I lean forward like a drunk reaching for a lamppost, my face stung by snow. Northern beauty treatment: to exfoliate your skin and get that radiant glow, simply venture out into a blizzard. Lose those extra calories as your metabolism goes into a frenzy, burning a myriad of little fat cells to keep you warm.
The world has shrunk to this swirling spot of snow. Gone are the mountains, the creek, the sky. How is this for feeling at the centre of things? I gasp, battling my usual problem of trying to breathe while a storm gust whips my face. It feels like I can’t, like the air is too solid. I pull up my scarf to block the wind and inhale. If I ever went bungee-jumping, I’d probably suffocate somewhere along the way down.
The snow on the ground rises up into little mounds, gives birth to my feet, and swallows them again as I trudge along. It’s an exercise in futility I’m doing here, breaking this path which is already drifting in again behind me. The dogs think I’m retarded, going out in this, and give me dirty looks except for the young one who jumps around off-trail, an expression of bliss on his face, his tongue a pink flag in the wind.
I pull the sleeves of my jacket down, try to get rid of the tiny gap between the cuffs and my mittens, the gap where the storm cuts its way in, slicing away at my wrists like a meteorological psychopath. There’s something elemental about walking in a blizzard, something that makes you feel valiant and righteous.
The feeling lasts about as long as my bladder is content with looking after all those mugs of tea I drank. Then comes the moment of truth: the unsavoury task of baring tender parts to this arctic version of sandblasting. I curse into my scarf and fumble with my wind pants and the layers underneath, kicking a depression into the snow to avoid making a bum-version of a snow angel.
As I squat, the temperature of my nether regions rapidly equalizing with that of my surroundings, the dogs take the opportunity to turn around. I struggle to pull my clothing layers up again, everything supercooled with a moist sprinkling of snowflakes added to it. Not unlike the outhouse seat that had grown sparkly winter fur over night – the disadvantage of not shutting out the nice view by installing a full door.
I give in and follow Nooka and Milan, reasoning that we’ve had a thorough airing by now. Wilson jumps by, bliss overcome by ecstasy, and throws himself down in the path for a snow rub. I step around him, this little Holy Roller who’s been touched by the spirit of the snow god. His legs bat at the snow flakes as he writhes on the ground, rubbing snow deeply into his fur.
I save myself the snide comment, knowing all too well how this is going to end: Wilson discovering that the nice white stuff turns into water once he’s back inside, and dripping by the woodstove with the saddest dog face known to man. Or woman. Another roadblock as Nooka and Milan stop to chew the ice balls out of their paws – at least Nooka does. Milan waits like royalty for me to do it, lifting one paw after another like a horse getting his hooves cleaned.
I grumble that this is ridiculous as I poke around between his toes, dislodging caked snow and ice, my fingers turning into frozen claws. Why doesn’t he do it himself? But how often can I repay these silly goofs for their good company, way finding and game detection skills? I mostly grumble for effect, and Milan knows it.
Podiatrics done, we struggle onward, back to the sanctuary of our snowblasted cabin. This is how I envision expeditions to the North Pole, only with the substitute of a clammy tent for the cozy cabin. Finally, we’re there. One big rush for the door, and warmth greets us. My face glows red, my body heat still running in overdrive. But it’s not so much the warmth I notice, it’s the complete calmness of the air. I pull off my scarf and take a deep lungful of it, revelling in these small luxurious of life.
Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.