Notes of a backwoods insomniac

When I'm asleep, I'm part of things. When I'm awake, I'm not. Where only minutes ago darkness stretched, enveloping me and everything else with its muffling absence of detail and colour, I have now carved out my own private circle of light.

When I’m asleep, I’m part of things. When I’m awake, I’m not. Where only minutes ago darkness stretched, enveloping me and everything else with its muffling absence of detail and colour, I have now carved out my own private circle of light.

Night has withdrawn to within a few metres of me, pressing up against the windows from the outside.

The woodstove is beginning to tick its Morse code of heat, spilling warmth around me while chilliness flees to crouch in the cabin’s corners.

I’m up early again, my body suddenly on some weird sleep schedule that’s better suited to June when night disappears into the Southern Hemisphere and we’re swamped with more light and energy than we know what to do with.

Instead of slowing down with the vanishing light, wallowing in sleep that no alarm clock cuts short because there’s no employer who expects me to be at work in the morning, something inside of me cuts my sleep short for me. Four-thirty, and the scattered mumbling of dreams congregates into rational trains of thought, pulling me into wakefulness, sometimes with a lively earworm thrown in for good measure.

That’s when I gather myself back into my human life. Gone is the semi-coma in which we lie for so many hours, trusting, at one with our surroundings. I’m back now to making my presence felt, to noticing what’s going on out there. But why so early? Is this good? Is it bad?

There’s a lot of freedom in living in the bush – it’s all your own schedule, your own responsibility. Nobody to report to but yourself. Ample opportunity to be a slacker, but only so far: if you don’t cut your wood and haul your water, no matter if you feel like it or not, nobody’s going to do it for you. Discipline based on your needs, the weather and the seasons evolve. The numbers on the clock mean very little.

So instead of fighting for more sleep, I give in to the bizarre dictate of my body and get up. The mouse traffic in the roof insulation has died down by this time, but I hear the trap snap up one last commuter on his way into the fibreglass. A brief rattle, and all is quiet.

The silence stretches on and on while I sip coffee and the stove spreads warmth. After a while, the click of dog nails on the plywood floor and a sleepy puppy comes up to burrow his nose in my arms. If even the dogs can’t work up any enthusiasm about action (relatively speaking: a human available to interact with), what am I doing up already?

When the clocks are switched back an hour, it means I’ll be sitting here at 3:30 a.m. Not that it matters, time measured in hours being an artificial concept and all that. But somehow, it’s an unsettling thought.

Lisa, the backwoods insomniac. Funny how Sam and I keep seeing ourselves in the light of society still – does it work the other way round, too? Do you ever see yourselves in the eyes of bush people?

While dawn remains stuck somewhere below the eastern horizon and I’ve moved on to toast with jam, light thuds and rattling comes from the porch. It means that more time has passed and it’s the hour of the ermine now.

I’m reassured, knowing what follows after that.

In the futuristic glow of my laptop, the satellite modem lit up like a string of Christmas lights, I take a look at the civilized world: humans reduced to strings of words in my inbox. Somewhere behind those black letters are faces, people, lives out there. It seems a bit surreal, because I don’t see people anymore now.

The trees solidify themselves back into being and light starts to spill up from behind the mountains. The grey jays come, ushering in the day. I throw them a dead mouse, knowing that soon, it will get busy. While I wash, loud wings swish by the window. This is new – I go to take a look and find another customer for mouse meat: a raven. Apparently, we’re making quite a name for ourselves as a deli. Eat-in or take-out, just the menu is always the same. Though po pular.

Finally, it’s really light and the last morning traffic passes by the cabin. A moose jogs by, her hooves drumming loudly on the frozen ground. The bed creaks and Sam emerges: “Morning, Sweetie – when did you get up?”

“Oh, early again,” I say. “It was still the hour of the trap.”

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

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