Waiting for the big event

Christmas plans are not the topic of the day when I talk with our trapper neighbour on the radio. Rick will spend Christmas alone with his dogs,…

Christmas plans are not the topic of the day when I talk with our trapper neighbour on the radio.

Rick will spend Christmas alone with his dogs, over on the other side of the lake, and I’ll be alone with my dogs — neither of us is religious, and so the holidays will mostly get acknowledged with phone calls and maybe a nice dinner if inspiration strikes.

Solstice, on the other hand, is more of an occasion, at least for me. But we don’t talk about that either. No, the hottest topic is freeze-up, which is a bit late this year.

It always starts out so gently, just a subtle hint at the change to come: the rocks along shore wearing silly-looking bonnets of ice from which little tassels hang where the splashed-on water drips off. These ice caps are extremely slick and often turn getting water into a slapstick routine.

Eventually, more and more ice crystals begin floating in the water as it starts to congeal, soon forming little pans if conditions are favourable. Once these stretch into larger sheets, it gets interesting as high wind and waves can break them up again.

From up in his valley, Rick has a commanding view of the lake and the developing ice situation. I contribute the close-up details from my vantage point on the lakeshore, and together we indulge in very satisfactory freeze-up forecasts. It is not the lack of other things to talk about that keeps us mulling over this topic. It is because after the lake pulls the blanket of ice over its head, life changes dramatically out here.

To me, it means silence. The bush is not really all that quiet; there’s the wind in the trees, birds, animal sounds, the crunching of foot steps and the lapping of waves and sound of running water. With the lake left to its own devices under the ice, the gurgling, splashing and thrashing of waves which is our continuous background noise is extinguished and sounds travel so much farther.

Temperatures will drop lower because the large body of comparatively warm water is sealed off and doesn’t act like a space heater anymore — something I gladly accept as the ice fog that always steams off the lake when it is cold out now disappears, at long last.

The mountains, which are often hidden for weeks on end in the eternal and infernal fog finally rejoin me. The wide expanse of ice also makes it a lot brighter, especially once there is some snow on it, because it reflects all the light.

At the beginning, when the ice is still new and skinny, the dogs will need extra supervision. Unlike the moose who steer clear of the ice for a couple of weeks, the dogs are tempted to run onto the huge empty surface in a mad gallop, playing wild games of chase. To avoid a frigid bath for myself in a dog rescue situation, I deter them well ahead of freeze-up from going down to the water.

I’m probably overly careful on the ice, using moose as ice testers apart from chopping holes — once the moose traffic is well under way and no tracks end in a dark open spot, I judge it safe for walking on. If overflow permits, long distances can be covered easily without our usual forest routine of having to step over and under trees. It almost feels like racing, being able to stride along so unimpeded and out in the sunshine.

Getting water will involve more work, though: first a hole needs to be chopped and then it has to be kept open, a task that involves insulating it with a Styrofoam lid and lovingly shovelling lots of snow on it on cold nights.

After a while, the ice forms a route out — minor emergencies can then be taken care of more easily and less costly, supplies restocked and even visitors expected. But that will still be a few more weeks, although Rick and I are already comparing the state of our pantries and discussing fresh fruit and vegetables. With freeze-up not even complete yet, he is working on a shopping list.

But for now, I wonder every morning when I step outside if the lake has frozen. I listen for it: for that complete silence as if the land is holding its breath. It’s like a dawn, the standing on the brink of something very big — how the world used to be before we filled it up with so much noise.

Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon

River south of Whitehorse.

Just Posted

Lorraine Kuhn is seen with one of the many volleyball teams she coached. (Photo submitted by Sport Yukon)
The Yukon Sports Hall of Fame inducts the late Lorraine Kuhn

Lorraine Kuhn became the newest member of the Yukon Sports Hall of Fame for her work in growing volleyball amongst other sports

File Photo
A Yukon judge approved dangerous offender status for a man guilty of a string of assaults in 2020.
Yukon judge sentences dangerous offender to indefinite prison term

Herman Peter Thorn, 51, was given the sentence for 2020 assaults, history of violence

Crystal Schick/ Yukon News A former residential school in the Kaska Dena community of Lower Post will be demolished on June 21. Crystal Schick/ Yukon News
Lower Post residential school demolition postponed

On June 21, the old residential school in Lower Post will be demolished and new ground on a multi-cultural centre will be broken

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley announced 29 new COVID-19 cases on June 19 and community transmission among unvaccinated individuals. (Yukon News file)
Yukon logs record-high 29 new COVID-19 cases

F.H. Collins prom attendees and some Porter Creek Grade 9 students are instructed to self-isolate as community transmission sweeps through unvaccinated populations

Willow Brewster, a paramedic helping in the COVID-19 drive-thru testing centre, holds a swab used for the COVID-19 test moments before using it on Nov. 24. The Yukon government is reopening the drive-thru option on June 18. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Drive-up COVID-19 testing opening June 18 in Whitehorse

The drive-up testing will be open from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. everyday and increase testing capacity by 33 spots

Whitehorse City Hall (Yukon News file)
City news, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council at its June 14 meeting

Murray Arsenault sits in the drivers seat of his 1975 Bricklin SV1 in Whitehorse on June 16. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Bringing the 1975 Bricklin north

Murray Arsenault remembers his dad’s Bricklin, while now driving his own

A presumptive COVID case was found at Seabridge Gold’s 3 Aces project. (file photo)
Presumptive COVID-19 case reported at mine in southeast Yukon

A rapid antigen rest found a presumptive COVID case on an incoming individual arriving at the 3Aces project

Jonathan Antoine/Cabin Radio
Flooding in Fort Simpson on May 8.
Fort Simpson asked for military help. Two people showed up.

FORT SIMPSON—Residents of a flooded Northwest Territories village expected a helping hand… Continue reading

A woman was rescued from the Pioneer Ridge Trail in Alaska on June 16. (Photo courtesy/AllTrails)
Alaska hiker chased off trail by bears flags down help

ANCHORAGE (AP)—An Alaska hiker who reported needing help following bear encounters on… Continue reading

Two participants cross the finish line at the City of Whitehorse Kids Triathlon on June 12 with Mayor Dan Curtis on hand to present medals. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
2021 Kids’ Triathlon draws 76 young athletes

Youth ages five to 14 swim, run and bike their way to finish line

NDP MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq rises in the House of Commons, in Ottawa on May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
‘Unacceptable’ that Inuk MP felt unsafe in House of Commons, Miller says

OTTAWA—It’s a “sad reflection” on Canada that an Inuk MP feels she’s… Continue reading

Lily Witten performs her Canadian Nationals beam routine on June 14. John Tonin/Yukon News
Three Yukon gymnasts break 20-year Nationals absence

Bianca Berko-Malvasio, Maude Molgat and Lily Witten competed at the Canadian Nationals – the first time in 20 years the Yukon’s been represented at the meet

Most Read