Underneath me the forest and mountains had long given way to the quiltwork of flat fields, then forest again and tiny lakes, until the grasp of roads and houses swallowed up most of the land. Brownish air veiled the details of rectangular city blocks, antlike cars crawling on the expressway below. Glittering windows looked back at me with dead eyes.
After the jet disgorged us passengers, we trampled through the airport like so many sheep. Eyes carefully averted from each other for the most part, a brisk purpose to our step, we clutched our bags with grim determination and descended upon the waiting herd of friends and relatives. There they were, my mom and dad, somehow so much smaller and more fragile than I remembered them.
My parents hustled me into a waiting bus that would take us into the city, the restlessness of the airport spilling over into the street. We sat smiling at each other, asking questions without waiting for the answers, while the bus plunged into traffic. An endless stream of cars surged by in the opposite lanes while words disconnected themselves from the conversations of other people and got caught by my ears. I tried to concentrate on my parents and shut out the multitude of sounds, smells and sights that were assailing me, but it didn’t quite work.
At home in the bush, my senses are tuned to every little change around me. Here, that would be suicide. Too much was going on. Sensory overload is also part of every shopping trip I do to Whitehorse – but this was on a different scale entirely. Never again shall I complain about the amount of traffic encountered on Yukon roads.
Almost an hour later, we changed buses and finally made it to my parents’ home. With relief I closed the door behind me and sank down on the couch. How small and cozy, how tidy it was compared to our cabin which has never felt the intimate suction of a vacuum cleaner. My parents, obviously bursting with plans, tried to be nonchalant about the two weeks of my visit.
“Oh, maybe if the weather is nice, we can go out into the country a bit,” my mom smiled. “And the new neighbours were so excited to hear you were coming, after all we told them about you. Maybe we could pop over there one afternoon.”
I ground my teeth. There it was, the dreaded neighbour visit and attendant feeling that I would be Exhibit A: the wayward child who chooses to live among wild animals and without plumbing. Questions would be asked – did we really hunt our own meat and how did Sam shave without electricity? Wasn’t I scared in the bush?
I don’t mind the curiosity of like-minded folks but somehow, the nosiness of city people always sets me on edge. Inevitably, similar questions about their lifestyle come to the tip of my tongue which I force down my throat again so as not to seem rude. No wonder I had to go and live out in the sticks.
“Getting out of the city would be nice,” I said, even though its smog had only coated my lungs for a couple of hours. “Maybe I can get a haircut somewhere. I never get around to it when I go to Whitehorse. And I wanted to invite you guys out for dinner somewhere nice.” So intricate and complicated, the web of human relationships. I felt weak at the thought of all these millions of lives being lived in the city, interconnected through work, housing, traffic, friendships and shops. I would plug myself into this people network, switching from doing just about everything by myself or with Sam to daily interactions with a bewildering variety of complete strangers. The outside world, usually an abstract phantom I don’t waste much thought on, was clawing at me.
Somewhere out there, far away, Sam would be getting ready to feed the chickens just about now, scanning the hillside for wildlife on his way. The wind would rustle the leaves and later in the evening, only the bird songs would be heard.
Outside, the evening rush hour ploughed through the streets.
Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the
headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.