Yesterday, one of our dogs disappeared. Only seconds before, she had been walking right behind me—and then she was gone.
All that could still be seen of her were the tip of her nose and her ears, sticking out of the snow while everything else had vanished.
Foolishly, she had stepped off the packed-down trail to attend to a call of nature and the soft afternoon snow had collapsed under her like a souffle, swallowing her whole. And we’re not talking small dogs here.
It took her a good minute to struggle out of the crater again while I encouraged her from the sidelines, none too eager to get stuck next to her.
It’s that time of the year again, snow turning into quicksand.
While people on Marsh Lake begin to think about flood protection as this winter’s massive mounds of snow start to melt at long last, springtime for us means fine-tuning our daily schedule according to the temperatures.
Weather conditions are always a determining factor of life in the bush and spring, beautiful as it is with all the sunshine and temperatures above zero, but it comes with its own set of challenges.
Without any roads, sidewalks or maintained trails here, all our winter walking is done on the snow. There is no way to avoid the increasingly treacherous and soggy snow surface. As even the hard-packed paths we’ve established begin to disintegrate around lunchtime, as well as the snowmobile trails, outside activities become tricky. We try to do everything that involves walking from A to B early in the morning, but the afternoons, drenched in sunshine and boasting toasty temperatures of plus seven degrees, are just much too nice to spend inside.
We feel solar powered now: long gone is the lethargy of dark grey winter. Instead, we feel an urge to get out and do things, move around, suck in all that light. So out we go again in the afternoons, poised to counterbalance in a split second when suddenly one leg disappears from under us. The more holes we inadvertently punch into our trails, the faster they disintegrate—not really the effect we’re aiming for at this point when there’s still so much snow. It just leads to breaking through more often, even in the mornings.
Wearing snowshoes helps, depending on just how warm and sunny it gets, but we’re heartily sick of this footwear that features rather large in our lives all throughout the winter. And if the snow is very soft, wearing snowshoes just creates bigger holes.
Glad as I am to finally see the snow go (even the top of our wood chopping block has re-emerged; turns out we’ve been chopping wood just on compacted snow and ice for quite a while), I’m also apprehensive about the results of all that melting.
Mine are flood worries of a different kind.
After the last record snowfall two winters ago, it took two entire summers to dry out the forest again to “normal” levels.
Where there were wet areas in the woods before, normally walkable from mid-July on, huge ponds had been created by the snowmelt that had finally dried out in early last fall.
Even new creeks had been created that ran merrily the two last summers and, while those were not much of a concern to us, the new ponds and swampy areas had radically altered our trail network and ability to access certain places via certain routes.
Big deal, you may think, but when bushwhacking is your daily means of getting around, you begin to appreciate easy terrain. And so our trails follow the paths of least resistance and having large areas submerged in knee-deep water means plenty of crawling over, under and around assorted vegetation instead of just walking. Unless it turns out to be a hot, dry summer, I guess we will have to continue taking the detours this year and next.
With all those stagnant pools of water where there are usually none, it may well turn out to be a banner year for mosquitoes: also nothing I look forward to. But before the bugs come out, we still have many hectic mornings and awkward walking ahead of us.
Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the
headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.