It had been a long week in the land of Electricity, Alarm Clocks, Florescent Lighting and Cherry Ice-Cream, all things that I have come to associate with my job. Then, yesterday mid-day, I was finally back at little house again, for a single precious night! River and I crossed the river with our black plastic sled- the snow on top of the river-ice had melted, for the most part, and at first I paced the bank like a stranded cat, terrified to cross what looked, to me, like open water with a bottomless abyss of icy river below it. I joked that maybe we should get in the sled and paddle across, or carry the sled on our heads and swim. But River reassured me, and then a snow machine drove across and we were like, oh. Still, I was glad when we were safely on the other side. At River’s land all the world’s worries were nowhere to be found, the forest still and white, the creek melted into motionless holes of amber mud between the rounded snowbankz. Inside the cabin last weeks’ injera bowls sat crusted, broken eggshells littered the floor where Bro had dragged them from his scrap dish to lick their insides, and the air smelled of propane. We had forgotten to turn it off. River grabbed her notebook and the dog and disappeared into the forest, and I made a small, symbolic springtime fire in the woodstove and plopped down on the cooler of salted whitefish that serves as a sort of bench in front of the table to get in a few hours of my favorite electricity-free activity- Staring Out The Window At Nothing. Which I did, for several hours. After which River came home and announced to me that she’d walked down the road that the oil-drilling people had built and found that it was, in fact, infinite. I told her I’d been staring out the window at nothing.
“Oh good,” she said, “I’m glad I’m not the only one who does that.”
“It’s a writer thing,” I said.
“Yeah, I was sort of worried that you never did that,” said River.
Truth is, when I have access to high-speed wireless internet, I never do that. All the more reason to live in a little cabin somewhere with nothing but the sounds of squirrels and far-off snow machines, one solar panel to charge your cellphone, and only patriotic country and jesus on the hand-crank radio. That would make a good country song. Jesus on the hand-crank radio. Because who’s going to make batteries, after the rapture?
Soon it was time for bed in little house, with the woodstove making muffled woofing noises and the air a reassuring eighty degrees. I crawled up into my soft and lofted upper bunk, with its mountain of blankets and single perfect pillow, which I like more than any pillow EVER and which River somehow manifested for me when I told her I was coming to visit. I mean, I never find pillows that I like, to the point that I usually sleep without one. But this is the most perfect pillow that has ever existed, tall and lofted with feathers but loosely so that it bunches down almost all the way flat at the back of my head. And it has such a nice pillowcase too, soft and browny-cream colored with fanciful flowers and leafs drawn onto it. Such a nice place for my head to go. And the sheet is good and brown and soft, and wraps around not one but TWO foam pads, and I have very, very many blankets, knitted ones and fleecy ones and quilted ones, not that I need them all, stacked up so good-naturedly near my feet. And there is a little shelf there on the wall for my glass of water, and my earlpugs, and all my happy comforting things, and also the paper crane that the Japanese boy at the hostel in Whitehorse made me so that I wouldn’t get into any more car accidents. And this is my bunk, my happy place, the place I go where I am Instantly Sleepy, and I always fall into the deepest and most peaceful of sleeps, and sleep for a hundred years, and sometimes in the afternoons when I take a break from chopping wood I lie down to rest there and like a fairy tale I fall asleep against my will, and the soft yellow light from the window moves across my face and heals all the broken little cracked places in my heart, that the city has put there.
Can haz happiness.
Last night I fell asleep in such a way, up in my soft woodland bunk, the heat from the woodstove like a hug. River and Bro on the bunk beneath me, my first line of defense should a fantastical beast come charging in in the night, to eat me. What comfort! In the morning River’s alarm went off early so she could leave for work and she hit the snooze button once, twice, three times. I heard her get up and smelled the sulfur of a match, the hot griddle, the salt of frying eggs. Grumbling I climbed down from my bunk and squatted in the snow to pee, watching her clomp around in her bunny boots making breakfast injera. After she was gone I fell back asleep and slept for another two hours, having three dreams in one- I was adopting a six-year-old girl, I was friends with my dad, I was an Olympic swimmer. I woke up feeling the glory and freedom of diving off a very tall diving board and swimming very fast, faster than any human being could ever swim. The sunlight that came in the window-panes was gentle and bright, and it moved with the thin branches of a birch tree, and Bro was still asleep, the small pink tip of his tongue sticking out past his teeth. And I laid there in the bunk and I felt like I could sleep forever, I felt like I could sleep until I’d grown myself a brand-new soul, and then maybe I could go out into the world, and I could do some good. And maybe it’s the magic bunk, and maybe it’s the fact that the propane leaks and we’re always forgetting to turn it off and my bunk is up near the ceiling, and maybe it’s both.
I got up and made breakfast, flax-flour injera pancakes with hella butter and fried eggs. Then Bro and I went for a walk, me and him up Fern Gully road, the long open wound in the forest where snow-machines and four-wheelers crawl up and back, up and back, and it’s all worth it because if they find oil it means newer, fancier snow machines for everyone. Bro found a bloody animal hunk in the woods and I let him gnaw at it for a while, wondered what it was. Part of a moose, proly. It was just sitting there like it fell from the sky, no other parts anywhere. I wondered if the bears were still sleeping. I’ve spent most of my time in Alaska in recent years on the Kenai Peninsula, where there are Heck Of bears, and that’s what I’m used to. But I guess in the interior there are less of them, and I don’t need to be so freaked out all the time. On the Kenai Peninsula, it seems, the bushes are always rustling and there are bear tracks everywhere and flattened places in the grass where they were just napping like ten minutes ago and some hiker is forever warning you that there is A Bear On The Trail and every year some jogger with seventeen dogs gets attacked by a grizzly or a grizzly pushes over someone’s trailer while they’re still inside it. But here, in the interior, not so much. Not so much salmon, for one thing. The land is thinner, it can’t support so many bears. People can actually have compost, gardens, trash cans! On the Kenai Peninsula you have to practically guard your trash with a rifle, and if you found a hunk of meat in the woods you would never, ever walk up to it. In fact, if you smelled rotting carcass while hiking, you were advised to turn around and walk the other way. But there I was in the woods, miles from the nearest town, standing around casually while Bro gnawed at someone’s kill. I had decided, among other things, that I was an animal lover. Which meant that I didn’t have to be afraid of bears anymore. I could be zen about them, like River. And River’s land, of course, just happens to be some sort of ancient blackbear breeding ground, or something. That’s what everyone told her, when she bought the land. In this place of careless composting and unguarded woodland meat chunks, her land just happens to be the place where all the bears go. Last fall there was a mama and two babies there, and some others. They would shit berries everywhere and try to bite their way into the sauna, crushing the doorknob with their teeth. When she went outside the babies would run up the trees and whine plaintively for their mother to come and crush the evil monster who left them compost.
We are going to shoot one this year.
After our walk along Fern Gully road, which crosses and muddies many remote, frozen streams and sometimes stretches out into vast lots of trucked-in fine blowing sand for God Knows Why, I fired up the woodstove again and sat before it in the afternoon light, reading a book River had got on interlibrary loan that is all about preserving things by burying them in sand, or packing them in sawdust, or immersing them in oil. Then I did the dishes with boiled snow-water and listened to jesus radio, where they talked about easter and how Canadians don’t believe in god anymore. Then I swept up the broken eggshell floor, somewhat reluctantly, and realized that, like River, I too could get attached to filth. There’s just something so homey and cabin-like about a floor of crushed eggshells and other food that the dog has strewn everywhere, half-chewed and unrecognizable. We live here.
And when the time had come to leave I turned off the propane, and packed up the carrots and celery and the remaining whitefish in the shed, and grabbed River’s vibrator for her and her copy of Endgame, and then I crossed the river again, and the water was even deeper this time atop the ice, and I was even more thankful to be across. And now I am back in the land of electricity, and in the morning I work, and it’s all very bitter-sweet because in a few days the river will break up and then I am stuck on this side of it until the ice clears and we can cross in River’s little boat. And so I can only wait, and miss my happy bunk, and the light from the window, and hope it doesn’t flood and wash away our woodpile.
Breakup! The season of slush and standing water! When the snow and ice melts but the ground is still frozen, and cannot drain! Springtime in the land of sodden muck-bogs!
“And then the mosquitoes come?” I said to River, when we were standing outside the cabin, looking out at the melted slough.
“Not yet,” said River. “not yet.”