Through the clouds, I can barely make out the smudged pale slice of the moon. It would probably help if I opened both of my eyes, and more than just a crack.
Two pinpoints of starlight gleam feebly from another hole in the clouds. I stretch sleepily and look at the motionless shape next to me, listen to Sam’s slow breathing. Downstairs, Nooka has already noticed somehow that I’m awake and is pacing the floor in anticipation. A fast dive from underneath the toasty bed covers into my layers of fleece and wool clothing, and I’m semi-ready to start the day.
Outside, the Styrofoam seat in the outhouse welcomes my bared flesh with a warm embrace, a great horned owl punctuating my splashings and gurglings with calm, well-timed hoots. The theme music of a wilderness morning. Back in the cabin, there follows the ritual of lamp lighting, water boiling and fire stoking, the slight rustling and creaking from above an indication that Sam has woken up but is intent on feigning sleep until the cabin has warmed to a cozy temperature.
Bleary-eyed, I stoop over the coffee filter and inhale the hot, aromatic steam that snakes its way through the patch of mellow lamp light. Sometimes, usually during a cold snap when a good proportion of the outside temperature has seeped into the cabin, I entertain fleeting fantasies of waking up to central heating, soft warm carpets, a hot bath and an automated coffee maker – all that subdued humming slavery of machinery.
I never dwell on these thoughts for long. What’s the point in getting my synapses all fired up about things I don’t have and, once I’m more awake and the cabin is warm, don’t even want?
With my coffee mug, I curl up next to the wood stove, the air around it already ever so slightly warmer. Sluggishly, my mind lays out the events of the day for me: feed and water the chickens and dogs. Get more water. Cut more firewood. Go for a walk. Eat. Write a bit and read a lot. So small, my world. That’s it, life in the bush – existence pared down to the very basics, the frills and artificial thrills peeled away until all that’s left is to stay warm, fed, and be with your partner and animals.
The last time I went down south for a visit in the big city amid those churning metal streams of cars, the brown stinky air and hectic herds of people, I was a great disappointment to my friends and family. They kept offering me a constant barrage of chocolates, delectable cheeses, choice fruit, cultural outings; coffee mugs, new sweatshirts and novels to take home; bathtubs and shower stalls on constant stand-by. My cold snap dream come true: to wander scantily clad into the kitchen for a cup of coffee.
But somehow, I was unable to enjoy it – these substitutes on which we’re conditioned to get by, those glittery distractions from the chewed-up surroundings, the noise, the lack of space, the neighbours looking into your yard and windows. I can’t quite figure out why the luxuries that my everyday life is deprived of and that were suddenly available to me in abundance didn’t mean a thing anymore. It seemed like a poor trade to me: indoor plumbing, entertainment and constantly available foods in exchange for traffic jams, crowds and conquered nature.
Maybe when you have to find happiness in the smallest of things everyday, every year (the way the light slants across the mountains, a raven calling to you, the utter quiet of a very cold morning) because there simply is not much else, because to yearn for more would lead you down a slippery slope of discontent – maybe then you learn to be not only satisfied but happy with life pared down to basics.
At the possible expense of being discontent in more civilized surroundings where most of the things that bring you happiness have been destroyed, displaced or altered beyond recognition and meaning. Maybe it’s part of the letting go that has to happen in order to succeed when you chose to live remotely, the adjustments that you have to make not only in the way you live but especially in your attitude.
Outside the window, the monochrome landscape of dawn crystallizes slowly into ever greater details. More creaking from above my head, a shuffling of feet that indicates that Sam is about to join me for the morning ritual of watching the mountains rejoin our world, of gleaning the first thimbleful of joy from the bush as the day unfolds.
Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who
lives at the headwaters of the
Yukon River south of Whitehorse.