As channel 4441 falls silent…

Leaving me behind as a lone bushwoman for a couple of months, Sam disappears in a swirl of snow and engine noise for contract work in town.

Leaving me behind as a lone bushwoman for a couple of months, Sam disappears in a swirl of snow and engine noise for contract work in town.

I’m slightly envious that he will be able to wash his dirty laundry the easy way — at the laundromat — while I chose to save that money and do my pile by hand.

It’s time for me to be a hermit again.

Sharing your life with someone out in the woods without the distraction and support of having other people around may be one of the more intense kinds of partnerships — always the same person to talk to, hang out and work with.

Maybe it’s thanks to these fairly regular separations that we keep avoiding the Yukon tradition of spring breakup (or breaking up at any other time, for that matter).

Being a lone bushwoman is, I imagine, no different from being a lone bushman.

The funny thing is that with the advances in technology people out here are maybe more isolated than some five or 10 years ago.

The HF radio used to be busy on channel 4441 with backwoods people relaying how their day went, or trading tips on how to store cabbages for the winter, or how best to drive a snowmachine through deep overflow.

It was a great way to learn more bush lore and to feel part of a wider wilderness community.

There’s not much traffic on the HF radio anymore — channel 4441 has been plagued with noisy interference for the last few years, particularly at night.

This tends to get blamed on the American military; however the actual cause and its remedy remain a mystery.

Most people have also switched by now to the more reliable but utterly private satellite phones or even voice over IP via satellite internet.

Though some die-hards do remain.

Just last winter I heard an oldtimer broadcast on channel 4441 for all to hear that he’d be too concerned about privacy to use e-mail, what with hackers, viruses and all that.

It is too bad that these old lines of communication are mostly silent now, for probably the people most sympathetic about hand-washing laundry in the winter or the route out being totally submerged in overflow, are the ones in the same situation.

But who knows, maybe in a few years we’ll have a bush rat on-line chat room or trapper blogs.

In the meantime, I will have to contend with the dogs as my main conversation partners for the next two months.

It is a completely different experience spending months alone in the bush to sharing it with another human.

I always relish these times by myself when the forest and animals shift from providing an interesting and entertaining background to playing centre stage in my life.

Never have tracks in the snow been more mesmerizing!

Being the only human around is such an easy, egotistical existence: since radio and phone calls provide the only interaction with other people, it is unnecessary to adapt one’s moods and behaviour to someone else’s needs or social circumstances.

All senses are keyed to noticing the smallest sign of life in the forest; snowshoe hares, martens and moose are suddenly elevated to friendly neighbour status and I follow their daily business as closely as any village matron.

Moose encounters verge on magic. At the same time I question if this entirely healthy. Maybe so for life out here, but I find the two or three times a year that I manage to extract myself from the bush and go into town something of a culture shock.

Our little world is often devoid of people and is governed by the hot-button issues of weather, wildlife and the dogs. How tricky then to make half intelligent conversation in town where people are involved in events, challenges at work, and deal with multitudes of other people.

Eventually I might turn into a complete backwoods hick and stare mutely at people, or manically gabble about moose, ice, marten tracks and snow, I fear….

Good thing it’s Sam going out, who remains firmly rooted with one foot in the outside world because of his work and a craving for diverse human contact.

After tackling my laundry with water buckets, toilet plunger and insulated rubber gloves, I plan to follow the wolverine tracks I found yesterday as a reward. I have nobody to talk with now but the dogs’ interest in these activities is no different than people on channel 4441 would offer — eyes half closed with boredom at the laundry, and fascination with the wolverine wanderings.

Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.

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