I have been at it again: mutilating my hair with the kitchen scissors. Not out of an inner urge of self-destruction, quite the contrary. I’m trying to make myself more presentable, though a glance into the mirror at my pasty white face looming ghostly above my dishevelled clothing makes me wonder. All in all, it’s not an appearance that will be vastly improved by a self-administered haircut.
Sam’s complexion also bears that slightly sickly resemblance to root-cellared turnips and his pants are a study in stains and dog fur. I probably shouldn’t put it like that – social services or the health department might come calling now. I exaggerated. Let’s just say we’re both wearing our clothes a bit longer than regular folks with access to such luxury items as washing machines do, stretching our supply of clean pants and sweaters as far as we can to dodge the unpopular task of doing laundry by hand in the middle of winter.
Sam finds my secret attempts at sprucing myself up amusing: the bits of hair snipped off, the sudden attention to our appearance. The reason for all this preening is that we are expecting a visitor, the first person we’ve seen since late fall. Even though it’s not a southerner or Whitehorsian who’s coming, I can’t help looking at us from an outside perspective. Are we still normal? What luck that up here, the definition of normal is most generous and encompassing.
“It’s just Rick, he looks as scruffy as us. Jeez. He would find it really weird if we greet him with trendy haircuts and decked out in our town clothes,” Sam admonishes. “He’d start worrying right there and then.”
Laughing, I concede that he is right. Our seldom-seen trapper neighbour is indeed a mirror image of ourselves. But some deep-rooted self-consciousness or normally suppressed feminine instinct in me still cringes at the thought of presenting ourselves like this to a representative of the rest of the human species. Monumental occasion, this: face-to-face contact with the outside world will be re-established.
Sam and I are both excited. Although we talk with Rick on the radio during the winter, it’s still a whole different ballgame to welcome him in the flesh. Visual proof that he exists. Sam, I know, will be talking a mile a minute, making it hard for me to get in a word edgewise. But that would be difficult anyway since my first encounter with another person after months of just seeing Sam tends to leave me somewhat speechless.
A beatific smile usually spreads across my face and I snatch at the tumble of words in my mind at random. The general impression someone else would have is probably that I’m a tad slow. It wears off after half an hour or so, but the first minutes are a bit strange.
Rick, however, knows us and somehow I don’t worry about this part of the visit. Talking and relating to people who don’t live in the bush has become harder over the years. Their worries, joys and experiences often differ from ours so that conversation stays on a polite and theoretical level. Whereas with Rick, we can spend 45 minutes discussing the minutiae of wolf tracks, branching off into stories of other tracks found and theories of why which animal went where when.
A short mention that we have two apples left, and he will know instantly of the rationing already in place over the last weeks, the value of these two pieces of fruit to us. He too spends the time to watch the sensual slow glow of a sunrise and listens to the eerie songs the ice will sing because that’s what there is for entertainment. It’s the comfortable chat with someone who doesn’t think of our lifestyle as exotic but lives it himself that makes a visit from a fellow bush person such a joy. Even the wilderness recluse has an ingrained need for community, I guess.
While I peer in the mirror again and try to disguise the hole that I cut into my hair on the back of my head, Sam starts making dough for cinnamon buns – his offering for our first visitor of the winter. It occurs to me that Rick is likely making some sort of special preparations of his own, out there in the woods. These are exciting days for us.
Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who
lives at the headwaters of the
Yukon River south of Whitehorse.