Burning the midnight oil

I just installed a new light in 20 seconds flat. That's the beauty of the simple life: pound in a nail and hang the oil lamp wherever you want. Job done. I'm well pleased with the new light which now hangs by my bed, my last resort for uninterrupted

I just installed a new light in 20 seconds flat. That’s the beauty of the simple life: pound in a nail and hang the oil lamp wherever you want. Job done.

I’m well pleased with the new light which now hangs by my bed, my last resort for uninterrupted writing and those times when I’m having a hard time with it. The view from the bed is a wall and chest of drawers, nothing for unfocussed thoughts to get sidetracked by.

Funny I never thought of putting a light here, but I never read in bed and rarely write at night. Now I’m burning the midnight oil. It’s been one of those weeks when inspiration will not come, when employment as a martyr, wearing a hair shirt and flogging myself, seems like an infinitely easier occupation than earning my keep as a writer.

Although writers are better paid than martyrs, I guess. The usual ratio of 10 per cent inspiration, 90 per cent perspiration has currently changed to 100 per cent perspiration.

I’m glad I’m not wearing a hair shirt, after all. It just feels like nothing has happened in ages and nothing is bound to happen either that might lend itself as a topic.

All a matter of perspective, of course. I could make a rollicking tale out of my 20-second light installation, expounding on the fact that no electricity lights up this lonely cabin for a lonely woman, surrounded by entangled wilderness that is crawling with wild animals with unknown intentions. An article along those lines was something that I read a couple of days ago in an online publication, quite possibly the most excruciatingly bad writing that I have ever encountered about life off-grid.

Although the family described in it lived a mere 15-minute drive by car from the closest village, the journalist who wrote about them could hardly contain his wilderness fantasies. The few quotes from the quite down-to-earth sounding woman paled next to the lurid descriptions and interpretations supplied by the journalist.

According to him, bears, coyotes and cougars lurked just outside the door, surely leading to bloodcurdling encounters, and the poor off-grid children had supposedly never encountered that marvel of modern civilization, the light switch. Much was made of the predicament that the family’s cellphone only worked from a certain location and that they baked their own bread.

Sure, it was a piece of writing geared at an urban southern audience, but if I belonged to that family, I’d give the journalist a piece of my mind. I find it incredibly annoying and irritating when I come across such stories that bristle with overwrought descriptions of hair-raising bear encounters and focus with amazement on the absence of plugs and switches, carpets and water taps.

As if that is the essence of living in a rural area or in the bush. It is, after all, a matter of choice how people design their off-grid systems. It can mean trading in so-called modern conveniences for simpler, less costly things that need fewer and less complicated repairs as well as less frequent replacements, and substituting arm and leg power for assorted machinery – which saves the necessity of hefting weights and hopping around in the gym.

And it can be a high-tech, cutting-edge lifestyle with an elaborate alternative power system, running washing machines and vacuum cleaners. Just as everyone chooses and can afford.

I would have much rather have read about why the family chose to live the way they do, what they like and what they don’t like about it, and their normal animal encounters instead of that twisted tale that depicted them as some kind of frontier museum pieces, battling the wild.

But the article did remind me why I had started writing about life in the bush. I wanted to show my reality, my perspective, one that weighs in largely on the question of where do I as a human fit in with nature, on the isolation from people and its effects, and on living among the wildlife around us.

And so it’s good to realize that I still enjoy writing about it even on days like this one, when I’ve mined my mind and have come up with tons of rubble and not a glint of gold – but, luckily, no toxic tailings pond either.

Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who

lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.

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