Roughing it: The electronic version

Within a split second, our connection to the outside world was severed.

Within a split second, our connection to the outside world was severed. Our satellite internet is a tenuous link at the best of times, prone to mysterious error messages about control centre problems, the transmit path and being locked to an alien network. Which always makes me nervous – shouldn’t NASA know about this? Or maybe they do know and that’s what the problem is.

But this was different. The whole system appeared to be dead with only the modem’s power light still giving off a feeble glow. I swallowed. As much as having satellite internet out in the bush feels weird, especially considering it’s cheek to cheek with oil lamps and outside plumbing, it does add more freedom to the lifestyle. The hassle of shopping trips is somewhat diminished thanks to online stores, phone calls work via Skype and it’s even possible to earn a living thanks to it.

Only now, none of this worked and the trusty old HF radio rose to its former glory as our only means of communication again. A lump formed in my throat at the thought of possibly having to bring in an installer – an expensive option that never fails to raise its ugly head when things go on strike but which so far, we’ve been able to avoid. I’d like to be able to say that that’s due to our uncommonly thorough know-how of computers in general and satellite systems in particular, but usually it just fixes itself. Though there might be a correlation to the level of anxiety and nail biting on our side. Rarely does the system fire up again without any gnashing of teeth.

The dogs have remained happily ignorant of this latest crisis and only greet me with the briefest of tail wags as I go to look at the satellite dish in the hopes of discovering what happened. “Looking for mice?” I ask sourly, envious that my life is not so simple. Bloody internet. What happened to the simple life out in the bush, anyway? It’s mutated into geek’s paradise, bristling with all sorts of antennas and data chips. GPS, emergency locator transmitters, laptops and modems. Roughing it in the bush: the electronic version.

I stare at the satellite dish. It stares back at me with its usual bland expression, looking no different usual. “Hm.” I fiddle with the cables, can’t think of what else to do and trudge back around the cabin, where our mutts are still busy putting the fear of dog into the local mouse population. Maybe Sam will have an idea when he comes back from fishing.

To improve my mood, I decide to help with the mouse-catching efforts and lift up a board that the three dog noses are trying to nudge out of the way. Tails wag furiously, front paws pounce – and the mouse scuttles past me out of harm’s way. “Over there, you idiots,” I scold the dogs and then notice the frayed cables lying in the dirt. The cables that go from the modem to the satellite dish.

“Oh, no!” I sink to my knees and pick up the cables, their wire guts spilling out of the black insulation. “Hey! Who did this?” I yell at the dogs who put on an apologetic look to pacify me, or so they hope. Ears fold back, heads and tails go down. It must have happened during their mouse hunt when they were pulling the mess underneath the cabin apart. Only the puppy comes running to me, half expecting that wire waving will turn into a new game. Or did he chew on it? “This is no. No.”

What to do? We have one extra set of very short cables which doesn’t reach inside the cabin. Still, the system would work again – it would only be a matter of setting the modem and laptop up outside and getting the generator going. Crouched right behind the dish, we’ll be able to fire off emails and make phone calls. Obviously not a permanent solution, but better than none.

Relieved, I add “new modem cables” to Sam’s shopping list and suddenly realize that for the time being, due to the awkwardness of using the internet now, we’ll be roughing it in a less electronic way. What a blessing.

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

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