Bent over double with pain and cursing under my breath, I stumbled back into the cabin.
“Go,” I grunted at the wide-eyed dogs, “move.”
They pushed up against me with concern, trying to find out what was wrong — my unnatural posture and distorted face an indication that all was not well. When I reached the couch, I gingerly lowered myself sideways onto the cushions and tried to find a position that would ease the searing pain in my lower back.
It had been my waltz with the extension ladder that had incapacitated me from one second to the next. Nothing dramatic like falling off the ladder, no, it had been the simple act of manoeuvring the unwieldy aluminium beast against the roof edge so I could climb up and clean the chimney pipe.
Like always, the ladder and I had fought over who was in control of whom as I teetered closer towards the cabin with it. I had almost had it where I wanted it when suddenly, in a cunning move, it had twisted sideways and my lower back with it.
As I lay on the couch, closely observed by the dogs sitting attentively next to me, I pondered my predicament. The simple life out in the woods depends largely on muscle power and an accident or illness can cause major problems for someone who is alone. How I wished Sam was here.
The stove pipe would obviously have to remain dirty as it was for a while longer, until I was in shape again for air acrobatics, not to mention my enemy the ladder. Keeping myself in firewood and water was the most pressing issue. There was enough wood split to last a few days and also some skinny pieces but after that, I would have to chop more if my back liked it or not.
Getting water also involves wielding the axe, at least in cold temperatures when, despite the insulated lid on the waterhole, new ice still forms. And since I only had a little bit of water left in the cabin, I had to tackle this issue sooner rather than later. I thought the best course of action was to get the chores over with and then try to find a way to get a grip on the excruciating back pain.
I rolled off the couch again, conveniently still wearing my boots and jacket, and found that standing and walking was a lot more bearable than lying down or sitting. When I grabbed the blue water container, the dogs seemed quite relieved at this resumption of familiar activities.
As we walked down to the lake, the water bucket bouncing around on the toboggan, I tried to think of the best way to get at the water. The hole resembles a crater lake thanks to a raised rim of packed snow and ice around it, an unwelcome feature now that I was somewhat immobilized.
When I pushed off the waterhole lid with my foot, I saw that at least the water had not frozen over. That was good. Not so good was my attempt at bending down to dip the bucket in: it hurt so bad that it made me nauseous. OK, I thought, we’ll have to do this differently.
I kneeled down, keeping my upper body woodenly erect and tried to lower the container into the water without bending forward or sideways. Alas, I couldn’t reach. I tried a couple more times but was unable to get any water into my bucket. Obviously, this water source was inaccessible to me for the time being. I would have to melt snow.
Back at the cabin, I filled two large pots with (I hoped) clean snow and began the tedious and time-intensive business of melting it down to the 20 litres of water that the dogs, chickens and I consume every day. Feeding and watering the chickens was another painful exercise — the coop is built for their comfort, not mine, and the low ceiling made me kneel down again. Unfortunately this time in chicken manure, not so nice when you don’t have a washing machine to toss the pants into.
With the chickens looked after, all that remained to be done that day was replenishing the pots on the wood stove with fresh snow. My back pain unfortunately turned out be immune to pain killers, arnica ointment, homeopathic remedies, herbal teas and a sauna. It finally receded of its own accord after three days, leaving behind just a lingering feeling of discomfort and a reminder that good health should never be taken granted.
Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.