My teeth crunched down on a moist, crispy piece of red pepper, sank into the soft, slightly sour layer of cream cheese and then into the baguette underneath. A taste sensation exploded in my mouth, taste buds that were sent into hibernation some time in November by the excruciating boredom of canned and dried foods suddenly shook themselves wide awake. Still chewing on my sandwich, I eyed the tomatoes and bananas.
The first fresh and different foods since October were spectacular to savour indeed. Although the short period of food cravings that come with early winter had long subsided and by now, fresh veggies and fruit seemed like such an abstract, even slightly absurd concept that I didn’t miss them anymore – once I sunk my teeth into them, it was a revelation. A whole new world of flavours was waiting to be rediscovered.
Sam, playing the role of provider most admirably, had gone into town and done our first winter shopping, returning with boxes full of groceries. Ever since he got back, we’ve been chewing our way most religiously through all those food items. Just like most other aspects of wilderness living in the North, our eating follows a cycle of feast and famine. Well, not literally, luckily. But the way things work out with how and when you can get supplies in when you don’t have a road connection, you always yo-yo back and forth between a voluptuous abundance of fresh groceries and a complete absence of them. There is no in-between, no constant trickle of more oranges coming in as you run out.
The difficult thing is not to buy more than we can actually consume in the two, three weeks it takes veggies to go bad. As tempting as it is to buy bags and boxes full of grapefruit and oranges, asparagus, broccoli and green peppers, restraint is necessary. Better to buy a great variety of different things in small amounts. Too often in the past, we’ve had to throw groceries out that ended up going bad on us because we just couldn’t eat them all in time. And what a shame that is, especially when you know you won’t be able to get anything more in for six weeks or so.
Our fresh food cycle is now at its peak, only to rapidly decline over the following week, after which we’ll be back to the canned and dried goods. I don’t mind, I find it fits in very well with the other extremes of life in the North: the excess of darkness that is giving way to too much light, the few bird species that are around now and the flood of migratory birds that will begin to arrive in just a couple of months.
The feast and famine cycle also applies to animal sightings and encounters out here. While for the past month or two, it’s been extremely quiet with hardly a fresh track other than grouse and rabbit to be seen, within the last three days now it’s gotten pretty busy.
A moose cow and calf wandered along shore this morning, fresh wolf tracks crossed the meandering troughs an otter had left in the snow and even the voles by the chicken coop have given their presence away with their fine needle prints. I don’t know what they’ve been doing for the last eight weeks, but suddenly they’re all here. That’s how it always goes. We don’t complain much anymore when all is quiet in the woods and nothing is stirring, well aware that it is only the pause, the prelude to another burst of activity, when it feels like we’re stumbling over moose on our very doorstep.
The actual balance of things seems to lie in the swing of the pendulum from one extreme to the other, not in some theoretical mid-way point where both sides of the coin are equal – much as that thought is appealing.
After stuffing myself with so much fresh food for days on end, it even gets a bit much and it begins to seem slightly overrated to me. The drudgery of old whiskered carrots, dried broccoli and canned apple sauce beckon to me almost like a welcome change. But I don’t mind eating this last banana at all.
Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.