Four months in the bush — all alone.
Or as alone as one can be in the company of dogs.
That’s what it is for me now, and I’m quite excited about it. Usually my partner Sam is gone for no more than two months at a time when he goes out to work, but the contract that came up now will keep him busy (and homesick) until some time in March.
With Sam just gone for a few days now, I still feel at a loss; the cabin suddenly seems very large and very silent. Living together as a couple out in the woods, as the only humans on endless square kilometres, makes for a pretty intense relationship. And being alone for long periods is no less of an extreme.
It generally takes me close to a week to fully adjust from one to the other. It is the transition time that is somewhat awkward: having to get used to no feedback to my thoughts and feelings of the moment, no Sam for company and inspiration.
A friend asked me if I didn’t become a bit weird in those times alone out here. Humans are, after all, social animals and even loners like me crave contact. Indeed, I warp a little more when Sam is gone for months on end, but I’d argue (and hope) that it is in exactly the ways that enable me to not only feel content, but happy.
If I were to stick to all my usual needs and methods of operation, I’m sure I would be doomed to a miserable time because it is, after all, not an entirely normal way of existence. So I sit back and take note of what is beginning to twist a little inside.
Animals, whose visits I enjoy at any time, take on a whole different dimension in my life. Even just tracks in the snow become very cheering and seeing another creature is like a gift and an encouragement — proof that I am not alone at all, that everywhere around me countless lives are being lived.
Sometimes when I see an animal, I can read in their eyes a similar wonder to mine, a question to what this fellow creature is all about and what its life might be like. I talk softly to the moose who perk up their ears and watch me, human being that I am, always driven to express myself in so much noise. Then they turn away to feed or else keep looking at me, maybe trying to decipher if my body language might give clearer subtitles to my words.
In the silence and without human company, my senses open up wide and eagerly pull in every sound, smell, sight and feeling out there in the woods. At times I get an uncanny hunch about the presence of an animal and sure enough, when I go to look, something is there.
Some days, my mind starts to grapple obsessively with one idea or train of thought, which suddenly feels to be of utmost importance. I might chew on a thought for hours or start hunting through reference books, scribbling down urgent notes, only to look at it in the morning with quiet amusement.
In these times alone, I am often grounded in a serene and placid mood, but this is punctuated by mood swings of a ferocity last experienced in my teenage years; I suppose it’s the effect of being without another person to share the feelings of the moment with. A brilliantly blue sky can seem so beautiful I can hardly stand it, and having an empty e-mail inbox will seem as if nobody cares.
I’m glad I can take it all with a grain of salt and a bit of humour, and recognize it for what it is (at least I think so). Signs of a mind that needs to keep busy and wants things of importance to focus on, cravings for contact and exchange with a live someone.
It is an interesting voyage into the hindmost crevices of my mind and personality, a walk along paths we don’t normally get to travel, something that I relish and see as a luxury in today’s world. It is an integral part of what makes long periods of time alone in the bush so different and special.
The four months have just begun.
Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.