The boreal battle of the sexes

The North breeds great women. For sure, nowhere else in the country will you find such a high proportion of women expert at chainsawing, handling…

The North breeds great women.

For sure, nowhere else in the country will you find such a high proportion of women expert at chainsawing, handling all sorts of engines, building cabins, changing tires and hunting.

Small seems to be the number of females without a pair of felt-lined gumboots, and yet on short notice and at the slightest opportunity these women will dazzle their men in the most beguiling attire.

For the most part, northern men appreciate that we unflinchingly use bug and smell-infested outhouses, don’t plaster ourselves with make-up and hairspray, speak our minds and have our own strongly held opinions. How else would the guys survive in this harsh climate, if it weren’t for us?

Couples out in the bush depend on each other’s skills and support even more. There simply is no way that a guy out in the woods, hunched over a broken-down part of machinery can attract that semi-circle of sympathetically mumbling males that automatically materializes in town.

Instead, the laconic one-syllable remarks, grunts and armpit scratching are left to the better half.

Constantly re-adjusting our pants like the guys do is a bit tricky and unfathomable for us girls, but other than that there’s not much to it.

I had great aspirations of becoming a real tough northern bushwoman but have to confess that I’ve fallen short of my mark and reconciled myself with just being — well, myself I guess.

Despite my best emancipatory efforts, I don’t enjoy running or tinkering with the snowmachine and motorboat.

The operation and maintenance of these have fallen squarely on Sam’s shoulders, as he had predicted.

The chainsaws are the one thing I’m dearly attached to, though. What a wonderful, if noisy and stinky tool! It does so many different things: cuts firewood, carves, notches, mills lumber and creates mounds of sawdust for insulation and chicken litter.

While the genes for cooking, cleaning and child rearing have passed me by, some sort of (female?) nurturing instinct is making sure that my main interests and responsibilities are with the animal and garden care.

Looking after the chickens, growing our seedlings and first aid on the dogs have become my exclusive domain. It seems kind of weird and outmoded that things worked out this way.

Yet if it were possible to use horses out here for moving logs and transportation, which would make the snowmachine and power boat obsolete, I’d happily pounce on that job.

I always wonder if, thanks to the industrial revolution and the displacement of horses, we haven’t lost some other, vital connection to nature.

Machinery also needs to be looked after and when handled wrong won’t work, but somehow it challenges us in a different way, not begging us to understand the ways of another live being.

Working alongside another creature, stubborn as they can be, is a whole different ballgame. Though it’s not necessarily any easier.

This always becomes clear whenever Sam and I tackle a building project together. Our opposite approaches to just about everything don’t lead to happy compromises, but generally plenty of head-butting.

It’s beyond me why he can’t say “yes dear” more often. Strange that he should roll his eyes at my dithering about and concoction of theories on how to pivot a hideously heavy log section.

He’s eager to get things done as fast as possible, involving brute force and much swearing, while I, lacking some of the muscle power, try to come up with ways to make it somewhat easier and this inevitably takes longer.

Obstinate people that we are, we sometimes wish, amid much teeth-grinding, that the other one were newly arrived, still a northerner in training.

 Oh, the ease with which such a person could be told that this is the way to do it, and no two ways about it. When we are in the midst of such a glaring contest, it helps to remember how lucky we actually are: to have the other one committed to this sort of life, to stick it out together, to be sure.

But what we can really be thankful for is our division of labour and responsibilities. Otherwise we’d have yet more bones of contention as I’d try to get my way about the snowmachine and boat, and Sam would attempt to convince me that he’s right about how to deal with the animals and garden.

Some of the old ways of doing things might actually be very wise indeed.

Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.