Unlike the British reality TV chap recently airlifted out of Tincup Lake, I am, of course, not alone. There is my partner Sam, except for those times he’s out for work, and then there are our dogs.
We are not on a survival quest to test or prove ourselves, we simply live here. And yet, the mere fact of living in the bush brings with it a sense of being alone in the wild – in more than one way.
What brought this to my mind was my high school reunion this summer. I wasn’t able to go but was quite keen on it at first, which seemed odd to me. I’m still in touch with a couple of friends from back then and the rest of my old classmates I had never really cared much about. But suddenly, I felt a wild urge to see them all again, until I started going through their names that is. Then I either couldn’t remember who they were or I recoiled at the recollection. No, it wasn’t a nostalgic desire to reconnect with people from my youth; it was just a desire to connect with people, period.
Making new acquaintances is hard to do when you’re tucked away in the woods for 11 months of the year. On those brief excursions into the outside world, the schedule is tightly packed with appointments, shopping and visiting with good friends. There is simply neither time nor opportunity to branch out socially and to meet somebody whose story and opinions you don’t already know.
There are those times when I feel hemmed in by the mountain faces around me, when I wonder if I’m not becoming like an ant whose tiny world must seem like the entire universe. Times when going to a high school reunion and talking with a bunch of people I didn’t like back then and can’t remember now seems like a wonderful idea.
The added twist to it all is that after years of living a rather solitary life out in the bush, it becomes increasingly hard to relate to people who lead regular lives. Their day seems to be so eaten up by their jobs and children, so much influenced by their bosses, co-workers, friends and neighbours – an intricate, complicated web defined by a myriad of other people. I feel almost guilty then when I look at the clear lines, space and freedom of my life, its bare bones of manual chores and little bits of work for money sprinkled in here and there, where people other than Sam hardly feature at all except in e-mails and on the phone.
Yet how could I hope to convey to my old classmates what it is like to get ready for freeze-up with a very old dog and quite likely not having the option of getting her put down by a vet when it is time? Or the way you feel lit up inside when you haven’t seen any creature bigger than a raven in three weeks and suddenly come across a moose cow and calf and stand for a few minutes, just looking into each others’ eyes?
How you have to let go of being so people-defined: craving feedback, inspiration, entertainment, support, warmth and even friction from other people. How you shift all of that onto the lone shoulders of your partner and the land, how the land creeps into your bones and soul until it fills you like people used to do, before.
It would have been too weird at the reunion. I’m not sure if we would have found enough common ground or even interests in our disparate lifestyles and experiences to make much meaningful conversation, or so I tell myself. How preposterous, what a cliche almost, that I have become a writer who lives in the wilderness, although looking back it seems strangely inevitable and is really just the logical outcome of pursuing inclinations and opportunities.
It’s also inevitable that sometimes, the dormant remnants of your social instinct and needs suddenly tug hard at your heart and conscience, demanding more than mountains and trees. That’s when you see yourself like the outside world sees you: alone in the wild.
Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.