As a combined Mother’s Day and birthday gift, announcing my plan to finally emerge from the wilderness and visit my parents would be hard to beat, I thought. Leaving the bush for a few weeks and immersing my feral self in the bubbling cauldron of noise, exhaust and humanity back east where my parents live will be a true sacrifice. After all, going to Whitehorse is bad enough. The mere thought of being among millions of people makes my skin crawl.
Stunned silence was the immediate response of my mom’s to my announcement. Or was it just the bad phone line? Just when I thought that maybe she’d let me off the hook and tell me that she and my dad would be coming to visit us in the bush instead, that they’d love to be sucked dry by mosquitoes, use an outhouse instead of a flush toilet, be far from medical help and feel out of place in their old age, she said: “Really? Oh that is so wonderful, the best present anyone could ever give me. When are you coming and for how long?”
“Early June, for a couple of weeks I thought.” My conscience was nagging me that two weeks was really not long enough when I hadn’t seen my parents in years.
“Such a short stay? Why don’t you stay longer?”
Ah, the tricky business of human relationships. It is as much of a mystery to my parents why Sam and I would choose to live out in the bush as it is to me why my parents like living cheek to cheek with millions of strangers. After a few days of genuine happy visiting, I foresaw a string of well-meant but irritating comments about the benefits of road access and how wonderful places like Vancouver Island would be for us.
“Mom, I think in two weeks we have a lot of time to talk and do things together. Sam is going out for work in late June, so I can’t stay away any longer than that anyway.”
“Oh. Well. We’ll just have to make the most of it, then.”
Sam nudged me excitedly and pointed out the window. A large black bear wandered slowly by, sensuously swaying from one paw to the next, nose swinging over the ground. I drank him in, his beauty and power, the dark brown shape so utterly at home in the woods as I could never hope to be. Wild animals, but bears especially, walk with such grace as if the essence of the land was distilled in their every movement.
“Mom, our first spring bear just walked by here!”
“Oh nice. You be careful out there, now.”
I ended the phone call to my parents and watched the bear disappear leisurely into the woods. Survival in the city would be a lot more difficult than here, I felt, then chastised myself for my rotten attitude. After all, I’ve lived in small towns and even a couple of cities in the past – although I never liked it. Surely, a couple of weeks would be doable. Maybe I could go see a movie or … I couldn’t think of anything fun to do in a city. They are chock-full of surrogates.
Groomed parks instead of wilderness, zoos and pet shops instead of actual wildlife, adventure movies because your life has to be tame enough to fit in with the other millions, stores with fancy foods because you don’t have enough space to grow your own, and glittering, expensive distractions so you don’t notice all the things you’re missing.
I will treat it like an expedition, I resolved. Survival in the city, the opposite of wilderness tourism. I will let myself be swept up in the hum of traffic, marvel at houses more than a few storeys tall, be prepared for the dangers that stalk the streets especially at night and attempt to scavenge for food and drink in trendy places, despite the strange multi-syllable names for things like coffee with milk in a large cup. Just grin and bear it. And anyway, June was still a few weeks away, and my parents would be happy.
Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.