A visit from another world

There's a buzz in the air that's aiming right for us. Sam and I look up from Operation Rebar - trying to chip away the ice that is constricting the throat of our water hole. With limited success so far.

There’s a buzz in the air that’s aiming right for us. Sam and I look up from Operation Rebar – trying to chip away the ice that is constricting the throat of our water hole. With limited success so far. We mostly got wet. I scowl down the trail, at the noise, willing it to fade instead of drawing closer.

“Snowmobilers,” Sam comments.

The dogs stare at the bend in the trail, where the trees swallow up the view, tensely waiting for the machines to emerge.

“Great,” I mutter. “Wonderful timing.”

But they’re probably just passing through, as they usually do. After all, it’s a half-decent weekend and we’re still six snowmobilers short of our annual average. I can do this, bare my teeth in the simile of a friendly smile and wave. Pretend I’m having fun hacking at the ice and was looking forward to motor noise and stink.

“Don’t get grumpy now,” Sam warns, reading my expression just right. I chastise myself for feeling this way. Why does it always feel like an invasion when people show up, why do people cause a shock to the system unequalled by bears or moose? Because they’re the rarity here, I guess, as unusual as a bear wandering down Main Street in Whitehorse – it happens, but leaves you kind of rattled.

The dogs storm off with a volley of barks when the noise gets suddenly louder as the snowmobiles come around the bend. Three machines, good stuff. That means only about another three to go this winter. I can almost smile. Sam whistles back the dogs, who come reluctantly with bristling fur and stiffly raised tails. I wonder if in the old days, when more people still lived out in the bush, I would have felt differently. Maybe. Maybe it’s partly the snowmobiles that bug me. When you live in a largely non-motorized world, in utter control of turning a lonely ignition on or off, it’s somehow a rude awakening having to listen to somebody else’s noise. Geez, Sam and I are way too spoiled.

The dogs sit, trembling with excitement, as the machines roar closer. I take a mental snapshot of ourselves – three northern mutts, a man in the world’s oldest jacket with insulation hanging off his arms, and a woman glistening wetly, frozen pearls of water adorning a pair dirty rain pants. The berm of slush and ice around the water hole suddenly feels like a bulwark. Why don’t I play otter and slip down that hole? Aren’t we supposed to act eccentric?

The snowmobiles slow to a crawl, then stop. The dogs can contain themselves no longer and storm at the visitors, loud-mouthing each other. Who actually has the guts to go and sniff these people? Helmets come off, balaclavas and tousled hair appear, eyes narrow in friendly smiles. I scan their machines, not so much for make and model but survival equipment. Too many people have driven by here over the years with neither spare gas, a shovel, snowshoes, nor a backpack of survival gear. Maybe they all carry satellite phones and just call in a chopper when they run into a problem 60 kilometres from the closest house?

Not these guys, though. I spot jerry cans and a couple of small packs. Sam is already shaking hands and going on about the water hole, the lack of sunshine lately and our astonishment at seeing real-life people. I smile and nod, feeling (and looking, no doubt) like an idiot. But my mind is wiped clear of things to say. Snow conditions, maybe?

They look bemused as they point to the cabin and ask if we live out here, what we do, if it doesn’t get lonely. We’re falling over ourselves with answers, which feel too complex to press into a few sentences. How do we actually manage to talk, I wonder, to press something as unfathomable and large as wilderness into words?

After a few minutes, the helmets go back on, the machines roar back to life and we all wave. Leaving a trail of exhaust in the air, they speed away, further up the valley, while Sam and I stand and stare, trying to absorb it all. Slowly, our little world shrinks back to its usual proportions and I can breathe again. How glad I am that I didn’t play otter after all.

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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The City of Whitehorse’s projected deficit could be $100,000 more than originally predicted earlier this year. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City deficit could be just over $640,000 this year

Third quarter financial reports presented to council

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley speaks during a COVID-19 press conference in Whitehorse on Oct. 30. Masks became mandatory in the Yukon for anyone five years old and older as of Dec. 1 while in public spaces. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
As mask law comes into effect, premier says $500 fines will be last resort

The territory currently has 17 active cases of COVID-19

Crystal Schick/Yukon News file
Ranj Pillai, minister of economic development, during a press conference on April 1.
Government rejects ATAC mining road proposal north of Keno City

Concerns from the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun were cited as the main reason for the decision

asdf
WYATT’S WORLD

Wyatt’s World for Dec. 2, 2020

Whitehorse and Carcross will be among seven northern communities to have unlimited internet options beginning Dec. 1. (Yukon News file)
Unlimited internet for some available Dec. 1

Whitehorse and Carcross will be among seven northern communities to have unlimited… Continue reading

Submitted/Yukon News file
Yukon RCMP’s Historical Case Unit is seeking information related to the unsolved homicide of Allan Donald Waugh, 69, who was found deceased in his house on May 30, 2014.
Yukon RCMP investigating unsolved Allan Waugh homicide

Yukon RCMP’s Historical Case Unit is seeking information related to an unsolved… Continue reading

A jogger runs along Millenium Trail as the sun rises over the trees around 11 a.m. in Whitehorse on Dec. 12, 2018. The City of Whitehorse could soon have a new trail plan in place to serve as a guide in managing the more than 233 kilometres of trails the city manages. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
2020 trail plan comes forward

Policies and bylaws would look at e-mobility devices

Snow-making machines are pushed and pulled uphill at Mount Sima in 2015. The ski hill will be converting snow-making to electric power with more than $5 million in funding from the territorial and federal governments. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Mount Sima funded to cut diesel reliance

Mount Sima ski hill is converting its snowmaking to electric power with… Continue reading

Fossil finds at Mt. Stephen. (Photo: Sarah Fuller/Parks Canada)
Extreme hiking, time travel and science converge in the Burgess Shale

Climb high in the alpine and trace your family tree back millions of years – to our ocean ancestors

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Mask fundraiser helps make children’s wishes come true

From Black Press Media + BraveFace – adult, youth and kid masks support Make-A-Wish Foundation

Colin McDowell, the director of land management for the Yukon government, pulls lottery tickets at random during a Whistle Bend property lottery in Whitehorse on Sept. 9, 2019. A large amount of lots are becoming available via lottery in Whistle Bend as the neighbourhood enters phase five of development. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Lottery for more than 250 new Whistle Bend lots planned for January 2021

Eight commercial lots are being tendered in additional to residential plots

The Government of Yukon Main Administration Building in Whitehorse on Aug. 21. The Canada Border Services Agency announced Nov. 26 that they have laid charges against six people, including one Government of Yukon employee, connected to immigration fraud that involved forged Yukon government documents. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Charges laid in immigration fraud scheme, warrant out for former Yukon government employee

Permanent residency applications were submitted with fake Yukon government documents

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Most Read