Howling up some company

My partner Sam is gone for a while and it is always an adjustment to suddenly be alone. I relish these times — just like travelling on your…

My partner Sam is gone for a while and it is always an adjustment to suddenly be alone.

I relish these times — just like travelling on your own tends to be a more intense experience than being with somebody, spending time by myself out in the Yukon River headwaters is always special.

Somehow, being alone out in the woods chips away at the apart-ness from our surroundings that we humans have imposed on ourselves.

I put on my tattered pair of snowshoes and head out on one of our trails with the dogs.

The snow has shrunk our trail network to just a few now and neither the dogs nor I are too excited about going out, since we walked this trail just a couple of days ago.

But off-trail, the old dogs wouldn’t be able to go very far, so I stick to the places where they can walk.

A jet flies over, trailing vapour, and it is weird to think that the people on that plane are momentarily my closest human neighbours.

I’ve been wanting to find out what flight route these jets are on, but in this day and age it would probably be regarded as a highly suspicious inquiry.

A ruffed grouse clucks nervously in a poplar, weighing down the skinny branch.

Sunlight slants through the trees and falls on a fresh set of moose tracks: a cow and calf, they seem to be headed down to the lake.

The dogs’ noses quiver excitedly but as usual they don’t seem to clue in which way the moose went when my snowshoe catches on a twig and I pull on it, annoyed.

One of our dogs, all of dubious heritage and equally dubious usefulness, had munched away part of the rawhide webbing earlier this winter and the snowshoes are now a sorry patchwork of assorted strings, leather and rawhide.

The boots are not much better — a not-so-old pair of winter gumboots that sports duct tape and gobs of Shoe Goo on major holes and cracks.

There are not many drawbacks to living out in the bush, but not being able to get badly needed parts and equipment in before freeze-up because they are on backorder sure is one of them.

At least now we have a satellite phone and even internet, so hunting down vital items is a lot easier than it used to be.

Still feeling grumpy and unsettled, I whistle for the dogs and head down on our lake trail.

Going down the hill, a slight movement to the left catches my eye — it’s the two moose.

The dogs can’t catch their scent and are unaware, while the moose cow shifts slowly behind a willow.

The calf stares at us, bug-eyed, and nudges closer to mom. I turn slightly away and pretend not to notice the moose.

The cow melts even more into the willow and I slowly, deliberately start walking again, flashing duct tape. The dogs happily chase ahead to the cabin as I follow, still thinking of the moose.

The wind has picked up as I reach the cabin, pull off my snowshoes and go inside. My gumboots have managed to collect a fair bit of snow in them despite the repair job — with any luck, Sam will be able to bring in the new pair that had been on backorder when he comes back.

Wonder what he’s doing right now?

No messages on the voicemail.

I get out the laptop, switch on the inverter and check my e-mail. Not a single one!

I try our neighbour on the radio but don’t get an answer either. Seems like nobody wants to talk to me. I wonder if I’m getting cabin fever.

It’s so beautiful outside, so quiet, and I saw two moose today, I should be happy.

Disgruntled, I pick up my book and start reading, can’t really get into it but keep reading anyway in the hope of snapping out of my bad mood.

When it starts getting dark, I light our Aladdin kerosene lamp and settle back down on the couch, annoyed with myself.

Maybe I need more fresh air?

Outside, the dead quiet of the evening washes over me, settling heavy on my shoulders. I heave a loud sigh, then figure that nobody can hear me anyway, throw back my head and howl with loneliness.

The quavering sound echoes off the mountains and then silence descends.

From the opposite shore, suddenly a deep resonant “whooooo” wafts across, then three more wolves join the chorus and wail as I mournfully howl back my sentiments.

Our calls bounce back and forth for a while, then the wolves are quiet. Elated, I laugh into the night. Something has been chipped away again.

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

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