I was glad to see the plough had already come through. Two kindly moose had wandered onto my snowed-in trail, found better footing there and, obligingly, continued into the forest along it.
The moose-ploughed path was still tricky, what with the holes their legs had punched in it. But even so, it now provided a much better walking experience than toiling through the knee-high virginal snow. My breathing became less laboured and the streams of sweat running down my back slowed to a trickle.
At least, I reflected, there is no danger of us becoming a part of the obesity statistics. Maybe it is all that extra people-weight that is pushing down the continent. Sea levels aren’t actually rising – it’s the land that’s sinking.
With each high step that I took, pulling my snowshoe up, then seeing it vanish into the deep snow, my thigh muscles complained. It was such a low-snow winter until about a week ago that the snowshoes had seen no action yet – and neither had the related muscles.
From one day to the next, everything changed.
The first visit to the outhouse after the big dump resulted in snow-filled gum boots, the antenna for the HF radio came down and the dogs felt compelled to attend to the call of nature in the small area of trampled down snow right in front of the cabin.
Our web of walking trails disappeared under mounds of the white fluffy stuff and the old dog only gave us incredulous looks when encouraged her to come out for a walk. She tried – but like a car driving too close to the edge of the road, one of her legs would inevitably stray off the newly packed trail and, skidding and swerving, her whole body would get sucked into the snowbank. We played tow truck and extracted her again.
No, it seemed wise to pack down the trails properly for her first. And so we swarmed out, Sam with one dog in one direction, I and another dog the other way, while old Leshi got to stay at home and guard the house. After days of making no progress, when our snowshoes vanished into fluffy clouds of powder that refused to pack down and still more snow kept falling, the weekend finally brought warmer temperatures. At long last, the snow stuck.
I felt a bit guilty about having lucked out on a moose-ploughed trail while Sam probably fought with a solid snow cover. Nooka trudged ahead of me, trying to aim her paws for the moose tracks, but her stride wouldn’t match.
It wasn’t only us who were out and about again: snowshoe hares had crisscrossed the path and grouse had walked with equal ease on the snow. Feeling clumsy and ungainly, I panted up the hill, pulling hard on the ski poles, stretching my shoulder muscles. They were still a bit sore from all the snow shovelling of the previous days. Just a bit further, I egged myself on. Break half of the trail today and finish it tomorrow.
I never spend much thought on how physical a lifestyle it is, to live out in the bush. The endless carrying, lifting and chopping of things, the walking back and forth from cabin to outhouse to shed to waterhole, the shovelling and snowshoeing and skiing. Just on days when there is suddenly a lot of extra hard work to be done, it dawns on me that my body already put in a fair share of exercise. But it just rises to the challenge; after all, what is the alternative? Out here, if you don’t do it, nobody else will do it for you.
Eventually, I turned around, almost flying on the way back over the trampled down snow. Where had those moose come from, I wondered and decided to find out. They had meandered past our shed, skirted the garden – no, one had walked right to the raised broccoli bed and nosed in the snow. I laughed, realizing that it must have been our resident cow and calf. Felix the calf had developed a taste for the old remnants of broccoli. But he had finished them all off weeks earlier; poor guy, that must have been a bit of a disappointment.
Worn out, I took off the snowshoes at the cabin, grunted and groaned as I pulled off my boots and snowpants, grateful that the moose-plough had made breaking trail at least a bit easier.
Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who
lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.