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contemplating the twilight years

'What we need is a seniors' home for bush people", Sam exclaimed. "Where you'd have your own drafty little cabin with a plywood floor and no carpets, can keep a couple of dogs and where they still let you cut a bit of firewood with the chainsaw.

‘What we need is a seniors’ home for bush people”, Sam exclaimed. “Where you’d have your own drafty little cabin with a plywood floor and no carpets, can keep a couple of dogs and where they still let you cut a bit of firewood with the chainsaw.”

Our trapper neighbour Rick nodded.

“And where you can drive around on a snowmobile in the winter and go fishing in the summer. No bingo games. An ATV instead of one of those silly motor scooters.”

It had started as a somewhat sombre conversation about assorted relatives in seniors’ homes that had led us to the question of what we would do if and when one day we would no longer be able to look after ourselves. Not a pleasant thought for anyone.

We wondered though how it would be after decades of reclusive living, used to making our own decisions about everything, and only intermittent contact with the rest of our species.

I shuddered at the thought of being locked up with a bunch of other people.

“We would have to get a live-in caregiver or maybe just someone to get us firewood”, I said.

Sam was skeptical.

“I don’t think anyone would want to move out into the boonies to look after a couple of old farts. And if you need to see a doctor regularly, it wouldn’t work here anyway.”

“But that would be terrible,” I persisted, “imagine having to move to Whitehorse and live there! Then at least we should try for Haines Junction, don’t they have something like assisted living there? That way, there’d still be mountains and a bit of nature around.”

Rick, who had been grimly thinking over all these options—maybe all the more realistic and threatening to him as a single guy—figured the best solution would be to never get to the stage where help is needed. Better to suddenly keel over one day and not suffer the loss of home and freedom on top of deteriorating health. I glumly agreed and the three of us sat silently, contemplating. It was then that Sam had the brilliant idea of a seniors’ home for bush people.

“Then at least you’d just be stuck with other cantankerous bush folks and you could swap stories about the old days ... getting stuck in a foot of overflow, a grizzly making a beeline for the moose you just shot. The last trip out before freeze-up and sitting on the outhouse at 30 below.”

Rick liked the idea.

“And you could still have a wood stove but they’d get most of the firewood for you. But if you wanted to, they’d heave you on the snow machine and you could go and cut down a couple of trees and buck them up. And fishing ... they’d let you go fishing all summer.”

I was thinking about the details: “Maybe it could be right by the Yukon Wildlife Preserve—although then it’d be in Whitehorse after all; well, sort of. But you’d see the animals. And maybe the dogs at the seniors’ home could be foster dogs from the animal shelter, like communal dogs.”

“Yes,” Sam said. “And once a week a daytrip into Whitehorse. Finally you’d have the time to ask all the questions about four-stroke motors and fishing gear.”

“And spend hours in the bookstore”, I added.

We all sighed at this rosy fantasy of old age and assisted living, hopefully still a far and safe distance in the future.

The more realistic possibilities of decaying minds and body parts—ruling out a bush version of the Golden Girls—were too depressing to think about.

We agreed the best course of action was to live life to the fullest for as long as possible and hope imprisonment in a regular facility would never come to be.

I’m sure there are wonderful homes out there, staffed by caring people, but to us it all had the flavour of being in a holding pattern on death row.

In the meantime though, we highly encourage any interested reader with an entrepreneurial urge to look into developing an assisted living facility for bush people.

You can already put the three of us on the waiting list, just in case.

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

River south of Whitehorse.