In the clutches of soft snow

Time to holster up. As walking anywhere in the afternoon becomes impossible, the mushy snow collapsing soufflé-like and swallowing half a leg…

Time to holster up.

As walking anywhere in the afternoon becomes impossible, the mushy snow collapsing soufflé-like and swallowing half a leg here, an entire dog there, we think it prudent to carry bear spray again. The bears can show up any day now.

Mornings have become hectic affairs as we strive to feed ourselves, the dogs, the chickens, collect the eggs, haul water and finally get ready to go out while there is still a solid crust on the snow.

After a cold night, the dogs prance around off-trail with cocky expressions, showing off the fact that they can go anywhere they like.

Some days they misjudge the crust and do unintentional nosedives as their front legs suddenly get sucked away from under them. Embarrassed, they then angle out their legs in spider fashion and, keeping their eyes glued distrustfully to the snow, make their way back to the trail.

On our morning walks, now armed with bear spray again, we scan the snow for tracks but it’s not exciting news: still that weird absence of cow moose and calves, the wolverine must have moved off and no bear tracks yet.

The squirrels and mice are picking up the slack and stitching their tiny footprints from tree to shrub.

Patches of brown and green melting out under the trees make me wonder if the crop failure of kinnikinnick berries last year will result in more pushy bears this spring.

We have already been burning out our veggie and milk cans for a while but still need to hook up the electric fence at the chicken house again, which we want to extend this year around the entire garden and compost heap.

Hopefully the presence of the dogs will continue to discourage bears from helping themselves to the bags of dog and chicken feed stored inside our cabin. Not to mention the eggs.

Our reluctant chickens finally started laying, and after the first weeks of egg fever that saw us eating the long-coveted eggs in amounts not recommended by Canada’s Food Guide, we’re now at the stage where an eggless breakfast looks vastly preferable.

It’s probably time to investigate such egg preservation methods as pickling and water glassing. Good chores for mushy afternoons when not much moving around can be done outside.

Our pile of log sections is also beginning to peek accusingly out of the snow, the stash that we plan to convert into lumber for the endless string of building projects that always follows the end of winter.

I used to be amazed that people would clutter up their properties with so many cabins, sheds, shacks and outhouses that they turn into miniature villages but it seems we might be headed for our own version of Shacktown.

April and May lend themselves to milling, with their pleasant temperatures, absence of bugs and house arrest due to the soft snow — or so we tell ourselves, trying hard to work up the self-discipline, if not enthusiasm to pollute the quiet air with chainsaw noise and stink.

Our neighbour Rick has found an additional bonus to milling in spring.

The hard work and mild temperatures allow him to bare his normally toque-covered head (only sparsely populated by remnants of hair) to the sun.

At this time of the year, his head looks similar to Sam’s: a ghostly white high forehead, under which a pair of pale-rimmed raccoon eyes are set into a deeply tanned face.

Not that I look much different myself — the one advantage I have is that the hair on my head saves me from sporting a gleaming white beacon like the guys. Which I explain to Sam when he thinks I should start getting busy with lumber making: no need to tan the top of my head!

Instead, I go and muck out the chicken coop. The bit of sawdust accumulated from milling so far gets recycled as chicken litter.

Mixed into the bottom layer of old sawdust from last fall, it is not too dusty and keeps the hens nice and dry while composting a lot faster than it would otherwise.

It is also amazingly good at binding those manure odours, provided it gets stirred around every few days (the hens do an admirable job of it with their scratching).

When I’m done and postholing my way through the soft snow back to the cabin, I discover old Leshi has plunged with her rear end into a tree well and can’t lever herself out.

She looks quite complacent as she waits for me to extract her from the mush and then gingerly follows in my footsteps, maybe looking forward to tomorrow morning when the snow will be crusty and give us all a measure of freedom again.

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

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