An Ode To The Northern Wood

It was a bluebird day.

+1C.

There was no need for long johns or puffy jackets. Or toques. Or mitts.

We had no destination in mind, only to saunter the day inside the boreal woods.

Our eyes strained against the glare of sunlight on snow. We cursed forgetting sunglasses.

We were excited for the fresh snowfall.

Sure, it’s tougher hiking but fresh snow makes new wildlife tracks crisp. And there were so many out in the woods beyond our cabin: moose, mule deer, grouse, red squirrel, chipmunk, mouse (unknown species), wolf, coyote, red fox, lynx.

We traced the path of grouse and snowshoe hare wandering from rosehip bush to rosehip bush, seeking berries still lingering. We admired lynx tracks meandering through a poplar grove, envious of their snowshoe paws keeping them afloat in the deep snow.

The fresh snowfall revealed a wolf came out of the woods and crossed the frozen lake to circle a beaver lodge before trotting over to investigate the length of the beaver dam.

A red squirrel’s hole opening into the subnivean zone intrigued me. I long to know how it would be to travel between earth and snow.

We also watched black-capped chickadees peeling bark away in search of grub, listened to a three-toed woodpecker rapping on a tree.

We found several muskrat pushups.

And the first pussy willows of spring.

The balsam poplars are beginning to bud. I pinched a bud and then gave it a sniff. Inside a poplar bud is the familiar scent of spring. When the leaves finally begin to burst forth the winds will be thick with the familiar scent.

The same can be said for pasture sage. But that plant is still only melting out from under the snow. We have to wait a little while yet before she emerges.

We are also eager to find the first of the prairie crocuses. To see the first black-bellied plover of spring.

My happiness lies in a quiet, slow, simple life nestled in nature.

The stillness of the woods still draped in winter and mountains I’ve come to know slowly over twenty years this is home. Not some structure with four walls but this sense of belonging to a landscape. I don’t need much for a place to lay my head as long as I can step out the front door and into the wild.

Undoubtedly, I am fortunate to be spending these days in a cabin in the Yukon woods. My neighbours are arctic ground squirrels and the mule deer. Trails splinter off in all directions behind our home, trails leading to lakes, to hilltops and mountain peaks where wolves and coyotes, lynx and moose roam.

Our Two-Week Self-Isolation Cabin On The Tagish River

We might not have running water in our cabin but we have plenty of books and podcasts. The crib board has seen quite a bit of use. And we’ve got tunes.

The alcohol won’t stretch out the entire 14 days but the oatmeal cookies will see us through.

We’ve got vegan sausages cooking on the fire, plus tequila for sipping and marshmallows for dessert.

Internet is a fifteen-minute walk away so we are very much living in the moment, in the boreal forest of southern Yukon.

The river flows outside our window, mountains loom beyond. We do not tire of the views as light and shadows shift each moment. No moment is alike. Hopes for glimpses of the northern lights make every midnight run to the outhouse hopeful, despite -20C temperatures.

I cherish this simple life. This quiet time. Sure, I’d rather be backpacking but I have my health and a warm place to shelter. I am lucky.

The Yukon makes it easy to self-isolate. It’s easy to stay at home when its -20C outside.

Below are some observations and thoughts from our days spent in isolation.

Today in the neighbourhood, March 26

A family of four river otters are playing on the ice. A pair of common mergansers are fishing nearby. A pair of ravens are collecting sticks for a nest. A flock of common redpolls are providing the evening’s music. And just as I write this, twenty male common goldeneyes arrive, a single male bufflehead among them.

We must stay away from our human friends but we are still in the company of old friends, the red squirrels, the grey jays, the American dippers.

I have always been able to entertain myself and delight in the subtleties of the outside world. I don’t always need to be hiking, paddling, skiing to enjoy the outdoors. Simply sitting outside is enough for my soul.

Today in the neighbourhood, March 30

Watched a coyote trotting across the frozen river, skirting the open leads, making two trumpeter swans swimming around nervous. And there were ravens having sips of fine Tagish River water, collecting twigs for nests and croaking at us for no apparent reason as they fly by. To live in the northern woods is to be in the company of the wise, curious, mischievous raven. A small herd of eight woodland caribou are feeding in the woods near our cabin, just a fifteen-minute walk down a wooded trail. I adore caribou. Seeing them always makes me smile.

Self-isolation, despite not having Internet or television, in the Yukon is no trial for us when wilderness exists outside the front door.

Today in the neighbourhood, April 7

Today is our last day in self-isolation, our last day at our friends cabin in Tagish. It makes us sad to leave. It’s been delightful to watch spring slowly move in, to watch the migrating birds return, to observe the local wildlife. Today on our hike we ran into the caribou again. We kept our distance so as not to disturb them. We also came across a female moose who seemed fairly unconcerned by our presence. She just continued feeding in the willow thicket. Woodpeckers were rapping on trees and the white-winged crossbills, common redpolls and black-capped chickadees were singing up a storm in the woods.

I will miss the sunrises and watching life along the river. I may have been in isolation but I was not alone. The fourteen days went by too swiftly.

 

Southern Utah In Late October

Oh, Utah, you always exceed expectations.

This was our four visit to Utah and still she amazes us.

Below is a brief recap of some of the wonder and joys and discomfort we experienced during the three weeks we traveled in southern Utah.

  • Sleeping in late when camping at temperatures falling as low as 9F/-15C
  • Squirmed our way through a few slot canyons and scrambled through many other canyons
  • Watched a couple of female desert bighorn sheep trot across the P-J forest
  • Skirted around a sun-bathing on slick rock rattlesnake
  • Spooked a jackrabbit in rabbitbrush
  • Hiked past a herd of female mule deer and startled one great big buck
  • Watched the sun rise and set almost every day
  • Was serenaded by canyon wrens and nuthatches
  • Found Ancestral Puebloan ruins, petroglyphs and pictographs
  • Read books by headlamp
  • Ate a lot of oatmeal breakfasts, Luna bars and trail mix for lunch and dinners of rice and beans
  • Wished upon a shooting star; marvelled at many more
  • Found free showers
  • Ate lots of cookies while sitting on rocks
  • Drank litres of tea
  • Found frozen waterfalls
  • And we met a dog that purrs. And no. That is not a typo. A dog that purrs!

All in all it’s been a good few weeks.

#thesimplelife

The Abajo Mountains

We came to the desert to hike and convalesce in the heat but then spent days hiking and camping nearly 10,000 feet in the Abajo Mountains in October.

While heat was not to fill our days here adventure certainly did. Away from the mobs and franticness of Moab, Arches National Park and the Needles District of Canyonlands, we enjoyed the places in between, the places lacking obvious beauty and Instagram fame which in turn are the places without people. The places we like to be.

It was here, inside a canyon somewhere in the Abajo Mountains of southeast Utah where we found a little glen of Gambrel oaks. It is nothing special. There are lots of Gambrel oaks in the Abajos but this particular place was in such an enchanting location beside a stream deep in a canyon. We felt pulled to sit. To linger. This was not a spot to merely wander by. Ruby-crowned kinglets fluttered above our heads. Sunlight filtered through twisted branches. A woodpecker rapped. The stream babbled. We wandered here without a trail, without a destination, without even a topographic map. We let ourselves be led by curiosity and, as always, our curiosity did not lead us astray.

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