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Thanksgiving in the wilderness

Thanksgiving had always seemed like a somewhat obscure, bulimic holiday to me, centred around the excessive consumption of supermarket foods.

Thanksgiving had always seemed like a somewhat obscure, bulimic holiday to me, centred around the excessive consumption of supermarket foods.

Until we moved out into the bush, that is.

This year in particular, as the Western world gets whipped into a frenzied panic over the crumbling stock markets and financial systems, I am glad we chose this modern version of a pioneer life out in the wilderness — Goretex and fleece and all.

Now that the last trip into town is over and done with, our cabin bulges at the seams with groceries, dog and chicken feed for the next ten months or so. Part of the daily routine this time of year involves much ogling of the stuffed pantry (do we really have enough of everything?) while we try to pick a day on which to pull up the drawbridge, so to speak: when we pull out the motorboat.

That act effectively severs us from the people-world, although mostly in a symbolic way since of course a helicopter could whisk us back to civilization in no time.

But one’s sense of wilderness and isolation stems in large parts from one’s own mind and the relative ease of transportation, and so the pulling out of the boat shuts the door on the outside world for us.

As much as I love the feeling of trusting my well-being to the pared-down land of winter and our organizational skills, it always comes with the stark warning that any minor or major emergency will be that much more difficult to deal with until freeze-up is complete.

Still, I rejoice as the trophy hunters and miners get flushed out of the North by the approaching winter, leaving the woods to the hardier year-round species. The land pulls up closer around me, it feels like, and the lack of human-propelled vehicles in the area, such as boats or float planes, chips away at my own fragile self. The borders between myself and the bush begin to blur a little bit.

Our cabin now offers asylum to the usual annual refugees from the garden: Swiss chard, tomatoes, zucchini, squash and kitchen herbs will continue a ponderous existence inside over the winter. It is true, their metabolism slows almost to a halt as they try to come to terms with the divergence between the cozy temperatures and the relative absence of light. Apart from providing the odd fresh vitamin injection into our own sluggish metabolisms, their exotic greenery is especially cheerful in a lonely wintry wilderness cabin.

Other mental nourishment will be derived from the stack of new books we brought in, among them a few about fellow bush people and early European misadventures in the Arctic.

These kinds of books are all the more appealing to us as we can draw some parallels to our own lifestyle and be even more grateful for our comparatively pampered set-up, compared to the incredibly harsh life in “the good old days”.

And so, as Sam and I celebrate the end of the growing and hunting seasons with a completely home-grown meal of moose meat, potatoes, carrots and peas, we feel truly grateful.

Lucky that we survived another summer with its attendant bugs and town trips. Fortunate that our friends are still happy to see us, even though we always gripe about hating coming to town. Thankful that we have food and supplies for us and our animals to last us well into next summer, clean water to drink and not enough money in the bank to make it worthwhile worrying about it.

We are very grateful to the moose, trout and garden vegetables for having lived and fed us, and to the wild medicinal herbs for helping us every now and then. We feel extremely lucky and privileged that our wild animal neighbours have allowed us yet more glimpses of their lives.

And I feel the greatest appreciation for the thousands of people who have lived here before us, obviously almost exclusively First Nation, who have left such a beautiful and pristine land as their legacy. And an equal thank-you to each and every individual out there who fights to preserve some more areas of wilderness, those places where we can truly be human.

We can be so fortunate, if only we choose.