waiting for breakup

'There's nothing to eat," Sam scowls. "Nothing." He stares at our pantry shelves which aren't bare, but not exactly crammed either.

‘There’s nothing to eat,” Sam scowls. “Nothing.”

He stares at our pantry shelves which aren’t bare, but not exactly crammed either.

“What are we going to eat?” His voice has a high-pitched, panicky edge to it.

I roll my eyes. While the lack of fresh food is getting to Sam, I’m getting heartily tired of this refrain that’s been the precursor to every meal for the last, oh, four weeks, or so. That’s just how it goes when you live in the bush – everything comes and goes in cycles and binges, including food items. Sam frets about it every spring, but this year, he’s driving me nuts.

“We could have a jar of moose meat with rice or pasta and a can of veggies,” I say, aiming for an enthusiastic tone. These meals have the consistency of baby food, well-cooked being the operative word. “Or else bread.” We still have a bit of salami and cheddar cheese left. For some reason, we’re saving it, hardly ever eating any at all. It makes no sense. Why not eat it now, before it gets bad?

“That’s not food,” Sam grunts and sticks out his lower lip. “Fresh veggies and meat, with that we could cook something. I wish the ice would go out so I could catch us some fish.”

He sighs deeply and gets out a jar of moose curry.

“Peas or beans with that?”

“Maybe beans.” I stare out the window, at a landscape in muted browns, blues and whites. It doesn’t look as if break-up will happen anytime soon. Yesterday, three caribou still made their way across the slushy ice of the beaver pond in single file. It feels like everything out in the bush is waiting, a kind of tension, something holding back but almost ready to burst forth. All those pregnant caribou and moose cows out there, birds staking out their secret nesting spots and the leaf buds on the saskatoons, wild roses and highbush cranberries swelling up more every day.

Game paths are lying blatantly open now, the ground and old leaves still clinging to the old hoof prints of moose. Sam and I wander those faint trails daily, searching for black bear tracks with a deadly purpose and fresh food on our minds. But we only find the evidence of other lives lived. Cast antlers, already half chewed, clawing their white tines into the earth. Moose nuggets and blackish clusters of caribou poop punctuate the trails here and there, the purple splash of wild crocuses the only noticeable patches of real colour.

Snow still lingers in the shade and we always survey it carefully for tracks. No luck so far. It’s disappointing, yet our excursions leave us at the same time strangely satisfied and hungry for more – not unlike our infernal diet of canned and dried goods, come to think of it. The thorns of wild roses are back in my life and my jeans after an absence of six months. Looking for a bear is also an excuse for us to spend hours walking through the woods, reacquainting ourselves with what grows and walks where.

Funny though how we still tend to follow the same general routes, squeezed into one direction instead of the other by the lay of the land; impenetrable thickets, snow patches and deep puddles. Every now and then we veer off and whack through dense stands of fir, dark and claustrophobic, only to come out gasping on the other side and realize that we’re almost back on another one of our routes.

I wonder if the fish in the still ice-covered waters are feeling the same kind of suspense, the sense that their world is about to tilt again from winter to summer. Summer with its varied menu, including fishing lures.

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

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