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The housesitter blues

It is a dilemma familiar to pet and livestock owners everywhere: what to do with the animals while going on vacation.

It is a dilemma familiar to pet and livestock owners everywhere: what to do with the animals while going on vacation.

Gardeners have the added headache of their crops that might whither away if left at the mercy of the elements.

People living in the bush often face both of these problems — with the added difficulty of having no neighbours who might be pressed into service.

While living in the roadless wilderness has much to recommend itself, this is one of the drawbacks that frequently results in people just staying put.

So how can the wilderness dweller escape those silken shackles of a secluded life on the homestead in the bush once in a while?

When there are animals and plants that need to be looked after, or if in the winter there is anything that needs to be kept from freezing, the only way to do it is to have somebody stay at home and tend to the place.

For couples like Sam and me, this translates into leading separate lives when it comes to lengthy trips into town, paddling adventures and holidays abroad: one goes out and the other person stays behind. Certainly not an ideal set up.

Oh, it sure would be nice to find a good housesitter so that we could actually go on a trip together, but apart from the complications of getting that person in and out again, finding the right candidate is not an easy feat.

The idea of spending a couple of weeks at a remote wilderness cabin does appeal to many people, but housesitting in the bush entails of course more than just … well, sitting in somebody’s house.

Without doubt, much of life in the wilderness is just as often imagined. The peace and quiet, where the only sounds one hears all day are the wind, lapping waves and bird songs.

There is a lot of spare time for contemplation and watching the light slide over the mountainsides.

Game paths, shed antlers and bear rubbing trees can be discovered, and with any luck, wildlife makes an appearance.

The day’s activities and schedule are entirely determined by oneself.

But where living in the bush differs from camping is the roster of added responsibilities. There are animals to be looked after without the option of just getting into a car and driving over to the neighbour or vet if one seems to be sick.

If something breaks down or doesn’t work properly, the first line of defence is one’s head to figure out and fix the problem, instead of being able to rely on the help and expertise of other people.

Then there is the matter of not getting lost in the woods and behaving sensibly around wild animals, as well as having to be the first responder in any medical emergencies.

Add to this the ins and outs of a not-quite-reliable communication system, plus the potential for feeling lonely or scared in the complete absence of other people, and it becomes a pretty tall order for the wilderness housesitter.

I have to admit to mixed feelings about housesitters, having had a not so great experience in the past.

In exchange for four weeks of house and dog sitting, one wall tent and two winter tires got wrecked, and the majority of that winter’s firewood supply got frittered away.

That seemed like a high price to pay and made me somewhat leery of housesitters.

And while we might cast a speculative eye over our friends, who would be eminently suited and trustworthy for the task, they are similarly tied down with animals or gardens of their own, as well as jobs they have to go to.

It is a bit of a dilemma all right!

But one that we do want to tackle so that maybe next year we can go on a paddle trip together.

It is kind of funny how all the exploring we fancied ourselves doing in the area has come to next to nothing because of the responsibilities around the homestead, and how the trips we do manage to go on must be taken separately instead of sharing the fun and excitement.

With any luck, we’ll find a treasure of a housesitter who can realize their dream of wilderness living while we get a chance to poke around hidden lakes.

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