28 August, 2014

28 August 2014

I am sorry for the long silence.  It was necessary, but hopefully will not be repeated.

Thank you all for your patience, and for reading.


Einar’s need for a few minutes’ silence before returning to the warmth of the shelter turned into an hour, then nearly two, Liz finally coming and leading him inside, glad, as she did so, that spring was well under way and the snow would before too long be gone into the ground.  Winter had been long, had seemed long, at least, and she was anxious for the change. 

Change coming quickly, air softening as the daytime breezes warmed, and Einar was anxious to be out and doing after his lost days in the shelter, so many things to do as the snow began disappearing in small but growing patches, soil reappearing…  His legs, though, would not seem to cooperate, sometimes refusing to support him for more than minutes at a time and leaving him with an aggravating frequency sprawled in the snow, scrambling to drag himself upright again and wedge his body between two trees before Liz could notice.  Liz did notice, gently reminding him that food and rest would solve his difficulties, if only he would allow them the chance.  When he did not seem to get the idea, her reminders became firmer and more frequent until after some time he consented to a day of rest in the shelter, stillness, sleep, though he dreaded them just then and would have rather continued dragging himself through the snow, had it been necessary, just to keep active.

Sleep.  His body wanted it if his mind did not, and once he’d agreed to rest, sleep was not far behind, his times of wakefulness never lasting long that day.  The dreams returned with a renewed intensity as Einar rested, staring half asleep out through the tiny, sunlit chinks in the shelter wall, engulfing him in the dark hours and their shadow not leaving him when the night left.  He did not want to be like that, not around his family, little Will bursting with energy and enthusiasm as he crawl-galloped about the shelter and tottered with increasing speed about the perimeter of  its walls, hands providing him some measure of stability but no longer much support, soon to be walking on his own. 

Einar, who wanted to be a part of all this joyous, bubbling explosion of life and could hardly stand the way Liz watched him when the little one approached.  She had every right, he knew, to be a bit nervous, to wonder how he might react, considering that he, himself, had hardly known in which world he was living over the past days, but still it saddened him, her apparent lack of trust.  Knew he had to do something. So, taking himself a distance from their home and sheltering under the dark shadows of fir and spruce, he resorted to the only means familiar to him, the only ones certain, in his mind, to help.

Pain, and the familiar solace of self-denial.  He stopped eating again, spent time with the ropes, testing body and mind in a struggle to bring the two back into some semblance of a liveable equilibrium.  Almost too strong for him, this time, these familiar tactics, too much for his body, ill-equipped as it was to replace the blood he was losing, but at the same time they were the only things strong enough if he wanted to live, and he must live.  For Will.  And for Liz.  If only she could forgive him his methods and understand, to some degree, how very hard he was fighting to stay there with them, even when appearances might suggest the opposite.  

Liz did not come searching for him during these times when he took to the timber, knew what he was about, and—though finding it very difficult—left him to his own devices.  Einar made certain to return to the shelter with some regularity during this absence, bringing meat from the hanging elk quarter for Liz’s afternoon stew and once, to her surprise, a rabbit which he’d startled beneath a thicket of stunted firs just before dark and taken with a rock.  It dismayed her that while in the camp he wouldn’t eat, wouldn’t drink, aside from small tastes of snow when his mouth became too dry to allow speech, and after another day of this she had to admit he really was not looking too good, face pale, everything sunken and the whites of his eyes starting to show an unfortunate shade of yellow.  She could clearly see all the tendons in his wrist, his arm, ligaments of his hand visible from the palm side now when he moved his hands in certain ways, and she hadn’t even known that was possible.

Enough.  Surely it had been enough, she told herself as she watched him retreat to the timber that evening, and though she knew it might be a mistake to tell him so, to ask him to return, she was beginning to think there was little to lose, for surely he could not survive many more days of this.  One more night.  She would give him this one more night to get things sorted out, and then would do all within her power to draw him back to the warmth of the shelter, to life with his family.  Might even have to resort to the rabbit stick.  Only, she no longer had a rabbit stick, and hated to think of using it on him even if she had, after the ordeal through which he’d put himself over the past days.  He had spoken nothing of it, but she saw the signs.

A long night for Liz, little sleep as she listened to the wind in the firs overhead and wondered if Einar was getting any rest, wondered, drawing the blanket up under her chin as if suddenly feeling the wind as he must be feeling it, whether he might be getting too much, if her intended plea would, in the end, come too late.  Several times she almost rose to go to him, once even lacing up her boots, but each time she turned back before making it out of the shelter.  She’d meant to give him this one final night, and would stick to that resolve.  Not easy, but she managed until finally, arms around his son and a prayer in her heart, she slept.

No need, in the end, for Liz to make her appeal to Einar, for on the morning of the third day after his leaving the shelter he returned, striding into the clearing just as she finished dressing Will for a walk in the melting snow, features drawn and skin looking nearly translucent, but for the first time in days there was light behind his eyes and hope in the deeply-etched lines of his face, and she knew they were going to be alright.

Einar had not returned empty-handed, two winter-scrawny squirrels slung over his shoulder on a length of much-used nettle cordage, the result of a series of snares he’d set around his temporary camp in the trees.  These he handed to Liz as she came to take him in her arms, she for some reason bursting into uproarious laughter at the sight, scrawny man with his scrawny, mangy squirrels and a big grin splitting his face at the sight of his family, her anger at his condition dissolving beneath the easy burden of relief, tears lost in laughter.

Einar hung back, a bit dazed and not entirely understanding her laughter, but she grabbed him, pressed him to her and neither spoke for several minutes, Einar finally ending the silence.

“I brought breakfast…”

19 August, 2014

19 August 2014

With the departure of the storm the high country weather changed quickly, one bitterly frigid night after the breakup of the clouds followed by a series of gentler ones, new snow barely lasting two days and the moisture of its melting seeping down through the layers which had remained beneath, furthering their deterioration and beginning to very slightly thaw the ground itself.  Einar smelled the change, felt a softening of the air that passed across his nose in breathing and wanted to be out immersed in this riotous celebration of new life, observing, greeting, living the changes as they came to be, but he could not seem to get any farther than the inside of his own head. 

Frustrated.  Wanted to wake, really wake, knew he ought to be capable but every attempt at movement left him wondering at the sudden and seemingly complete disconnection between body and mind which had plagued him since returning from his night-long sojourn after the second elk quarter.  Around him he could hear the noises of daily life in the shelter, Will’s delighted babblings, screeches and the increasingly intelligible words with which he sought to communicate, Liz splitting wood and doing her best to cheerfully answer the little one’s ramblings, but try as he might, he could not bring himself to wake and participate.

For the first day, Liz had not thought this a terribly bad arrangement, Einar, as she knew, quite incapable of allowing himself such rest while fully conscious and in command of his faculties, and the respite likely an essential one, if he wanted to recover from the strain of his recent journey.  Which he probably didn’t, not in so many words, but she wanted it for him, and so did her best to go about her daily routine without disturbing him, waking him only to urge the consumption of more warm broth and the occasional bowl of soup.  By the second day, though, Einar was not waking at all, Liz becoming less and less convinced of the benefits of what seemed to be his rapidly deepening stupor.

 By the third day she had tried nearly every approach she could dream up in her quest to wake him, and though he appeared to give the occasional brief sign of comprehension, of attempted cooperation, nothing had really changed.  Liz was worried.  It was natural, she was certain, for Einar to be worn out after his journeys through the snow, to sleep for a day, perhaps, in regaining his strength, but this seemed something more, and she feared the results should he go another day without water and sustenance.  Already the skin on his face and hands looked especially sunken and drawn, heartbeat slowing to the point that she sometimes had trouble finding it, when she checked.

Water.  She knew he badly needed water, and carefully she tried to give him some broth, propping up his head and letting the stuff run down his throat, drop by drop.  He fought her, though, his unconsciousness apparently not so deep as to obliterate all awareness, and after a time she had to give up her efforts lest he injure himself, or her, or little Will, with his strenuous resistance.

Einar, for his part, had by the second day ceased to smell the awakening scents of spring from outside, heard Will’s babblings, but they had taken on a strange and dreaded inflection, language remembered, only adding to the urgent reality of the dark world through which his mind had been wandering, rain loud on the leaves, stinking swamp below and all around him, the close, stifling press of humid air and unyielding bamboo.  This he fought, too, struggling to get out, to turn away from his captors whenever they came to him with offers of food, water—the precious, life-giving water that he so desperately needed—if only he would talk, in return, his protestations so violent that Liz at times chose to take Will and go outside to give him more space.

Late on the morning of the fourth day after returning with the elk quarter, Einar finally managed to win, after a fashion, his battle with the heaviness which had held him down and prevented his fully waking.  Quiet in the shelter, Liz and Will outside, and this time, lying there with eyes struggling to focus on the dim lines of the aspen and fir branch ceiling, he knew their voices, knew where he was.  Eyes wouldn’t quite bring anything into focus, seeming to grate oddly in their sockets when he turned them, and he knew he’d been far too long without water.  This belief was confirmed when his first effort at sitting was met with such a wave of dizziness as to render the procedure quite impractical, if not impossible, Einar rolling to his stomach and trying again, bracing himself on hands and knees until the worst of it had passed.  Well.  Scrunched his eyes shut against the ongoing spinning of the room, got himself over to the wall and stood, legs a little uncertain and blackness becoming complete with the change in position.  He stuck it out, waiting for some vision to return and rewarded, for his efforts, with an eventual lessening of the vertigo, able at last to take a few wobbly steps.

Must have been a while, he realized, since he was last on his feet, and judging from the dryness of his mouth, eyes and practically everything else, probably just as long since he’d had anything to drink.  The fact, rather than disturbing him, felt oddly satisfying.  Good to know that he could still do it, still hold out this long while they were doing their best to…right.  Only you know it wasn’t them at all, was just your own poor Lizzie offering you that broth for who knows how long, and you must have given her an awful time with your refusals and your resistance and all.  That did disturb him.  Had to find her, do what he could do make it right.

Warm out there; he could tell by the dripping of snow from the evergreen boughs.  That was his only real clue, though, as the gentle breeze felt awfully chilly on his skin, piercing, it seemed, right to the bone.  He didn’t mind.  Helped him feel more awake.

Liz, he saw, was in the process of shaving mostly frozen meat from one of the elk quarters, which she had lowered from its protective tree.  Before long, he knew, they would have to start thinking about turning their meat into jerky, for with warming weather, flies would begin to appear, and would spoil meat left hanging and unprotected by smoke or spice for too long.  Not a problem yet, not for a month, perhaps, but certainly not too early to begin thinking.  Steps still slightly uncertain, Liz heard him coming through the soggy snow, turned to meet him, a brief look of consternation crossing her face and a hand going up as if to shield Will, until she caught his eye and realized that he knew them.  She smiled then, setting aside her knife and hurrying to him.

“You’re awake!”

He nodded.  “You sound surprised…”

“It’s been a while.”

Einar shifted his weight uncomfortably off of his injured leg, then back on again.  “How long?”

“Most of four days.  The storm moved out almost that long ago, and things have really been thawing, since.”

“So long.  Real sorry.  Should have been out here helping you around the place.”

“You brought home all that meat!  I have no complaints.  But I do have a pile of elk here that needs to be made into stew, so how about you come in and have some broth while I work on it?”

Einar smiled, but he wasn’t ready.  Not quite yet.  Not for the broth, and not to be inside.  Needed to be out under the trees for a while, first.

13 August, 2014

13 August 2014

On the return trip, Einar did not stop.  A number of times—more than he could count, looking back, the rotten snow had given way beneath him and sent him to his knees, or worse, under the load of that elk quarter, but always he was quick to regain his feet, joy of having successfully returned to the elk and salvaged more of its meat bearing him up when he fell and sustaining in him a momentum which devoured the snowy slopes and soon carried him, despite descending darkness, back down into terrain which he recognized.  Not far from home now, and he paused briefly with back bent and one hand braced on his knee in the hopes of easing a growing tightness about his middle, breaths coming with difficulty.  No wonder, with the weight of that elk quarter pressing on his shoulder and he constantly having to struggle against its bulk to get air into his lungs.  Thing had to weight more than he did, or very nearly, but he dared not put it down for fear of finding himself unable to take it up again.  The rest didn’t help, really, and he was soon in motion again, knowing that home was near, caring little for his lack of oxygen or anything else, really, other than successfully delivering that meat to Liz, and to their son.

Final rise, stunted little ridge which separated the small basin in which they sheltered from the surrounding timber, and Einar zigzagged up through the soft new snow.  Light through a crack under the door, a few small ones in the walls which would need attention; Liz was at home, and a big smile split the wanderer’s weary face, for suddenly he found himself missing her so very badly that he could hardly stand thinking of the time it would take to drop down off of the little ridge and cross the clearing.  He did stand it, though, it being a practice of his to make special effort at bearing anything his mind told him might be unbearable, standing quite still for a full five minutes while he listened to the little sounds of the crackling fire, Will babbling away and Liz’s occasional quiet answers.  Then, swaying with weariness and beginning to doubt his ability to stay on his feet much longer, he straightened up under his burden, taking the slope in a series of long strides which brought him very soon to the basin floor, a song on his lips even if he lacked the breath to project it very far.

Liz met him out in the clearing, firelight streaming out across the new snow and Will bouncing excitedly in the doorway and squealing his greetings, wishing he could run after his mother into the fresh drifts.  She tried to take the elk quarter from him, but Einar—back straight and a hint of quiet triumph on his face despite the knowledge that he was unsettlingly close to collapsing with the next step he tried—shook his head and covered the final distance, tossing a length of cord over the high branch of a spruce near the shelter and hoisting the meat up into the tree for the night.

Finished, and inside the shelter, the radiant heat of the flames was warm and strange on his face, light dazzling his eyes as he listened happily to Will’s enthusiastic if not entirely intelligible account of the day and tried to understand what Liz was wanting him to do with the steaming soup pot she was pressing most insistently into his hands.  Hold it, apparently, and he did, but the warmth of its contents hurt his thawing fingers—the pain was alright, kept the what he could tell would otherwise be an overwhelming sleepiness at bay, but he worried about dropping the pot and burning Will—and after a time he set it aside, well out of reach of the ever-curious child, safe behind his back.

Liz was trying to help him off with his boots, but he shook his head, smiled and did it himself.  “Surprised you guys are still awake.  Must’ve taken half the night to get that thing down the mountain.”

“Oh, no, it’s only been dark for a couple of hours.  You were quick!  How’s the snow out there?  It seems pretty soggy and rotten, right around the place here.”

“It’s kind of a mess.  Lot of melting is going to happen now, and in a hurry, when the storm moves out.  Quite a bit of water in this snow.”

“How was it for walking?  I expect you were sinking in a lot, carrying that elk…”

Einar shrugged.  “Expect so.  Just kept moving.  We’ll have to go back for the rest of it, but at least now we’ve got both quarters hanging in a tree, lot of meat to get us through the spring until…”

With which he fell silent, sleeping, head bowed and smile easing the weary lines of his face as he dreamt of springtime, leaving of the snow and the high, hidden meadows where the elk would bring their young into the world.

Liz, so filled with relief at his safe return—her lack of worry at his departure, she now realized, had been resignation, as much as anything, to the fact that he might well not survive the night—was half inclined to forgive Einar his dozing and let him be.  Would have certainly done so, had it not been for the matter of his supper stew, which sat un-touched on the floor beside him.  Did not seem a good thing for him to attempt to pass the night exhausted and chilled as he surely must be, without a bit of sustenance on board, first.  Still, she hated to wake him from what appeared to be a pleasant dream, rare as it was for him to experience such, and for the moment she resolved to let him be, allow the fire to do its warming work as he rested.

Will soon solved Liz’s problem for her, clambering up onto his father’s lap and taking firm hold of his beard with both little hands before Liz realized what was happening, Einar startling awake.  His first reaction, fortunately, was to keep absolutely still until he’d figured out the source of the attack, this delay in action saving little Will from what otherwise would have been a swift and rather violent trip across the length of the shelter.   As it was Einar just stared for a moment, bleary-eyed and a bit confused, before realizing the situation and smiling at his son.

“Time for me to get up already, is it?   Yeah, not good to be lazy.  You were right to get after me, you rascal.  Kind of a risky way to wake a fella up though, don’t you think?  Be better to throw something from the other end of the room.  You’ll learn that, someday.”

Squealing his delight at getting a reaction from Einar, Will released his hold and balanced all by himself on the floor for a few seconds before losing his balance and sitting down hard.  Stronger every day, Einar noted.  Would probably be walking soon.  Just as soon as he got the balance and coordination thing down.  That, it seemed, could take a while.  Just as well.  Nowhere much for such a little fellow to go, with the crusty, rotten snow all over the ground the way it was.  Better that he learn to walk in the spring.  Or summer.  Both of which were on their way.

08 August, 2014

8 August 2014

Sorry for the long delay between postings.  I've been climbing.  Sometimes, a person just needs to get up high for a while.


Despite the ongoing storm, last press of winter before finally it would yield to gentler weather, Einar did know exactly where he was going when he set out from camp that afternoon, and he made good time up the side of the ridge, and over.  Underfoot the new snow was soft and sticky, and had done nothing to improve the condition of the rotten crush through which he had struggled the day before, but Einar, after a time, found his old trail and was largely able to stick to it, moving nearly as much by feel as by sight.  At times, terrain changing around him or the snow blowing with particular fury, he would lose this trail, fumbling about in search of it and once taking too long at this hunt, slowing down, getting cold and nearly forgetting to start moving again when at last he did rediscover his previous path.  No more of that.  Knew he could not afford to lose momentum, not that day.  Would have to keep moving, hope, in the future, to rediscover the trail as he went, should he lose it again.

Pushing himself at a pace which had seemed quite out of his reach while seeking and stalking the elk, Einar managed somehow to mostly ignore the nagging hurt of his injured leg and the press of his own weariness, and make the ridge crest before dark.  There, snow slightly less heavy and visibility no longer limited to the toes of his own boots, he allowed himself the first short rest since somewhere far below in the timber.  Muffled silence of the heavily falling snow; it became noticeable as his breaths quieted, stilled, creeping in around him until he felt himself wrapped in a cocoon of silence, safe, hidden, surrounded by snow.  It was a good feeling, and Einar, smiling, hurt of the climb leaving and a great warm drowsiness sweeping over him, had to fight hard to remain awake.  Standing. 

Moving again, for he knew the peril.  Knew that only in movement, with all its weariness and struggle, could he find sustainment, if not safety that evening.  Must not lose momentum, and he did not, pressing on up the ridge towards the place where he, and the elk, had crossed its crest during the chase.  Or, the place where he believed they had done so, for long ago he had lost his trail, and that of the elk, and with all the blowing snow and newly-formed drifts, had not succeeded in finding either of them again.  The drifts, at least, worked in places to slightly ease his passage, for the wind had packed them so that he could at times walk carefully astride their angled contours, remaining on the surface rather than falling through.  This represented a tremendous savings of energy over the flopping, floundering course which had of necessity taken him first to the ridge’s crest, the work of extricating himself repeatedly from the rotten snow requiring more effort than the climbing, itself.  A good thing, for he knew the afternoon’s work was not even half done.  Must find that elk, and haul down the remaining quarter before he could really rest, so he plodded on.

Some half hour later, warm again, and he knew it wasn’t right.  He’d been shivering not long ago, and had not significantly increased his pace, since.  Ought to be freezing, and probably was.  Really should do something about it, stop and try to figure out what was happening, but instead he just laughed wildly into the wind, carried on. 

High on the ridge, spruces shaking snow from heavy-laden limbs overhead, breath hard and metallic in his lungs, rasping, and he wanted to rest, but must not.  Kept going.  Had forgotten why.  Knew only that he must move.

Movement.  Mechanical, and no longer very effective.  Light, already heavily filtered through the falling snow, growing dim around him.

On hands and knees, staring at the ground.  Dusk in the sky, snow in his hair.  Really should cut that hair, get rid of it. Just collected snow, got in his way and didn’t do much to keep him warm.  Must not be doing much, for he could not feel his hands.  Got out his knife, pinched it between the heels of his hands and hacked at the icy clumps that hung in front of his eyes, but could not seem to exert enough force to cut them away.  Oh, well.  Who needed to see, anyway?  Wasn’t much to see up there, what with the blowing, swirling snow and the endless white of the ground.  Not much at all.  Couldn’t see his knife.  Not good.  Needed the knife.  Or would, once he found…it.  The thing that had brought him up here, in the first place.  What was it?  Who knew?  Who cared?  Didn’t matter.  One mustn’t be without a knife, regardless.  A knifeless man is lifeless man, so they said, and because he knew the concept rang true—not to be taken entirely literally, because I’ve been without a knife out here more than once, and am still alive…more or less—he began shoving and sifting the snow, searching.  Stumbled upon it, pressing the object in grateful silence between his hands before struggling to secure it, carry on.

Lost.  He was sure of it, now.  Had no idea where he was, and little memory of how he had come to be there.  Took two more steps and came up hard against something solid beneath the snow, went to his knees and crouched there staring dazedly at the white-plastered lump that had ended his ascent.  Might have gone on staring at the thing until he fell asleep, sleep being very near, but it had a funny smell, iron and damp hair and something else which his weary brain could not quite identify, but it made his stomach hurt, cramping up with hunger, and the hunger brought a restless feeling which disturbed his almost-sleep.  A good thing.

Hungry.  Now that he had recognized the feeling it nearly overwhelmed him, crowded out the sensations of exhaustion and cold, the hurt of his injured leg and left him digging, digging through the snow, brushing the stuff aside until he had exposed…the elk!  Remains of the elk, and now he knew where he was, and why—though how he had managed to keep on track would later baffle him—leaped to his feet and did a clumsy, stumbling little dance of joy around the carcass, thankful tears in his eyes and knife soon in hand.

Cold, fingers stiff and nearly insensible, and the work was difficult, knife several times falling from his hand as he worked to separate the second quarter, but he kept at it, a cheerful little song in his heart as he worked and occasional broken fragments finding their way out between chattering teeth to scatter on the wind, incongruous, perhaps, but life is a series of incongruities, and one must find joy where appears, seize it, sing with it.

The meat, much to Einar’s relief, was frozen only on the outside, making his job possible if very difficult, and finally he succeeded at freeing the quarter, dragging it aside and preparing to set off with it down the slope.  Trouble was that he could not get his feet under him.  Couldn’t get them to stay there, anyhow, no strength in his legs, and though quite willing to crawl home, dragging the elk behind him, he knew it might not be necessary, should he allow himself to stop for a few minutes, and eat.  Should have thought of it before, and might have, had he been more in the habit.  Well, he was thinking of it now.  Nice to have a fire, warm himself, cook the meat, but the whole procedure seemed too complicated at the moment, and superfluous, besides, with all that elk sushi sitting there before him…

Gnawing, tearing, he got a good portion of the stuff down, shivering harder at first with the introduction of so much partially frozen meat and feeling quite immobilized with cold but then beginning to warm, eating more, rising, far steadier on his feet.

Strong as his body began digesting the much-needed nourishment, he rejoicing at the turn of events, Einar shouldered the quarter, started off for home.

31 July, 2014

31 July 2014

Late as Liz believed it to be in the afternoon, she had no particular desire to make a trip for elk, especially with the storm still blowing so fiercely, but she would have done it.  Even greater than her hesitance to venture out in such a whiteout, was her concern about Einar doing so.   This, of course, she had no intention of stating to him in so many words, his reaction predictable as she believed it was misguided, but in tending to him during the hours he’d slept that day, she had realized the frostbite on his feet was a bit more significant than it had first appeared.  Nothing, certainly, which would endanger his remaining toes and even, eventually, his life, as had happened previously, but the situation could change should he insist on spending the coming evening and night wandering through the wet snow after another elk quarter.  Besides which, she could see the weariness which still lay heavily upon him, he maintaining his rigidly upright posture only with great effort.  Not a time to be starting out in the storm with the intention of carrying home upwards of fifty pounds of meat, apiece.  He was waiting for her answer.

“How about waiting for morning, when maybe the visibility will be a little better?”

“Oh, I’ll be able to find it.  No problem.  Can picture exactly the route I took when tracking the critter, and unless this snow has really drifted up top in places, we’ll probably be able to follow my old trail right to the spot.  Sure don’t want to lose any of that elk, scarce as the critters are up so high this time of year.”

“No, I  don’t want to lose any of it either!  But the storm should keep it safe, really, and we can take all day tomorrow bringing back what’s left…”

“You really don’t want to go right now.”

“Not if we have a choice.”

He grinned, brushed more of the wind-plastered snow from Will’s rosy cheek.  “Sure, there are almost always choices.  How about you and the little guy stick close to the shelter here so he’s not out in this storm, and I’ll make one run up the ridge, see if I can get that second quarter down here before dark?”

Not the outcome she had been looking for, but neither should it have been surprising.  Better to be direct.  “I hate to think of us splitting up in this weather, either.  What if we all just wait for tomorrow?”

“You’re afraid I am going to get lost in this storm, aren’t you?”

“Yes.  Lost, turned around, frozen….I know you’ve got a tremendous sense of direction, but we can’t even see our boots right now.  You won’t have any landmarks.”

“An adventure!”

“Life is adventurous enough, up here.”

Einar was quiet, but not for long.  “Sorry Lizzie, no.  Can’t sit this one out.  Left most of that moose behind and am still regretting that, even though circumstances made it necessary.  This time I’ve got a choice, and I can’t choose to sit here and be warm and out of the storm while we maybe lose more meat.  Worked too hard for that elk.  Got to hang onto it.  Got to take advantage of the storm, too, to cover the tracks I’ll be making.  It’s just the way this has to go.”

He took off for the shelter then, Liz following close behind and Will, little understanding the gravity of the situation, squealing with fresh delight when a clod of wet show shook loose from one of the overhanging firs and grazed his nose.  Catching up to Einar just as he shook the snow from his parka and ducked into the shelter, Liz brought the fire back to life.  Already he was busy emptying his pack, preparing it for the elk run.

“I can’t talk you out of this…?”

“Not this time.  You’re right about not having Will out in this kind of storm, so the two of you stay here and with any sort of luck at all, I’ll be back before the night is half over.  Just want to be sure and get that other quarter, and that’s probably the extent of what I can carry right now anyway, but I’ll bring more if I can.  Then we can go back together later when the snow is blowing a little less, and bring in the rest of it.”

“Will you eat first?”

“Think I’d better, if you’ve got any more of that broth left.”

“Yes!  Lots of it left.  Sit by the fire and be warm for a few minutes while it heats, and you can at least have a good meal before you head out into that…”  She was still for a long moment, listening to the wind in its hollow, hurtling fury, tearing through the trees.  He was going, and no question about it.  She knew the futility of trying again to convince him to stay.  Einar’s mind was already made up, and she knew his resolve to bring back the other elk quarter before calling it a night must certainly have more significance than simply protecting the meat and keeping it from the teeth of scavengers.  The thing that drove him to do this was even more basic, more fundamental than the need to be sure his family would have enough to eat; this was her husband fighting to stay alive.  She did not want to oppose such an endeavor, even had she believed her pleas might make a difference.  The best she could do was to make certain he went into the storm well fed and as warmly clad as he might be willing.

Half an hour later, full of Liz’s good, hearty elk broth and as much meat as he had dared consume—too much, and he might well find himself slow and sleepy out there on his trek, which could prove deadly—Einar laced up his boots and prepared to set out.  His feet, true to Liz’s earlier suspicions, had suffered some damage during the long elk-stalk and the hike home, but the two pairs of dry socks Liz had pressed upon him would, he was certain, go a long way towards preventing further harm.

Time to leave, and he was out the door, out into the storm, almost immediately lost to Liz’s sight amidst a raging swirl of white, and for one of the first such times in recent memory, Liz did not worry; she just let him go.

25 July, 2014

25 July 2014

Alone in the shelter, for he could hear no soft, sleeping breaths which would have indicated the presence of Liz and Will, and Einar struggled to bring himself all the way awake so he could investigate, but without success.  Couldn’t seem to get his eyes open, and any attempt at raising his head only brought a swift, rushing darkness which he knew with certainty was darker than that of the night-darkened shelter.  If indeed it was still night, at all.  Seemed—looking back only on the dreams he could remember; knew there were others, as well—he’d been sleeping for so many hours that daylight ought to have come, and gone, and perhaps come again.  The smells in the place were strange, magnified, old woodsmoke, sweet willows and drying meat competing with several he could not quite identify.   Ought to be able to identify everything.  Not making sense.

Thirsty.  Needed water, felt around with one hand but could find none, no snow to scrape up and melt in his mouth, which, considering that he was in the shelter, had to be considered a good thing…but he could tell that nothing was likely to make a lot of sense until he’d got some water, and he needed things to make sense.  Needed to understand the change in the air, in the smell of things.  Needed to know how long he’d been asleep.

When finally Einar did manage to fight his way back to a slightly more wakeful state, it was to realize that his warm spring air was not so warm after all, place sharply chilly in the absence of fire and he shivering soon after working out from beneath the parka.  Well.  That, at least, had to be a good thing.  Would have hated to find he’d been out for several weeks and missed the coming of spring.  Must simply be the change in the wind that was allowing things to thaw a bit and smell strangely.  But, where were Liz and Will?  Must be outside.  He listened, quieting his breaths, but could pick up no sounds from outside save the wind in the spruces.  Howling, it was, and he could picture the lithe, blue-grey forms of the trees as they bowed and parted before it.  Storm coming.  And then he remembered the elk, and was on his feet, body stiff, unwilling and head swimming with dizziness at the suddenness of the thing.  Too dark to see the door, and somehow he seemed to have forgotten in his sleep how to find it, tripped over the firepit and crawled the rest of the way. 

Outside the strange, warm smells were even stronger than they had been in the shelter, Einar bracing himself against the wall and blinking, somewhat dazzled, into the brilliant blankness of a near whiteout.  The sky was bright, clouds clearly thin even as they let forth their frozen torrents, snow soft and wet and falling in big conglomerated flakes which occasionally hit the spruce-trunks with audible splats.  Not what he had expected to see, and certainly not the conditions to be hoped for when one must return to the high ridge for the better part of an elk, but at least, he told himself, this new snow would do something to obscure the great wallowing trenches of his earlier passing.  Would, at least, mask them to the extent that a person might, from the air, have trouble telling whether they were made by man or beast.  That would be enough.  Would have to be enough.  Of course, they would leave fresh tracks going up to retrieve the rest of the meat, but perhaps the snow would continue.

A sound over there in the timber, soft, muffled by the snow, but Einar recognized it as human footsteps, and was glad.  Had not liked the thought of his family lost and wandering out there in the whiteness.  He took a few steps towards the sound, slow, hampered somewhat by his sore leg, which seemed to have stiffened up rather significantly during the night, and Liz materialized rather suddenly from the swirling snow, flakes sticking to her parka hood and eyelashes, cheeks rosy and a smile on her face.  Will, snug on her back, squealed his greeting.

“Will was getting restless, and we wanted to let you sleep so we came out here.  We’ve been collecting more usnea.  See?  Almost got another bag filled.”

Einar saw, put a hand to Will’s cheek and brushed the wind-blown snow from his nose.  “Turned warmer in the night, didn’t it?  This is some mighty soft snow.”

“Yes!  It’s the kind that doesn’t last, the kind that comes right before things start thawing in earnest.  I think springtime is very near!”

Quiet, Einar allowed that yes, this was indeed the sort of snow that usually heralded a major thaw, but he knew also that it presented its own set of difficulties, chief amongst which was the fact that unlike the dry powder of winter, or even the sun-rotted crust with which they had been contending over past weeks, this heavy, wet snow would soak a person’s boots and clothing in minutes, seep its way through roofs which had held just fine all winter and generally complicate a person’s existence.  These things he did not speak aloud, for Liz had lived through other springs in the high country, and would know.  “Yes.  Spring.  Once the sun comes out again, this stuff will go real quickly, and so will what was under it.  All this water will soak right down and really hasten the melting.  Things are about to start looking real different around here.”

“Oh, I’m ready for it.  This winter has been long.   I can’t wait to see what Will thinks of having his toes in the grass.  And helping me did avalanche lilies and spring beauty bulbs!”

Though liking the sound of that, too—nothing better than seeing young critters testing their legs in the springtime, the whole world full of wonder and every sight a new discovery—Einar’s thoughts were more on the present day than on the coming spring.  He was puzzled, for the light, what he could see of it through the melee of giant, wind-tossed snowflakes, did not look like morning light.  The angle was all wrong.  He looked at Liz, trying to ascertain what she might know of this mystery.  Couldn’t tell.  Best just to ask.

“How long have you guys been out here?  Something makes me think it isn’t morning anymore.”

“I knew you’d end up wondering.  Please don’t be upset that I didn’t wake you.  You really needed the sleep…”


“I’d say the afternoon is more than half over.  We’ve been in and out of the shelter several times.  It didn’t really start snowing until a couple hours ago, but it was terribly windy all morning.  I could tell something was coming in.”

Dismayed, Einar kicked at a clump of sticky snow.  “Doggone lazy critter I’ve become.  Got no business sleeping the day away like that.  I was supposed to be up there hauling down the rest of that elk.  Didn’t really secure it too well, should anything come along.”

“I doubt much of anything will be out in a storm like this, and it’s probably just as well that we aren’t, either.  Wouldn’t it be pretty easy to get turned around up there in the timber, when we can’t see a foot past our faces?”

He shrugged.   “Could happen. But the snow would do at least a little to cover our tracks.  How about one trip, before it gets too much later and we’re running up against darkness?”

20 July, 2014

20 July 2014

Many years, spring comes slowly to the high country, slowly, and late.  Others it arrives in a great rush, warm winds bringing down the snowpack virtually overnight and rocks beginning to emerge, patches of ground bared of their cover to greet the sun, brown, vegetation flattened, crisscrossed with fine white networks of snow fungus that looked like the oversized webs of great spiders.  Green was never far behind, plants anxious to send forth new shoots to the sunshine, blossom, drop their seed and begin storing away energy for the following winter, which was never long in coming.

That spring was to be one of the latter, the riot which marks the changing of the seasons following on the heels of a brief snow squall and bringing with it precipitous changes which would muddy the ground and send snowmelt roaring down from the heights to fill creeks and muddy larger streams, rivers choked with rolling rocks and shattered trees. 

*  *  *

There was to be no second trip to the elk that night, for Einar did not stir from his spot by the fire and Liz had no intention of trying to wake him.  Was glad to see him resting after what she knew must have been a tremendously trying journey through the rotten snow, and the night, besides, was sounding increasingly stormy outside the shelter, wind wailing through the trees.  Not a night on which she looked forward to traveling with Will, the three of them likely as not ending up lost and floundering in whatever storm seemed to be on its way.  Morning would come, and with it, plenty of opportunity to return for the rest of that elk.  Meanwhile Einar, fast asleep by the fire and slumped over now so that he was lying nearly flat on the floor, seemed not to be warming much at all, shivering and looking so drained of color that she found herself wondering whether she had mistaken unconsciousness for sleep.

Hoping to hasten the warming process she slid beneath the spread-out parka and lay down behind him, fire on one side and she on the other, hoping it would be enough.  He felt like ice.  The shirt he’d been wearing beneath his parka was basically dry but she could feel the cold radiating through it as if coming from inside of him.  She got her arms around his sharp shoulders, tried to rub some warmth into them but with seemingly little effect.  Wished he had been able to stay awake long enough to consume more of the sweetened tea she’d made and eat some liver, for without this additional energy his body was seeming quite incapable of warming itself.  Couldn’t be helping, she realized, that he was still in his snow-crusted boots, which had begun to thaw and become quite damp.  She remedied the situation, checking his feet and wishing the light were a bit less uncertain so she could be sure whether the discoloration she was seeing could meant frostbite, or might simply represent the normal color of his feet and toes, which those days was a decided shade of mottled purple.

Frostbite, she was pretty sure, though between his boots and the fact that the day had not really been terribly cold, there seemed reason to hope it would be mild.  In any case his remaining toes—this is one situation where it might actually be advantageous for a person to have fewer toes, she told herself.  Not as many left to freeze—weren’t waxy and frozen, and needed no immediate attention besides the dry socks she was about to give them.  Having done all she could really do for the moment Liz checked on the still-sleeping Will before adding another log to the fire, wrapped cloth around a warm rock from the fire ring, pressed it to Einar’s chest and went to sleep beside him, satisfied that he would continue warming.

Einar was not nearly so satisfied with this arrangement as Liz, dimly aware of the passage of time and struggling mightily in his dreams to bring himself back to wakefulness, to motion, but to no avail.  Needed to go after that meat, had meant to stop at the shelter for no more time than it took to explain the situation to Liz and prepare little Will for the journey, and then he was to be off again, all three of them hopefully, but if Liz had not been able or willing to come that night, he’d been quite prepared to make a second trip on his own… 

Was still willing.  If only he could move.  Tried to tell her, to find some words with which to plead for a kick in the side of the head, a bucket of ice water, anything that might get his rather uncooperative body going again, but he found the words no more compliant than his wooden, disconnected limbs, objects rather beyond his rapidly shrinking sphere of influence.  Soon, struggling as he was to hold on, even that most persistent of thoughts faded, vanished, swallowed in darkness.  Dreams, then.  Only dreams were left him, and when he woke what after what seemed a very long time it was with some confusion, for the air that met him was soft and warm, and he was sure spring must have come.