‘Sweetie, there’s a Ski-Doo out there, and it’s coming right for our cabin,” I say to my partner, pointing a quavering finger at the approaching headlight that seems to be pointing right back at me.
“What? Where?” Sam immediately starts wondering aloud who it might be, not that there are very many likely candidates who come all the way out here to pay us a visit.
Social etiquette as approved by Miss Manners doesn’t seem to address the protocol for visiting reclusive bush men and women.
No doubt this is partly due to the rapid dwindling of this population over the past 100 years, and of course relative inaccessibility and isolation are defining factors of life in the woods anyway.
Of the winter months, it is generally March and April that bring surprise guests to remote cabins.
A couple of years ago, when I was spending a few weeks alone out here, I experienced the sort of unexpected visit that I would not recommend people to duplicate.
Fiddling around in the kitchen, I suddenly heard a roaring motor noise right outside the cabin, and in the instant that I turned around to the window saw a helmeted figure already getting off a snowmachine parked just half a meter away.
In a daze, I did the only obvious thing: I opened the cabin door and let the dogs loose. While they were poking their noses into impolite places on the visitor and hopping around his feet, I was trying to mentally adjust to this unannounced intrusion of my sedate and quiet life.
But before my heart rate had returned to normal, the visitor had already struggled to the door and barged in after one knock, with the dogs on his heels. It turned out to be the new conservation officer, getting to know the backcountry.
An awkward 20 minutes followed as he politely refused to sit down or have a cup of coffee. He remained wedged into the corner by the door, the dogs forming an attentive half circle around him as he slowly proceeded to peel off gloves, a scarf, his PFD and opened his jacket.
The dogs still remembered an equal preoccupation with clothing to be followed by dog biscuits by our old-town neighbour, but the CO produced no such things. After a while, he decided to continue on his way, leaving me feel slightly unreal like a UFO abductee.
Our surprise visitor today turned out to be our trapper neighbour Rick, not only evidenced by his familiar machine, but also by how he stopped well away from the cabin and spent some leisurely minutes by his snowmachine.
Miss Manners, take heed: to allow for the brain to stop rattling inside a hermit’s skull from the shock of sudden exposure to a fellow human being, it is polite to make an elaborate procedure out of parking the snowmachine, adjusting clothing, blowing the nose and stretching the limbs in a spot where the befuddled bush person gets a good view of the visitor, preferably 100 metres or more from the cabin.
Visitors travelling by slower means, such as dog sleds or skis, don’t produce the same sense of invasion because their approach can generally be observed for quite a while, resulting in less of a mental upset.
But either way, some form of calling out, feet stomping and gazing around ought to be observed at a distance from the cabin until the wild-eyed inhabitant opens the door and issues the invitation to enter.
This also gives us bush people the chance to get the chain saw parts off the coffee table, frantically come up with conversation topics other than moose tracks and trail conditions, and possibly slip into articles of clothing slightly less matted with dog fur and sawdust.
But since Rick is a bush rat like us, we can forego these attempts at appearing normal. After Sam goes out to welcome him, we have him installed on the couch with a mug of coffee in no time, where he adds his own share of dog hair to the collection on the pillows.
We launch into a satisfying discussion of news of the woods. The mysterious absence of cow moose with calves this winter, a goshawk swooping by, wolverine tracks all over the place and much conjecture about when the first bears will show up.
As the guys get into the more manly topics of snowmachines and the upcoming boating season, nothing I can emancipate myself enough to work up an interest in, I reflect just how pleasant such visits are when one has had the time to gain enough composure to enjoy them.
Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.