By Lexie Angelo
I made it to the old hunter’s cabin just before nightfall. It was a long hike. The spring thaw had come just in time so the deep snow melted into the earth, leaving white patches under the trees; tucked away in the shadowy spaces where light couldn’t reach. You’d never know a cabin like this existed. A small hut barely visible in a forest of spruce and cedars. My mud-soaked boots were slumped next to the axe and the woodpile. And my backpack — still where I dropped it. I would deal with them later. I would deal with everything later. I stood up tall like a lodge pole pine and surveyed what I had accomplished — what he said I could never do. I made it. I made it through the Healy Pass, up the first summit to Egypt Lake and over the peaks to Twin Lakes. I cut through the knee-high brambles, the low valleys of early wildflowers and up the jagged mountains still capped with generations of snow that never melts. I kept pushing even when my thighs burned like hellfire, his words of 'you’re too pathetic’ urging me on. I stood around the first fire I'd ever built with own two hands thinking I was a fool to believe him; that I could never make it here. Because I just did.
I listened to the fat of the bacon crackle as it hit the cast iron pan. Grease shot over the mossy ground aiming for my exposed feet too close to the fire in a cheap pair of flip flops. Ouch. I rubbed at the needle burn. I’d been saving this meal since I left the car and passed the trailhead marker two days ago. A reward for myself. A badge of honor. I flipped the thick strands of meat over and the perfume of tree bark, animal fat and pine sap stopped my exhaustion dead in its tracks. I was salivating and re-energized. Freeze-dried meals couldn’t satisfy a hunger like this. Maybe it was stupid to carry a frozen package of bacon for twenty kilometres, covering it with snow each night, caring for it like a newborn baby so that when I finally reached this boarded up shed in the forest, the hut I’d booked two months ago, I would taste my victory instead of just feeling it.
I circled the embers. The fire looked alive; almost breathing as the coals alternated from black to cherry to black again. The trees transformed into long stalks of shadows that swayed in the wind. My stomach lurched. My tongue felt dry. I turned back to my bag, just a few steps away to get a drink from my Nalgene bottle, the one I had filled with river water that morning. The drink smelled of iodine tablets and plastic. I took two large gulps and wiped the corners of my mouth. Everything about my body was raw. My shirt was thick with sweat from yesterday. My hair; matted. I pulled the elastic free, picked out the pine needles and I re-tied the whole mane into a tighter bun. I passed an emerald blue lake on my way up here and I didn’t care that it would be freezing cold; I was taking the plunge in the morning.
I caught the smell of a singe, of scorched fat, and I rushed back worried that I had spoiled my victory meal. Something was different. I looked in the thick-bottomed pan and found only five slices instead of six. I eyed my surroundings and listened for the sound of grunts or snarls. There was a half moon rising over the stretch of mountains in the distance but all around me the cabin was still. I reached in my pocket for my headlamp and waved the beam around. And that’s when I saw it — a flash of a tail. A jiggle of leaves along the forest floor. A wet nose and a furry brown body skidded past me and up onto a sunken rock. A stout little marmot was stoically chewing through a piece of bacon fat. That little bugger.
I fished out the remaining pieces from the pan and held them in a scrap of foil to cool. I took a seat on a weathered stump, my eyes locked straight at the criminal. I took my first bite of the charred maple-brown meat. It was everything. I closed my eyes. Thank you. I said it to myself. To my body, to my spirit. The marmot let out an irritating chirp and shuffled closer towards me. His greedy snout looking to steal everything I had worked for. I shot him a death glance, picked up a stone and launched it in his direction. I didn't have patience for thieves anymore, of bacon, or of hearts.