31 December, 2011

31 December 2011

No chapter tonight, but back with another tomorrow.

Appreciate all of your comments, discussion and welcomes for the new little one.

Thanks for reading--wishing each of you a happy and blessed New Year!

30 December, 2011

30 December 2011

The laughter--even the raven joined in before it was over, rasping and cackling there on his perch--seemed to speed things along for Liz every bit as much as the walking had done, her face growing dark with concentration the next time a contraction came and she turned away from Einar, bracing herself against the door until it had passed.

“Well. That’s more like it, I guess. I think it’s time for Muninn to go back outside, now. With the storm gone I don’t feel so badly about kicking him out, and he can surely find a good perch in the trees for the night. I just need…less people around.”

Already on his feet and headed for the tunnel Einar paused, face twisting up with a little grin. “Less people! So the bird’s a person, now?”

“You know what I mean!”

“Yep, I do, and he’s on his way out. Now put that rabbit stick down, will ya? You realize if you end up knocking me out with that thing sometime in the next few hours, I may not be awake to help you with the birth, or after…”

“I’m not going to hit you. Just get the bird out of here.”

Which Einar did, urging the raven to follow him out through the tunnel and explaining the situation in a few short words, Muninn tilting his head and rasping as if he understood, before taking off into the near-darkness of the evening. All on our own now, I guess. Sure wish the storm had kept on, wish that second wave that I’m pretty sure we’re still expecting had got here by now, but it hasn’t, so back inside and see what I can do for her.

No more than an hour later, darkness full and Liz firmly in the grips of her labor, Einar was to wish even more strongly that the storm had persisted, the first little prickle of danger running down his backbone and making him wonder if perhaps the reality of the impending birth was beginning to get to him just a bit, rattle the calm that he had hoped and intended to maintain, for Liz’s sake, but before long he knew it was something more, the feeling of panic growing and soon accompanied by an unmistakable distant rumble that told him they were in trouble, serious trouble, and he rushed to put out the rather lively fire, shoveling out the burning log, immersing it in the water barrel and hurriedly sprinkling water all over the remaining coals, stirring and mashing them until their glowing had ceased.

It was nearly on them by then, low, thundering, seeming to shake the cabin to its foundations due to the rock that lay so close below the surface under it, and Liz clung to him, hiding her head against him and biting her tongue until the blood came to prevent herself crying out at the way it hurt, tight as everything got with the immediacy and dread of it all. Einar held her there in the dark, waiting for the thing to pass, the great beast, praying that its crew wouldn’t see then, wouldn’t see anything out there in the frigid darkness to draw their attention to the little plateau, and after a time--less than a minute, really, but it seemed to both of them an eternity--the rumble began to fade a bit, growing distant and then suddenly gone, sound drowned out by an intervening ridge. Liz was shaking, wanted to cry but remained silent and Einar could feel the tension in her, felt around for a candle, and lit it, spoke.

“They’re doing what they did before. Sending a chopper over as soon as a storm clears out, taking advantage of the clear weather and cold snap to look for heat signatures…”

“Do you think they saw something the last time, and that’s why they’re coming back again?”

She was afraid. He could see it in her face there in the faint glow of the single candle he was allowing then, not wanting her to have to be laboring in the dark and the cold, both, and figuring as well as they’d managed to insulate the cabin in recent weeks, they could reasonably afford the burning of one candle, despite the risk of return flights. He didn’t want her to have to be afraid, but had little reassurance to give her under present circumstances. Figured he’d better try, anyway. “No. I don’t think they saw anything. If they had, they’d have been back way before now, on one of these clear nights. This is just a routine flight, I’d have to say.” God, I hope it’s just a routine flight. Please let it be a routine flight, keep us hidden

“We can’t have anymore fire, though…”

“No. Can you do that? Do without it for a while, just until we’re sure they’re not coming back?”

“Yes. Yes, I can do that. I can do whatever I need to do. I just don’t want us to be seen, not right now, Einar! Don’t let them see us.”

“I’m not gonna let them see us. This place is real well insulated now, and the way that chimney bends, we shouldn’t be leaking too much heat, really, especially now that the coals are all out. If you can do this by the light of a candle or two for a while, we’re gonna be just fine. Here. Let me help you into your parka, so you don’t get chilled as the place starts to cool off. Not going to go as smoothly if you get too cold, I don’t think.”

Liz let him assist her in getting into the garment, a good thing, for the cabin did indeed cool significantly over the next two hours as she continued to labor, sometimes pacing, sometimes crouching, not making much progress for a while after the shock of that chopper flight but gradually getting back into the swing of things.

Einar, his whole focus on Liz, keeping her comfortable, helping as he could and making sure the cookpot was always suspended over their single candle with a bit of tea in it for when she wanted a sip of something warm, was himself struggling terribly with the growing cold, limbs not wanting to move properly and entire body trembling whenever he didn’t concentrate dreadfully hard on preventing it, which he did, most of the time, not wanting Liz to see how he was freezing and occasionally when she didn’t seem to need him particularly close by he would slip out into the dark tunnel for a minute to crouch there shivering and huddling, rocking back and forth as he beat numbed arms and legs in a marginally successful effort to get the blood flowing, keep some life in his failing body. Needed a fire, needed to eat a huge pot of hot stew, curl up in the bear hides and sleep for about a week but he couldn’t, wouldn’t even allow himself to think about any of it until the baby had safely made his entrance into the world and a good bit of time had gone by without that chopper making another pass, for until that time he had to be always alert to the possibility that they might have to flee out into the snow at any moment, take their leave of the place and probably, at that point, of any real hope for a good outcome to the birth, as well…

When the storm returned, sweeping down on the little plateau with a howling fury from the peaks above and slamming against the cabin with an unmistakable roar, Einar could not have been more relieved and thankful. Leaving Liz for a moment he hurried out through the tunnel and stood, arms raised to the sky, in the bitter blast of the wind outside, snow plastering him as joyful tears ran down his cheeks, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord… Back inside, hurrying, shaking and terribly cold as he struggled to brush most of the snow from hair and clothing, giving Liz a big grin as he bounded over to the stove and began scraping aside the damp coals from their previous fire, breathing slowly in an attempt to still the shaking of his hands sufficiently to build a new blaze.

“Storm’s back! Back to stay in all its terrible, beautiful fury, Lizzie, and we don’t need to worry any more about having this birth interrupted. Nothing can fly in weather like this. Gonna be warm again in here in no time.”

Relief and a few tears on Liz’s part as she watched the flames leap golden and life-giving up through Einar’s little pile of kindling, his own purple hands slowly beginning to take on a bit of color as he held them close to the warmth. Not much time for jubilation, though, Liz crouching on the floor the next moment with the return of labor--all was clear, no need to think any more about having to run out into the snow to escape a descending search team, time for the little one to meet the world, and her body knew it--and she spent a good portion of the next hours on hands and knees or crouching, Einar supporting her when she wanted it, leaving her alone when she wanted that, such occasions being fairly frequent, and he was glad he’d earlier taken the time to slip the rabbitstick behind the water barrel where it wouldn’t be nearly so easily accessible. Later, as things became more intense and Liz began giving voice to her travail, a low, deep sound that seemed to Einar more song than groan, and somehow entirely appropriate, helpful, Einar assisted by pressing from time to time on a spot near her tailbone as she told him she’d seen Susan instruct birth helpers to do, saying it did something to help relieve the pressure as the baby got lower, and indeed it did seem to help, Liz reminding him rather forcefully when she needed the service and Einar hurrying to comply.

Throughout that time Einar also worked to keep the fire going at a lively pace, wanting to cabin to remain warm so that Liz could find it easier to relax whenever she was able and the little one would find the place more hospitable and welcoming whenever he finally put in his appearance, keeping a pot of tea always on the stove and frequently offering it, sweetened with honey, to Liz in the hopes of giving her some ongoing energy and keeping her well hydrated. While liking the tea there were times when Liz simply wanted some cool water, too, so he made sure to keep some always at the ready, near enough the stove that it wouldn’t begin forming ice but far enough to stay cool, and things seemed to be going along fairly smoothly.

The time had come, Liz sure of it and Einar not doubting her--would have liked to check, but under the present conditions thought it unwise, clean as he was pretty sure he’d managed to get his hands--and Liz, who had been crouching, got her front half up onto the bed for the final bit of pushing, supporting herself on her elbows, Einar helping her as slowly the top of the baby’s head became visible, and then with one last big effort on Liz’s part the baby slipped out into Einar’s waiting hands, tiny, perfect, a bit less pink than he would have liked but it had been a long, hard labor and he couldn’t blame the little one for being a bit short on air, lifted him gently to Liz’s stomach where she took him, slid the crocheted mountain goat wool onto his head for warmth and softly exclaimed, “he’s so beautiful!”

Beautiful, but not breathing, not even making an effort but Einar knew it wasn’t absolutely critical that the baby breathe right away so long as he was still receiving blood and oxygen through the umbilical cord. He and Liz had talked about it beforehand, had decided not to clamp or cut the cord until the blood exchange stopped; the baby needed that cord blood, as it was full of vitamin K which would improve clotting factors and the infant’s iron levels, increase blood volume and ability to carry and use oxygen--important for all babies, but especially for those born at all prematurely, or at high altitude where oxygen levels might prove a challenge. Despite the ongoing supply of oxygenated blood the baby was receiving, Einar didn’t like the lack of effort when it came to breathing, rolled the child over, lifted him a bit and gently opened his mouth, blew the softest breath towards him, just enough to reach the back of his throat and cause him to react, which he did, gasping in response, taking a few big breaths and beginning to cry. Liz was crying, too, when Einar again placed the child on her stomach--happy, relieved tears--where he quieted, breathing, pinking up, appearing worn out and content.

The next few minutes were a very quiet, peaceful time as Liz reclined there staring at the child and Einar at both of them, lost in wonderment, but the peace was not to last too long as when he checked he saw that Liz was bleeding--too much, it looked like too much--and he hurried to retrieve the shepherd’s purse solution they’d previously prepared, got her to drink some and quietly reassured her when she looked up at him, brow creased.

“It’s alright. Gonna take care of it. You keep sipping this stuff though, and…here.” He eased the baby up a bit higher onto her chest. “Feed him. Try to feed him. It’ll help.” The child’s efforts to feed would, he knew, cause Liz’s body to release more of the hormone oxytocin, which would help deliver the placenta and cause the uterus to contract, significantly reducing the bleeding. He hoped. Hoped it would be enough.

Comments from 29 December

colspt said...
A woman in labor holding a rabbitstick! Run for your life Einar.

Yes, he’d really better watch out…she's got good aim with that thing, as he knows very well!

Meplat said:

Snorri? Well if he is going to be isolated in the wilderness who cares?

No, I don’t think public acceptance of his name is one of their biggest concerns… :D
Besides, it’s a very prestigious name with a lot of history behind it, really. And a family name, as well.

FrRichard said...
Happy New Year and May God Bless this family as we enter into a new year,,,,,,, even if it is 'just' a story.

And thanks for keeping it going.

A happy and blessed New Year to you, as well!

Thanks for reading. Always appreciated.

29 December, 2011

29 December 2011

Einar did not understand the way Liz was behaving, wanting to talk far more than he had expected she would at such a time but he figured he didn’t need to understand, really. Just needed to go along with it, keep seeing that she got plenty to drink and now and then some food, if she wanted it. Which she did, liking the stewed berries and consuming a good portion of them before she had to stop. Though he had wanted to save the remainder of the meal for Liz’s use later in the day--thinking it would likely prove more appealing to her than meat broth or stew, encouraging her to keep taking in some nutrients to help maintain her energy--she insisted so firmly that he eat some that he saw himself having little choice, and enjoyed a few bites of the mixture as she finished hers. Still a good bit left, which pleased Einar, as he would have needed to make more had it been finished, and he preferred to put his energy into maintaining the fire, continuing to prepare the place for the birth and listening to the weather--still; the wind had not returned and he expected that the snow must continue to taper off--just then. Was taking all the energy he had, just to do that much. And to watch Liz, trying to sense her needs and take care of them before she had to ask--and answer her questions. Couldn’t believe the number of questions she seemed to have, that day. Figured her mind would have been otherwise occupied, but there’s simply no figuring some things… Speaking of which--shook his head, scrubbed hands across his face, working to bring himself back to the present--she apparently had another one.

“Your old life, down in the valley--what do you most miss about it? I miss my books. Had shelves and shelves of books back home, though I’d only been able to bring a few when I first moved out here, and I’ll admit that there are times when I really wish I could have some of them, again. It would be nice to sit by the fire and read sometimes, on these long winter evenings…”

“Thought you wanted to talk about names for the little critter.”

“I’m getting to that. And don’t call him a critter. He’s your son.”

“Well I call myself a critter…”

“Don’t call yourself that, either. You’re my son’s father.”

Einar shrugged, nodded, figuring it best not to argue, under the circumstances. Half civilized old mountain critter like me would have a mighty rough time winning such an argument, anyway. Even if this was the time and place to pursue it… “Yeah, I can see why you’d miss having books around. Got to say there are times when I do, too, because down there in my little cabin…well, I had more bookshelves than other furniture, for sure--aside from the workbenches where I did all my reloading and gun builds and such, and I do sometimes regret having to leave behind all my firearms, both for the practical purposes they’d serve out here and because I just liked some of them so doggone well--and thought it a shame to have to lose my library, but you know, I adapt pretty quickly to being a wild critter…uh…creature, every time I’m out here, and after a while I just don’t think about it anymore, the things I’ve left behind. Seems to work better that way.”

“Sounds like a good idea, this ‘not thinking about the things you’ve left behind.’ Since you’re so good at doing it when it comes to material possessions and comforts and the life you’ve left behind, which I see that you are, since I can never once really remember seeing you fret or mourn over not having any of those things, and I respect you so much for that…well, don’t you think maybe you could try applying the same concept to some other things--or times, or places--you’ve left behind.”

He knew what she meant, didn’t like the way the conversation was headed. “Aw Lizzie, let’s not…”

“It’s important.”

“Not now, it’s not. Not right now, when the focus ought to be on…”

“It’s more important now than ever. He’ll need his father. All of you, every part of you. You’re doing so much, trying so hard to be here but half the time…no use denying it, I can see it in your eyes…you’re anywhere but here, Einar. And I know you’re only eating right now because I keep after you to do it, can see that you’d prefer to go back to the way you were doing things before--starving for days on end and then wandering off into the cold for a few hours because in some way it made things a little better for you--and if you keep doing that…well, I think we both know what the eventual consequence will be, only this time I’ll be too busy with the baby to do anything about it or to remind you to try and do something, which means I’ll end up losing you just when the little one and I need you most. You don’t want that. I can see it. But this thing’s still got hold of you, and I was just thinking that if you could let go of some of that stuff go the way you’ve done with your cabin and possessions and everything…”

Einar was on his feet, pacing as Liz had been doing earlier, back and forth from water barrel to bed, suddenly feeling far too confined in the small space of the cabin, trapped, barely able to breathe. “It’s not the same.”

“I know it’s not. But you could try.”


She could see that she’d pushed him too far, might have felt badly about it at any other time but that afternoon, labor beginning to intensify and the baby--she could only hope--coming in a matter of hours, she had been in no mood to put things too gently. Couldn’t afford to do so. Had wanted to get the thing said, give him something to think about before both their lives changed forever and their entire focus had to be put on the new life that was coming to join them, and she wasn’t sorry for having said it. Felt a lot better, actually, a bit of the tension that had been making it difficult for her to let go and give her full attention to the birthing process as she knew she needed to do eased, gone, and she was glad. Felt as though she could now entirely give herself to the events of the day, let nature proceed as it needed to do, and indeed the process did shortly thereafter begin to take on a new urgency, contractions coming a bit closer together and the conversation she was still carrying on with Einar--poor guy couldn’t sit still either, not after what she’d said to him, and she didn’t blame him for pacing with her--temporarily suspended during each, only to resume after. Einar was trying, but he was pretty quiet, leaving her for the moment to do most of the talking, which suited her just fine. Seemed to be helping, somehow.

“About what to name him, now. Assuming it’s really a ‘him,’ and we’re not both mistaken… Well, we’ve been calling him ‘Snorri’ for so long it would almost seem strange now not use that name in some way, don’t you think?”

That jolted Einar out of his silence, set him, for some inexplicable reason, to laughing hysterically and then Liz was laughing too, clinging to him for balance--his balance as well as hers--as she went on walking, walking, both of them laughing until the tears came, at which point she grabbed up the rabbitstick, shook it threateningly in Einar’s direction. “Quit it! I was serious…”

28 December, 2011

28 December 2011

Pausing outside before following Liz into the tunnel, Einar studied the sky, testing the air and trying his best to determine the future course of the storm that had dumped so much snow on their high basin home. Though the wind had ceased and the snow wasn’t far behind he was not entirely convinced that the storm had done all it intended to do; still there lay over the timber a heavy sense of waiting, anticipation that told him they might well be in for another round after a brief clear period. He almost hoped so. Place felt so much more secure when the weather was throwing fits like that…

Then again, this anticipation I’m feeling may just relate to the baby being about to put in an appearance real soon here. Can be hard to separate things like that from the way weather feels when it’s coming in, sometimes. Real hard to say. Liz was calling for him, words he couldn’t quite make out from inside the tunnel and he gave up his study of the sky, dropping to hands and knees and moving himself with some difficulty in towards the warm, inviting light of the cabin where Liz had left the door open, her shape partially blocking the opening as she watched for him to come. Taking too long, nearly falling asleep there in the tunnel and Einar shook himself, focusing on moving his legs and arms a bit more quickly until finally--had seemed like an awfully long, involved process, which he knew it ought not; tunnel was only six or so feet long--he was inside, stove-heat welling up around him like warm water and setting fingers and toes to stinging with returning circulation.

Liz looked good, calm, the walk seeming to have suited her quite well but not, as they had both hoped, to have sped things along very much; it was looking like there might still be a good number of hours of labor still to come, which didn’t too greatly surprise Einar. A long labor would, he knew, be the expected course for a first birth, and knowing Liz needed a steady supply of food in order to keep her strength up for the ordeal, he hurried to restore some mobility to half frozen hands, adding wood to the fire and starting a pot of soup.

Einar didn’t know if she would feel much like eating a full meal, but hoped she might at least find it possible to drink some broth. In addition to the soup, he wanted to prepare a light mixture of dried serviceberries and honey, simmered just long enough to begin re-hydrating the berries so that Liz would have the option of eating fruit and drinking its juice if she couldn’t stomach the broth, but the second pot was already occupied with the berberine solution he’d earlier made, and he didn’t want to dump it out into anything else, as its entire purpose involved cleaning and sterilizing hands and other things, and would not be well-served by storing the stuff in a less than sterile wood container. The fruit soup didn’t need to be sterile, though, and he had an idea, retrieved one of the coal-burned wooden bowls they used for eating and filled it halfway with dried berries, drizzling honey overtop and adding a cup or two of simmering water so the whole thing could begin softening. If the water didn’t do the trick, he could always add a few hot rocks later, to bring the mixture to a simmer so it could further soften and cook.

“Making you some soup, here,” he turned his attention to Liz, who was once again pacing the length of the cabin, five steps from bed to water barrel, turn, pace back, over and over again, and he wished she had a bit more space but she seemed content, met him with a genuine smile.

“You soup smells like serviceberries. I like it.”

“Got you some serviceberries, too. You need to eat if you can, need some energy. Want me to make the berries into a drink, or are you up for eating them as they are.”

“Oh, I can eat right now, no problem. I think it may be a problem later, in a little while, so might as well go ahead and do it now. You need to eat, too. Will you have some with me?”

“I’m not the one having the baby, here! But yeah, I’ll have a little. Guess I need my strength too, huh?”

“You sure do! Because we’re doing this together, right?”

“Yep, I’m right here with you.”

“No one I’d rather have with me, right now.”

“You’re weird.”

“I know. Well, if you must hear it, I guess I wouldn’t mind having Susan here for the birth, itself, but I think we’re going to do just fine. And I wouldn’t want her here yet. I’m liking being alone right now. With you.”

“What about your mother? You never talk about her…”

“Oh, I miss her sometimes, and I wish there was some way for her to see her grandchild…but no! I wouldn’t want her here right now, not at all. I love her, but she never did do well with…this sort of thing. Was always just a little too squeamish, even when the cat had kittens, and things like that…and I’m glad I got to spend some time around Susan and her friends when I did, get a different idea about birth and how it can go, or I might be pretty squeamish, myself. I might…” A pause as Liz’s face darkened with concentration, Einar wondering if he ought to be keeping track of the contractions, the time between them but deciding there was little point. Things would progress as they progressed, and there was little they could do about it either way. Best not disturb Liz with counting and timing and such. She seemed to be done, was breathing normally again.

“You can make noise, you know. Might help to make some noise, if you feel like it.”

“Oh I’ll make noise when I feel like it, believe me! But I don’t need to now. Not just yet. Let’s have some of your berries. I want to try the berries, and then we’d better talk about this baby. We need a name for him. Or her. I guess we could always decide on that after the birth, if we had to…but it wouldn’t hurt to get serious about it for a few minutes, here, seeing as time is getting pretty short.”

Checking to make sure the berries had thoroughly softened and absorbed enough water to regain something like their original shape, Einar got the bowl and sat down next to Liz, who was keeping close to the fire. He figured the heat must feel good to her, help her relax, and was glad he’d brought in the extra wood when he did. Come on back, storm. Give us a good night of heavy snow so we won’t have to worry about having a fire, about what might be up in the air

27 December, 2011

27 December 2011

Afternoon before the wedding, and the snow had not let up. Bud had been busy since before dawn that day clearing the driveway, blasting the accumulated snow from the hillside above and pushing it over the side with the plow, gravelling the especially steep portions of the long, switchbacking road in an attempt to render them a bit safer for the expected guests; it was either that, or set up parking at the bottom of the hill and shuttle guests back and forth on snowmobiles, an idea brought up by Susan’s son-in-law, who had offered to coordinate the project if it became necessary. Which, snow continuing to pile up in drifts and billows everywhere the wind saw fit to toss it, was appearing to be exactly what they might have to do. A good hour or two before dark Bud came storming and stomping into the kitchen, snorting and coughing and rubbing chilled hands as he held them over the stove.

“We would choose to get hitched in the middle of the doggone storm of the century, now wouldn’t we? Just figures…”

Susan took his coat, beating the caked snow from it and sweeping the tiled floor, pushing the icy clumps back out onto the porch. “Oh, it’s not the storm of the century, at least not yet. Could get a lot worse.”

“Well don’t tempt it! Seems to be headed that way, alright. Seems…” He stopped, head tilted, listening. Silence. The change came so suddenly it was alarming, deafening, wind, which had been a constant and inescapable force for the past two days suddenly ceasing, everything still. Waiting for its return, breath held, they heard nothing. Outside, the snow still fell heavily, but its descent was quiet, floating, peaceful.

“I’ll be… You know, it may just be on its way out, this storm. And just in time too, if it is. ‘Cause while I guess I’d jump in a storm like that given half a chance, I sure don’t know any pilot in his right mind who’d take us up in one…”

“You actually know pilots who are in their right mind?”

“Hey now, you better watch it there Mrs. Kilgore, or I’ll have to tell Kiesl what you just said, and you don’t want to be anywhere near that fella--let alone in the plane!-- when he’s flying mad, let me tell you!”

Which brought to mind another smart remark--well if he isn’t in his right mind, isn’t he always flying mad?--but Susan thought better of voicing it, instead hurrying into the kitchen to prepare a snack. Not too much to do now before the wedding, not that day, at least, aside from getting Bud fed and out the door so she could make some last-minute preparations, and then things would be all set.

· · · ·

Alarmed at the sudden stillness, Einar and Liz sat staring at one another, waiting, anticipating, half dreading the fury with which they knew the next gust must surely hit their little refuge…but the gust did not come, trees still outside and the roaring, buffeting force of the wind against the cabin walls, such a familiar sound over the past two days that they had all but come to take it for granted, gone. Stillness. Silence. And it was strange. Things had been progressing slowly for Liz as she paced through the day, contractions remaining fairly far apart and leaving her doubting, at times, whether she might have perhaps misjudged the entire situation, might have some days left before the birth could be expected but Einar saw how she was conducting herself, and had far less doubt. In addition to keeping the fire going at a far more lively pace than the one to which either of them were accustomed, he kept a careful watch on the water barrel, frequently adding a fresh batch of hot rocks in an effort to ensure that they had and would continue to have plenty of fresh drinking water. Wanting to make sure Liz kept adequately hydrated he heated pot after pot of raspberry leaf tea, sweetening the liquid with honey and taking it to Liz, who--though grateful--scolded and lectured and told him he needed to sit down for a while and rest before his legs gave out--which they were, hard as he tried to hide it, rather threatening to do--have some rest and leave the cooking to her but Einar was insistent, didn’t want her having to think of the routine chores of the day and maintained his place as chief stove-tender, tea maker and stew chef as she paced and hummed and generally made herself as comfortable as possible in the confined space.

Liz, on towards late afternoon, wanted very much to go out and walk, feeling like moving and thinking it might help move things along a bit more quickly but didn’t figure it would be such a good idea, not in that storm, and knew Einar would hardly want her to do it, had the snow ceased. Which it might not have done, might be curling down peacefully from the sky at a rate greater than it had done during the storm, for all she knew, and suddenly she wanted very much to check, hands and knees towards the tunnel, wanting to get out in the open before the next contraction hit her. They were becoming a bit stronger, not yet so strong that she had to stop and give them her full attention, but certainly strong enough to make her sit up and take notice. Einar put a hand on her shoulder.

“Need some air, or what?”

“Yes. I just want to see if the snow’s still coming down.”

“I’ll come along…unless you want some space.”

“No, I’d like it if you came. Thought I might take a little walk, and I don’t really want to be alone. I’ll meet you out there.”

Einar hurried into his boots and parka, following Liz out through the tunnel and blinking in wide-eyed amazement at the sight that met him, snow falling so heavily that he couldn’t even make out the cliffs that rose stark, black and normally quite highly visible not ten feet from the tunnel’s mouth, stepping into the whiteout and realizing for one instant of near panic that he had no idea which direction Liz had taken, where she might be or if she knew, herself. His consternation was short-lived, Muninn, who had perhaps as much need of some air as Liz after being cooped up in the cabin for two days--his choice, not theirs; Einar had made attempts to urge the bird outside during that time, but had not forced him--hopping his way awkwardly through the tunnel and blustering past Einar, taking wing but not going very far at all, as he perched on the shoulder of a rather less-than-pleased Liz. The ensuing argument got Einar pointed in the proper direction, and within seconds he had found her, shooing away the raven and checking to make certain she was alright, which she was, if somewhat annoyed.

“I really think that bird needs to take a hike…or a flight, or something, for the immediate future, don’t you think?”

Einar shrugged, not really knowing what to say as he did not see how the bird could do much flying at all in such a whiteout, but something told him not to say so and instead he nodded, waving his hand at the raven when he hopped close and prepared to light on his shoulder. “Yep, he can…” struggling, teeth wanting to chatter but he prevented it, went on, “can find a place to ride out the storm, let you have the cabin to yourself for a while. You want to…do some walking?”

She did, and with Einar breaking trail the two of them paced back and forth in the timber there beside the cabin until they’d worn a good trail in the deep snow, Liz stopping every few minutes as a fresh contraction came. Walking with her, Einar wished--couldn’t remember ever wishing similar, really; it was not his way--that the cold wasn’t affecting him quite so greatly, that he’d made a greater effort, perhaps, to eat properly and put a bit of meat on his bones before winter really set in, a bit of insulation so that he could keep himself from trembling so violently after no more than minutes out in the cold and snow, as he knew his condition might disturb Liz. Would have tried to hide it from her, keep some distance between the two of them but she wanted him there close by, wanted literally to lean on him, on occasion, now that the contractions were becoming a bit stronger and when she grabbed for his hands he took hers, supporting her through it, until she was ready to walk again.

Time to head in, Liz beginning to grow cold and ready for a rest, seeing that Einar had already far exceeded his reasonable limits when it came to being out in the storm, and she led the way back to the tunnel, snow slacking off and near stopping by the time they reached its mouth. Looked like the storm was nearly over.

26 December, 2011

26 December 2011

While she had been experiencing occasional cramping and tightness throughout the past month or so, Liz knew, crouching in the candlelight early that morning, that she was feeling something very different, had little doubt that the baby’s time had arrived. She wanted to tell Einar but was reluctant to wake him, doubting either of them would be getting too much sleep over the course of the following day or two and wanting him to sleep while he could. No hurry. She expected there would certainly be plenty of time for Einar to wake on his own, before the time actually arrived. And if she was anything like the majority of women who she’d heard speak about the subject, she figured she’d be making enough noise to wake him, long before the time drew near. In the meantime, best to make everything as ready as she could, which meant starting a fire so the place could begin to warm, both for the baby’s sake and for Einar’s. Knowing how his entire focus would be on her and the coming baby, she worried for him, especially as she would herself be rather too preoccupied to see that he kept reasonably warm and had something to eat from time to time, knew he might well end up freezing himself before the baby ever came, and I sure haven’t got this far only to lose him now, the big goof, so better have this place pretty warm. He can’t even object this time, because I’ll tell him it’s for the baby. Which it is, at least partially, as they do come into the world unclothed and without their own functioning thermostats, if I’m remembering correctly. That takes a couple of weeks to fully develop, and in the meantime, they need a little help. So, a very good excuse to keep things a little warmer in here.

Liz needn’t have worried about having to wake Einar at some point, as he was wide awake and stirring moments after she began carefully arranging kindling in the stove and preparing to light it, rolling over to the edge of the bed and fumbling in the darkness until he’d got himself into something like a sitting position, where he waited in silence, already trembling a bit in the deep early morning chill, as she got the fire lit. Strange thing, very strange indeed for her to be up and making a fire while full darkness still enveloped the outside world as it certainly appeared to do, and he wondered at it, wondered if perhaps the ongoing storm--for it was surely ongoing, the way the wind carried on out there, tearing with audible force up through the timber to rage and beat with an almost frightening fury against the cabin walls--had all but prevented daylight from showing itself, making it, possibly, a good bit later than it seemed and Liz perhaps hungry and wanting breakfast. Well, if that was the case he could make himself of some use, hopefully make breakfast for her or if she wouldn’t have it at least help in some way, go out for an armload of wood or chop sheep meat for the stew or…better get moving here before too long if you want to be good for anything at all, because you’re already starting to lose the feeling in your fingers and toes, and you haven’t been out from under those hides for a minute, even. Got to work on that, I’m telling you, got to… A bright orange flare of flame as Liz struck sparks into tinder, urged the little fire to life and as soon as he saw her, Einar could tell something was different, could see it in the way she was holding herself, moving, and he went to her, crouching beside her there in the firelight.

“Oh, I didn’t mean to wake you, not yet…”

“The baby’s coming.”

“Yes. I really think so. I’ve been feeling strange for a couple of hours, and then as soon as I got up…yes, this really is quite different, quite persistent. I think it’s just about time.”

Einar got very still then for a few seconds, very quiet, and then he was on his feet, finding and retrieving the nettle solution he’d previously prepared--frozen nearly solid in the cold corner where he’d stored it--oh, well, at least it’s staying fresh--and setting it near the stove to thaw out so Liz could have some, taking a cookpot and setting water to heat on what he knew would soon be the warmest area of the stove and then, soon as that was done, crawling about the dark floor in a somewhat frantic search for his boots, meaning to duck out through the tunnel after more firewood.

Liz, watching, did her best not to laugh at him but did not entirely succeed. “What are you doing there, ‘boiling water’ like the husbands were always told to do in all the old stories when a baby was on the way? I’m pretty sure that’s just something they were sent to do to keep them occupied and out of the way, you know…”

“No, I’m not…well yeah, I am boiling water, but I got a real specific purpose in mind for it, and that’s to make up some strong berberine solution so we’ll have a way to clean our hands and sterilize them at least somewhat, just seemed like a good idea and the berberine was looking like our best solution, seeing as we don’t have any peroxide or alcohol or soap, even… Guess we really ought to remedy the soap problem and I’ll do that, too, but not before…”

“Einar! Hey, settle down. I think the berberine’s a great idea and so is the soap, for someday, but right now everything’s under control, we’ve got plenty of time and I’d really suggest you get some clothes on and hopefully your parka, too, before worrying about sterilizing or cleaning anything, and certainly before going out for firewood…you weren’t really thinking of making the trip like that, were you?”

“Well now, guess I kinda was thinking along those lines, you know me, always looking for a chance to get out there and freeze for a while, but right now really isn’t the time for that, is it? So, pants, parka, boots, hat…yep, got to fill this place with firewood so we won’t have to worry about it for a few days, got a good start on that but gonna go get as much more as’ll fit. Be back in a couple minutes.”

With which he was gone, hurrying through the tunnel and nearly collapsing in the snow outside, the sudden hustle and bustle catching up to him as the adrenalin of the past few minutes ebbed a bit in the bitter blast of the storm. Fierce was the wind even there outside the tunnel, finding its way somehow between cabin and cliffs to tear at him with a ferocity that nearly took his breath and left him struggling to stay on his feet, very much awake, not that he hadn’t been before, in there with Liz and the baby on the way. Now. He’s coming now, or she is, and he was moving again, pushing his way through snowdrifts that revealed themselves only by feel in the inky, snow-spitting darkness, extra depth here and there, a bit more difficulty forcing his foot forward, and he found the woodshed by feel, too, seeing through the storm only the faintest hint of light here and there where Liz’s recent cabin chinking job had been slightly less than thorough, but he was quite impressed at the quality of her work.

There. There it was, felt his way inside and fumbled about until he’d got a good armload of wood, struggled it back through the storm, finding as well as he could his previous trail and sticking to it, resting for one brief, panting moment in the windless mouth of the tunnel before returning for another armload and another, until the tunnel was very nearly blocked and he figured he’d got enough. Too tired to get it inside, breath coming hard, hurting his ribs and for a time he crouched there immobile just inside the tunnel, listening to the howl and moan of the wind outside, the chattering of his own teeth, loud in that enclosed space and inside, the soft sounds of Liz pacing, turning, pacing again…got to get in there, can’t be spending all my strength just sitting here and struggling--a losing struggle too, from the looks of it so far--to get warm, because she’s gonna need me this morning, lot I got to do…come on, Einar, move! Move he did, crawling stiffly the remaining length of the tunnel and, a good pile of wood in his arms--the rest could wait, would be protected there in the tunnel and would remain readily available, a supply he could retrieve, if need be, without venturing again out into the storm--pushing open the door and creeping inside.

24 December, 2011

24 December 2011

“Well now…” Kilgore shifted somewhat uncomfortably in his chair, fingering the antique violet-patterned teacup to whose delicate contours he never did figure he’d manage to adjust--need to get a couple real good old chunky mugs in here tucked away in the corner of a cabinet somewhere so my clumsy hands’ll have something to grab onto, ’cause I know it’s just a matter of time before I break one of these doggone things--“about that honeymoon…ya see, I figure everybody ought to have the chance to jump out of a plane at least once in their lives, so if you never done it before, well, what better time than this? Jump right into our new lives together, so to speak. What do you think?”

“I think you’ve got something up your sleeve! I know you’ve been busy planning something…gone half the time on your days off, having all those cryptic conversations with your friend Roger--I’ve seen the two of you together in the diner more than once over these last couple of weeks, and seen how you turn away and pretend you haven’t noticed me when I walk past--so come on, spill it! What’s the plan?”

“Now you know I can’t tell you that! Wouldn’t be a surprise if I told you, and besides, this is one top secret operation I got going here, and you know how it goes. You just got to trust me on this one.”

Susan sighed, shook her head and began clearing the dishes. “Oh yes, I know how goes. How that sort of thing has to go, and I do trust you of course, and guess I don’t want to know any more about it than I need to know for the moment, but perhaps…” she grinned mischievously, her short, dark, silver-frosted curls bouncing as she whirled back about to face him, nearly upsetting her stack of plates and teacups, “perhaps you can simply confirm or deny my suspicions with a little nod, or something. You think? No harm in a little nod. Ok, here goes. I think…your friend Roger must have a second plane, a slightly larger plane, and he’s gone to get it which is why I haven’t seen him around town for a few days, and I think after the wedding he’s going to take a certain happy pair up in that plane and have somebody push them out the door--well, somebody will probably have to push me, at least!--over a snowy meadow way up in the high country somewhere, where they’ll enjoy a quiet couple of weeks together snowshoeing and snow camping and perhaps visiting an old friend or two or three… Am I close?”

“Aw now, how’d you know about the Twin Otter?”

“Hey, you were supposed to nod! I don’t care about the Twin Otter, it’s the other bit that I’m really wondering about, and you know it!

“Nope, can neither confirm nor deny, on that account. But do have to say that you’re one astute and perceptive woman, Mrs. Kilgore.”

Future Mrs. Kilgore.”

“Real near future, if I haven’t got my days all mixed up…”

“No, you haven’t, so I’d better get busy with the preparations, hadn’t I? Guess if you don’t want to get roped into helping me prepare several dozen little mushroom logs, three batches of ham rolls, four cheese balls and a whole mess of different kinds of cookies, it would be about time for you to head back outside for a while!”

“Would I get to taste the dough?”

She swatted playfully at him with a dishtowel, began retrieving lidded buckets of flour and sugar from one of the cabinets beneath the kitchen counter. “I’ve seen your idea of ‘tasting the dough!’ If you taste the dough, I’m afraid there won’t be enough left to be worth baking, and then what would we have to serve people at the wedding? Just the scraps and scrapings left in the bowls when you got done, and that wouldn’t do!”

“Guess I’ll head out and finish the plowing, then. Still got some to do out there, and better check on the avalanche charges, too, the way this stuff keeps coming down. Wouldn’t do to have our wedding guests caught in an avalanche, I guess…”

“It also wouldn’t do to have the ladies from the church caught in one, so you be careful with those charges, because I’m expecting them to show just about any time now.”

“No worries. Me and high explosives, we’re real good friends from way back…what could ever go wrong?”

Both of them laughing, Kilgore hurrying into his coveralls and boots and ducking out the door before Susan had a chance to make the remark that had been on the tip of her tongue--what, indeed…seems it’s only been a few months ago that you stopped by here on your way home to Arizona all battered and bruised and with your face full of what looked an awful lot like recent shrapnel wounds of some sort, just days after that big explosion in the old mine that took out so many of the federal searchers, and I never did quite buy your dirt bike accident story--which was alright with her, as she knew he really was just about the most competent person around to manage Bill’s avalanche mitigation project, or anything else relating to volatile substances and big booms, despite what she’d been going to say.

Watching Bud disappear out into the storm she turned, shook her head and got back into her apron, beginning preparations for the various baking projects she’d set for herself that day. While she had for some time suspected the nature of the honeymoon trip Bud had planned for them she now had confirmation, and while tremendously excited at the prospect of seeing Liz and perhaps even being there around the time when the baby might be coming, she also worried, both about the potential harm their visit might bring the little family if they weren’t extremely careful about how the entire thing was executed, which, with Bud doing the planning, she was sure they would be; such things were his profession, and the way Einar would react to having people show up unannounced--not like we have any way of announcing it--in his little mountain kingdom, especially at such a sensitive time. A lot of things to think through, but she expected Bud had already thought through them, had plans to mitigate both problems. Hoped so, both for their sake and for that of the little family up in the basin whose territory they were ostensibly talking about dropping in on, just three days out.

· · · ·

Darkness in the basin, the dark hour sometime just after midnight and Liz couldn’t sleep, lay wide awake in the cooling cabin listening to Einar breathe and trying to figure out what had wakened her, why she felt so much like being up and doing at that hour and finally she gave up trying to return to sleep, slipped out of bed and lit a candle, crouching in its circle of light, no longer doubting the cause of her restlessness.

Merry Christmas!

Here's a bit of an early chapter for today.

I hope all of you have a blessed Christmas tomorrow, as we remember the birth of our Savior!

Thank you all for reading.

(No chapter tomorrow, but I'll be back with another on Monday.)

23 December, 2011

23 December 2011

Hands warm and the rest of her soon to follow, sitting as she was only inches from the stove, Liz retrieved the willow bundles and leaned them in a warm corner of the cabin to thaw, dragging the partially finished basket over into the growing circle of warmth and adding to its height, fingers working deftly to weave in the fresh willows as they became warm and supple. From his spot beside the bed Einar watched, losing himself in the rhythm of her weaving and wanting somehow to be of assistance, but drifting instead somewhere near sleep, having worn himself out far more thoroughly than he’d realized on their snowy trek. Cold. He was, it seemed, only beginning to warm, if that, wondered a bit absently if he ought to try and get some rocks into the coals to heat so he could later wrap them in a layer of deerhide and press them close to him in an attempt to speed up the warming process just a bit, but the wondering never progressed to action and he went on sitting there, body making a valiant but weakening effort to shiver him warm. Needed fuel. Had stretched himself to the limit of his resources on the ascent back to the cabin, and wasn’t going to get warm until he’d had something to eat; he could feel it. Regarded the knowledge with a certain intellectual detachment--interesting, but not relevant--and went on watching Liz as she worked on the basket.

At least she was leaving him alone for the most part, wasn’t fussing over him as she sometimes did when he found himself having such a hard time and he was glad of the change, but wondered at it, at seeing her so focused on preparing for the baby. Wondered if she knew something that she hadn’t told him, quite yet. In any event, it seemed the time couldn’t be too far out, and as he thought about the upcoming birth, he couldn’t help but recall the first time he’d been present for such an event many years ago when that Montagnard scout had sneaked him past the village shaman and up the mountainside to where his wife was laboring, having lost his first baby the year before and not wanting it to happen again, and it hadn’t, at least not during the birth… Birth had gone smoothly, as had the first year of that little girl’s life--Hyon, they’d called her; he hadn’t thought of that name in years--but then…well, he didn’t want to think about it. Made a conscious effort to turn his thoughts in another direction, fearing that they would somehow poison the upcoming event if ever he allowed them to take root in his mind, didn’t want them to have any part in what was coming. A new birth, a new start, and he looked up at Liz where she sat cross-legged in the candle-glow weaving yet another row into her basket, and he’d never seen a more beautiful sight. Not gonna let anything happen to you two, not while I’m breathing, and that’s my promise…which promise, though he meant it with every fiber of his being, he’d seen enough of the world to know he might have a real challenge in keeping; things were so uncertain, so changeable, everything gone in an instant, more often than not, before anyone had a chance to prevent it… Not gone now, though, they’re right here and you here with them about to see a new little life come into the world, and this has got to be the most beautiful thing the Lord allows us to witness, it really does… The image was blurring though, present images as well as the future ones he’d been contemplating, Liz’s face fading, his eyes drifting shut despite his best efforts and the next thing he knew she had abandoned the basket and was there beside him, hands clasped around one of his and an odd mixture of anger and concern on her face.

“Oh, you’re absolutely freezing, still! You’ve got to tell me these things, Einar. Except that you couldn’t, could you? Not this time. I’m afraid I got so caught up in finishing this bed that I didn’t even think to check whether you might be sitting over here freezing to death…here, come with me to the fire, it would help a lot if you allowed yourself to be nearer the heat, you know…” With which she practically dragged him over in front of the stove and pushed a pot of tea into his hands, beautiful stuff, a lovely, lively shade of steaming green, and he might have gone on staring into it for a very long time indeed, eyes once more drifting closed as he dreamed about the soft and brilliant green of new aspen leaves in the spring, had she not come at him with a big spoonful of honey just then, insisting he eat it and then have some tea.

“Hey, now you wake up! You can sleep later if you want--I hope you will, actually, though you probably won’t, once you get over being so cold--but not until you’ve warmed up and had something to eat. Takes a lot of energy pushing through that deep snow, doesn’t it?”

Einar smiled, shook his head and tried to refuse the honey she was offering him, but she was having none of it, badgered him until finally he gave in and accepted the stuff. Big difference, instant energy and a clearing of the fog of cold and exhaustion that had come over him after his long trek through the snow, and he sat up straighter, sipping the tea and then gulping it, draining the pot.

“Got a little lazy there for a minute, sorry about that. Was just enjoying watching you work on that basket and thinking about the baby…yeah, lots to think about, with the baby coming…but seems I got a little lost there for a while.”

“I’d say you were more than ‘a little lost,’ but you’re fine now, going to be just fine because I’m about to start on some stew so we can both eat before getting on with our day.”

As Liz worked on the stew, Einar sorted through their supply of dried and stored herbs, choosing a large handful of nettles and placing them in the second cooking pot, to which he added a few cups of water, setting it on the stove. Liz had been in the habit for some time of adding some nettles to her morning tea of raspberry leaves, but the mixture he intended to make would be far more concentrated, rich and dark, a good source of both chlorophyll with its high Vitamin K content, and iron. Wanting to have it made up well ahead of time not only so it would be on hand to help her recover after any blood loss that might occur with the birth but so she could be drinking good amounts beforehand to strengthen her clotting factors and reduce the chances that she’d suffer serious bleeding, he gently heated the pot full of dried nettles, keeping it just below a simmer in an attempt to release the greatest possible amount of chlorophyll from the leaves without overheating and causing it to degrade. As soon as the water had turned a bright, vibrant green he moved the pot even further from the hottest area of the stove, wanting to further reduce and concentrate the liquid without getting it too much hotter. Liz, having thought he was making tea and finding the idea rather unusual, as she was always the one to do so, finally got curious enough to take a look in the second pot.

“What’s this green stuff? Looks green enough to be dye for cloth, or something.”

“Chlorophyll. Made from slowly cooked nettles. Think it’s be a good idea if you would start having a little every day from now until the birth to help you be ready to clot better, and hopefully I’ve made enough so there’ll be some left for the days after, too.”

“Well in that case…” she tipped the pot, measuring with her eyes the amount of liquid it contained, “you must be expecting this birth to be coming pretty soon!”

“Could be. Wouldn’t doubt it, actually. But if not, we’ve got plenty of nettles left and I’ll make you more.”

“Thanks! That reminds me…” Rummaging about amongst the herbs she took out the little rawhide sack of shepherd’s purse, inspecting its contents, very glad she’d gone to the effort to scout about and collect heavily from the few specimens of the plant which she’d been able to find growing up there in the high, thin air of the basin, a fair distance above its comfortable range. Ideally she would have pressed the juice from the fresh plant parts that summer and preserved it--or made a tincture, but they had no alcohol of any kind on hand--but that had not been possible at the time, so she intended to do the next best thing, which was to make an infusion of the dried leaves, stems and seeds she’d saved. To that end, as soon as Einar’s chlorophyll mixture was finished and stored away, she boiled a pot full of water, adding a good cup’s worth of dried shepherd’s purse as soon as she’d removed it from the heat and setting it aside in a corner where it wouldn’t be disturbed and covering it with a rock for several hours of steeping.

22 December, 2011

22 December 2011

Following their discussion over breakfast, Einar and Liz each busied themselves with their own projects, Liz making a few additions and modifications to the half finished basket which was to serve as the baby’s bed and Einar doing his best to clean up after Muninn, whose inevitable mess beneath his perch--the raven seemed more than content to spend those long, stormy days inside, and neither Einar nor Liz found themselves particularly inclined to throw him out--was beginning to bother Liz. Einar didn’t particularly understand the strenuousness of her objection, seeing as she’d never shown an inclination to be particularly bothered by such things in the past, but figured it must have something to do with the nearness of the baby’s time, and wisely took care of the problem, himself, shooing the raven away from his perch and scouring the area around the tightly wedged stick until it was arguably cleaner than any other surface in the cabin. Liz, who had found herself inexplicably unwilling to go near the mess, though definitely wanting it cleaned up, was greatly appreciative if a bit surprised at Einar taking such initiative, cleaning of that sort not being his usual cup of tea.

Speaking of tea, Liz’s morning batch of raspberry leaf-nettle tea was beginning to simmer gently on the stove and she took it off, crouching near the fire to drink. Had gone as far as she could go with the baby’s willow basket, anyway, as she was out of willows. Needed more. Needed to get that basket finished up, and would have strapped her snowshoes on right then and there--abandoning the tea, set on accomplishing her task, and without further delay--and ventured out into the storm to gather them, had not she known Einar would insist on coming with her. She didn’t want that. Hoped he’d stay inside for the morning, for the day, even; despite having consumed a good portion of the breakfast stew he looked cold that morning, shaky, barely holding his own and seeming frequently to lose his train of thought, lose his way and stand staring blankly at the floor for what seemed to her far too long before he found it again, and she wished he’d go back to bed where he would at least be warm during those periods of lostness. The stove wasn’t enough, she could see it in the way he started trembling again every time he was still for more than seconds at a time, was glad that he had the cleaning work to keep him busy, at least, seeing as there was little chance of talking him back into bed. Well. Additional willows could wait, she supposed. Except that they probably couldn’t, for Einar, done with his cleanup around the raven’s perch, had seen the half finished basket, was inspecting it.

“Never seen you make such a big one, and this has a real special shape, too. For the baby?”

“Yes, I thought we ought to have a bed for him, someplace safe and warm where he can sleep, sometimes. I know he’ll be in with us most of the time, anyway, so he can share our warmth and be close to me when he gets hungry in the night, but I wanted something portable, too. This basket can even come outside on nice days and let him get a little sun, have a safe place to be while I’m working on the meat and tanning hides and such.”

“Real good idea. Looks like you’re out of willows, though. Did you get those from behind the cabin? Think we had a bundle or two left back there after making this insulation cage around the water barrel…”

“That’s what these are. Hope it’s alright that I used them up…”

“Sure! And I’ll go get you some more, too. Muninn and I need to get out and about for a while, stir around and see how the storm’s coming, so I might as well run down there to the willows and get you another bundle or two. Got to have that thing ready before the little one gets here, and on a day like this, I sure won’t have to worry about any tracks I might leave! They’ll be gone before I turn around, between the wind and snow.”

Yes, she wanted to say, that’s what I’m afraid of, and then how will I ever find you out there…but she kept the concern to herself. Did insist on accompanying him, though, both because she was somewhat concerned that he might lose himself out there in the storm--either intentionally, as was his usual way or, seeing how dizzy and disoriented he seemed at times that morning, accidentally, but the result would likely be the same, and not one she wanted to contemplate--and she find herself unable to follow his tracks and find him in time due to the ongoing ferocity of the storm, wind scouring, drifting, piling snow here and there in sharp-edged billows of flat white, and because she really did feel a need to get out of the cabin for a while, and “stir around,” as he had put it.

Pushing snowshoes before them they crawled out through the tunnel to emerge gasping and spluttering into a world of swirling, blinding white, not even Einar having been prepared for the ferocity of the storm which met them. Wind was relentless even there between the cabin and cliff, cutting like a thousand tiny knives and taking their breath as they struggled to don snowshoes and get the hoods of their parkas pulled up, Einar helping Liz--she would have had a difficult time managing it even under the best of circumstances, with the baby so much in her way--and then she crouching down to help him, nearly losing her balance in the process but managing to remain upright. Out across the clearing, then, clinging to one another for balance in the deep snow and blasting wind but then Einar handed Liz his spear, went out front and began breaking trail, shuffling slowly through drifts of new snow sometimes three or four feet deep but managing to stay for the most part on top of them, sinking only inches instead of feet, as he would have done without the snowshoes and making a path for Liz into the timber, where the snow depth was not as great, wind a bit less ferocious, and the difference was immediately apparent. Relief. Could breathe again. Hands pressed to numbed faces, pressed to stomachs, after, to warm them and stave off the frostbite which always stalked around the edges in such weather, even through the marten fur mittens Liz had recently got done making them, and for which Einar found himself tremendously grateful; he’d have lost fingers that day without them, no doubt, and a couple bundles of willows were, after all, a fairly silly thing over which to lose fingers…

Willows. Almost missed them, would have pushed right on through and gone on walking out into that formless whiteness, bewildered, had it not been for the smell, sweet, pungent, unmistakable, and Einar stopped, fumbled about beneath his snowshoes--thought at first that he might simply have damaged one, be smelling willow from the scraped and injured bit of the snowshoe, as they were primarily composed of willow, but this smelled fresher, more alive--until he came up with a handful of flexible, living willow wands. Success, and he stopped, waited for Liz to catch up. Too cold to speak, they worked in silence to cut armloads of the lithe, lively little shoots, pausing frequently to rewarm numbed hands, Einar at one point pressing palms to the sides of Liz’s face, seeing there the telltale whitish patches that meant she would soon be in danger of serious frostbite if something wasn’t done, never even realizing that he’d long ago passed that point, himself, and when she tried to reciprocate, warming his cheekbones where the skin stretched thin and purple and appearing about to break from the sharpness of the bones beneath, he shook his head, not necessary, and she had to become very insistent before he’d allow her to do it.

Done, then, each with as many willows as they could reasonably carry through the deep snow and they started back, bundles slung over shoulders and each with a stick to help their progress, Einar with his spear and Liz using a long aspen staff he’d found for her, struggling uphill in their trail, which was almost completely gone in places already, wiped out by the wind. Taking a good bit longer than had the descent, the climb had them facing directly into the wind, squinting against its ferocity and blinking to clear eyes crusted with snow, blinded, blundering, lost the trail, Einar stopping when he was sure of it, waiting with his back to the wind for Liz to catch up. She was moving slowly, more slowly each minute, it seemed, and he didn’t understand it, knew that he, with his stumbling gait and failing legs, ought to be the slow one and was concerned for her, glad when she finally made her way up beside him. Alright, she appeared to be doing alright, slowed more by the awkwardness of carrying the baby through all that snow than by anything else, and with that realization he allowed himself to relax a bit, big mistake, toppling over in the snow and lying there very nearly too exhausted to breathe, until her shouts turned to kicks, hard, pummeling blows with the aspen staff that brought him back his senses, back to his feet, this way, follow me this way, we’re not far…and he was right, cabin in sight before they even realized they’d made their way out into the clearing, and they hurried to get around to the back, to the tunnel. Snowshoes off, drop the willows, drop to the ground, immense relief as the wind was blocked, blessed, blessed relief, and coming just in time…Liz had to help him those last few feet into the relative warmth of the cabin; he’d fallen asleep in the tunnel.

Warmth, it seeped in all around him, hurt his hands, arms, feet as the blood began to return to them and Einar stirred, sat up, waking as if from a dream to find Liz crouched beside him, holding a steaming pot of tea and urging him to drink. Startled--lost some time, there--he sat up straighter, tilting his head and listening hard to make sure the wind was still howling outside, which it was, good, must not have been out of it for too long, and he got to his feet, teeth gritted against the hurt of it, body rigid as dizziness tried its best to take him.

“Quite a storm, wasn’t it?”

Liz seemed surprised at his speaking, even more so to see him on his feet. “Yes, it sure is. I’ve really never seen the like! Wouldn’t have ever gone out after the willows if I’d have known just how vicious it was out there….”

“I would have! Needed to get out for a while, and this is the weather we’ve got. How’d it go for you? Little one doing alright, not too active after all that?”

“No, I think he’s just about as worn out as I am, he’s pretty quiet. I did have some cramping on my way back up, but it’s gone now so I think everything’s alright. It’s probably good I haven’t been doing the trapline runs with you this past week though, or I get the feeling he might be here already…”

Einar got very quiet at that, eyes sober and still. “Not too far right now from the time we’d estimated…two and a half, three weeks it seems, so while it would be better if he waited, well, the time is getting pretty close.”

“Yes, it is, and I’m going to go ahead and finish that basket in a little while here, after we’ve got warmed up some. It was a good morning’s work, wasn’t it? But I’m glad all the critters are fast asleep, so you don’t have to run the trapline for a little while.”

Einar wasn’t so sure about that last part, half of him wanting to turn right around as soon as he’d got some of the feeling back in his extremities and do it all again just to prove to himself that he could, but the other half--and it won out, this time--happy and content to remain right there where he was with Liz, listening to the storm rage on outside and preparing for the soon-to-be expansion of their little family.

21 December, 2011

21 December 2011

The atmosphere was cheerful at Susan’s house as she and Bud worked to clean up from the last storm even as fresh snow began sweeping down from the peaks to obscure the opposite ridge, big flakes swirling about in the wind as Bud made his third pass with the plow truck, an old pickup of Bill’s that he had used to maintain the long, steep driveway every winter. Susan, working to clear the back porch and keep paths shoveled to all the greenhouses ahead of the upcoming wedding festivities, squinted through the advancing whiteness, barely able to see his headlights as he rounded the last of the sharp switchbacks and made his way up towards the house. He’d been there all morning--a day off from his duties as consultant for the Mountain Task Force--had enjoyed a big breakfast of ham, eggs and freshly baked buttermilk biscuits with a generous portion of homemade apricot preserves before heading out to do the plowing, and would, Susan knew, no doubt be hungry again when he got in, as the cold seemed to do that to a person. Stomping the snow from her boots and shaking it from coat and hat she headed into the kitchen to begin warming slices of leftover turkey for sandwiches, hungry herself after all that shoveling.

Later in the day several ladies from church were coming up to help her decorate the largest of the greenhouses, whose wide, woodstove-heated space had been chosen as the best in which to hold the wedding. Not one to go to any great fuss over such things--not that she’d too much experience with “such things,” had certainly never expected to be planning another wedding, unless for her sons--she was keeping the plans simple as possible, intending to decorate the greenhouse with the red and white potted poinsettias she always raised and sold throughout the winter, but it seemed the ladies might have other plans, and she knew she might be in for some work if she wanted to keep them from making the place too fancy. They had, though, promised to help with the baking, welcome assistance as she planned to create quite a feast for those who would be attending.

Which thought reminded her of those who would not be attending, her eyes straying to the mostly snow-obscured darkness of the nearest ridge, where the wind tore and howled through the spruces, bending, swaying, bowing them, and her throat felt a bit tight as she breathed a prayer--keep them warm, safe, out of this weather--for the little family up in the basin, two, soon to be three, if they weren’t already, and she wished very much that there might be some way for them to make a trip down the mountain, attend the wedding and stay and warm and well-fed for a few weeks until after the baby had come… Not happening, wouldn’t be safe, even should they consent to such a plan, which she knew Einar almost certainly never would, and not likely Liz, either. The hike would be quite a strenuous one for a woman weeks away from giving birth, might well bring on premature labor that would see the baby being born far from either home and under less than ideal conditions, and even should they make the trip safely and in time, she knew that the simple fact of their spending time down near the valley would put them at risk, no matter how careful she and Bud might be in keeping them hidden and restricting access to the house. Not a good risk. They’d be fine up there right where they were, she reassured herself, knew what they were doing, had plenty of food stocked away for the winter according to what Einar had recently told Bud. Liz, being young and healthy, ought to do quite well with the birth, and had Einar with his calm and knowledgeable presence there to help her. He was the one that really worried her though, especially after Bud’s description of his recent encounter with the fugitive up in the valley--sounded like he was, if anything, in worse condition than the last time she’d see him, which was a bit frightening for her to imagine--and she just hoped he’d be up to the job. A crunching in the snow outside, a rumbling as Bud urged the old truck up the final stretch of driveway and parked outside the garage, snow coming down so hard now that she could barely see him through it when she cupped her hands against the window. No matter, he’d be in soon enough, and he was, stomping up the steps and leaving snow-crusted boots on the tile just inside the door.

“Got some lunch ready, if you’re hungry! How’s the driveway?”

“Snowy, that’s how it is. Stuff’s really piling up out there, gonna have to go do some avalanche mitigation here in a little while along that one steep open section, if it don’t let up.”

“Does this sort of weather make you miss Arizona?”

“Nah, I like the snow. And besides, my chunk of Arizona’s way up in the mountains, so we see plenty of snow. Got to take you down there sometime, see how you like the place so you can help me decide whether we’re gonna keep it or not. Inclined to do so at the moment just because of the amount of work I put into that house, the good memories it’s got, but we’ll have to make the final decision together, of course. And for the moment, I’m real happy to be about to move into this place here with you. Looking forward to being up on the mountain again, rather than staying down in the valley. Too crowded down there. Fine to go down for work, but not a great place to live, not for a half civilized critter like myself.”

“Well I can certainly understand your wanting to get up out of the valley, but you’ve practically been living here for the past two months, as it is! At mealtimes, anyway. On your days off. You always seem to show up at mealtimes…”

“Well of course I do! The way you cook, I’m surprised a whole lot more folks don’t show up at mealtimes. Surprised you’re not havin’ to stand out there on the porch beating them off with a broom or something, just to keep them out of the kitchen! Speaking of meals…what’s that I’m smelling? Got my first whiff of it from way out there and couldn’t hardly wait to get inside!”

“Just some turkey I’ve got heating. With a few extras…” Which extras, much to Kilgore’s immense satisfaction, included an entire pint jar of pickled yellow banana peppers, Swiss cheese and fresh broccoli sprouts all served on a pair of Susan’s chewy home-baked sourdough cheddar onion buns, a most fitting meal after a morning’s hard work out in the snow and cold.

Halfway through the meal Bud stopped, looking thoughtful as he finished off a mouthful of sandwich and poked at a few stray sprouts that had fallen to his plate, and Susan knew something was coming, but wouldn’t have guessed at its nature. “Say, you ever jump out of a plane, Sue?”

“Jump out of a plane? No, not me. The closest I ever came was when I attended Bill’s graduation from jump school at Benning back in ‘66--we were just sweethearts then, not even engaged yet but he ended up asking me just before he went overseas a few months later--and that’s been a good while ago and did not, of course, even remotely involve any jumping on my part! Why do you ask?”

“Oh, no special reason. Just thinking about this upcoming honeymoon of ours…”

“What about it?”

20 December, 2011

20 December 2011

Einar’s breakfast--once Liz released her grip on him, which she was reluctant to do, knowing he’d be freezing again within minutes as soon as he left the warmth of the hides, but she could feel that he was becoming agitated and was ready to move--consisted of a rich stew of finely chopped elk, bearfat and serviceberries with a number of dried spring beauty roots half crushed and added for starch and thickness, the entire concoction ending up more sweet than savory as Einar stirred in a generous portion of honey and some flakes of dried mint. An odd mix, perhaps, but the smell of it simmering there on the stove certainly got Liz’s attention, got her up out of bed to hover warming herself over the stove, adding wood and pulling Einar in close beside her--he had, as was his usual custom, retreated to crouch cold and alone against the far wall, but somehow she simply couldn’t stand to see him so that morning, especially after the sort of night she knew he must have had, followed by his reasonably hasty journey just then out into the icy teeth of the storm to retrieve elk for their breakfast--as they listened to the incongruous symphony of howling wind, fire-crackling spruce sticks and simmering, bubbling stew.

“Sure smells good, whatever you’ve got going there.”

“It’s a secret recipe.”

“Oh, no! I know about your secret recipes… Is this one going to explode, spontaneously combust, or is it simply made of fermented fox entrails? Is that the secret?”

“Aw now, you know I’m perfectly capable of cooking things on occasion that neither explode nor are made of fermented critter parts, so what’s to say this isn’t one of them? It’ll be good. You’ll like it. I hope…”

“I have no doubt, from the smell of it. Let’s eat!”

Sharing the stew, which Liz did indeed find very much to her liking, they listened as the storm went on outside, wind blasting the cabin with such ferocity that Einar leapt at one point to his feet, facing the door with his spear at the ready, having been certain for a brief moment that someone was out there, beating on the door in an attempt to gain admittance. Didn’t take him long to figure out just what he’d heard and he returned a bit reluctantly to his seat beside Liz, blinking away the dizziness that had done its best to send him sprawling to the floor after his hasty rising. Steady there, you made it through a whole week of trapline runs, without falling on your face--too often…do seem to remember a couple of unfortunate incidents--so don’t let it get to you now, on your day off, with Liz watching, or she’ll just have that much more reason to try and keep you in here. Gonna stay close, with the baby seeming so set on showing up one of these days pretty soon here, but sure don’t intend on staying in the house that entire time, no indeed

Glancing over at Liz in the hopes that she hadn’t noticed his spell of dizziness but seeing from the concern in her eyes that he’d not done so good a job a he might have hoped at concealing it, Einar took the stew pot she was holding out to him

“Don’t think we’ve heard the wind quite like this since we’ve been up here. Really slamming into things. Would be surprised if we don’t see some trees down by the time this thing blows itself out. Give us a good opportunity to gather in some more firewood, possibly.”

“Yes, it’s quite the storm, alright. I remember that my uncle used to look out the window on days like this and say to my aunt--or maybe to no one, or to the room in general; it was sometimes hard to tell, with him--‘now don’t you just wish you were out there dressed in nothing but a wet sheet?’ He’d sometimes look up at the peaks on a real windy day just after a storm, when the snow was being ripped off the peaks in big long streamers, and say the same thing. But regardless of my uncle’s sayings, I’m sure glad we’ve got the cabin to shelter in when the weather takes a turn like this.”

Einar looked thoughtful, tilting his head and staring at the door as if attempting to see through it. “Oh, I don’t know. That bit about the wet sheet does sound fairly interesting. Would be curious just to see how long a person could stand up to that sort of thing… Maybe not real long at all, in these conditions.”

“Don’t you already know? I’d have thought you might have tried that one, at one point or another. And no, I’m not suggesting you go give it a try now, because you remember what I said about bear hides and nettle cordage, and besides that, we don’t have any sheets.”

“Huh. Probably a good thing. Or I’d have to go try it at some point during this storm--hate to waste a perfectly good opportunity like that, you know--and then you’d be after me with that rabbit stick…”

Laughter, and then silence, an easy, comfortable silence during which each focused on their remaining portion of stew, enjoying every last drop and Liz rinsing out the pots, setting one to heat for a bit of tea. A fine morning, indeed, but as Liz went about cleaning up the breakfast things Einar could tell something was beginning to trouble her, figured he ought to try and find out what.

“I’m just thinking,” she spoke up after a bit of prodding on his part, “about our child. The kind of world he’s coming into. I think we forget sometimes, being so isolated up here in our little refuge, what it’s like down there. What a mess things are. It’s something I’ve struggled with all my life, you know, trying to figure out just what my role might be in that world, how I might…make a difference somehow, but it’s just so big and so messed up and there’s not much I can do to impact it. This, though, is something I can do. I can raise our children to be different. And to raise their children the same way, and bit by bit, that’s how the kingdom is built…”


“I hope so.”

“Yes, I think you’re right. My problem is that I want to take it all on, all of it, reach out and get hold of the root of the problem and chop it off where it meets the ground, storm the gates and bring down the walls, and I still think there’s a place for that, a time when that’s the only thing that’ll do, but you’re right, too. I see that you’re right. What you’re doing just now, carrying this child, preparing to bring him into the world and raise him the right way…well, that’s likely to have more impact than all the stuff I’ve given big chunks of my life to doing, isn’t it?”

“I don’t look at it that way. Everybody has a different calling, and different callings at different times of their lives, even. And just think about it--if you hadn’t done the things you’ve done, well, you wouldn’t be who you are and you wouldn’t be here with me right now doing this, either, now would you? Not even a chance of it. But here you are, and now, give your life to this. To doing right by this new little life we’re about to bring into the world. And to the ones that may follow it.”

Silent, nodding, Einar studied her face, his own grim and unreadable as he fought to prevent the tears from coming.

19 December, 2011

19 December 2011

Liz slept soundly that night and so did Einar, exhausted, relieved, in some far corner of his brain, that he didn’t have to be up before first light the next morning and headed out on yet another slog through the deep snow, that knowledge allowing him to sink into a sleep far deeper than had been possible for him over the past days, and he needed it, too, needed it so badly that he didn’t wake even when his muscles finally relaxed out of their cramped, heat-conserving huddle and spilled him to sprawl flat on the floor before the stove, blanket tossed to the side and affording him little warmth.

Hours passed, Einar waking from a hungry, hurting dream to the sensation of being bitterly cold, limbs all stiff and cramped up with shivering as his body tried unsuccessfully to warm itself. At first he simply attempted to huddle for warmth, arms wrapped about his bent legs and forehead pressed to his knees but it wasn’t helping, and though weary enough to be very near sleep again despite his discomfort, he knew it would be supremely unwise to allow himself to slip back into slumber while in his present state. Moving with difficulty he got himself into something like an upright position, feeling along the floor until he found the spot where the rocks of the stove met the ground, granite slabs and chunks still retaining a bit of the heat they’d absorbed from the fire over the evening, and he pressed himself to it, bloodying the heels of his hands with the violence of their trembling against the rough stones. Wasn’t doing much, that little bit of warmth, wasn’t even touching the ice that seemed to have replaced his bones and in searching the floor once more Einar located the rabbitskin blanket with which Liz had draped him, got it up over his head where it could begin to trap the warmth of his escaping breath and hopefully prevent his losing too much more ground, but he knew what he really needed at that point was to be up off the cold floor and in the bed. Didn’t want to wake Liz though, not wishing to disturb her sleep and especially wanting to avoid her seeing him like he was, knowing it would only lead to more worry on her part. More procrastinating, then, a good half hour gone as Einar debated with himself whether he might be better off simply wrapping up in the blanket and passing the remainder of the night right where he was but he knew that there would be little to gain by such an action, as Liz would eventually discover him there when morning came and she woke, and he, inevitably more thoroughly chilled by that time than even he found himself at present and likely wholly unable to explain himself, would then have to face her wrath. If he was still conscious by that point. Cold and drifty as he seemed to be getting, he knew it was far from a sure thing. Best get to bed.

Moving slowly and clamping his jaw lest the rattling of his teeth give him away, Einar crept past the stove and in beneath the bear hides, carefully keeping himself up against the edge of the bed so as to avoid any contact with Liz as he shivered himself warm, a process which would have been all but impossible but for the presence of her warmth trapped beneath the hides; he simply lacked the resources to produce adequate heat for himself just then, or once warmed, to maintain his temperature for long unless near the stove or engaging in a near-constant routine of heavy exercise such as he got stumbling through the deep snow on the trapline. No matter. Seemed Liz had plenty of warmth to share, and he’d simply spend an hour or two in there with her before getting up again to stoke the fire and perhaps prepare some breakfast. Yep, breakfast. Let her sleep a little longer, enjoy a nice slow morning after all these early ones getting up to see me off on the trapline…just let me get my hands working a little better, and I’ll fix her breakfast.

Even with Liz there near him--icy limbs tucked beneath his body and head under the hides--the warming process took most of the early morning and left Einar exhausted, still shivering and drifting near sleep once more by the time daylight began strengthening outside, showing itself only as a thin grey line through the crack above the door, which Liz had worked to narrow but had not, apparently, entirely filled. Fiercely the wind howled through the trees outside, beating against the cabin walls but gaining no admittance, and Einar liked the sound of it, the security brought them by the arrival of the storm, winds too high to allow anything to stalk the skies and subzero temperatures combined with whiteout conditions--he didn’t even have to stick his head outside to know that visibility would be severely limited, that morning--leaving travel by foot a tremendously risky thing, even for the experienced. Which most of their pursuers were not, not at the level needed to safely traverse the high ridges and basins which were their home, and the knowledge gave Einar a certain satisfaction, a feeling of safety which lent itself well to relaxation as he continued to warm.

Had Einar thought that by creeping quietly into the bed his cold hours on the floor might escape Liz’s notice, he was greatly mistaken, skin still like ice when she woke and found him there huddled right on the brink of falling back out of the bed, and she grabbed him, pulled him in fully beneath the hides and worked to get him warm. “What happened? I left you the blanket down there. Would have got you to bed, but you weren’t stirring and looked so comfortable there by the stove…”

“Slept alright down there, really. It’s a fine morning, wind howling up quite a storm and the trees singing, critters all fast asleep in their burrows and dens as the snow piles up, and me staying right here with you in our own little den, about to get up and go make you some breakfast…”

“Well you certainly do make all of that sound very cozy and appealing, but how about you stick around with me here for a just a while first and finish thawing out, so you don’t finish turning into an ice cube the instant you’re out from under the covers!”

“Aw, takes a lot more than that to turn me into an ice cube. Got to spend at least a good hour out in the wind and storm without my clothes to achieve a thing like that, and just as soon as I get done making the breakfast, I just may head out and…”

“Don’t you even think about it! If I so much as see you heading for that door with any such intention--and make no mistake, I can see your intentions a good half the time, despite what you might think--well, I’ll knock you in the head, wrap you up in a bear hide and tie you to the water barrel with all the nettle cordage we’ve got left, where I’ll make certain that one way or another, you drink at least three gallons of hot soup before the day’s over. So don’t even tempt me!”

Coughing and spluttering as he choked on what might have turned into a fit of hysterical laughter had Liz not sounded so dead earnest in her threat, Einar turned to face her, propped on one elbow, body suddenly becoming a coiled spring whose energy and tension she could easily feel, and it frightened her just a bit. “Now what kind of a…is that the thanks I get for offering to make you breakfast? You better not be coming near me with any bear hide and nettle cordage, or I’ll…”

“Whoa, take it easy. You do know I was joking, right?”

Einar lay back down, a mixture of confusion and relief on his face as he allowed Liz to once more tuck the hides in close about him. “Yeah, guess I knew, but some things…”

“There are probably things I shouldn’t joke about, aren’t there? I won’t do that anymore. If I say anything like that again, you can be sure that I’m dead serious, Ok? Because I’d do everything I just mentioned and more, if I thought it was necessary to make sure little Snorri’s father was still alive and kicking when he comes into the world... Nettle cordage and a bear hide, I’m telling you!”

This time Einar really did laugh, head on her shoulder and arms clamped across his ribs in an attempt to minimize their aching--shivering had really got to them that night and they were sore, aching and burning when he breathed--until he couldn’t get his breath anymore and the tears came. “You really are something, you’re…man, you’re more stubborn than I am, and I’m pretty sure that’s saying a lot. Guess I really got to remember not to cross you, especially when you’re in mamma wolverine mode, like this. Could be the last thing I ever do! Now. Will you please let go that death grip you’ve got on my shoulders so I can get the fire going and make you that breakfast?”