Sorry, subscribers, this is exactly same post as the other day.
I had to take it down, correct the format, and have now put it back up again so that it will have paragraph spacing on the Home Page. . (If anybody understands this #*%@‘ B.S. I tip my hat to you.)
Anyway, this is the same post. One little typo corrected. No need to re- read, Yawn… ;> ) dave o.
A little over ten years ago I started posting pieces of writing here. At first I was just trying it out. Little by little I decided I liked the discipline of sending my musings out into the wider world once a month, right from home. No editor, no obligation, and no delusions about monetary compensation. I’m told that the word “blog” came from “web log,” and I named this the bushedpilotblog since I did not feel comfortable using my name in the title. You won’t be seeing www.daveolesen.ca anytime soon. (He said.)
“Bushedpilot” is a play on words, since I make most of my paid living as a bush pilot, and I live in what Canadian vernacular refers to as “the bush.” One notorious hazard of living in the bush is becoming, well, “bushed.” Which I am pretty sure I did, quite a while back, because I see evidence, I see symptoms, and now, at age 65, I don’t seem to be recovering. More on that below.
I do get a chuckle out of imagining the end result of random “bush pilot” Google searches, leading fellow aviators, baseball caps screwed down tight and everything about them leaning right of center, who were seeking tips on tying a canoe to the float struts, and somehow wound up here instead, reading (briefly, I’m sure) my ravings about the hue of fireweed petals or the wisdom of Thoreau.
The thing about being “bushed” is that once you are, you probably can’t quite tell that you are. I’ve had reason to ponder this lately, since right now I’m spending about ten days alone at the homestead, churning along through the final third of another sub-arctic January. Wood. Water. Dogs. Cooking. Fixing broken things. Breaking out trails. Taking some recurrent online courses in Crew Resource Management and Airborne Icing, and trying to balance the books for the dreaded Fiscal Year End of our little company. Getting dark soon. Eat. Sleep. Repeat.
An interesting rhetorical question nowadays is whether it is even possible to become “bushed” in the old-time classic sense, what with Elon Musk’s Starlink antenna bolted to the roof and all the glories of the Internet beaming in anytime, day or night. Given that easy ride on the information highway, available anytime 24/7 – as long as the gas for the generator holds out – can a person still wind up “bushed?”
My answer is Yes, and No. I will start with No.
Last night while washing up dishes I enjoyed a pleasant 25-minute phone conversation with our oldest daughter, who is working hundreds of miles away along the Peace River in northern Alberta. Flawless, crisp communication for nearly half an hour. That was a contrast to the comical attempt we had made earlier in the day, when after ten minutes we both started laughing because almost the entire conversation had thus far consisted of “Can you hear me now?” and “I think I lost you again,” followed by long silences, and then, “OK, now I’ve got you. Go ahead.” By evening Elon’s tiny artificial stars must have aligned, and we just nattered away as if we were sitting in the same room.
Then, over dinner, I listened to a heartwarming podcast (another weird word) interview with my old mushing comrade Martin Buser. Martin has been a hero of mine for decades, and he has now decided to retire from racing after running the Iditarod Trail race 39 times, finishing every single time. Oh and winning it four times. His motto is “I’d rather quit at 39 than die trying for 40.” Smart guy. Incredible dog musher. And there he was, chatting to me in his Swiss-Alaskan accent as I ate my dinner.
After the podcast I looked at the weather maps for the coming day and browsed some old photos from 1930’s RCMP files, which now reside in the digital archives of the University of Calgary. Meanwhile the CBC North daily news came in, by e-mail, and happily announced that the school board in Sanirajak, Nunavut, (formerly Hall Beach) had put their collective mukluk down and lowered the mandatory school-closure wind-chill figure from a wimpy minus-50 down to minus-60 degrees Celsius. That’s 76 below zero, Fahrenheit. Anything warmer than that and the kids and parents of Sanirajak will be happy to know that school’s on. Take that, weather whiners. Finally, over dessert, I enjoyed a rendition of the late Hobo Jim’s musical tribute to Joe Redington, written after Joe Senior passed away. (I had seen a link to that tune in a sidebar on the screen, during the podcast. Couldn’t resist.)
And this summary of my evening is meant to demonstrate, of course, that the answer to my question is No. A resounding “No,” you say? A person simply cannot wind up “bushed” when the outside world is never out of reach. In 2023, fast satellite internet connects the most remote reaches of the boonies, so becoming “bushed” is essentially impossible, like somehow catching smallpox or the bubonic plague. The Mad Trapper of Rat River would have his own YouTube channel these days, with paid advertising.
And yet. There is an argument for the Yes side. This is still a strange and solitary existence day to day, with the lurking hazard of solipsism (blog writer, beware.) Kristen and I both wonder now and then just how long we should keep at it. What is missing from our life in these past five or ten years, but most intensely missing in the past three or four — ever since our daughters left home and our nearest neighbors (ten miles away) pulled out — is the often-unappreciated serendipity of casual, unplanned visits from, and to, other people. Not a soul has arrived here under their own steam, un-arranged and not transported in and out by me (the bushed pilot), ever since a helicopter pilot and two biologists came by in early November and overnighted. Prior to that, it was a 45-minute stopover by a Parks Canada boat back in early September. Before that, the supply barge in mid-August (about an hour) and the annual 15-day influx of drop-in visitors sprinkled through the last two weeks of July.
I’m not whining. I’m just wondering. I can feel my bushed-ness sometimes when I go to town. For us “town” is Yellowknife, 165 miles away by air, about 215 miles by lake, population 20,000-ish. Upon arrival there after months out here, I try to shake off a “bushed” frame of mind. Everything is suddenly happening a little too quickly and unpredictably. Familiar faces appear unexpectedly – at the Post Office, at the grocery store, in the lobby of the hangar building at the airport. Some of them are people I have not thought about for years, and there are some for whom I may not even have much fondness. But suddenly along comes ________, in the flesh, asking “How’s it going, Dave?” And pretty soon we have parked our grocery carts off to one side, and lo and behold we are having a long and satisfying conversation, face to face, touching on caribou, dog mushing, politics, flying, and the joys and miseries of becoming senior citizens. Never once mentioning the wildfire that burned our home down, the tense post-mortem meeting five months later, and the way we all glared at each other across the table eight years ago. Hatchet, buried. That is one of the joys of being out and about, in the mix, in the day-to-day flow of humanity’s shuffling, unpredictable herd. To be reminded, over and over, that really we’re all just bozos on this bus.
In the whiz-bang “connected” world of the internet, a simple flick or poke brings or erases our choice of various realities, including scores of people and entire lines of thinking. We whisk them all right in and out of existence. We all become wizards. We don’t even need wands.
Thankfully, real life is not like that. I say thankfully, because it turns out to be downright fun to run into other people unexpectedly. To strike up a conversation with someone who might be out on the most distant orbits of one’s life and outlook, and vice versa, or to smile and hold the door and nod at a complete stranger. If you don’t think these are good things, try doing completely without them for a few months.
There are other symptoms of my condition. I get to town, and suddenly, everywhere I turn, something I need to get into is locked. (I don’t think there is a functioning padlock or door-lock anywhere on our entire homestead.) Or look, it’s yet another mirror, reminding me that I look just a little more unkempt than everyone around me. Dogs rush up and sniff my clothes like I am the most amazing olfactory smorgasbord they have come across in years. Hmm, I think. “Bushed.”
And where did I put the key for this particular thing that is locked? Key for rental car, key for post office box, key for the garage of my friends’ house, or the piece of paper with the padlock combo for the barbed-wire-topped gate at the hangar… Is it here, in my bushed-pilot pockets, along with the sharpening stone, match safe, two headlamps, a Bic lighter and an oily wad of blue shop towel? Or in the other pocket, with my wallet, flip phone, pliers, comb, fuel-drum bung, four woodscrews, a hank of nylon cord and two leftover 12-gauge birdshot shells from yesterday’s ptarmigan hunting? And hey, that’s just my inner trousers, not the outer insulated pants, equally festooned and equally cluttered.
The answer to the rhetorical question is, Yes.
(And spending several hours on a Saturday night debating the question in over 1,400 words is probably just more proof of the correct answer, right? Yep, ‘fraid so.) See you next month. I’ll try to keep it short. Maybe a haiku…