People often wonder what the biggest difference is between living in society and living alone. After last night I can honestly say that the biggest difference is what happens when you are sick.
Being sick in town is not the most fun thing to be, but it’s sure a lot easier. They’re chock full of medicine if you ever run out.
Your doctor has your medical history at hand so that she doesn’t have to guess what works and what doesn’t for you. Or, more importantly, what you are allergic to.
If you can’t reach your doctor, you can ultimately go to the Hospital.
All these multiple layers of coverage are reassuring for the average person, but the largest benefit is communication. The ability to dial 911 and get help in a reasonable amount of time is one of the cornerstones of society. It’s an invisible blessing that people take for granted until they need it. It is also the biggest difference between living in society and living in the bush.
I was sternly reminded of this over the last few days when I became sick. I don’t know if it was a flu. (After all, I hadn’t seen anyone for a month and colds are mainly transferred by people.) But it sure felt like one. Fever, chills, weakness, and lethargy. All the hallmarks of a full blown flu.
This is where the differences show up. I didn’t immediately dive into my stores of medicine. I only have so much. I went around the house and got things ready for the siege. There is so much to do when living in the bush compared to living in society.
The main thing was to bring in two weeks worth of wood for the stove. When you’re weak, shivering, and tired; the last thing you want to do is step out into that frigid air and haul in heavy chunks of wood.
The next is to make sure you have enough water. Yeah, I have plumbing to my well, but the pipes are apt to freeze. Filling up a lined trash-can with potable water is just common sense. That water will be used for cooking, cleaning, and bathing. When you’re sick in the bush, you don’t get the luxury of having a shower or bath. A good rag bath is about all you can expect to wash away the clammy sick stink from your body.
That water is also needed to clean out your handkerchiefs. Those big boxes of aloe impregnated soft tissue might be the miracle of the modern age, but they are still bulky and take up way too much needed storage that could be used for better purposes. Old school handkerchiefs are what works best in the bush and you had better be able to clean them if you want to keep your nose clean.
Finally, you gotta eat. Whether you want to or not. My favorite type of cold food is the usual. Chicken soup and tea. What I should call it, though is chicken broth and tea. For the most part I use those pouches of instant soup. The ones with the freeze dried everything in them. They take up less room than the cans do once you get the out of the box, and at that point I’m more for the broth than anything else anyway. It’s smooth on the throat. Same for the tea. I used to drink mainly black tea, but after living here for a while I’ve grown accustomed to pine needle tea instead. And why not? Pine needles are plentiful around here and all I have to do I grab a bunch when I’m thirsty. I will say this to you “civilized folk”; Pine needle tea and chicken broth is an acquired taste when combined.
Once you have all this done, then you are ready for deal with the flu.
Dealing with it takes a lot more effort here. There’s far fewer distractions for you when you’re sick. You can’t just pop on the local TV show and where I live, radio is sporadic at best. I have my MP-3 player to help out, but even then you get tired of just hearing music for hours at a time. Same with playing solitaire. I’ve learned a long time ago that I’ll win one out of every three games when playing five card solitaire and one out of five when playing seven card style.
But no matter what. Eventually the time comes when you’re so tired that you don’t want to sleep and all distractions become useless. That’s the time when the darkness comes.
The world changes for you at that moment. It seems stiller. Like time itself has stopped. That shadows seem darker. Noises around you are both familiar and different. Everything has an alien presence to you. You start to question every choice you’ve made in life.
Was it wise to move here?
Should I have stayed in the corporate world?
What would my life have been if I had married Tammy?
Will I die here?
Is this the year they find my body in the spring?
Would they find my body, or will I just be left to rot away in this chair?”
And while this goes on, you can’t help but feel a strange presence in the room. It’s nothing like in the horror movies, but you feel the dread just the same. Is it death waiting in the shadows for you? You don’t know but you don’t want to find out either.
Sometimes you try to ignore it. Sometimes you talk. And sometimes you yell at the presence. No matter what you do, it doesn’t matter. The presence never goes away. He just sits or stands by patiently waiting for the time for him to collect you.
And then, just as suddenly, he is gone. The shadows lighten, the sounds normalize, and time starts moving again. The night has ended and you fever is broken. Your home feels empty but yours again. There is one difference though. Down in the lower 48, the sun usually comes up to greet you at this moment. Not here. Up here the sun doesn’t come until spring. Up here you have to make it light yourself.
Up here, you have to be the light.