10 September, 2014

10 September 2014

The remainder of that morning passed quietly for Einar and Liz, Will playing happily in his new spruce enclosure while the two of them worked at thinly slicing the remains of one elk quarter and draping the results over the dry, barkless branches of a nearby dead spruce to dry.  Einar wanted to build a proper jerky drying rack, set it out in the sun where drying would take place at a better rate, but lacking any nearby willows he contented himself with the spruce, confident that it was still too early in the year to have to worry about flies, an extra day or two of drying time no disaster.  Beyond his desire to preserve the meat against the coming of warm weather and insect pests was a need on Einar’s part to produce a quantity of more easily portable travel food against a time when more mobility might be required.  

The tiny basin with its wind-sheltering terrain and surrounding timber had offered them a refuge, a concealed spot in which to quietly live out the remainder of the winter, but he knew it might not contain resources sufficient to recommend itself as a more permanent location.  This they would not know for certain until the snow was gone for good and they observed the summer patterns of the elk and deer, but even should the spot turn out to be a long-term home for them, the life they were living demanded a constant readiness to pick up and move on. 

These things were not spoken as the pair worked, words not needed and an easy silence settling over the clearing, Einar seeming to know right when to hand Liz another slab of partially frozen elk and she working in concert to help him fill empty branches with thin, already-drying slices.  The only interruptions came in the form of Will’s occasional demands for food, these desires heralded now not only by his accustomed grunting and squealing, but increasingly put into words, or something like them.  Somewhat early, Liz thought, for a little one to be doing much speaking, but she was not surprised.  The boy’s father, when not in one of his silent moods, had quite a bit to say, himself, once he got going on a subject.  Must be something of an inherited trait.  She smiled, shook her head and glanced about in search of Einar, who had disappeared while she was watching Will.

Soon returning from inside the shelter, Einar deposited a carefully-tied bundle of cloth in the snow at Liz’s feet.  She glanced it over, squinting skeptically at Einar.  “What’s this?  You’re planning on doing some parachuting?  Base jumping from the canyon rim, perhaps?”

Einar laughed, flashed her a wild look which seemed to say, hey, not a bad idea…!  And for a moment she almost regretted making the suggestion.  “Not with this rig, I’m not!  No, just wanted to see how this chute would do for a jerky-smoking tent.  Figured with a little smoke and just a little warmth, we could really speed up the process, add some flavor at the same time.  I’d wanted to do this for the moose, back when we were staying down in the canyon, but never really got the chance.  White chute will blend right in against the snow, too.  We’ll have to be careful about the smoke, maybe only do it after dusk just to minimize the chances of anyone spotting it, but once we get the tent set up we’ll be all ready for other game, too.  Ready to process stuff for the warmer weather.”

“Oh, yes.  I like that idea.  It really will help things to dry faster, and will keep the flies away once things start to warm up.  Where do you want to build it?  Right here by the shelter?”

Leaning back and inspecting the over-arching ceiling of spruce and fir boughs, Einar shook his head.  “Let’s put it over in that cluster of spruces near where we’ve been hanging the meat.  Not as convenient because we have to carry the jerky strips over there, and will need to build a rack since there’s not a good, dead tree to hang the strips on, but I like the way the branches are so thick over there and will help disperse any smoke we may make during the daytime hours.  Just don’t want to risk doing it out in the open here in the clearing.” 

Still studying the evergreen canopy overhead, Einar managed to get himself slightly out of balance and momentarily lose his place in the world, reeling and falling hard into a sitting position before he could catch himself.  This so delighted Will that Einar quite forgot to be irritated with himself for the oversight, remaining there in the snow for a good two minutes as the child laughed, waved his arms in an exaggerated imitation of his father’s failed attempts to prevent the fall, and plopped himself repeatedly down in the spruce needles.  Seeing Will’s delight Einar repeated the process, this time falling harder and meeting rather uncomfortably with a rock that lurked just beneath the surface of the crusty snow and nearly knocked his breath out with its impact, but Will laughed nonetheless, and so did Einar.

Liz finally put an end to these antics, scooping Will up out of his spruce enclosure and taking Einar by the arm.  “Enough, you two!  You’d better stop this before you both end up all soaking wet and black and blue with bruises.”

Einar struggled to his feet, brushing the snow from pants and elbows and pausing for a moment to catch his breath.  “Oh, we were just learning to fall.  A person has got to learn to fall, sooner or later.”

“Well, it looks like you’re both becoming experts, in that case!  Let’s have some lunch before we get back to processing that elk, ok?  There’s still some squirrel stew from last night.  I’ll heat it up.”

Sometime not long after noon—squirrel stew having been enjoyed and work resumed—the pleasant monotony of elk-drying was disturbed by a distant rumble which Liz mistook at first for thunder and Einar heard as the approach of several large helicopters.  Eyes wide and white as they met Liz’s, he scrambled without hesitation into the shelter and slid the ever-present flat rock over their shallow fire pit, cutting off all further air to whatever coals might linger and precluding a flareup which might have given away their position. By the time he made it back outside the sound had subsided entirely, leaving behind and anxious silence into which the two of them stared, ears straining for any further clue as to the origin of the commotion.  Nothing.  Too long and sustained for thunder, and if the rumblings had been airborne in origin, the craft must have changed direction and disappeared.  Or—Einar reflexively lowered himself to the ground at the thought—dropped below the canyon rim and continued their approach.  If that was the case they would know soon enough, and not waiting to find out, he hurriedly motioned for Liz to follow him beneath Will’s spruce tree, crouching at its base and waiting.

Nothing.  No further sound, save, after several good minutes of silence, Liz’s voice, soft and steady, unsure as she was what Einar might be thinking, how far away she might find him.  “I think it was rocks.  Falling rocks, in the canyon.  It wasn’t helicopters.”

Silence, Einar thinking.  The pattern fit, the tone of the rumbling.  Springtime.  Thawing.  Lots of things started moving, rocks, even, freed up by the freeze-and-thaw of fall, early spring, broken, waiting only for a softening of the ice that held them.

04 September, 2014

4 September 2014

Squirrels stewing and the shelter filled with their warm aroma—perhaps not such a delicacy, normally, but welcome for the variety they represented—the little family sat around the fire, silent save Will’s constant, happy babbling.  Einar, hard as he tried to conceal the fact, was not nearly as alright as he pretended to be, Liz knowing even before she checked that he had lost a fair amount of blood over the course of his days in the timber and seeing that he struggled now to remain awake, nearly dozing by the fire as she cooked.  He was content, though, or appeared to be, taking an interest in the little details of life in the shelter, entertaining Will with the tail of one of the squirrels he’s brought home, that faraway, unreadable look gone from his eyes and his manner easy, uncharacteristically relaxed even as he shivered violently in the presence of the first heat he’d allowed himself in days.  Liz was not terribly concerned.  The fire was warm and his body, she knew, would recover, if only his mind would allow it.  Things seemed off to a good start.  She liked the way he eyed the simmering stew, not only a willingness, but a genuine interest; the rest would come in good time.

In good time, after sharing a leisurely breakfast and Liz, her persistence overcoming his mild objections, tending to Einar’s wounds, the family went squinting and staring out into the streaming sunlight of what all recognized to be the most spring-like day yet, breeze feeling soft and almost warm as it wafted up from the valley below, carrying the scent of green, growing things, soil exposed to sunlight.  This warming weather, though welcome, brought its own challenges.

Clothing that had done well by little Will all winter, keeping him dry as he crept, scooted and crawled about in the snow, now began failing at that task, remaining snow so wet and slushy that it quickly saturated anything with which it was allowed prolonged contact.  This situation led to a great deal of displeasure on Will’s part, not because he minded being wet, but because his mother rather inexplicably began denying access to his favorite exploring spots.  Liz at first attempted to solve this wet-snow-and-saturated-child dilemma by confining Will indoors and taking him out only in the hood of her parka, but he squirmed and protested so at this restriction that she was left seeking other options.  It was Einar—watching this struggle on his first day back and doing his best not to allow the child to guess at how strongly his father approved of his fighting spirit, if not perhaps of the context in which he was currently applying it—who came up with a solution.

Leaving the tree where he’d been working to lower one of the elk quarters so he could begin taking off slices of the frozen meat to dry for jerky, he limped over and crouched beside Liz, quietly observing the struggle for another minute, Will fighting to be free of the confinement of the hood and Liz working very hard to keep him there even as she fought to maintain her own balance and not upset the pot into which she was shaving frozen elk for an afternoon stew.

“How about I take the little critter off your hands for a minute, so you don’t upset the stew?”
“Oh yes, that would be very helpful!  He’s every bit as stubborn and intractable as his father, you know…”

“He just wants to be free.  Tired of being cooped up inside all the time.”

“I know.  But the trouble is he ends up all soaking wet in the slush every time I let him get down, here lately.  I know that wouldn’t bother you, and it doesn’t seem to bother him either, but he’s just not old enough or big enough yet to make those decisions.  Not that his judgment about being cold and wet is likely to improve much, if he takes after you in that way…  But for just a few more years here, I intend to put my foot down and keep him from losing any little fingers or toes!”

“Hey, I wasn’t suggesting we let him lose fingers or toes.  I know he’s too little to be turned loose in the slush to make his own way, but I thought if we could make him a drier spot where he could sort of move around and explore and not feel quite so confined…well, might just make these next few weeks easier on everybody.”

Liz thought this a fine idea, watching closely as Einar balanced the little one on his hip and began using his boots to scrape the remains of a melting snowbank out from beneath one of the thickest spruces at the edge of the little clearing.  This task done he squirmed out of his own parka—Liz had been rather insistent he wear it that morning after arriving back at camp, seeing how keenly the cold seemed to be affecting him—and laid it on the ground for Will.  “See this thing, buddy?  This is the limit of your world for right now, so I want you to stay on here and not get your clothes wet while I fix you up a better place.  Ok?”

Will scrutinized the newly-announced boundaries of his world, tested them, eyes on Einar all the while, one little mittened hand reaching out over the edge of the parka and into the snow, just to try his reaction.  When Einar squinted, scowled and shook his head Will pulled the hand back, busying himself with a spruce cone that had fallen on the parka.  Well, Einar silently observed, turning away to retrieve a bundle of mostly dry spruce needles from beneath a different tree, sure is going to be an interesting thing, watching this little guy grow up.  At least he’s starting to understand the concept of boundaries and the fact that we’re the ones who set them, in his world.  Doesn’t mean we’re not gonna have an awful trying time getting him to respect those limits, at times.  Guess he wouldn’t be our son, if he didn’t have that stubborn streak in him…

Many armloads of spruce needles later, little Will’s outside exploration area was nearing completion.  By scraping away the remnants of melting snow and adding dry material atop the still-frozen ground, Einar had created a spot which was large enough to satisfy even the most persistent of young explorers, at least for a time, while also reassuring the little wayfarer’s mother as to the state of his clothing and boots.  All that remained was to find some way to keep him from creeping without delay over the outside boundaries and back into the snow.  A fence of some sort seemed in order, and for this Einar began collecting downed spruce boughs, brown, without needles, their rough, abrasive texture and multitude of tiny, dry twigs hopefully enough to deter the youngest Asmundson from too easily passing.  Einar stepped back, crossing his arms and critically inspecting the enclosure.

“Well, what do you think?  Strong enough to hold him, dry enough to make you happy?”

Liz laughed.  “I don’t know if anything would be strong enough to hold him, if he really wants to go.  Not if he inherited half of your resourcefulness and drive.  But it ought to give him the idea, anyway, and I see that he hasn’t budged off of your parka since you told him to stay there, even though he’s looking very longingly at that little ooze of melting snow and mud.  I think it ought to do the job.”

Einar lifted Will into the enclosure, gave the boy a nod when he looked up with big eyes, ready to take off and discover this new territory.  “Good.  That’ll free us up some so we can put some more focus on getting this elk turned to jerky.  Not gonna stay frozen solid forever hanging up here in the trees, the way the weather’s turning.  Need to get a good bit of it dried before the really warm stuff gets here.”

Warm weather, it seemed to Liz as she retrieved Einar’s parka from the snow and draped it over his shoulders, seemed a long way off still, but it could not hurt to plan, prepare and be ready.

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.