Yukon Cut Short

In Emily and I, Life Is Short, News & Stuff, Travel by David56 Comments


My first instinct is not to publish this post, which I wrote a week ago, and to leave these events just between me and those privy to my moments of stupidity. But it’s good fodder for my new reality show, which my girl, Cynthia, calls “Dumb Shit David Does.” From the beginning I’ve tried to be truly vulnerable on this blog and to do that I need to do better than just write the stuff that makes me look good. Someone recently asked me when it is that I feel the most vulnerable and part of my answer included those moments when my stupidity is on display for the world to see. But this blog is, or tries hard to be, more than a PR machine for me. I want it to be more honest than that. I feel more than a little nervous about this one, because if it does anything, it doesn’t make me look like the man I wish I were. I wish I were less clumsy, but I’m not. I feel like a buffoon. Still, what doesn’t kill you only gives you something to blog about…

A couple nights ago I found myself lying on yet another hospital gurney, with people working on my foot. Again (though I won’t recap how I fell from a wall in Italy a couple years ago and shattered both my feet and cracked my pelvis, the memory is painfully fresh). This they did after I pulled up the torn pant leg, pulled off the thick leather boot with the yawning gash in the side of it, and pulled off the layers and layers of bloody gauze and tape I’d applied in the darkness, beside my fire in Tombstone park, after the axe glanced off the wood I was cutting, and into my foot. When the axe hit me it felt like little more than I imagine getting hit sharply with a baseball bat might, and I wouldn’t have looked at all had I not glanced down to pick up the axe and saw my pant-leg cleanly cut.

Trying very hard to be calm we closed the tent on top of Emily, my Jeep, put away the medical kit, and secured things, then set off in the darkness to Dawson City, because part of the appeal of places like this is the remoteness and there’s no medical help, or cell signal to call it, for miles, so you’ve got to go find it.  Getting from Tombstone, an hour along the notorious Dempster Highway, back to Dawson, at midnight, was terrifying, and not something I’d chose to do again without the need to find someone to patch me up driving me to it.

Finally pulling into Dawson we found the RCMP station and after 20 minutes of phone calls, an ambulance pulled in and took me to the medical centre, with one lone nurse on duty. Nurses in the north are a different breed, and she did it all: she cleaned me up, took a couple hours to freeze and close the wide wound, and then did x-rays. The images showed that my axe had gone into the bone, though cleanly, and I was casted and put on an anti-biotic IV before they sent us back into the night around 5am.

And now we’re on our way home, our adventure cut short, if you’ll forgive the clumsy pun. I had just arrived that day into Tombstone Territorial Park, Yukon, when the leaves set the park on fire with colour, a place and time I consider one of the most beautiful on earth, and after only 8 hours was leaving it. A year planning and it all washed away. Most artists I know love their work too much, invest themselves too much in that work, to just sigh and mumble a resigned “c’est la vie.” I’m trying to be zen-like about this, but am ashamed of my stupidity, and of returning home without the work I so hoped for. I’m afraid of yet another 4-8 weeks in a cast and leaning again on friends and loved ones who thought they’d seen the last of me crippled and hobbling. I worry no one will want to travel with me again (or that those who do are secretly hoping to see me do something spectacularly stupid). And I’m in pain. The painkillers only go so far to numb things, and don’t at all touch the pain of what feels a little like a sudden, and self-imposed exile from Eden. I made some sketch images, and a few photographs I love, but I thought my best work was still ahead of me. Perhaps it still is, but it won’t be this year, and that disappointment stings and angers me. Most of all there’s the fear that this kind of thing is the cost for what I do as the apparently clumsy person I am, and I wonder how much more of it I can take before I give in to the voice of fear that calls me to just stay home and do something less harmful to my body, though to do so would kill my spirit. I know that’s not the only alternative, but so far from home, right now in this hotel room about 4 long day’s drive from Vancouver, I’m more emotional than I am rational.

The accident happened Sept. 05/13; I’m home now. Why I post this at all is because in my deepest parts I believe art, to be art, must have something true and honest of the artist within, and so that is the real work of the artist. To share himself with the world. With or without photographs. In all our imperfections and flaws, and if that means showing the world what I feared they’d one day find out anyways (the bit about me being clumsy and a little prone to disaster), then perhaps it’s better that way. Anyways, all this is the reason the adventure’s been cut short and the photographs I so hoped to share after that adventure will have to wait for another time. You can see that work here if you’ve not already done so. I know in my heart that it’s the work I did that matters, not what’s left undone. No one sees those. But their absence, when I had set my heart upon them, and the experiences that would make them possible, stings. My heart hurts more than my foot does right now, and I guess that tells me I was on the right track with this work, because our work is probably not worth doing if we’re not prepared to shed some tears over it.

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There’s gold in them hills, I tell ya! Cynthia never imagined when she met me that she’d be to the hospital so many times in 3 years. She sat with me while I awaited evacuation from Pisa, Italy, and in the months of recovery afterwards, and then again when my gallbladder screamed to come out last year. And now this. I’m the luckiest man in the world (well, except for that other stuff…).




  1. Pingback: postcards from vancouver – leonie wise

  2. Hi David,
    My name is Jane and I’m with Dwellable.
    I was looking for blogs about Yukon to share on our site and I came across your post…If you’re open to it, shoot me an email at jane(at)dwellable(dot)com.
    Hope to hear from you soon!

  3. Welcome to the Axe-ident Club! I have been a member since 1994, when I very nearly severed a patellar tendon, just below the knee, when a small, but very sharp hatchet went a bit wild from a glancing blow against a hard piece of scrap wood. No bone was involved, but a tendon needs six weeks in a cast, just like a bone. These things happen; we learn from our mistakes.

    Happy healing!


  4. Hey David,

    Sorry to hear about your leg. Your accident reminded me of when I was 7 years old almost lost a finger cutting wood with that damn axe. The scar still remains today as a reminder though I haven’t lost that adventurous spirit nor will you. Hope your healing comes quicker then expected. You are a lucky man to have a great woman by your side!

  5. David,
    I really appreciate the honesty of this. It is a very refreshing change form the chest pounding and bravado that is so common. I wish you a speedy and restful recovery. Thank you for sharing your experiences and painful mistakes with us. It is a gentle reminder that life is a journey requiring patience and dedication.

  6. This confirms something I have suspected since meeting you earlier this year in Calgary / Canmore / Bragg Creek:

    1) Cynthia rocks. She just does.
    2) You and I are kindred spirits in some ways. That is not necessarily something either one of us should be proud of.

    I look forward to following this up over coffee some time.

    Take care.

  7. Hey David,

    “Overcomer” / Mandisa on I-tunes. Had to have been written for you!! You and Cynthia make a very handsome couple…..


  8. Oh so sorry to hear David. I’m happy that your home safe and sound. Excellent post though and I must say that it really shows strength of character when you share your “clumsy” moments with us.

  9. From all of us who have re-constructed joints (mine – knee) and big blade wounds on limbs (mine – machette) …. welcome to the Royal Order of the Gong Show!

  10. Great post David, thanks for sharing something you feel so personal about. As I read your story, I couldn’t help but think, this is not the story of a clumsy or accident prone man, this is the story of the trials and tribulations of someone who is living his life to the fullest. Let each memory of an incident remind you why you were there in the first place and why you will go back and do it all over again…. without an ax in hand I hope!

    Speedy recovery David!


  11. Ups! I start thinking you make real all those fears of life…
    But for me is enough. Thank you. 🙂

    Why sometimes we say stupid things? It’s easy to think that is stupidity, but I prefer to believe that´s the risk of being spontaneous.
    Why Many times we are injured? Because we are “living”, enjoying, being ourselves and possibly so absorbed that the axe could go a little far or the wall became shorter.
    But spontaneity and being yourself is what does all the other blog posts, books, workshops … the rest of your life.

    Time to relax, to continue writing beautiful books and thinking about the next step.

    Best wishes and a fast recovery, David.

  12. Beautifully written as always. I think your decision to open up about this unfortunate accident makes you more human and more relatable to us mortals! I am sure there isn’t one of us who hasn’t had their share of trials and tribulations so who are we to judge! You are blessed in so many ways and while your plan may have been to make breathtaking art at Tombstone, the cosmos perhaps feels you’d be more dialed in next time. Everything happens for a reason and we may never know what that is, but as we rarely have a choice, rolling with it as gracefully as you do is the best approach and a wonderful lesson for us all. Get well soon 🙂

  13. This is the story about a man named David, and his Protector.


    David stops suddenly. The Italian wall beside him is ancient, about waist high, created originally with dry-stacked rocks but repaired hastily in recent times with patchy cement. It was built by the pre-Romans to shield the small port town from the constant fierce Westerly storms blowing in from Corsica. But it isn’t the wall that stops David on this dusky clear night. No, David’s mind is already somewhere else. On a different plane of existence, some would say.

    As in a dream, David sits down on the wall, and keeping his feet planted, turns only his shoulders and head, gazing deeply, knowingly, longingly into the horizon. The sky has been transformed with the colors of exotic beauty. Lush reds, vivid pinks, subtle blues, 50 shades of gray — David’s already weak grasp of the perception of reality is further lost in the mélange of colors and the final post-production steps needed for the final images to correctly reveal even just a portion of the what he is experiencing now with all his immersed senses. Slowly, David leans forward, drawn irresistibly closer to the light, while bringing his camera’s viewfinder up to his eye in a single well-practiced smooth motion. It is urgent now. The image in his mind will pass quickly and he knows it must be captured with all haste. One foot tentatively leaves the ground. Perhaps it, too, is somehow being drawn into the light.

    The Protector scowls to himself silently, oblivious to the turning of light. He is well trained. 10 years watching over the Pandas in the mountains of Fusnimbia has given him a solid grasp of reality and an insightful ability to understand consequences. The Protector sees only that the ‘artsy fartsy” hour has begun and he must be doubly vigilant of his charge. Cursing himself for being constantly distracted by the many beautiful women in this country, he watches as David’s ever-present Aura of Disaster begins to darken ominously and swirl faster than usual. It’s a good thing that girl was in a hurry and disappeared around the corner, he thinks to himself. Vowing to not be so easily distracted yet again, the Protector reaches up and gently puts one hand on David’s shoulder.

    “Dude, if you fall over this wall I’m gonna smack you.”

    As the Protector watches the Aura of Disaster return to its usual slow dull haze, David backs up and starts fumbling for his tripod while muttering to himself something about lighting, depth perception and f-stops. It isn’t important. The Protector almost smiles as he suddenly notices the air. It tastes like salt. He swallows knowingly as once again, he is glad he realized at an early age his particular set of skills. Skills to help people who can’t help themselves.


    Coming soon.

  14. So sorry to hear of this accident – hope you heal quickly with no serious ongoing problems.

    As one who has just spent the last 10 days with my right arm in plaster, wrist to armpit, after a bad fall, I can appreciate how much this loss of time outdoors meant to you.

    Hope you’re able to get around without too much pain soon.

  15. David I am astounded at your gargantuan effort to hurt yourself, bleed and with a painful laugh blog about it.
    Your sincerity is as astounding as your karaoke singing I witnessed in Hokkaido.
    I trust the muse of art will be more caring during your travels !
    Speedy recovery and
    BE SAFE !


  16. David, you have an extraordinary ability to take these downtimes, disappointments and setbacks and use them to create new work, books and projects.

    Few people I know do so well when the dice seem loaded against them.

  17. David ~ so sorry to hear of this mishap! It must have been especially frustrating not to be able to complete this trip given the striking images that you did bring home.
    Wishing you healing blessings.

  18. Sorry to hear about your accident David. At the same time I thank you and commend you for sharing your vulnerabilities with the world. It takes a courageous man to share his strengths and weaknesses. I’m sure we’ll all be thinking of you and hope for a speedy recovery. If there’s anything I can do just let me know.

  19. Ah, getting someone to go with you on adventures is easy. Have you ever read any Joe Simpson stories. (This Game of Ghosts, etc). He continues to find climbing partners. If he can, you can.

    BTW: Thanks, it’s nice to read some honesty every so often.


  20. Write another Craft and Vision book. Your latest was excellent. Is there an unscheduled book in your future due to this? A few years ago you showed a picture of that loft office. Great workspace. If it was me, which I have had equal moments in the past, I would be working in that workspace. You and your books are an inspiration for me. I would love to get out and do what you do. This to shall pass.

    1. Author

      Thanks David. Much appreciated. Yes, there will be new projects that come about because of this. We’ve moved around a few things in the publishing schedule to make the most of this down time, and yes, there will be at least one or two exciting things coming down the pipe. One’s coming sooner than later, the other is just coming to life as an idea and should be out early-ish next year. Thanks again!

  21. I feel your pain. I just tore my rotator cuff. Still trying to figure out how to manage the camera with only my left (non-dominant) arm. But, suffering can make us more compassionate, and inability to participate may make our vision stronger.

    At least, I hope so!

    Recover well…and let someone else chop wood.

  22. David,
    “What you said!”, all of it. You remain an inspiration regardless of the trials and tribulations. If you didn’t share the journey along with the beautiful images, I would think you weren’t human. Thank you!

  23. David,

    So sorry to hear about your accident. I’m glad to hear that it’s healing.

    And I agree that the image at the top is wonderful.

    Good luck, and get well soon.


  24. huh, David, sorry to hear what happend… get well soon and… “always look on the bright side of life” 🙂 i do believe you’ll get on your feet very fast!:) cheers!

  25. Oh David, bless you! What I think speaks to me the most is your transparent way of saying you could sense the best was still out there. Waiting. And you knew you had to bandage up and head for help. I felt the struggle you wrestled with. Well, that place, what you will capture, and the (sorry to be cliche) treasures will be there when you are healed and I know you know that, but your letting us share in your adventures helps this girl who for this season must stick close to home because I must stay by the bedside of a brave soul in her last days. You encourage me that even in the detours you remember there is still work to accomplish and you will be faithful to complete the work given to you. Well done. You are brave. You are real. And I am grateful. 🙂

  26. Hi David

    I’m sorry to read of your recent troubles. I am currently suffering my 3rd week of sciatic leg pain, which is related to a fractured pelvis 4 years ago in a cycling accident.

    Presently I cannot sit on a chair to operate my computer or sit in a car for more than 10 minutes before the pain becomes too great. In a matter of a few days, pain which seems insignificant at first, begins to threaten the very foundation of all those activities that you hold dear and make you the person that you are.

    You will get back there. With luck and determination I’ll get back there with you too, metaphorically at least.

    Good luck


  27. Author

    Hey all, thank you so much for taking the time to comment and encourage. I hope the article itself doesn’t give the impression that I’m overly discourage; as I said, it was written much closer to the time and I’ve had time to let it all sink it. It’s frustrating, to be sure, but it’s minor in the scheme of things. I had stitches out today and the wound itself is healing well, which is no small thing as it went down to the bone and they were concerned about infection. Now I just have to wait out the healing. I’ve got books to read, and write, and plenty to keep me busy creatively, and all the time in the world now to connect with friends I haven’t been around to share a cup of coffee with lately. Anyways, thank you so much. I’m grateful for you, and to you, all, for the kindness.

  28. Total bummer!!! Hope you get better soon David. You’ve reached that level of artist where I think you should have a team of wood choppers. Now, don’t stay down long and get your inspiring arse back out there! Well, not that your arse is inspiring, but you get it. NOT that it’s not inspiring, it may well be. sheesh…. get well soon. =\

  29. Oh man! That totally sucks! But it was just an accident that’s all, accidents happen as they say. It would be another thing if you were showing off like or somehow otherwise intentioned, but you were probably just looking to chop some wood and you screwed up. Gotta try to not be too proud to admit your humanness- I hate doing embarrassing crap but I guess that after a while you just learn to roll with it! Here’s my latest ridiculous moment: http://nateparkerphotography.com/blog/2013/9/when-angry-farmers-attack–and-yes-it-was-worth-it
    Oh, and those photos you were posting were really pretty sweet too. Sorry man.

  30. I’m sorry you had this accident and for your continuing pain. I have admired you and your work since I first ran across it. I count you among the greatest of photographers and men in general.

    You have been blessed with many years filled with opportunity to experience life, and chronicle it for those of us not so blessed. I find myself somewhat surprised that you, of all people, have chosen to focus on your loss, so insignificant in the overall scheme of things, instead of using this unexpected pause to reflect on the magnificence of your life. Surely, your observation of so many people in diverse situations must have shown you that while your present state of discomfort is temporary, such is not the case for the bulk of mankind.

    You have captured it, I have seen it in your work. Given the worst life has to offer, mankind time and time again finds a way to thrive in the midst of pain and hardship. Seize the day, use this time to discover yet another facet of humanity and capture that, too, for the good of all. Show us the world through your work how life looks from the disabling state you find yourself in. Do it for me and the thousands of others who had no opportunity to learn the art of photography. Life looks great, even when forced to experience it from the confines of a “mobility prison.” This is a rare opportunity you have, another vantage point from which to use your gift that you could never imagine before your accident. A rare opportunity that will be gone forever in the next couple of months. How you deal with that and how you rise to the occasion is something I believe you and all of us will forever treasure.

    You are a good man, and I am very glad you have shared your perceived flaws with the rest of us. God bless you in all you do.

  31. David, I wish you all the best! – It is not always the time, were we chose to take our best photographs. I went up this summer into the mountains for some night shots, and had at least half of the nights thick fog around me.
    But I can go back there, and you can go back to Yukon to take your best shots. My only recommendation would be that you take along someone for doing all the dangerous tasks like cutting wood for the fire for you 😉

  32. David, I feel your pain. Nothing to do with my life as a photographer as such, but three weeks ago I was out cycling (to keep fit haha) and ended up in hospital nursing fractured ribs and a punctured lung thanks to an errant jogger. Like you, I’ll mend. These things happen when you get out and live your life to the full. Don’t beat yourself up about your run of misfortune. And don’t let a few mishaps (we’ll play them down) dampen your spirit of adventure.

    I hope you’re back on your feet soon….and look on the bright side – you still have two.

  33. David,
    In six months the south of Chile and Argentina will be ablaze with color. Go, but get a guide to do the sort of things that can hurt you, and take great pictures. I have seen Art Wolfe’s and other photographs from that area and I can so see you being there.

    Get well – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Though most on your list may not mention it, you know that there are those that are praying for you and wishing you the best.

  34. Well, there’s no sense in doing something if you are going to half-a** it. Sorry to hear that you’ll be somewhat out of commission for a bit though.

    You made a nice set of images in the time you had.

    Hope for a speedy recovery.

  35. Sorry to hear about your leg and that your trip got cut short because of it! Thank you too for sharing your story. I think we’d all be better off if everyone was open and honest rather than be “fake” in order make then selves look better.
    I love the image at the beginning of this post too!
    Take care of your self!

  36. I read you work David to learn two things, how to be a better photographer and how to conquer fear when trying to be creative. While the circumstances are unfortunate, this post continues to inspire me to follow your example, face my fears, and create, share and create some more.

    I wish you a speedy recovery and thank you very much for sharing.

  37. I can’t convey enough how awesome I think you are. We are all vulnerable and do things we regret. But, your spirit and persistence to keep taking those photos is who you are. And, your sense of humor helps get you through. I love your photos, but mostly I love your “take” on life and the photography process. Best wishes. Get better real soon – Tracy

  38. I guess being really humane and strong is defined not by avoiding mishap but by recognizing and admitting that our weaknesses are part of who we are.

    That being said, maybe you should consider an RV 😉

  39. It’s not a funny story, but there is good humour (I resisted the temptation to say humerus).

    Thanks for sharing the story – few photographers give a good picture (ahem…) of the realities of life as a photographer, and the year of planning struck a chord.

    Don’t worry about a lack of travel companions – if you’re planning a trip to Yukon in a couple of years and can stand a novice and his wife, we will try and get there from New Zealand! Or if you ever make your way down here, we’d be happy to host you and hang out.

    Get better soon!


  40. I will share with you the same thing my girl says to me. and I think it fits in this case.. Just remember as I say this (insert your name here) I love you and wish you the best but and I am proud of all you do but ” you really are dumber than the average photographer aren’t you” the line said to me after many many recurring photography adventure related incidents.

    lots of love and best wish to a speedy recovery

  41. Damn David!
    I’m so sorry to hear that! You were lucky as the damage could have been worse!!
    Hope you get better soon as I’m always looking forward to reading and looking at your zen like images. I was in Dawson City in 1980, I wonder if it’s changed much?

    Best of Luck and get well quick!

  42. Hi David,

    I had to laugh at the title since I knew what was coming. I’m glad to hear it was only your trip that was cut short.

    As a complete amateur, I appreciate what you’re putting out into the world. As a master of your craft you are doing a better (probably the best) job of teaching what you know. Other masters are “hiding” (not intentionally) behind their portfolios, putting out a flood of equipment reviews and a smattering of “tips”. With only their successes on display, they are seemingly not human: perfect photographic deities on high pedestals.

    I say bring on the mistakes, both photographic and personal. The photographic world, and amateurs like myself, need a human guide to take us to the top. I think there’s lots of room for those of us willing to make the journey.

    Thanks for all that you are willing to share,


  43. Although this is a horrible misfortunate, I do appreciate the vulnerability and honesty of real world stories. Todays circumstances are emotional and unfortunate but it is who you and this blog are. A real person, with real adventures. They may not always be positive but it is also never some fairy tale sounding story to make one look bigger than life. You can listening to your “don’t post this’ voice when your find yourself writing about wrestling a crocodile while falling out of a helicopter to get ‘the shot’.

    Too many blogs are in fact only a promotional vehicle walking the fine line of begging to be unsubscribed. Nobody subscribes to a blog only to be sold stuff. I want to connect with the writer before I truly care what they are saying.

    Best wishes and a fast recovery. It could have been much worse.

  44. David, so sorry this happened to you. But “heroes” at least the media and the masses want to portray them are utterly boring. (We don’t need another hero … 😉 )

    This stuff happens because you put yourself out there and there are hundreds, if not thousands who feed from what you do – most silently.

    We hope that this will not be too long a journey and not too painful either. It’s just one more event that makes you who you are. Clumsiness is not a negative trait.

    We admire you for being open. This is your goal and it works perfectly. 🙂

  45. Man! I am so sorry about the leg, but happy Cynthia was there beside you to ease your misery a bit, at least.

    As far as failure goes, if you just got the top image alone, it would be a success, it’s truly beautiful, one I would be proud to have made.

    Get well, continue on and be careful! I’ve never met you in person, but what this blog and your images tell, is that you have a great heart… and that’s what’s important.

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