Twenty days ago PJ and I left civilisation behind once again and together with 36 huskies we were relocated to a cabin in the woods. When I wake up in the morning and step out of the door they are the first things I see, swinging their tail, jumping around. I see the sky turn into a painting under the polar night. I see the silent white forests, the snow covered trees, the occasional bird. When I go to bed in the evening I hear nothing. No cars, no people, no loud music, no trains, no humming and buzzing. Only the howls in the woods echo in this frozen world.
Though first hesitant to accept a winter season out here, the departure back into the civilised world will be a hesitant one too. There’s a certain quiet in the forests that relaxes. There are no television screens to stare too much of our time away on. There is the occasional hour where we put on the wifi to upload a picture or talk to some friends. Our phones and our computer are shut off most of the time to conserve power. And when the batteries die, they do. There is no obligation to be connected 24/7. Then it’s just playing cards or games for a few nights until we have enough things to charge to turn on the little generator we have. It’s nice to be offline. We forget to enjoy breathing in fresh air and looking at the world around us by staring at screens all the time.
Before we left we were nervous about yet another winter with a lack of running water, about the outside toilet, about having no power. There are a few convenient things I miss from time to time. Having a hot shower after a cold day and long hours outside. Being able to rinse my hands and wash them under running water. To use soap instead of alcogel. On top of the list however is a nice and warm toilet: it is just never appealing to pull down your pants when it’s freezing double digits outside. Though more than last year, it’s a comfort to be here.
Out here in the woods we are out of the buzz of mass-tourism that fuels Kiruna. We are out of the rush-hour trails that are crowded by big kennels and snow mobile tours. And though we have a few neighboring camps, the groups coming are small enough not to feel like a crowd. Plus, from time to time it’s nice to see some other people.
I don’t mind the power anymore. I have come to forget about running water. The water we get from the lake is fresher than what I’ve tasted from most taps. It is serene, standing out there on your own, picking through the ice to fill up the buckets again. Here, it is us and the dogs, it is candlelight dinners every night, the occasional sauna, the northern lights in the night. Out of all possible places I could imagine being, this is certainly one I’d like to stay. Returning to the buzz doesn’t feel all that attractive anymore.
The dogs also have started to feel at home. They were confused at the start from switching location and changing from kennels to living on houses and chains. For some of the younger dogs it was the first time they stayed on a house, and for them it took a bit longer to understand that they were stuck on something. Now however we see them relaxing a lot: enjoying the space of their own house, playing with their neighbors, coming out for a cuddle when we pass by. We have three dogs that live in our cabin during the night because they have so little fur. They have really come to love the cabin and snore from the moment they are in until we put them outside again in the morning. It’s important that the dogs feel at home, that they feel good, that they eat well. It’s nice to see them thrive.
Sometimes I think everyone should live out in a cabin in the woods once in their life. It makes you appreciate and be thankful for all the comforts we have in modern life, things we simply take for granted. It makes you realize how much resources we use: water, power, fuel, food. We need to bring everything in and take all the trash out again. The wood supply we have has to last through the winter. We need to bring up our water so we think twice about how we use it. It’s amazing how much water we use in our daily lives, just because it’s so easy when it comes out of the tap. And yet, in the future, water might just be one of the most precious resources on the planet.
One of the greatest things about living out in nature is how time seems to stand still. There is time to enjoy watching the sky, time to enjoy standing on the lake while fetching the water, time to enjoy gliding over the snow on the sled. It doesn’t matter that things take time. The days and weeks pass by but they go unnoticed. Modern lives have become so stressful, full of activities and meetings every possible moment. I notice it when I go home and meet my family and friends. I notice it in Flåm during summer. I notice I don’t like it anymore.
One and a half year ago I wrote this, while approaching the end of Te Araroa (https://crossingaotearoa.com/2015/03/25/motatapu-alpine-track/): “The trail has offered us a window on a life unrushed, a life of freedom and fresh air. The touch of this life has reshaped us, reshaped our views on ourselves and on the future, in irrevocable ways, I guess.” We have become the people of the woods. We have gone out too far to turn back. We have to find a way to live, to make a life, by doing what we are doing.