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!