Byrd from Flaundreau South Dakota.  Sid is a Lakota elder, who will soon to celebrate his 93rd birthday.  Fatwood is fire-starter from the wood of the yellow-leaf pine, rich and almost dripping with sticky hot burning sap. Just the thing to get a fire going, even if you’re wood is a little damp.

How did Sid know that just a few weeks ago, I used the last stick of the fatwood from the box he gave me 7 years ago!  (It goes a LONG way!)

The gift sparked a memory.  Forty years ago I was kayaking the upper reaches of the Yukon River, at the beginning of what would be a 2000 mile adventure.  Getting ready to make camp one day, I encountered a tiny, tightly made  and very old log cabin.  On the door in barely legible handwriting was tacked a note that said, “If you want have sleep this cabin, please don’t take any tink- trapline.”

There is or at least there was at that time, a tradition of Yukon hospitality. The winters there are of course brutal.  A trapper might find himself away from his own home,  and unable to get back because of a storm or some other delay. Finding a cabin like this could be a lifesaver. Upon entering such a refuge, he would find, as I did, the makings of a fire,(tinder kindling and a few logs) already set to go in the wood-burning stove, needing only a spark from a match to ignite. No need to scrounge for wood or waste time preparing one when your hands and feet are half frozen.

How do you thank your absent host for such a gift?  You leave a fire to be set,( tinder, kindling, and logs) for your host, or the next unexpected traveler so they too will quickly be able to warm themselves.

Thank you Grandfather Sid!  Your gift warms my heart and spirit now, as it will warm my chilly bones many times to come.

Beyond this, your generosity is a reminder to me, that this custom of the Yukon, can be practiced anywhere and in many ways.  We are guests at the great FEAST of life, warmed by fire, food, friendship, and the efforts of strangers to whom we are connected  but may never meet.  Let us practice leaving ‘ a fire, ready to be lit.’ for those for those who come after us, whether it be tomorrow, or generations hence.

It’a a little like leaving behind a little of the sourdough “mother” to start the next batch offlapjacks.  But that’s ANOTHER story.



  1. yes, i remember the yukon hospitality well that year, 1971, when i, also kayaking, met you on the yukon. i remember that those cabins also had three wooden matches stuck upright in a cracked piece of wood on the stovetop for the person in dire straits who could barely move his fingers from cold.

    my wife and i had an experience like that in northern italy last summer. ginny had to pee badly but it was sunday and nothing was open. stopping at a closed gas station to reconnoiter, we found that they had thoughtfully left the key in the restroom door – just like the match in the wood. hospitality is still practiced – it just takes modern forms.


  2. is it a little like leaving the world fit and ready for the next generation? alas, this tradition – told to us in stories though the tree planter, who sleeps or knows that the next generation shall eat of its fruit, is dangerously forgotten by us…….thank you for a subtle reminder.

  3. There is a similar tradition on the Appalachian trail, leaving things for the next visitor to the trail shelters. It’s a kind of thoughtfulness that is reflected in the random acts of kindness movement, doing something for someone unknown just because it will be a gift for them and no return to the doer–except satisfaction.

    This was a lovely post, Bob, a gentle reminder of the small kindnesses that we can do to make one day a little better for one person. One at a time, making a difference.

  4. As always Bob your words and advice are filled with the wisdom of the ages. Thank you for this gentle and beautiful reminder of “paying if forward.”

    Warm wishes,

  5. Hi Bob,
    Yes, this is a wonderful tradition. Here in Scotland we practise this too: I share a small cottage on the shores of Loch Rannoch close to the Rannoch Moor. Winters are harsh here. Visitors often arrive late at night and have to walk into the cottage from the road. Cold, wet and tired, it’s lovely to find the fireplace has been tended to by a previous visitor–the fire just waiting to be lit and warmth and light restored.

    Your idea for practising this in our lives is a wonderful thought.

    Thanks for sharing this story.

    with warmth,


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