This is it, the end of hibernation. The bears have been out for a while already and now I have emerged from our backwoods cabin to mingle with the crowds in Whitehorse.
Going into town after a winter and spring of seclusion is a heady concept, considering that over the past months, I’ve only met two or three representatives of my species. After all this time apart from the rest of the human population of the planet, I harbour a particularly warm and fuzzy feeling towards my fellow creatures—although I’m not what you’d call a people person by any means.
The fuzzy feeling that encompasses all people does wear off again, but right at the start of the year’s first town trip, it gives the whole dreaded shopping extravaganza a bit of a rosy tinge. It’s interesting how the restricted exposure to people has made us so much more sensitive to our dealings with them. Maybe it’s comparable to travelling to a foreign land and strange culture, where every encounter with the locals is so memorable—just because it’s unusual.
From about mid-October until mid-June, when our interaction with other persons is rare and punctuated by long intervals of solitude, a great weight and significance is attached to every exchange with someone else. After all, it’s not an everyday occurrence. And so a small kindness, friendly tone of voice or smile becomes a source of great joy to us while a gruff response or unhelpful answer feels very rude and leads to much soul searching on our part about what we might have said to cause this.
The complex lives that other people lead, their daily dealings with a multitude of other human beings, is something we have to forcefully remind ourselves of until we get to town and contact with another person becomes the norm again. Of course a store clerk is unlikely to be especially thrilled because of the mere fact that she is talking with me, a person. But when I first get to town, I’m always enthralled for a few hours that it’s not moose I’m interacting with.
Of course, people don’t know that haven’t seen their likes in ages and may well take me for a dimwit, what with the beatific smile I bestow on them all. Somehow I dislike being unmasked as a bush dweller; it usually leads to questions about what we do all day, how we get our water and if we don’t get lonely. It’s not the questions so much that make me feel like an exotic animal as the interspersed “wows” and incredulous looks.
Really, it’s just another way to live your life, no more spectacular than what other people choose to do with themselves and it’s filled with daily routines. So in order to blend in, I camouflage myself with clean ordinary jeans, T-shirt and sneakers.
Although I’m not sure that is much of a disguise anymore by the time I hit the supermarket and pile ten toothbrushes, six family packs of toilet paper and entire flats of tomato paste on top of 20 large packages of spaghetti and bottles of olive oil until the shopping cart becomes almost impossible to steer. By the time I get to the checkout, my nerves are frazzled and the wonder of bustling around dozens of people has worn off.
That’s such a far cry from how I feel when I first enter the outskirts of civilization but possibly more in line with how everybody else is doing and it always the time when I understand the woman who happened to be the very first person I encountered last year when I went out in June. I had gone into her corner store to buy something to eat, just a little snack. Something fresh or at least different tasting from the fare I’d been chewing on all winter long.
Despite the rather sour and grumpy expression on the elderly store owner’s face, I had been glad to see her: a fellow human being in the flesh. It seemed wonderful to me that she was there and ran a small store. Happily, I had browsed through the tired-looking selection of produce and after I had made my choice and paid, warmly wished her a good day.
Her laconic response: “If you believe in that…”.
It had admittedly been a bit of a downer at the time but not unlike how I feel at the end of a town trip. It’s mostly throughout the winter and the first hours of coming into town for the first time in the year that create a sort of halo around everybody.
Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who
lives at the headwaters of the
Yukon River south of Whitehorse.