PB Add. That’s short for “peanut butter addition”, also known as “the fattening of the squirrels”.
Kayla Deasley, if you’re reading along, this post is for you.
So on the 18th of March I began the pouring of peanut butter, which, based on my recollection from this past fall, I thought would be an arduous task. In October Kayla and I spent DAYS stirring and pouring and sweating over PB in front of a roaring hot fireplace to provide squirrels with an overwinter supply of peanut butter. This time it wasn’t nearly as bad as I anticipated, although without Kayla’s skills and technique it did not go nearly as smoothly.
The peanut butter pouring process involves building a roaring fire in the cook shack and then placing the 5-gallon buckets of PB strategically around it to allow them to sufficiently thaw to the point where they can be stirred and transferred to individual containers for each squirrel. Then, stripped down to the bare minimum clothing and already sweating, we use long pieces of scrap wood to stir the PB and mix the oil and solid together. Or at least that’s the civilized method.
Simon and Sabrina quickly give up on the stir-stick method and resort to mixing with their bare hands- drenched in PB up to their elbows. We jokingly call it the Squirrel Camp Spa Treatment- allowing the PB to soften our dry, cracked, and squirrel-scratched hands.
Once the bucket of PB is well mixed (the definition of “well” varies greatly from individual to individual), then comes of pouring of PB into yogurt containers, or the squirrel’s individual “food troughs”. My favored method, thanks to Kayla’s tutelage, is to use a ladle to transfer the PB to the 1 kg yogurt containers. The other less civilized, albeit faster, method is to line up rows of yogurt containers and pour the PB down the line. This is Simon’s favored technique, although I remain a skeptic as large chunks of unmixed PB inevitably remain at the bottom of every bucket, unless I, Master Stirrer, am stirring of course. The end result, regardless of your technique, is a lot of peanut butter everywhere. On the floor, on your clothes, hands, face, and hair, if you’re unlucky.
Between me, Simon, Sabrina and Lisa we have the PB done in a matter of hours, where it had taken Kayla and me days, although there was considerably more peanut butter on the floor this time and we only had 82 containers to fill where Kayla and I filled 240. Plus, such is the price you pay for perfection, and Kayla had mastered the art of the PB pour.
So after subjecting our hands to the PB spa treatment, jamming out to some Beatles tunes, and sweating more than a little, we are ready for PB add.
The next day dawns cloudy and threatens snow- one of the few such days in the string of clear, cloudless, and brilliantly sunny days we’ve had. It is a perfect day for PB add since such weather is not conducive to trapping squirrels. I am excited by the prospect of something new and having company on grid. So when Speedy mentions that she really likes PB add, I nod along happily.
An hour later, I am no longer nodding. After getting dropped off along the roadside and hauling my peanut butter up the hill to Agnus it goes onto a sled. In total I have a yellow milk crate crammed with PB-filled yogurt containers plus two 5-gallon pails loaded onto my sled and one 5-gallon pail in my free had. This sums to a grand total of 36 kg of peanut butter that I am hauling around the Yukon wilderness. I am a walking snack.
With the sled rope looped around my chest I start out for the first of the 36 squirrel buckets that I am responsible for filling. Fortunately, the well-worn snowshoe lane makes an excellent track for the sled. Unfortunately, wherever the trail passes too close to a spruce tree the track inevitably dips down due to the snowmelt around the tree’s base. So I have gone barely 20 meters when the sled finds one of these divots and promptly dumps one of the 5-gallon pails over the side. This is to be the first of many times.
By the time I get to the first bucket I realize that I have forgotten how to tie the quick release knot that Shannon showed me not half an hour before in the cook shack. Well shit. I am too embarrassed to call over the two-way radio that we all are carrying and ask so I wind the rope up, tie a simple knot and hope it holds- sure that whoever the next person to add PB to this bucket is will be cursing me silently. I vow at the next bucket I go to I will carefully untie the knot so I can replicate its design. By bucket number three I am cheerfully optimistic about my knot tying abilities. Which is when I happen to look up as I am bringing a bucket down and get and eye full of, well, something. My best guess, and worst fear, is a thin shaving of the ungodly ropes that we use to hang the buckets. The ropes are the sharp plasticky kind that for some reason make me think of fiberglass. But whatever they are actually made of, it’s awful. Every time the buckets are lowered or raised on our makeshift pulley systems they release a shower of tiny plastic slivers into the air, and more often than not, into your hands. It is one of these multitudinous slivers that I am now imagining caught in my eye.
I close my eye, let it tear, try rubbing it and then blinking rapidly- to no avail. Three buckets in and staring blearily into the forest all I can think is I must be looking pretty good to some hungry bear right now, half blind in one eye and toting around 36 kg of peanut butter. I might as well offer myself up on a sacrificial platter.
Every time I pull down a bucket it is a new surprise. More often than not a mixture of dried mushrooms, spruce cones, and grasses rain down on my head and fill my jacket, t-shirt and bra and any other items of clothing that aren’t sealed off from the world. Once or twice I almost drop a bucket on my head as I am pointedly keeping my face to the ground when lowering buckets now and my eyes tightly shut. Once when I pull a bucket down I find a bit of a squirrel tail and a coating of dried blood. Yum. Another time I find a rabbit’s foot still covered in fur. In each bucket I put a kilogram of peanut butter and then haul it back up the tree. Eventually I put my gloves back on when the rope burn and slivers become too much for my hands.
Amidst all of this my sled tips time and again until I am caught somewhere between hysteria and laughter as I try to right the tipped peanut butter containers and get my snowshoes tangled in the rope of the sled instead, further tipping the sled and almost face planting in the snow. Once or twice I yell, “I hope you enjoy your peanut butter squirrels!” (with a few more expletives thrown in) to no one in particular and listen to my voice echo back to me, finding some strange satisfaction in it.
When I have about eight buckets left to fill I hear Shannon come over the radio saying she’s done. I want to yell back, “How the hell can you be done??”. Here I am tripping over my own two feet, losing PB off the sled every third step, I have shit in my eye that burns every time I blink, mushrooms and grass nested in my hair, and yet Shannon had 10 more buckets than me and has still finished well before. Well hell. Let’s face the facts, I have never been fast. Not at anything. Not taking tests, not doing homework, not running track, or writing, or doing math in my head. I am slow and methodical, yes. I do things carefully and I do them right. But I am simply not fast.
By the time I meet up with Shannon I have somehow managed to lose my pencil and skip two buckets by accident. I look like a frazzled mess and she looks as cool as a cucumber. Together we finish the last few buckets quickly, although I manage to somehow lose the pencil she lent me in the process as well. So when she yells to me the information to write down for the last bucket I hastily fumble around with my data book and try to look like I am writing something down. Meanwhile I am muttering under my breath- “no nest, no mushrooms, 0.3 kg PB left”, committing the data to memory so I can write it down back at camp. I am too embarrassed to tell her I lost a second pencil and don’t have a replacement. By this time my eye is burning and I am squinting along with an occasional tear running down my face, trying not to stumble around and run into trees. All I want is to get to camp as fast as possible and get this stuff of my eye. I am literally fantasizing about the feel of eye drops- the cool, clean wetness- and will Shannon to run as she heads to get the car.
When I finally do get to a mirror I can just make out a speck of something on the inside of my top eyelid. When I manage to swab it with a Q-tip the speck of dirt is barely visible. I stare at it in amazement, finding it impossible to imagine that such a miniscule thing can cause so much pain. While I am still staring Speedy congratulates us on a job well done and informs us that in a month’s time we have yet another PB add to do… except this time the peanut butter might not be frozen. Which means that in addition to mushrooms, cones, grass and bunny bits we might also have peanut butter raining down on our heads. Oh joy.