March Fever

Living and working in the bush is hard.  There is very little time leftover at the end of the day’s hard work for trivial pursuits.  It’s a lot about surviving and little about comfort.  Some days there are more aches and pains than you know what to do with.  And if you are anything like me, you are never warm, unless you are too hot.

However there is something about the wilderness that either puts a siren song in your soul or drives you bat shit crazy.  I think I’ve been a little of both over the years.

There have been times after a particularly hard season in the bush that I left and wanted nothing to do with it ever again.  I was going back to carpeted floors, central heating and running water and NEVER EVER going back!  I made plans that didn’t include camp cooking or horse wrangling.  I was going to get a CAREER!

Tombstone Lake, Alberta

Tombstone Lake, Alberta

Then March came along and I found myself aching at the very thought of camp smoke sifting through crisp mountain air, horse bells jangling in the quiet morning and bacon sizzling on the campfire.  And I forgot the previous season’s aches and constantly cold feet and drippy nose and camp smoke sitting heavy in my unwashed hair.

Yep March is a deadly month for me.  Every March I get itchy and restless.  Get me out of this place!  I’m tired of sitting!  I want to be surrounded by beauty!  I want to DO THINGS!

I forget about having to sleep on top of my jeans so that they will be warm when I get up in the morning as I scramble about of my cocoon and brace myself in the frigid, damp morning air.

I forget about trying to get fires going with damp soggy wood and stiff, cracked fingers.

I forget about hauling water from frozen creeks or lakes with five gallon pails.  Sometimes the haul is only a hop and skip from camp and others you needed a map and compass to get to.

I forget about the stench of outhouses, or balancing on rails, or nothing at all.  And that soggy roll of toilet paper.

I forget about having to sleep under bug nets, and how those no-see-ems that always find a way inside to eat flesh or drone and keep sleep at bay by buzzing around your head constantly.

I forget about working with the swarms of never ending mosquitoes and horrid black flies and vicious horseflies that attack and attack until you half eaten away and raw from scratching.  I forget about drowning myself in DEET poison and living in it for weeks until finally I get a “shower”.

I forget about not finding time or the place to have a shower or bath to get clean and living filthy, covered in dust and muck and sometimes blood (usually animal, sometimes my own) for weeks.

I forget about not having fresh veggies or fruit or really anything fresh, except the meat—and sometimes that’s too fresh.  And having to rotate food through coolers and running out of food and having food spoil and always coming up one ingredient short.

I forget about the cranky, finicky lanterns.  Those crazy old white gas ones that you have to prime just so or they flare up and catch things on fire, or don’t ever work when you need them too.  But the propane ones never give you enough light because they hang from awkward positions behind your back casting shadows on everything you do.

I forget about having to wash really dirty clothes by hand in freezing cold lake water and hanging them up to dry in icy winds.  And nine times out of ten it always rains when you are trying to dry the laundry.

And the billions of dishes, three sometimes five times a day, all after hauling the water and heating the water and having a guest come in and use all the hot water just before you were ready to use it for dishes, so they could have a sponge bath . . .

And I forget about staying up late to finish dishes by my lonesome and then preparing lunches, while everyone else snores in their sleeping bags.  Then rolling out of bed in the frigid cold first thing to stoke up the fires and make sure the coffee is hot and breakfast is going.

And I forget the generators that won’t start, without lots of muscle power and sweet talking and caressing in all the right spots.  I hate generators and they hate me.

And the wood stoves that take to long to get going and then burn too hot, or too cold and never at the right times.

I forget about the fierce winds that uproot stove pipes from the stoves and tear open tent flaps and shred tarps.  Winds that howl and shriek and blow for days and seem to possess voices that drive you slightly insane with their constant moaning, whistling and wailing.

I forget about the rains that come and never leave until everything is wet through and through and all you walk in is a quagmire of muck that sucks boots off feet and coats everything in sight.

I forget about having to LIVE in rubber boots and rain pants.  And always having hat head or more realistically, toque-head.

I forget about having to run horses into camp, but coming in late because they decided to take a night romp and ended up miles from camp up a mountain and then laid down so I couldn’t hear them.  Or crossed a stream.  Or doubled back.  Or took up with a caribou herd.  And the panic attacks I’d have every morning as I set out to find them and bring them back to camp.

I forget about the cranky guides and demanding hunters or needy guests and stressed-out outfitters.

And I forget about the endless hours of sitting in camp with nothing to do or too much to do, and the whole hurry-up-and-wait routine, always the waiting .  .  . and the hurrying . . . and always at someone else’s bidding.

Burn's Lake, Alberta

Burn’s Lake, Alberta

All this becomes romanticized somehow in March.  I fail to remember how nasty and hard it was and all I recall is glorious mountains in pristine wilderness and beautiful horses, and the great people I worked with and for, and especially the feeling of conquering each day—of being part of something bigger than me and being full drive and purpose.  Of being ALIVE!

And then I make that phone call. Yep I’m going back.  I’m going to do it all over again.   I just can’t stay away.  Something out there beckons me.  (Or maybe the mosquitoes really did more damage than I gave them credit for!)

Only now I can’t, or I don’t, pick up that phone.  I’m a mom, with a different life.  One I chose and I’m happy with.  So now I just get March fever, and I get all nostalgic for the good ole days!

Until a spring snowstorm pounds on my house and I click a button that cranks up the furnace one notch and I sip tea from a kettle and curl up in a recliner all comfy cozy, and I don’t have to go anywhere because I’m my own BOSS now, and I can go enjoy the wilderness on those rare comfy sunny pleasant days . . .

Ah hell, who am I foolin’?  I never feel more ALIVE THAN WHEN I’M STANDING ON THE EDGE OF MISERY.

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3 Responses to March Fever

  1. Steve says:

    So true, the trouble every days is what makes one feel alive. I must have shorter memory than you, because it was usually Feb. that was my month of wanting to be back in the bush. Makes me smile to read your recollections.

    By God’s Grace Only

  2. Dick Snook says:

    Hi Jake:
    This is Dick. March fever. In digging around in some family stories from the 30’s and 40’s I learned of Edna with whom my father lived for maybe three years. Edna would exhibit ‘March Fever’ by wallpapering the house/shack she and her three boys were living in at the time. Sometimes, according to her youngest son, it was sign that she maybe also ready to move. Move out of that relationship with a bachelor farmer into a a relationship with another bachelor farmer. Anywhere as long as her boys were kept together and provided for.

    I finally found your ‘blog’ or whatever it’s called. Your writing is entrancing and your descriptions of outfitting are such that I cheer once again for indoor plumbing. Outdoor toilets and running to a well to get water were the standard fare for about 5 years of my childhood. Great lessons. Carry on!

    • Jake says:

      Thanks Dick for taking the time to read my ramblings. Glad it brought back memories! I’m sure you have a few (or more than a few) stories of your own to tell. You should try this blogging thing yourself! 🙂

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