I took the insulation out of the sauna, ripped it out in big yellow strips, fiberglass sodden with squirrel pee. A rain of stuff came tumbling down around me like wood shavings from the chainsaws, but it was only all the world’s pinecone sepals. There were shelf fungus too, squirrel size, pulled from the birches and stacked up, maybe, for times of famine, or for insulation. And two butterfly wings, one in each wall panel. Other than that there were no edibles, the larders had been cached out, the squirrels returned to the woods, I supposed, or simply tired of this filthy toilet of a nest, where nothing ever decomposed and the turds ran centimeters deep. I wondered if they had respiratory illnesses, now, from the fiberglass. I’d made a fire in the woodstove to warm the place while I worked, and it smoked a little and failed to draw. Snow in the stove-pipe hole thawed and dripped onto the bent and dented stovetop. The green-painted door was cracked open, brass doorknob pinched useless from the teeth of a blackbear.

Blackbears and raccoons. Aren’t they like, the same family?

No I don’t think so. I think blackbears are like their own thing. Bears. I think bears are their own thing.

No I think blackbears and raccoons are in the same family. And squirrels. I think squirrels too.

No I don’t think so.

But you looked it up, and of course you were right. Bear, Opossum, Raccoon. And then it made total sense- I’d always compared bears to raccoons, when I tried to describe problem black bears to friends in the lower 48. They’re like giant raccoons that eat your trash! And raccoon, secretly, was my sort of spirit animal. But there aren’t any raccoons in the woods- so what was I in the woods- a blackbear?

We’ve been building fantasies in this little house, stacking up the unwritten hours like cords of wood. We’ll walk to the next town in the snow. We’ll make sockmonkeys with rabbit-fur hats and sell them. We’ll teach joint workshops on local plants and the dangers of hydrogenated oil. We’ll have Kaz and Danny over for Ethiopian food. We’ll get a bear, we’ll have a whole bucket of bearfat. We’ll eat nothing but bearfat. We’ll put in a new well. At first I was a little apprehensive about River’s liberal use of the realm of unhatched eggs- throwing out hopes and dreams and spontaneous, elaborate plans as if all of it might come true just by saying she wanted it to happen, as if she had a magic wand that kept the egg-crushing gods of time and space at bay, the gods who punched holes in the bottom of your basket and left you in an aching sort of inspiration dept. The weird thing is, is that I think some of it might actually come true. I’m realizing that life in the woods is different, that eggs just hatch better here, the air is more conducive of it. There are more hours in the day, less stimulation, more space for thought, a surer sort of feeling. It’s almost safe to call them as you see them as if it was only the sun that you were promising-

So it feels like I have my life back. I’ve got a job, a sense of peace, a warm smoky house. River tells me I’m “weirdly healthy”. I tell her that this is me at my best, that she hasn’t seen me in the city, when it seems like all the universe has been sucked of its marrow, painted in leftover paint and left in the rain. I blame the city for making me hate the rain. I used to love the rain, but now I love nothing more than the fact I’m someplace dry, a boggy sort of permafrost desert, where a mere two feet of snow coat the ground and summer is sunny, parched, and hot- even by lower 48 standards. People build cabins and don’t even bother to side them- there’s just no mold anywhere.

What I haven’t been doing, is writing. But I still count it as if I have, because it’s inside me so I know that every morning when I wake, it’ll be there. It’s already happened, as far as I’m concerned. I’m free to watch the sunlight on the newly softened snow, walk across the still-frozen river, read books by headlamp in my smoky bunk. Poke around the old abandoned cabin in the woods, look through the windows at the lined-up tins of cigarette tobacco, the rusted bedstead with the yellow foam pad, the sheet-metal stove. The muskrat snares. I’m free to steal an old-fashioned alarm clock from a nail on the porch, with cracked yellow face, twin bells, and one leg. I set off down the path with the clock, boots sinking in the snow, and decide that I’ll put it on the shelf above my bed. I decide that it represents linear time, so old and cracked and broken. Halfway to the river I change my mind, don’t want the story that the old clock holds. I set it carefully on a fallen spruce tree and carry on.

3 thoughts on “counting

  1. Consider the wolverine as a candidate for your totem animal: Wide-ranging, tenacious, and able to subdue prey many times it’s size. I have seen but one, along the wide gravel shore of the S. Kuskoquim River, running at us from a long distance; we thought that it was a small bear on a charge of unprecedented length, but the wolverine ran right by us at full gallop, paying us no mind at all, entirely focused on it’s goal, whatever that may have been.

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