I have not left Pete; there was a mix up in communications, as in no communication, and he thought I had gone. I had, but not permanently and not for long. The guy who was supposed to call and tell him where and how and why I was not home forgot to do so.
This letter is the story of the three days and nights I spent in a cabin on a small lake about 90 kilometres southwest of the metropolis of Watson Lake. A most astoundingly out-of-character adventure in any circumstances, but made more so by the fact I was alone. Alone as in all by myself; alone as in the only person there; alone as probably the only person for that aforementioned hundred miles.
There was no time to e-mail or call you (or Pete) to say I was going to do this; it all happened in an hour. One of the scientists I met a couple of years ago at a conference in Whitehorse dropped in for tea and a visit. He told me he was headed out to do a survey and that there would be room on the helicopter for me if I wanted to go along for the ride.
Then he told me about why there was room; a friend of his owns a cabin on this lake and he was going to hitch a ride out with his gear and spend a few days at the place. He’d arranged for a float plane to pick him up, but had to cancel everything when he found his father was ill. Instead of a mini holiday at his cabin, he was in Toronto with his family on a deathwatch.
You know, you could stay at the cabin if you wanted, David said, stirring yet another lump of sugar into his tea. I know it’d be fine with Ted; he lends it to friends and friends of friends all the time. I’ll bet you could still get the float plane charter, too; it was cancelled just last night.
Idly and without intention, I inquired as to what sort of stuff I would have to take with me for an expedition of this nature. David assured me it was almost like going to stay in a motel with a kitchenette; the cabin was fully equipped. I would just need some food and whatever clothes I wanted to take, remembering there would not be a lot of room in the helicopter. Oh, and a sleeping bag.
Suddenly, for no discernible reason, I was actually considering it and then I was actually committing to it and then I was actually standing on the small beach at the lake watching the helicopter take off, my modest pile of gear heaped around my feet.
The first big news is the standing on the shore part; I stood about 10 feet from where the little waves washed the little bit of sand and gravel and I didn’t freak out. I didn’t want to wade in it, but I wasn’t afraid of it. Sometime in the last few years, that old fear seems to have faded, along with the pain in my neck and shoulder; only the scar remains. Isn’t that great news? No therapy needed after all; the novelty of moving to the Yukon seems to have cured a phobia I thought would be mine for life.
The colours in the lake looked faked, so varied and vivid, so clear and limpid; the water looks like something you’d see in a Disney cartoon. The sun shone the whole time I was there, and of course being the Yukon, there was never complete darkness, even in the middle of the night.
I know that for a fact because the first night I didn’t sleep at all. It wasn’t really fear that kept me awake, though I was a bit nervous, it was more a sense of being wholly alert and tuned in to my surroundings. There was a lot of small sounds in the giant quiet and I was kept awake trying to identify each one. The easiest to recognize was the tiny hum of the mosquitoes, and I was glad of the net hanging over the bed. Not having to find and kill insects all night left me free to concentrate on the other sounds, most of which I could figure out. The mystery noises were left to be mysterious and none where large enough to cause alarm. There were enough sounds to keep me occupied for the night.
Next day I organized my camp and then had a long nap, lying on top of my sleeping bag outside the cabin; the sun was hot enough to keep the bugs away. It was a most delicious nap, peopled with Daniel Boone-types, both male and female, who were engaged in making a tea party, starting with constructing the table and chairs.
When I woke up, I made and ate food and drink for a couple of hours – I was really hungry and thirsty. Everything tasted particularly good, which is what everyone the world over seems to say about food eaten outdoors. Well, only those eating outdoors for fun; come to think of it, most of the world’s peoples eat outdoors all the time, or under rude shelters, and it isn’t fun.
A walk: there was a trail from the cabin and I followed it as it wound along the side of the lake, climbing gradually to the top of a ridge where the view was endless and beautiful. After sitting there for what must have been an hour at least and could have been longer, a sound like an ailing fauna drove me back to the cabin, but not in fear and haste, merely with caution and briskness.
More food and drink around a fire in the circle of stones on the beach – falling into a state of deep musing that took me from Ur reality to trying to remember what ‘megrims’ were to trying to telling myself the story The Ransom of Red Chief and laughing out loud.
Another mostly sleepless night, but again it wasn’t because I was frightened, exactly, it was more being caught up in the strangeness of this adventure and in my own response to it. I did sleep eventually, getting up when the sun was high in the sky and once again eating an enormous meal.
The walk that day took me in the opposite direction on the same trail and this time I was led to another little lake. The water here was shallower than my lake, and there was no beach, just a swampy-looking border, and standing in the water on the far shore was a moose, a bull moose, pulling at the willows that bent over the lake. I could hear the sounds of his lunch, the swish of the leaves and the splash of the water when he moved. I think he knew I was there, but he displayed no interest in my presence. I watched him for a long time; it was me who left first, slipping quietly down the trail to my cabin.
The third and last night was so warm that I slept beside the fire pit on the beach and this sleep was deep and dreamless. I woke to find prints in the sand about six metres from me, and a fresh heap of poop near the water. It was ‘bear sign’ I think. It was obviously too late to panic about an omnivore prowling around my prone body; the bear was no more interested in my presence than the moose had been, so I didn’t. I ate, cleaned up my camp, and waited for the float plane.
It came, and after a nice flight I got home to find the living room couch shredded and Pete in a state of cold anger that had nothing to do with the damned cat’s destruction of furniture but was all about me.
When Pete got home the night of my departure, David had forgotten to call and tell him where I had gone. Cee didn’t know about this jaunt either, so Pete had worked himself into a real state by the time David remembered to call him. The call came just before Pete was about to call the police.
He was not interested right away in hearing about my revelations and animal sightings, or even my vanished water phobia; he had to rant and rave for a little while first. Amisi, who was clearly disappointed to see me again, stood beside him, smirking at me, the whole time.
Eventually he cooled down and we had a reunion that was happier than usual, despite the torn couch.
My epiphany? “What doesn’t kill you makes you not dead.”
Heather Bennett is a writer
who lives in Watson Lake.