Consider me a career bush woman.
That is what I am tempted to reply to the question I am sometimes asked: “But what do you do out there the whole time? Do you have some sort of business?”
Some people take the view that a life in the wilderness such as ours is that of a bum. In a way, that’s not too far off the mark, I guess.
The lack of running water and indoor plumbing, drawing electricity off a 12-volt battery and the hard physical labour involved in simple bush life seem to add up to poverty in the eyes of some. Not to mention that money is pretty hard to come by.
There is no professional development, a secure job or pension plan out here; in short, it is not the kind of thing any career counsellor would recommend pursuing in your productive years.
It is funny to look at ourselves in this way when I hear these kind of sentiments expressed — admittedly quite rarely, but once in a while it happens.
The North is awash in eccentric people pursuing a wild variety of lifestyles, of which ours is not even something new or particularly original. If anything, we are doing a similar thing as the homesteaders of old.
But to somebody unfamiliar with anything that greatly deviates from the usual mainstream path of school, job, marriage, mortgage, kids and retirement planning, ours seems like a somewhat aimless existence.
Where is the contribution to society? Well, it may not be much, but actually you’re reading mine right now.
What do we do out here all day, people wonder, don’t we get bored and lonely? Humans are social animals and while many longingly dream of a short holiday in the complete peace and quiet that automatically comes in the absence of crowds of people, a permanent life as hermits of the woods largely seems to go against human nature.
So, sure, it gets lonely once in a while for us, when we’d love to pop over to a friend’s house for an afternoon and can’t do that because of the wilderness that contains us like a moat surrounding a castle. But that is not a situation limited to a bush lifestyle, you also get those moments in town, when everybody you know is either busy or away on holiday.
What seems so aimless to people bewildered by the wilderness is our daily puttering around, the endless chores interspersed with leisurely walks in the wood, hours spent fishing, watching the landscape and mulling over every animal sighting.
How can that be enough over the years, some wonder, and what does it lead to in the end? Anything at all?
Regard us as students of the woods then. Not only do we work towards a more self-sufficient, least-impact, simple lifestyle, we are trying hard to understand the how and why of the ecosystem around us.
It may not be the best moment in time for it as climate change tightly grips the world and makes things more unpredictable, but that is what we have been given.
I would like to become a crusty old timer eventually, as much at home in my surroundings as in my body, with a much deeper understanding of the animal and plant neighbours we have.
It is impossible, I think, to get to that stage as a weekend warrior, always just glimpsing snatches of a place for short periods of time.
Neither do I think that an appropriate university degree and ecology related job could ever afford the kind of intimate and varied knowledge that decades of living year-round in a wild place can bestow.
I am, however, very glad that there are all kinds of wildlife studies coming out of the ivory towers. They are helpful in understanding some of our own observations.
We are still very much at the beginning of our apprenticeship in the wilderness and luckily (I hope) have a long time of more learning and work stretching out ahead of us.
Payment is in generous terms of happiness and old age security in knowledge. So, all things considered, I suppose I am a career bush woman.
Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.