Full of Rocks

 

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This is a difficult time of year for me; I’d forgotten just how dark the winters are here in Dawson City. It’s been something like 3 years since I was here in December. With the kids, our day begins at 5 am…a full 5 hours before the first light in the sky. And because we’re in a valley, we don’t actually see the sun in the sky for several weeks (I seem to remember that it’s the second or third week of January when we get the first fleeting glimpse). The sun begins to set around 3:30. It’s hard.

I feel this sluggishness that seems to correlate. And maybe we’re meant to really hibernate at this time of year. My first winters here, childless, were spent binge-watching the t.v. series we could rent from the video store (pre-Netflix, don’t ya know) and smoking copious amounts of pot. I’d get out for a walk when there was light. We’d visit friends, the ones with the best sun exposure usually, and drink beer out of cans. Brunch, dinner parties, gatherings of friends in kitchens; it was not so bad. It was novel, in a way. The quality of light or cold, all new to me and my friends.

But now there are so many demands on me, and also I’m 10 years older. I suppose, children or no, I’m happy to be past those fuzzy days spent stoned on the couch. And I’d like to be able to access some kind of motivation, or a continuation of the motivation I feel in the sunnier months. But the long dark fills my veins. It feels like a game we used to play as kids: you’d lay down, eyes closed, and someone would run their fingernail along your outstretched arms, tell you they were cutting you open. Then they’d lightly patter their fingers along the cut, then, more pressure with their fists. Filling you with pebbles, then boulders. They’d pinch along the cut, stitching you up, then tell you to lift your arms–they’d be so heavy. It’s like that, with the winter dark and cold. My limbs are full of it. It’s a monumental effort to write this now. Monumental effort to engage with the kids. The thought of getting all of us dressed, only to spend 10 minutes in the yard with at least one of us crying that it’s cold, is not motivating. I confess to not getting the kids outside much at all, lately. I’m so thankful Aedan goes to school, has recess. It’s one less thing for me to stress about.

There are families that thrive here. I see their pictures on Facebook: tobogganing, skating on frozen ponds, snowmobiling along the trails. It makes me so tired just to think of it. Maybe it’s SAD. Maybe I just need the right supplements, or a swift kick in the ass. What I do know is that I’m taking the kids to London for Christmas: we leave on Sunday and I know that even just a couple more hours of daylight will make the difference. Or I hope it will.

How do you cope with the winter months? Are you able to stay motivated or, like me, would you rather stay in bed til March?

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Noticing

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Not long after he’d been up this morning, Aedan announced that he had to poop. We haven’t moved into town yet, so this means that we have to put on our boots, our coats, our hats, grab a headlamp or a flashlight, and trudge to the outhouse. As we cross the porch, I glance at the thermometer: -25 celcius. My nose tingles; the exposed skin of my face stings. I realize my new parka might not cut it this winter. Our boots squeak on the hard-packed snow that leads us to the outhouse. I help Aedan get his pants down, help him get up on the pink foam seat. I hold the light over him because he is afraid of the dark. We wait. After a moment, he looks up at me and says “the poop’s not ready.”

We head back into the house and proceed with breakfast. Soon, he announces that he thinks the poop is ready. This time, Paul takes him out. They’re back after only a minute or two. Still not ready. We go through this a half dozen times, each time with the boots, the coats, the hats, on and off. I’m getting tired of this. I can’t shake the chill, my tea has gone cold. I imagine it’s no fun for Aedan, either.

But the seventh time I take him out, standing in the dark encouraging him to just wait another minute and see if it happens, I hear an owl hooting in the distance. Hoo-hoo, hoo, hoo. I hold my breath, whisper to Aedan to listen. We hear it again, and again. And then I notice the complete absence of any other sound. I look up and I notice the pale ghost of last night’s aurora. I notice the bright, slender waning moon, the few stars that still hang in the sky. The silhouettes of bare trees. I exhale and I allow myself to slip into the noticing, to feel a moment’s gratitude for this outhouse that takes us out at times of the day and night when we’d otherwise stay tucked inside; this lifestyle that gives me chances to experience things I’d otherwise miss.

I don’t mean to romanticize it: I still grumble when I have to go out there in the winter time. And ushering my five year old out every twenty minutes over the course of the morning until he relaxes enough to poop is no great joy; but there are moments of beauty, if I stay open to them. This holds true for most aspects of life: always a faint glimmer of something beautiful, if you look hard enough.

What beauty will you notice today?

The Journey from There to Here

We left my parents’ house last Thursday. My mom dropped us at the airport and we said a goodbye that was like ripping a Band-Aid off. I wiped my tears, and then dove headlong into the ordeal that is traveling with three kids. We checked our bags and our car seats, we found some dinner, we joined the mass of people waiting to board the flight to Vancouver. While we waited, Aedan lay on the floor, blocking the way. He refused to listen to us. He and Colm decided it would be a really good time to wrestle. Charlotte twisted around in her umbrella stroller to look at me. “Nur? Nur? Nur?” I sighed, pulled the boys apart for what felt like the millionth time, and told Charlotte we’d nurse on the plane. Finally, we heard the pre-board announcement for people traveling with small children, wound our way to the front, and got onto the plane.

We were in a middle row, four seats across. Me, Charlotte on my lap, Colm, Paul, and Aedan. We stashed our bags, and buckled everyone into their seats. Colm wanted his headphones out so he could watch a movie. Charlotte was like an octopus in my arms, hard to contain. Aedan puked all over himself. A very kind flight attendant helped Paul clean him up. They got him settled with a blanket and extra barf bags. All I could do was offer words of sympathy and encouragement while I tried to keep octo-baby from hammering on the seat in front of us. It was a lesson in letting go.

Aedan puked a few more times, and fell asleep. Charlotte fell asleep. Colm fell asleep. I gazed longingly at a woman a few rows ahead, traveling alone. She was watching a movie (X-Men: Apocalypse) and drinking red wine. Silently, I willed her to enjoy every moment of it. I watched Finding Dory without the sound and drank gingerale.

After nine hours and two airplanes, we were in Whitehorse. We checked into our hotel and all fell asleep.

The kids, however, were still on eastern time. Friday began at 4:30 in the morning. We did our best to contain them until it was time to do some quick shopping and hit the road. I got onto the North Klondike Highway, heading to Dawson, by 9. The kids were all asleep in their car seats. The trees were bare brush strokes against the clouded sky. I had tea and classical music on the radio, until I lost the signal. It was bliss, and I let it fill me up. Eventually, the kids woke up. We stopped for lunch by a rushing creek. Charlotte cried a lot because she hates the car seat. I looped through the half dozen kid’s songs I know until my voice was hoarse. After about five hours of driving, we were home.

I took the kids to a friend’s house while Paul got our cabin warmed up. It’s winter here in the North. Snow is falling as I write this; temperatures are well below zero. When I finally brought the kids home, they were so excited to be there: they ran around the living room yelling and laughing, they dumped all of their toys on the floor, they jumped on the furniture. We all collapsed into bed beneath a pile of blankets, feeling deep love for each other and our little home in the woods.

The next day, our first full day back, was a challenge. Aedan was afraid to use the outhouse in the dark. Repeatedly, I plopped the crying baby on the floor so I could take her brother out there, with a flashlight, to try again. A mix of the sudden cold and the dark kept frustrating the endeavor. This would be so much easier, I thought, if we didn’t live in the bush. I felt myself growing irritated. I’d been having such kind thoughts about this place, about our life here, but the reality of it is different. We hardly had any water, so I had to ration it until Paul came back from town with more. It took forever to get the kids dressed to go outside once the sun came up, and they’d only been out a few minutes before they were cold, bored, hungry. I longed to call a friend over for tea, but we live 40 kilometers from town, with no neighbours in walking distance. I felt trapped, as usual. By the end of the day I was yelling at the baby because she wouldn’t stop crying as I cooked dinner. I wanted a glass of wine. I wanted the whole fucking bottle. Instead, I overate and went to bed the minute Paul got home.

It’s a hell of a trip, coming from the drawn out, balmy autumn of southwestern Ontario to the sudden and decided Yukon winter; from the comfort and support of my parents’ and their home to the challenges of life in an isolated bush cabin. But things are getting better as I re-adjust to our reality. We’re moving into a rented house in town in a couple of weeks, and the nuts and bolts of life will be simplified. The baby will still cry to be held when I try to cook dinner. It will still take forever to dress all of us to go outside, and they’ll probably all want to come in the minute it’s done. But I won’t have to take Aedan to the outhouse in the dark. And I can call my girlfriends over for tea or take a yoga class or get a babysitter without too much trouble.

As for the here, in this moment: Paul has taken the boys to town to fill our water tank; Charlotte is asleep. The first snowfall is coming down over the black spruce that crowd the edges of our property. The woodstove is ticking away and I can smell the birch burning and it’s just beautiful.

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