A spiderweb, complete with shrivelled insect corpses, wraps itself around my face.
“You go ahead,” I sputter, beating at the fly-studded strands of spider silk hanging off my eyelashes. Sam isn’t too eager.
“But you were clearing away all the spiderwebs so nicely,” he says. But finally, he does the manly thing and forges ahead to break trail through the almost invisible insect snares. He’s cheating, though: Once my eyesight is restored, I notice that he’s picked up a large stick and is using it to de-web the trees.
A tiny glint of dew still lingers here and there, hanging on for dear life as the sun pushes through the woods, its heat already a solid, almost tangible entity. We’re out early these days to beat the hot weather. The dogs are panting heavily, especially the puppy who can’t quite judge yet which deadfall to climb over and which to squeeze under. Like the leaping deer in the Far Side cartoon, branches tend to snag him in mid-air, or else he gets hopelessly stuck under heaps of fallen branches.
Visions of vanilla ice cream keep rising before my mental eye. Unfortunately in bush life, ice cream is a winter treat when outside temperatures provide the necessary cooling. Just as I add some raspberry sauce to my imaginary ice cream, I walk into a host of small green caterpillars rappelling down a willow tree. Swinging from their thin threads in the manner of trapeze artists, a number of them gracefully descend into my hair and onto my shoulders.
“Uh,” I grunt and backtrack from the caterpillar circus, shedding squiggly green shapes like animated dandruff. Have to pay more attention. But how, in this infernal heat? It saps all brainpower right out of me.
The dogs release golden clouds of juniper pollen into the air. An omen: A split second later, grouse fledglings explode from the ground, flutter briefly and are gone. Not so their mother. Feigning complete foolhardiness, she flaps clumsily onto a low branch and fixes us with a challenging stare. We holler at the dogs to heel and succeed in bewildering the puppy who doesn’t know where to turn in all the sudden excitement. I help him with the decision by grabbing him by the scruff.
“Let’s go back,” I plead to Sam. “It’s too hot.”
We make our way back home, passing by the digestive evidence of a good-sized bear: three hair-filled turds, all spaced about fifty metres apart. They are not too old – already crusty on the outside but still soft underneath (if only our dogs could appreciate how lucky they are to live with people who take a likewise interest in such matters). The bear seems to have moved on, the semi-relaxed body language of the two older dogs tells us.
By the time we get to the cabin, it feels unbearably hot. I jot down yesterday’s highest temperature on our calendar before resetting the thermometer and notice that for some strange reason, we always write the plus sign in front of the numbers. Why? Looking back through the months, would we really be tempted to think that is was 23 below in late June if it wasn’t for the plus sign? Probably more evidence of how addled we get by the heat.
It’s not just us, however. By lunchtime, the sun has sucked most of the blue out of the sky and even the mosquitoes have postponed their drilling operations until later in the day.
Suddenly, something bangs on metal. Sam and I are all accounted for. Visitors? But who and why would they bang on something?
There it is again: a rapid hammering on tin.
Has the local wildlife started to use tools?
We quietly sneak outside to investigate. The din is coming from the smokehouse. Ducking behind the Saskatoon bushes, Sam and I close in on the incessant noise. There, on the tin roof of the smokehouse, is a woodpecker, lustily drumming away at the metal.
Has he lost his marbles?
We shoo him off into the woods. Silence descends on our ringing ears. It is short-lived, however. A few minutes later, the woodpecker is back, this time attacking the roof of the cabin. As we throw sticks at the bird, I console myself that any mental lapses on our part can’t be so bad if even woodpeckers are driven to insanity by the heat.
Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.