My legs slide out sideways in a spectacular arch, feet scrabbling desperately for purchase, and even while my hand holding the chicken feed bucket shoots up into the air for counterbalance, I’m already lying on the path. “Holy…,” I mutter, the right expletive having slipped my mind as if my grey matter had become icy as well.
Sam is trying to stifle laughter: “Are you OK?” He comes to help me up, hits the same slick spot and is windmilling his arms before pulling me into a vertical position again. Carefully, the two of us shuffle back to the cabin, a perfect impersonation of 90-year-olds out for a walk.
It’s the whacky weather that’s to blame – the warm temperatures, the deluge of rain, and then the whole mess freezing up again. Oh, we’ve sprinkled ashes, but there is no keeping up with it, it seems. Time to get out the combat spikes: rubber contraptions with little metal claws that strap onto boots, mostly geared at seniors.
My mom has them, too. Highly embarrassed at having reached the age where taking a fall is to be avoided, she confided buying them in a low voice as if admitting to something indecent. Take heart, mom – we’re using them as well. With all the concussion research that’s going on, I don’t think scientists really need Wilderness Brain Exhibit A.
With the amazing timing of things, it is, of course, now that our woodstove is belching smoke into the cabin every time we stoke the fire. Sam volunteers to go up and clean the chimney pipe, but I won’t let him. He finds it unnecessary to use a safety harness and rope, and while the possibility of taking a tumble off the roof and becoming a quadriplegic is always there, chances seem a bit higher when everything is slick with ice.
Up I go, harnessed and roped, bent forward in gorilla fashion. I ignore the nice view that usually has us fantasizing about adding a balcony to the cabin – one of those delusional ideas where you ignore the reality of six months of winter, four months of bugs and two months of potential marginal use. I grimly clutch the chimney brush, marvelling at how steep the roof incline seems.
Then I’ve reached the stovepipe. Sam gives a cheer from down below as I whack the rain cap, showering black dandruff on the roof. Done. Next comes the part I hate. I shove the brush down the chimney’s throat, a rhythmic “cr-cr-cr”, until it comes to a stop on the damper – easy enough. But pulling the thing out again is the tricky part, the long handle sprouting into the air, then arching downward, vibrating around me like the feeler of a monstrous insect, jamming the brush against the stove pipe wall at an angle.
The curses that wouldn’t come to mind when I slipped are suddenly there, in bewildering numbers. I hiss them at the chimney brush handle, cementing our uneasy relationship, while it mockingly whips around my head. Clutching it in desperation, I give a mighty pull and finally extract the brush, the smell of soot and creosote blossoming into the air. One more time and I throw the offending tool off the roof, remembering too late as always that the handle end tends to make a malicious dive for the window on its way down.
“The window,” gasps Sam promptly, and tries to run and catch it. He does an amazing impression of Fred Astaire, legs flailing madly, arms circling gracefully, as he fights the pull of gravity exerted by the slick ice that surrounds the cabin. I cringe and wait to see who will hit the ground first: the chimney brush handle or Sam. It turns out to be the brush handle, having graciously spared the window pane.
I reinstall the rain cap and begin to make my way downward, holding on tightly to the rope, ignoring the view. Sort of like descending Mount Everest, I imagine. Why travel so far when adventure lies so close? Finally I’m down on terra firma, slippery as it is. I stow away the safety harness and rope, and inch my way around the corner. Sam has already emptied the stove of ashes and soot, providing us with a bucketful of ice combat ammunition. “Take that!” he shouts and sprinkles it on the ground.
Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.