little lady big bed
This time two weeks ago I was high on adrenaline and holding an hour old infant on my chest in the Whitehorse General Hospital. Giving birth to Maggie was the most challenging thing I’ve ever done, and the most awesome. Bodies are amazing, and what my body did was mind-blowing. I built a human. With tiny complete bones, and eyebrows, and teeny tiny toenails and facial expressions all her own. I can’t stop thinking about how incredible this whole thing is. Our life has been completely changed- there is so much that is new about all of this- and yet it feels like she’s always been here.
Right now, Chris and Maggie are in bed sleeping. Their faces are a few inches apart and Maggie has her tiny fingers tangled in his beard. I am the very luckiest.
(I promise there is a real honest to goodness blog post headed your way, with tales of contractions and labour and all the good nitty gritty details of Ms. Maggie’s arrival, but for now all I can write is gushy. Apologies. How can I write something serious when there is a bearded northern ginger napping in front of me with our newborn babe? Lets blame this post on postpartum hormones.)
I spent two weeks writing about what it is like to wait in a city away from home to have a baby, and then, before publishing said post, I had a baby.
I promise to share the whole story soon, but at the moment I’m too busy smelling my own daughter and marvelling at absolutely everything she does.
This is a crazy wholehearted love. We are utterly thrilled and enthralled.
I kneel down low to blow on the last few embers of the fire, under the log I’ve just put on. As hard as it is to get out of a warm bed, walk across a chilled floor and tend to the fire, once I am up I love these quiet moments alone. I have to spread my knees wide to get low enough to blow on the coals, and even then they cradle my belly. My stomach brushes the floor. It is strange to have your anatomy change so drastically in a matter of months. I am at once constantly aware of the babe growing inside me, and constantly forgetting that it means I have to do things differently, widen my stance to put on socks and boots, an action my partner finds endlessly comical. I have a new collection of stains on the stomachs of my shirts, evidence of my new habits of brushing the counters with my belly, or soaking my shirts at the waist with the dishwater.
It is five in the morning and I am awake again, hungry. Sitting in front of the open door of the wood stove, watching, eating a banana. I have spent many hours watching fires. From the wood stove in my childhood home, campfires at our cottage, to the tiny cabins I lived in alone when I first moved to the Yukon, where fire and I really got to know each other.
Living with fire as your main source of heat in a subarctic winter is a practice in timing, preparation, and the uncanny. I say uncanny because it is always thrilling when you wake up just before your fire is out, just in time to coax it back. You develop a relationship with your wood stove, a sixth sense for its needs. You have to know it well; how big to build a fire that will last, will heat your space without waking you sweltering in the middle of the night gasping for oxygen or have you wake up to your dogs water bowl frozen solid on the floor. Your plans when the days are darkest and the temperature drops to 40 below revolve around your wood stove, how long can leave your cabin and come back to still find it warm?
Tending a fire gives your days a pattern, a welcome rhythm. Living with electric or oil heat means you can fall into the trap of the long dark mornings and early evenings, lose track of time, hibernate forgetting exercise and fresh air, sleep through the short sunlit afternoons. You may think that being tied to a wood stove traps you, but at least it keeps you up and moving.
This winter, I will have another, even more demanding role to give my winter rhythm. Our babe is due to arrive early this coming month. My late night and early morning watch over the fire will now come with company, a mouth to feed, a small body to hold.
Living in a small isolated rural northern community means that we “cannot” deliver our babes here in our own communities. Our new local hospital boasts many things, but surgical facilities and staff, as well as blood and blood products, are not among them, meaning, that in the case of an emergency, or an early labour, you’re evacuated by plane, an hour and a half flight south, to Whitehorse. Expectant moms and their partners travel 6 hours by car to Whitehorse, the nearest centre, the largest city in the Yukon, two weeks before their estimated due date, and there, among the big box stores and streetlights, neither of which are features of Dawson, we wait to deliver our babes.
I am 38 weeks pregnant. In two days we will be 532 kilometers away, waiting. Nesting has turned into packing, cleaning out the fridge, writing out a lengthy tome detailing our dog-beasts quirks for the house sitter (mostly assuring her that Wiley can go a little nuts when I’m gone for a long period of time and that if he eats a boot, or wall, or something, it is most definitely not her fault.) I have also packed what is probably a ridiculous amount of baby paraphernalia for our two day stay in the hospital after birth and a day’s drive home. Not knowing what I can possibly actually need for this babe, I am erring on the side of over-preparation. As annoying as it is to have to leave our own space and travel 6 hours to wait to have a baby, I am choosing to see this as a vacation, and will take advantage of all of the relatively urban perks of the Territory’s capital: swimming pool, prenatal yoga classes, movie theatres, and most importantly, mexican food.
I keep reminding myself that no matter how much I will miss our home, our dogs, our favourite places and people and walks, we will be home soon, with our babe, and it is my hope that it will seem like we’d never left at all. Away we go!
I wrote this yesterday, thinking about things I can expect while I’m expecting. Today it all happened. Magic!
“I can expect it to snow in the next week or so. And I can expect that my eagerness for cold weather will annoy others. I need it to get cold fast this fall, so the river that lies between us and our homestead freezes quickly, and we can move in as soon as possible with our new babe. I expect that in the next two weeks the small flurries that I’ve seen, that melt when they hit they ground, will become solid and stay, casting light back up onto my bedroom ceiling some morning. I expect that on this morning, as with all my recent mornings, I will be woken by my babe stirring, my bladder, or my babe stirring on my bladder. I can expect our three dogs to hear me wake up and gather on my side of the bed, a lineup of eager noses in my face, tails thrashing against the rubbermaid container full of baby gear I’ve nicknamed “the nursery”. I can expect Chris to roll over and rub my shoulders briefly before resting his head on my chest and talking to our child, trying to not make eye contact with my protruding belly button which totally freaks him out. ”
It is a morning for tea, CBC on the radio and tending the wood stove. I am thrilled winter is making her way!
These nights involve quite a bit of tossing and turning. I feel like the princess and the pea. Except instead of one small legume under many many mattresses it is a watermelon growing inside my abdomen, pushing my stomach up into my ribcage and interfering with my usual capacity to eat all of the ice cream. The watermelon is also testing its limbs and the dancing in my belly can sometimes make falling back asleep difficult. I don’t mind though- I’m too thrilled that our child has legs and arms and muscles and is trying them out to be annoyed by the lost winks.
I find myself marveling at my squirming belly and this whole process frequently. It is safe to say I have never been more aware of my own biology. Some people may think that science can take the magic out of things, but the sheer mass of things that had to happen in just the right order, amounts and at just the right time to make all of this work is nothing short of incredible. The amount of things we just don’t know about this whole process is also humbling. There are so very many intricacies to marvel at in all of this. And this critter inside of me is just one small part of one way to reproduce, in all the world, of all the creatures and life out there, all the seed making, egg laying, wonders, this is just one way a mammal can do it. It is safe to say I am simultaneously nerding out and gobsmacked with wonder while I’m not sleeping or eating (my other two main concerns these days).
Our house is happening. Drywall is being hung as I speak. Our walls will look like real walls. We have picked paint colours (a step I have been anxiously awaiting since the beginning of our planning). Even more exciting than colouring our walls, is that once that step is done- we can move in.
It has been so SO long since we lived in our own space, over a year. I have forgotten what my favourite mug feels like. I can unpack the quilts my great grandmother made, and the wool blankets my great great grandmother wove. We can put our books on shelves. We can stock our cupboards. We can sit down and relax, and not worry about living among other people’s things, or when we might have to pack things up again and move on to the next housesit. After a year+ of living out of a laundry basket and a few backpacks- I may even be most excited for a dresser. (My mother will not believe this as in my formative years all my clothes lived on the floor.)
Needless to say, the idea that we could move in, unpack, get set up, BEFORE we have the baby- is thrilling. Just as thrilling is knowing that after two years of hard work and penny pinching we will finally be out there in the field and the forest, where we, and our three dog beasts, are happiest.
Also thrilling is the amount of food we’ve harvested from our garden. Three large braids of onions, heaps of kale and cabbage for freezing, many many potatoes, and a load of tomatoes ripening and readying to be made into tomato soup for freezing. I’ve been roasting squash from local farmers to make into soup this morning, our house smells like fall and orange. I think I’m going to have to use some of it to make a pie. Its a damp grey day, dappled in falling yellow leaves with the acidic smell of high bush cranberries in the air. That smell is my grandfather’s smell. Every fall he would make high bush jelly, staining his hands and nearly all the tea towels bright crimson. He would smell of fall walks and tart decay for days. I will never see one of those bright glowing berries without thinking of him.
We’ve dried mint and peppermint for tea, sage for seasoning, collected low bush cranberries and blueberries for freezing, we’ve picked many neon rose hips, drying them for tea as the nights grow colder. The freezer is full of chum salmon fillets fished by a friend. The harvest season has meshed well with my nesting urges. Folding tiny baby things while preserves bubble on the stove has been incredibly satisfying (naturally I’m barefoot and in the kitchen while this is happening). Though we’ve not stopped our hiking and adventuring.
On my birthday last week, I climbed the ridge that borders the East edge of our property. I may be getting older, I may be 7 and a half months pregnant, but I can still climb a hill, dammit. I chose what I thought was a reasonable face to ascend. Meanwhile, Chris, unbeknownst to me, stopped his work insulating the walls to watch me with binoculars, planning how he would possibly find me and carry me out if I were to fall. He is good one. He knows better than to tell me I can’t do something, but also watches to make sure I’m okay. He calls me a mama bear because I, in my frequent stops and pauses, graze aimlessly on the cranberries that cover every hill. I am slower these days, more cautious, less certain of my own gravity, but I climbed out of the spruce and into the sage and poplar, sat on an outcrop and looked out over our land, into the Tintina trench and at the Ogilivie mountains, already sporting snow. It was a great birthday present to myself. I love my friends, my family, and Chris, but I also love exploring and tromping on my own. I am so excited for this kid to arrive, but I have also been savoring these moments on my own before I find myself with a new constant companion in this child.
Dawson has slowed down, our pace is changing. Gone are the summer workers, save the brave and the few committing to their first Yukon winter. The tourists are dwindling, which means driving is not so dangerous- there are no longer seniors at every turn standing in the middle of the street taking photos, seemingly unaware that though the streets are dirt, they are functional and filled with traffic. The frantic energy brought on by the high season for tourism and mining has gelled. The seasonal restaurants and hotels are either closed or closing in the next two or three weeks. Talk has turned to snow, freeze up, tropical vacations. Woodpiles are growing and woolies have come out of storage. It is an incredible time of year. It is delicious. The afternoons are bright and sunny, gold as the birch and poplar on the hills. Folks may pity us our dark nights and deep freezes, but we also have the most marvelous falls, they hit hard, they move fast, but those first wiffs of woodsmoke and flashes of northern lights are nearly enough to make you long for -50, because you know that fall has to happen first.
-I’m somewhat technologically challenged these days, and so this post is scant in the photo department. If you’d like some images to go along with these words, please visit my instagram profile, here: http://instagram.com/buckbrushed-
Summer found the Klondike, and it has kept me tied up and pulled away from the computer and pens and papers ever since. The garden needed planting, and tending, and now near constant weeding. The midnight sun gives us little respite. The greenhouse is a jungle, tomatoes, cucumber vines and tomatillos tower far above me, straining against the poly ceiling. The dogs dip themselves in the mossy slough behind the house daily, keeping themselves cool, and musky.
Our afternoons have been hot, our nights stay cool here, which after a childhood of muggy sticky sleepless Southern nights, is a thrilling feature of my Yukon home. This place is the best daily combination of sun scorched skin and your favourite wool sweater.
My belly and the babe have been growing along with our garden, both seemingly doubling in size after last month’s torrential rain followed by bright hot days. I sing this little critter songs while weeding and climbing hills, recite the names of the plants we pass. He or She dances out their reply. Nine months seemed an incredibly long time at the beginning, but every day has flown by. We are over halfway there.
Life has been a strange combination of the utterly practical and the incredibly magical. How will we get our drywall across the river? I am building a human. Can we afford to finish our house before the baby arrives? This tiny human can hear me. We need a vehicle that is both reliable enough to get us to Whitehorse to deliver our child, and can accommodate a car seat. Our child now has hair, fingernails, and is building their first memories.
I visited my family in New Brunswick last week. I swam in lakes, strolled in the Bay of Fundy, collected shells and stones with my sister, canoed with my dad, watched my moms face as I put her hand on my stomach and she felt her grandchild kick a hello. It was utterly marvelous. Even though my arrival was delayed by a tropical storm and flight cancellations. It was odd to lay in my childhood room, looking up at the same ceiling I looked up at and once wondered what I would be like when I was in school, when I graduated, what I would do, where I would go, who I would be when I lived on my own, who I would love and to wonder what it will be like to have a child who will one day look up at a ceiling or sky somewhere and wonder all those things for themselves.
I am happy to be home here in Dawson. To get back to the work of building a home for ourselves, our child and the three dog beasts, daunting and as time sensitive as it is. With all the many experts constantly telling you what you “need” for a baby, I have to remind myself that I am surrounded by role models for creative and simple living. Many people here were raised in the bush, with no running water, with the rest of their family of 4 or 5 or 6.
It is not the trappings that are important to a child, but love and kindness, which Chris and I, our families and our friends have in abundance. Our child will not remember or be changed by unfinished walls or a plywood floor. They will be shaped by our laughter and our warmth. We have an insulated home, a seasons’s worth of food to store, wolves to sing lullabies, firewood for the winter, a wealth of wilderness, three steadfast dogs and our whole hearts to offer- surely that is more than enough.
We stopped crossing the Klondike River last week. It was rotting and punchy, and now, the Dawson rumour mill has it, as of this morning, the Klondike has broken. Seagulls were spotted nearly a week ago, so according to Dawson lore, it is right on schedule. This time of year is exciting, everyone has theories to help them best predict the date of the Yukon River breakup. The local chapter of the Imperial Order of The Daughters of the Empire (IODE) run a guessing pool each year. Official breakup is recorded when a tripod set up in the middle of the river moves, pulling a cord and triggering a clock and the town fire sirens. Guesses need to be close, to the minute. The winner gets half of the pot, thousands of dollars, while the other half goes to the IODE, who gives it back to the community, families who need to travel for medical treatments, or who are otherwise in need. Everyone buys a ticket. When there is word the river is moving offices close, and the dike is filled with onlookers. Whole afternoons are spent watching the river, speculating as to its next move. My bet is that the Yukon will break over the next 4 days. You can look at daily panoramic photos of the Yukon and make your own guess here.
We’ve been staying at the in-laws, and we’ve been climbing the hill and ridge behind their home each day, searching for crocuses on the well sunned snow free South facing slope. On Saturday, Deuce and Wiley took off running down the hill, we assumed they were after a grouse. Tink appeared a moment later with her hackles up and hid behind my legs. And then we heard it, something big running fast on the other side of the ridge, getting closer
At this time of year, bearanoia sets in. Every black shape, sound, huff, is a bear. We prepared for the worst, and that was when a caribou- something we hadn’t even thought of, came flying over the hill and past us, tearing up the sphagnum on its way. I think it is always exciting to see a caribou, but it is particularly exciting to see a Caribou in this particular place. The Forty Mile Herd has just started to make its way back into its traditional summer and winter ranges after being nearly decimated in between 1920 and 1974.
We spent hours this weekend strolling, exploring, perching on outcrops and peering at the valley below. It feels good to be outside in the sun. While we miss our property, and are eager to get back across the Klondike and back to work, this is a welcome break, and a great reason to stroll and explore without the nagging feeling that we should be building our home.
The crocuses haven’t appeared yet on this particular hill, but I’m sure they won’t be long. I hope things are green and bursting wherever you are!
I feel like a grizz. After the long and dark, I am still dopey. I seek out patches of sun and sit in them like a cat. The sun is finally warm on my skin after months of weak, whimpy cool blue light. It all makes me want to roll in the snow, shake all last years cells from my pelt, and start fresh.
I also feel like an animal because I have two hearts in me right now. I sleep for two, I eat every green I can find in this still frozen place, though I have not yet climbed to the tip-top of a poplar to eat their buds like the true bear do.
Things have gotten kind of primal. My sense of smell is heightened, my hair is thicker, my nails grow faster and stronger than I have ever seen. My body is turning me into some sort of protective beast, giving me the tools to create and guard this tiny strange new piece of me (with the seemingly inefficient side effects of frequent bathroom runs and new nauseating aversions to strange things).
It has been speculated our child, whatever gender they are, will be born with a beard.
(But we will still love them if their wee chin is hairless.)
I know for sure that this critter will change our lives. I hope they will run, roll and laugh with our dogs; that they will befuddle us, bring us laughter, bring us tears, bring us mud and bruises and jokes that make no sense but are still hilarious. I hope that they will breathe deeply of the black spruce, cold creek water, moss and labrador tea; that they will sit with red faces and gorge on the raspberries in our fields.
I have no idea who this person will be and I have never been more excited to meet someone.
This is a brand new adventure.
It is uncharacteristically warm here. Instead of the usual January walking getup* everything stays toasty with one light set of long underwear under my jeans, a couple of wool sweaters and a down vest. Top with a toque and scarf knit by loved ones and -10 is tropical.
There are many downside to these balmy days. The river is rotting. The city ice rink is melting. And last, but not least, the Yukon and Klondike River valley, where we live, is filled with thick fog at all times. The sun taunts us from blue fields that peek out in fractions for a moment here or there. The snowy side of the Midnight Dome melts seamlessly into the blanket of fog and cloud- it looks as though the mountain itself is arching above us- a real life snow globe.
The real loss with all this grey batting above is the stars. We don’t get to see them in the summers here, blotted out by the midnight sun. But in winter, on the coldest nights, the sky is clear, clear, clear, and you can see a million of them. Orion’s left foot, Rigel, the foot of the great one, catches my eye first. A blue supergiant, the sixth brightest in our sky.
Orion’s belt leads you down, to the left and to Sirius, glowing, scorcher, the brightest star in the night sky. Only Venus, Jupiter, and our moon are more luminous. Twice as large as our sun, it would appear on the Egyptian horizon just before dawn in the time of the Nile’s flood, part of the Canus Major Constellation, it marked what the Egyptians called the “dog days” of summer.
I spent a month one winter working far off in the bush, a full day’s trek from Dawson up river and through a maze of creeks and valleys. I lived in a wall-tent with two good men. We worked hard all day, cutting line with machetes on snowshoes, frenzied and shedding off sweaty layers at -30 only to freeze up instantly with the slightest pause. Our work days were short, mandated by available daylight.
I brought an astronomy book with star maps with me. Every night I would stand outside and listen to my eyes blink, the wolves howling over the ridge, and recite the new names I’d learned like spells, Beteguese, the house of Orion, Bellatrix the warrioress, the amazon star, the lioness & the conqueror, Alnilam, the arrangement of pearls, Alkaid, the eldest of the bear’s daughters, the mourning maidens.
I’d stay outside until I started to chill, then go instead to keep reading, to watch a movie with the guys, to make more tea, and finally to sleep like the dead until dawn when we would stoke the small stove, fill our thermoses, start the snow machines and repeat.
When I first moved to the Yukon, had no idea where I would live or work and had spent all of my money on plane tickets and a new parka. I was frantic with unknowns. I took a walk my first morning in the Territory, pleading with my dog, Ulu, to forgive me for the hours of air travel and assuring her the next three hour leg of our journey would be the last.
I came out onto a high cliff bluff over the Yukon River, gained my bearings and realized it was flowing North. In the Maritimes, all self-respecting rivers rush South, or East. That a river could run North was a new and mind boggling consideration thrown on top of existing anxiety.
I looked down and saw Sphagnum moss, an Acadian Forest resident and Boreal Forest constant. A piece of home, a tiny bit of continuity. I continued to look down on my walk, the names came running back from my Ethnobotany classes, and they calmed me down. Bearberry, Arctostaphylos uva-usri, Labrador tea, Rhododendron groenlandicum, and my grandfather’s favourite, the Highbush Cranberry, Viburnum trilobum.
The moral of this ramble, if anything, is that I am a huge dork. And also, that there is always something familiar with us, it might just be under a winter’s worth of snow, or behind the sun or a shade of clouds.I can’t wait for it to get colder.
*Dawson City Winter Wear: Long underwear, fleece pants, gortex bib pants, merino wool undershirt, shirt, sweater, down coat, balaclava, toque, woolly socks and mukluks. In extreme temperatures this outfit can be augmented with liner mitts, more long underwear and wool pants, making for an extremely svelte and sexy figure.