30 April, 2011

30 April 2011

No chapter today, but I'll have another one ready late tonight or tomorrow morning, to post before I head out for church and then a day of wandering.

Thanks to all of you for reading!

29 April, 2011

29 April 2011

Together they finished coating and assembling the honey containers, Liz done with her portion of the job first and moving on to warm and press the remaining honey while Einar carved and fitted the aspen wood collars that would sit in the narrow mouths of the baskets and hold the branch slices that would serve as corks. Perhaps not entirely leak-proof in that state, but, Einar told himself--picturing furs, clothing and other gear always sticky with the fine drizzle of honey that would be escaping from those baskets as they traveled, and not at all liking the image--the problem could be remedied by a liberal application of wax, or pitch, or both, around the cork, effectively sealing the baskets for future use. Neither solution would be a terribly long-lasting one during the heat of summer and if traveling out in the open, in the sun, but considering the present season, ought to last them all winter. Not that the honey would likely be around that long, not most of it. He figured they’d find need of a good majority of it during the cold months to come. Still, a good idea to protect their treasure--and their clothing and gear--by sealing up the honey jars.

Sitting in the sun, mind wandering as he worked to carve the basket collars--first drilling a small hole all the way through the center of each wood piece that he had previously rounded and shaved down to fit the opening, then working to enlarge it until it was wide enough to hold a cork of a reasonable width, one that would allow them to stick a spoon or stick or some other implement down into each basket to dig out the honey that would eventually begin to crystallize down there--Einar realized that he was growing a bit sleepy, working far less quickly than he would have liked, hands still significantly swollen and less dexterous than he was used to expecting. Good thing you’re not having to handle anything too shock-sensitive or otherwise delicate today, Einar. You’d be in a real mess. Real big mess. Enough hassle as it is, just trying to get these collars done without inadvertently splitting the wood around the edges with a careless move. Really wish I knew how to get some of this swelling to go down a little faster, the stuff that doesn’t seem to be so directly related to the beestings themselves, but all I can think to do is keep drinking lots of water and hope your body will figure the rest out, kick back into gear and start flushing this stuff out of you. If not…well, guess you’d better be working twice as hard to get this place ready, get Liz ready for the winter, because she may be doing it alone. Can’t live too long out in a situation like this without kidneys, without them functioning at least somewhat the way they’re supposed to, and that’s looking like where this may be headed if some things don’t start resolving themselves pretty quick.

Would be a bit of a lousy way to die, he supposed, body growing heavy with retained fluid, poisoning itself, the stuff building up around the heart, in the lungs, leaving him low on oxygen, increasingly anemic, organs eventually failing as the blood got out of balance and certain minerals reached unsustainably toxic levels. Expected in his case the heart would probably go first, that’d be what did him in, that, or the starvation that still seemed to be lurking just around the corner all the time, waiting to sink its teeth into him for a final shake or two. Wouldn’t take much, realistically. Just a week or so without eating anything at all, which he wouldn’t feel like doing, anyway, as the toxins built up, and his heart would probably give out of its own accord, and the idea didn’t frighten him, none of it did, those thoughts of the end and of the days and weeks that would lead up to it, except that he couldn’t, mustn’t leave Liz like that. Not now. Had duties there still, there with her and the little one--his child, their child--and he would fulfill them.

Wouldn’t run, not this time, not in any sense of the word, and that proclamation took him, fully without intention on his part, right back to that bad place he’d been trying to avoid all day--no time for it, remember? Work to do--and for a brief moment he was crouched once again in the stinking swamp under his little hut, world blurring dizzily around him yet at the same time crisp, concise and more definite than it had ever been, everything crackling and sharp-edged as he glanced over at the partially hidden leaf-mat covered cage where he knew they held Andy--had heard him over there, night after night, though not so much during the recent ones, and he knew that could not be a good sign--and seeing that guard coming, knowing there was nothing at all he could do for the other man, not in time, not before they had him again and making the split-second decision to run, to crouch down lower in the thick, viscous stench of that water and take the guard in the neck with the hastily improvised bamboo splinter knife he’d salvaged from the wrecked corner of his enclosure and get out of there before the rest of them could come and stuff him back into the horrid, hateful cage where he knew they meant to kill him, slowly perhaps, over the course of the next week or two and making their best effort to extract useful information from him all the while, but he was certain they meant to do it, were getting ready to move--he’d heard them talking, low voices in the night--and had no intention of taking prisoners along with them, men who weren’t even supposed to be on the ground, or under it, where the two of them had been when they were captured, not when they’d been there, anyway, men who didn’t and couldn’t officially exist, and the enemy knew it, he knew they knew it because they’d told him, over and over, had used the fact as a weapon against him in the night as he held out hour after hour, saying nothing, determined to say nothing, they’d bludgeoned him with it, trying to break him but not succeeding, not in the way they’d hoped…and he’d done it, had run, had lived, and Andy had not…

He shook his head, scrambled to his feet and--half finished basket collars for the time forgotten, scattering--braced himself against a nearby spruce, rough bark digging into his forehead, shaking, struggling for breath. Whoa, Einar. What are you doing? That has nothing to do with the present situation, nothing at all, and I don’t even know why you’re thinking about it, why you’re bringing it up right now, because this is all about Liz, and why you’ve got to stick around for her and for your child, why you can’t give in to this doggone swelling and such that seem to be doing their level best to take you right now, so give it up, won’t you? Give it a rest. All of it. Get back to work. Which he did, couldn’t entirely get the other thing out of his mind but worked around it, through it, letting the force of it--the cold fury it stirred up in his gut; never failed--move his hands to greater speed and precision as he carved out one basket collar after another, fitting them, cementing them in place with hot pitch, not even feeling as it scalded his fingertips, and all that just because your hands are still a little clumsy from all those beestings. Little swollen. You’re not dying, not running, and there was no reason at all to wade through this again just now, was there? Your imagination surely does get away with you at times, I’ve got to say.

Liz, finished cleaning up after pressing and separating the mildly warmed and softened wax from the remainder of the honey, was amazed at the speed with which Einar had finished the baskets, though she never did figure out how he had managed to wear himself out very so badly doing it…

In any event, it was time for lunch, way past time, as already the sun was beginning to sink low in the sky, and she grabbed Einar as he handed her the group of finished baskets, each suspended by a well attached handle of nettle cordage long enough to loop over one’s shoulder if need be, stopped him before he could hurry off to the next project, which--meaning to mix up the next batch of stove plaster, not wanting to pause for a moment--had clearly been his intent.

“Stop for a while. You’ve got so much done already--just stop long enough to help me with this pot of soup I’ve got simmering. Hildegard and I can’t eat it all ourselves, and I need the pot for carrying water down from the spring this evening. Your mud making has nearly emptied the barrel!”

“Oh, sorry, I’ll go get water just as soon as you’ve eaten the soup.”

“You’ll do nothing of the sort! The little one and I need our walk, and we haven’t had it yet. Besides, didn’t you say you were planning to finish plastering the stove today so we might be able to give it a test run tonight? That sounds more important than getting water. I’ll do it. But that still leaves us with the soup pot to empty.” And he joined her, reluctant, not wanting to lose his momentum, but lacking a good way to refute her arguments.

The thing that came next--the two of them sitting on one side of the cabin sharing Liz’s batch of soup and enjoying some early afternoon sunshine, pots of freshly strained honey awaiting their transfer to the newly finished baskets on the other--had been bound to happen, had, in fact, been long overdue.

28 April, 2011

28 April 2011

Lowering himself off the backside of the cabin--little more of a drop that way, but he didn’t want Liz thinking he was done and insisting he stop for a drink or snack as she sometimes did; he had a job to complete!--Einar hurried around and into the cabin, where he scooped a pot full of water from their nearly half full water barrel. Sure was glad he’d made that thing. It was coming in awfully handy to have a significant amount of water there in the house. Would have been even handier, for the purposes of mixing up the chimney plaster, if the cabin sat nearer a water source, but that had not been an option. Carrying the water out behind the cabin Einar sprinkled and then poured it into a pile of fine soil that he had lumped onto the surface of a large flat granite slab, soil dug from beneath the layer of duff and other forest debris that was so prevalent there in the clearing. He would later add some of the debris back in to help strengthen the plaster, but for the moment just needed to get some sticky good mud going. Which he did, mixing, stirring, smearing some of the stuff on his face to test it out--good, felt very good against the persistent itch and burn of those stings--before going to look for the dried grass that he knew would make the best material for strengthening the mixture. Mustn’t get too much grass mixed in, or the entire thing could become a fire hazard, but as long as all the dried plant material was thoroughly coated with mud, he knew it would only make the mix stronger, more long-lasting. Allow it to harden up like brick, if he did it right, and last for years.

As if there’s any real chance of us being able to stay here for years, in any one place for years, ever…but I’ve got to plan like we will, just in case. To which end he wandered about in the brush at the edges of the clearing, ripping up handsfull of fall-dried grass--fall, Einar, it’s already here, and he shivered--that already stood yellow and bowed, its short time of growing and seed-bearing already finished. Crumbling and tearing until the grass was nothing more than a pile of chaff he mixed it by hand into the ooze of mud there on the rock, adding water as he went to keep its texture moist and sticky. Good enough. This ought to hold real strong once it’s packed in tight and allowed to dry. Now to get it up there without losing half of it, having it splat to the ground…don’t have a basket large enough to haul this up there in, except for the one that’s holding the honey, so guess I’ll just have to--a grunt as he lifted the granite slab with its load of mud, got himself under it and slowly raised, using a one knee and every available irregularity in the cabin logs to help him, shoulders still not functioning as they should have--have to lift it up here and…there, good, got it…whew! Take a break here, Einar, and breathe. Getting awful dark all of a sudden. His sight regained after a minute of careful breathing, Einar hoisted himself up onto the roof and dragged the mud-sled over to the chimney, taking a handful of mortar and smearing it against the rocks where the chimney passed through the opening. Packing cracks between rocks, filling them in, he gradually worked out towards the chopped away logs of the roof, pausing to fit pieces of split aspen log against the sides of the roughly square opening to help fill in the space, jamming them so that they held themselves in place before filling in around them with mortar. Good. The gap was filled, and though he knew he would have to add a bit of mortar here and there as that already in place dried and shrank slightly, he was well on his way to sealing the roof back up against the encroachment of moisture. Would give it a day to dry, fill in any remaining cracks, then bring the roofing materials--strips of aspen bark and such--up until they touched the chimney, better sealing the entire thing off and keeping the mortar dry.

Done, then, on the roof for the time, and again he crept over to the edge and lowered himself to the ground. Out in her sunny little sitting spot beneath the aspens Liz appeared to be finishing up the last basket; almost time to help her coat their interiors with pitch, and then separate the rest of the honey. In the meantime he had some mud-mortar left and, not wanting it to dry out, hauled it inside to begin work on plastering the outside of the stove and chimney. The job was going to require many batches of mud to complete, but for now his main focus was the chimney, itself, as the stove rocks had been very carefully chosen and placed so that he really doubted much, if any smoke would try to escape between them once a draft was established up the chimney. Starting at the top, at ceiling level--seemed like the thing to do, since he knew it was going to be the most challenging portion of the job, for him--Einar worked mud in between the rocks, smoothing, pressing, crouching atop a pile of remaining rocks to keep from having to reach so far above chest level. Stopping, mud all used up, he stepped back and inspected his work. Looked good. Another two loads of mortar and he ought to be finished. Just in time for the arrival of the really cold weather, which--he shivered again, couldn’t seem to stop all of a sudden; really was cold there in the deep shade of the cabin, and he found himself missing the sunny roof just a bit--judging from the state of the aspen leaves and the way things had felt the last couple of mornings, was just around the corner. Speaking of just around the corner, he felt eyes on him, glanced up and discovered Liz standing just outside the door, watching him, a strange look in her eyes. Wiping the partially dried mud from his hands he joined her out there in the sunlight, blinking and shivering and feeling a bit dazed at the sudden brightness.

“Get the baskets done?”

“Yep, got them done. I even finished the pitch coatings on all but one of them, but then I ran out of pitch. You’ve got some more stashed away in here, haven’t you?”

“Good bit of it over there on top of the far beam. Not melted down and cleaned, just raw lumps I’ve been sticking up there whenever I find them, but ought to work for this job.”

“I’ll get some of it melting. I was thinking though, won’t the pitch affect the taste of the honey after a while? Make it taste like a spruce tree, maybe?”

“Would that be a bad thing? Spruce honey? Sounds alright to me… Truth is I really don’t know. Never stored honey this way, before. Never had any to store! I know if you keep any oil in contact with spruce or pine pitch, olive oil, liquefied bearfat, anything like that, it’ll eventually start combining with the pitch, dissolving it and eventually you end up with pine or spruce oil. I’ve made the oil that way deliberately in the past, by putting chunks of pitch in a glass jar of olive oil, and used the results in medicinal preparations, as an antiseptic, but I don’t think the pitch will combine with honey the same way. No grease in honey. Pitch is completely watertight, and I think it’ll be honey-tight, too. If you’re concerned though, guess we could brush on a light coat of melted beeswax on the insides of the baskets before pouring in the honey.”

“That might be a good idea. It tastes so good and fresh now, tastes perfect, and I’d hate to do anything to change that.”

“Well, I mostly just want to stash the stuff in some good secure containers that’ll be real portable if we have to take off out of here at any time, but I guess you really do have a point there. Ok. Beeswax coating it is. How about you get a little wax softening and melting while I melt the rest of this pitch and finish the pitch coating on those you have left, and then you can warm and press the rest of the honey while I make the wood collars and some real wide ‘cork’ tops for the honey jars?”

Which sounded fine to Liz, sounded great, actually, as the day was turning into a rather productive one, except that she really wished Einar would slow down for a time, take a rest and simply breathe for a while. Was still having an awful time with his ribs, she could see--though he was making quite an effort to conceal the fact--and it was no wonder, the way he’d been lifting rocks and climbing around on the roof for the past several hours. Well. Hopefully he would rest with the coming of darkness, but she could see from the animated look in his eyes that there was little chance of any such thing happening in the immediate future; she could practically see the wheels turning in his brain as he planned out the remainder of the day, organized the tasks and set priorities, and Liz was well aware that it had been quite a while since she’d seen him like that. Things were definitely going to get done, and--nodding in acknowledgement of a cool breeze that swept up from the basin, dropping a shower of aspen leaves around them--without a moment to spare.

27 April, 2011

27 April 2011

Einar didn’t argue, was too badly out of breath to have done much talking even if he’d wanted to, handed Liz the axe and rolled to the side so she could get in where he had been, where a person needed to be for hacking away at the logs that remained to block the future chimney opening. Liz got right to work, chipping her way through one of the good solid dry aspen timbers and starting on another as Einar got himself back up into a crouch and plastered his arms to his sides in an attempt to minimize movement of his torso and ease the hurt of his over-used ribs. Wasn’t working too well, leaving his breaths shallow and ragged with pain and he knew that the trouble would be obvious to Liz, should she glance up. He didn’t want that, didn’t want it getting in the way of their work any more than it already had, slowing him down and making her think it necessary to pause in her basket weaving to come and assist him. Fortunately, she appeared thoroughly absorbed in completing that chimney hole, and he lowered himself stiffly to his stomach beside her--that was the worst part, changing position like that; dearly wished he could just keep still for a week or two, but of course that wasn’t an option, and he doubted he’d have been able to manage such a period of inactivity even had circumstances allowed for it; the stillness would kill him, indirectly perhaps, but he’d be dead, all the same, and no use at all to Liz--meaning to help hold a particularly tenacious bark shingling strip out of the way as she worked. Together they got the job done, the last chunk of intruding aspen wood finally falling down into the cabin under Liz’s persistent work with the axe. Einar released the rather springy bark strip he’d been holding out of the way, lowered his forehead to the roof with a sigh and made a great pretense of being entirely absorbed in the details of Liz’s work, inspecting it, just hoping he could get away with remaining still for a while. When he’d worked up the strength to move again he held his breath and rolled over, giving her a nod and a somewhat sickly-looking grin, face the pasty grey-blue of a man who is definitely not getting enough oxygen.

“Looks real good. Can finish the chimney now. Be trying out the stove tonight.”

“Yes, we sure will! This roof certainly is sturdy, you know? I’m realizing now that I’ve had to chop through it. You’ve built us a good solid house here, a good place to spend the winter, and…hey! Are you breathing at all? You’ve got to breathe! You look like you’re about to pass out, and that’s not a good thing to do when you’re lying right on the edge of the roof with a bunch of rocks down below. Here, let me…that’s right, away from the edge, scoot away from the edge. Come on, you can breathe, just take little breaths, shallow little breaths for right now, they won’t hurt your ribs so much and will be better than nothing…”

Which he did, hadn’t quite realized how much trouble he was getting into with all the breath holding, hadn’t realized until the world began going dark around him, and he supposed Liz did have a point about the edge of the roof…better. He could see again. Foolish thing, holding your breath that long. Air is one thing you really can’t do without, no matter how hard you might try. It’s just pain, anyway. You can get through it, one breath at a time. Ribs will heal. In a few weeks… Maybe you just need some more bee stings. Bad as that reaction was, it did seem to help with some of this other stuff. Or at least take your attention off of it for a while. Anyhow, enough of this. You got work to do, remember? And he got somewhat dizzily to his knees, eased himself backwards and slid down off the roof, reaching up to help Liz down. Both safely back on the ground--not that a fall from the low roof of the cabin would have proven any great disaster, but Einar sure didn’t want little Hildegard or Snorri or whoever was in there suffering even such a relatively tame fall, not with the time coming so close, but not yet here--they rested for a minute on the bench out front of the cabin, Liz bringing Einar some leftover tea, which he accepted gratefully.

“Ribs are pretty bad, aren’t they?”

“It’s nothing. Be fine in a few days.”

“Looks like something to me. You can’t get a full breath. I’m going to make you some willow solution here in a few minutes with the bark I pulled from some of these basket wands, and I hope you’ll drink it.”

Einar nodded his assent. Sure, he’d drink it. Wouldn’t have gone out of the way to make it for himself--such concessions to comfort and ease would have seemed rather frivolous, weak; it was only a couple of ribs, after all--but if she was going to insist…well, he had a lot of work to do, and knew he’d be more efficient at it if he could breathe a bit more easily, more deeply. Would be at less risk for another lung infection, too, if he was able to breathe a bit more normally, and he certainly couldn’t afford any such thing at the moment. Absolutely not, no way. Had to avoid that. Liz, it seemed, wasn’t done with her questions. He really wished she’d be done. Wanted to load up a sack of rocks, haul them up on the roof and finish the chimney, the part that would rise up above the timbers, and he was starting to feel pretty agitated, just sitting there. Short of breath, world closing in around him. Needed to move. But she was asking him another question.

“What happened to your ribs anyway? Did Kilgore hit you with something…?”

“He was trying to knock me out. Aiming for the head I guess, but I ducked. Rolled. Hit his mark on the next try. Would have killed him right then and there if I’d had any idea what his intentions were.”

“Why would he want to knock you out?”

“Seems I’m a pretty difficult critter to tie up when I’m wide awake. Guess he wanted to live through it…”

“Through…I suppose I don’t even want to know just what he wanted to live through, do I? Though I can probably guess…”

Einar shrugged. Didn’t know whether she wanted to know, or not--suspected she did, or why would she have brought it up, but he didn’t want to talk about it. Not just then. Too fresh, too recent. Too close an examination might lead to bad places, and he didn’t have time to be going any bad places, because he had that chimney to finish. And winter to prepare for. So he avoided it. Stuck to generalities. Generalities are safe, generally… Safer, anyway. “Was a real rough path, the one he took me down, but…Kilgore’s alright, I guess. Pretty decent fella, when it comes down to it. Glad I didn’t kill him. Ribs’ll heal.”

Liz just shook her head, held out her hands and helped him up so he wouldn’t have to put so much strain on the injured ribs in rising. “Well. I’ll go make you that willow solution. It can simmer as I finish the honey baskets.” She only had three more of the baskets to do before they’d be ready to separate the remainder of the honey from the wax and bottle it up, that, and transfer the stuff they already had in the glass jars, before they could manage to drop and break one of them! She could certainly imagine either of them doing such a thing, clumsy as they had both tended to be of late, and greatly wanted to prevent such a loss.

While Liz returned to the baskets, Einar chose a number of rocks, loaded them onto the deer hide and tied it at the top, wanting to lift the entire bundle up onto the lowest portion of the roof but knowing he’d never be able to accomplish it, in his current state. Well. Were other options, and he took one of them, tying several feet of cordage to the rock bundle, hauling himself up onto the roof and then, with much silent grunting and groaning, easing the bundle up after him. Good. Done. Lowering himself back to his stomach, he began placing rocks one by one atop the already-finished portion of the chimney, bringing it up and through the gap, adding a good two feet of chimney above the level of the roof. Looked sufficient, ought to be sufficient…until the snow came. Then it’d get snowed under in a hurry, and smoke them out in the night. Into the freezing, snow-blasted stormy night. Wouldn’t do, not with a little one in the house, and Einar figured he’d better add some more height to that chimney. No hurry, though. Could leave it just as it was for the moment, add rocks another day. For the moment--he bowed his head, resting, still feeling short on air but not wanting to lie down, difficult as it had become to rise again--it seemed the focus ought to be on adding the plaster to the chimney, both inside and around the place where the chimney came through the roof. First priority needed to be filling in around that opening, both to protect against leaks should a sudden rainstorm blow in, and to keep from setting the place on fire the first time they tried the stove.

26 April, 2011

26 April 2011

Susan had a problem. Her truck was right where she and Bud had concealed it in a little-used pulloff near the river, safe, secure and, according to Kilgore’s thorough inspection, entirely unmolested in their absence but--having parted ways rather awkwardly with Bud; seemed there was something he wanted to say to her, but he couldn’t quite get it out--when she made her way up the driveway it was to be met at the top by her son, daughter in law and all of the grandchildren, and they appeared rather too glad to see her. Seemed her extra two days of absence had not slipped by unnoticed as she had hoped they might, and they had begun to worry. Compounding the trouble was the fact that she had brought nothing back with her from the herb and garden show that she was supposed to have been attending for the past week, a deviation from past years when she had returned with the truck laden with flats and pots of new varieties of flowers and culinary and medicinal herbs to try in the greenhouses--last year it had been scented geraniums cinnamon, chocolate and apricot, orange balsam thyme, date palms and olives for indoor cultivation---and the absence was immediately noted by several disappointed grandsons. Seemed she might have a bit of explaining to do.

· · · ·
Working steadily on the chimney Einar made good progress, stacking stone after stone as it rose up towards the spot where he intended to make an opening in the roof for it to pass outside. Had considered at first curving it and cutting into the wall to avoid creating potential problems with leaks, but in studying the logistics that would have been required by such a move, had decided against it. Leaks could be found and patched; best to keep things simple. Bud Kilgore had judged well in the quantity of extra stones he’d collected and brought into the cabin, for Einar found himself close to running out just as he neared the top. Time to climb up there and cut the hole, wished he had a saw to preclude the necessity of hacking away at the roof with the axe, but supposed he ought to be able to manage the task without causing too much damage to the structure of the cabin. The rock chimney would actually help support the weight of the roof, or so it seemed to him, help add some strength against the coming load of the snow that was sure to pile up quite deep at times, despite the shelter afforded them by the cabin’s positioning up against the cliffs and beneath a significant cluster of spruces and firs. There would be times, he expected, when they might need to get up there and shovel at least part of the load off…until the house became entirely buried and there was no place left to put the snow. At which point he’d be out there as often as necessary digging them a tunnel from the door up to the surface just so they could get in and out, and all his worries about whether or not he had sufficiently insulated the cabin would be rendered quite moot. They would then find themselves spending the remainder of the winter in what amounted to a wood-framed snow cave, a rather large and sophisticated version of the more traditional brush-reinforced quinzee huts that had been commonly used for winter shelter in more northerly locations, dark, quiet and warm, not at all a bad deal. The place would then be every bit as comfortable as the bear cave where he and Liz had spent a portion of their first winter together, a good, secure den for their little one’s first few months of life, Liz hibernating with the new arrival like a mother bear with her just-born cub. Sounded like a good start, much better start than wandering around in the snow as he--and then they--had done over the past two winters, and he was determined to make it work. If he could. If circumstances did not force them to leave the place, lest they risk capture.

Don’t go down that road, Einar. Don’t even start down it. You know the two of you should have been out of here as soon as you realized that the place had been compromised, soon as Kilgore and Susan left. Got no business sticking around, and wouldn’t have if you’d been alone, no way on earth. Already had this discussion though. With yourself, and with Liz. Don’t open it back up for debate, not now. And he forced himself to move on, to put the matter aside and return to work on the chimney opening. Was having enough trouble wielding the axe with any accuracy or force as it was, needed to put all of his focus into the work. Hands were doing better, slightly less swollen and more able to respond to his commands, but between his ribs and shoulders--their troubles largely ignored since the incident with the bees, out of necessity--it was all he could do to get in a useful chop or two at the rafter logs of the cabin. Kept at it though, knowing he would eventually make his way through, and well aware that the chimney could not be completed until he did. Really wanted to finish the stove project before dark that day so his time would be freed up for other things, processing the sheep hide, getting another trap line established and scouting for the chokecherries that would soon be ready for harvest. Awful lot to do, and--he watched an aspen leaf drift down, yellow, more to follow--time was awfully short. He attacked the roof with a fresh fury, ignoring the pain in his shoulders, holding his breath against the terrible catch and pull that reminded him with every expansion of his chest of the injury to his ribs, hacking away at the logs that remained in the way of his intended completion of the chimney.

Liz, sitting cross-legged in a patch of dancing, fall-angled sun beneath the aspens as she worked on the second of the tightly-woven baskets destined to hold their supply of honey, glanced up in alarm when she heard the sound of breaking wood up on top of the cabin. Not a sound one wants to hear, especially when the house happens to be backed up to a cliff from which rocks could potentially tumble, though she had never yet known one to do so, and she was on her feet, unable to see Einar as he crouched on the angled portion of roof opposite her. Didn’t take her long to figure out what was going on once she saw him, but--Einar too absorbed in his work to realize he was being watched--the fixed grimace of pain and determination on his face did little to reassure her. Looked like he couldn’t breathe, or wasn’t breathing, and she hurried to him, got his attention by tossing a stick up onto the roof. He didn’t care much for being interrupted, let the axe fall to roof and took in a big breath--unintentionally way too deep, hurt his ribs--his first in way too long, turning on Liz with a bit of a snarl.

“What is it?”

“What is what? I just came to ask if you needed any help. What’re you doing, the chimney?”

He nodded, too winded for more words, got the axe back into his hands. Didn’t need help, just needed a couple of new ribs. Very much needed, precluding the rib transplant, not to have an audience as he fought to manage the task at hand, needed to be left alone with his struggle, but it didn’t take him long to realize that Liz had no intention of remaining a spectator, as already she was scrambling up onto the opposite slope, climbing the protruding logs at the side of the cabin and hauling herself--and little Snorri, who seemed more than ever in her way that day--up onto the roof and putting a hand on the axe.

“My turn.”

25 April, 2011

25 April 2011

When he had done all he could to separate the majority of the wax from the honey in the three pots of comb he had placed near the fire for softening, Liz helping and both of them ending up rather sticky, Einar realized they had a slight problem. Their first batch of honey was well on its way to being processed, ready for storage, but they had nothing to store it in. Had discussed making pitch-lined vessels much like their water carriers so the honey would be not only secure but highly portable as well, but of course they hadn’t done it yet, had only processed roughly half of the honey, and needed a place to put the finished stuff so they could move on to the next batch. Liz saw him looking about rather perplexedly, realized the trouble.

“I know we don’t want to store it in the glass jars long-term, since they’re so breakable, but how about just temporarily, until we can get the carriers made…”

“Sure. Got to put it somewhere!” Soon, having filled two quart jars and with two of their three cooking pots--they had three now, Susan having left hers with them--remaining full of the stuff and somewhere near half of the unprocessed, honey-filled combs remaining in the bag-lined basket, it became clear that they were set to end up with nearly two gallons of honey, when all was said and done. Immeasurably valuable, considering the sort of winter they were sure to be facing up there, and Einar, contemplating the matter as he stretched his legs in an attempt to relieve the fierce ache that seemed to accompany their continued swelling, could not help but think that despite its rather disastrous turn, his honey-gathering expedition was proving to have been very much worth the trouble. Just as long as he made it through the present difficulties with no permanent damage, and though he was starting to feel a good bit better--was back to the point, finally, where the injuries from his session with Kilgore were starting to make themselves known again, ribs, shoulders; he hadn’t even thought about them over the past day or so, and not because they hurt any less--he supposed it really was too early yet to tell. Either way, definitely need to rig up a better smoke device for the next time. Sure can’t have this happen again. Liz’d probably…ha! She’d probably kill me if it did, if the bees didn’t, and that wouldn’t be real productive, heading into winter like this. Need both of us around.

Needed to get back to work on the honey, too, and he shook himself free of his half-daze, quickly swiped up the small puddle of honey that had dripped from the extended fingers of one of his hands and onto the aspen bark below, and worked to scrape the remainder of the stuff back into its pot, the jar he’d been working on filled nearly to overflowing. They needed those pitch-lined “honey canteens,” needed them before they’d be able to use the cookpots again for other purposes or to process the remaining honeycomb chunks, and Einar figured he’d better busy himself with gathering the willows Liz would need to weave the things. Was getting sleepy sitting there, having an awfully difficult time keeping his eyes open and he didn’t like it, hurried to his feet and dashed perhaps a bit too quickly out of the clearing, for Liz followed him, thinking he’d seen something, perhaps heard an aircraft, even. When instead of concealing himself in the brush he simply attacked the nearest clump of alpine willow, cutting wand after wand and laying them neatly on the ground for future bundling she was somewhat puzzled, wondering what could have suddenly elevated the need to collect willows to emergency status. Supposed he must be in a hurry to protect all that honey, and she couldn’t blame him, joined him in harvesting willows. Focusing on the narrower diameter willows that tended to be more flexible, she amassed quite a number of them, but began having trouble, knife badly needing sharpening after all the jerky slicing she’d done morning, and Einar, noticing her difficulty as he worked--having his own difficulties, hands clumsy and awkward as they were still full of water--to bundle the piles of already-cut wands for the return walk, held out to her his own knife. Reluctantly, she took a step back. “You sure I won’t get in trouble for using this?”


“Yes. This morning after your little nap…”

“Aw, you weren’t in any trouble. It’s just that when I woke not knowing right where I was, saw somebody standing over me with a knife and couldn’t find my own…well, that was real disturbing, to put it lightly. You’re welcome to borrow my knife whenever you need it, but how about next time if I happen to be asleep, you just wake me first to let me know what’s going on, Ok?”

“Of course. I’m sorry. I’d hoped to return it to you before you woke, but…”

He shook his head, grinning, handed her the knife. “Not your fault I sleep like a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs…as my grandmother used to say. Though actually I never did really understand the saying, because that cat would learn real quick to curl up, and would then be in no greater danger than a critter with a shorter tail, but you get the idea. Here. Take it. We’ll sharpen yours back up at the cabin. You want to make these baskets, or should I?”

“I’ll do it. Looks like your hand aren’t quite back to normal, and I might be able to do a faster job of the weaving. Besides, weren’t you wanting to finish up that chimney that Mr. Kilgore started? So we’ll have the stove to use as these nights get colder and colder…”

“Yep, that I was. He hauled in all pretty much all the rock we’ll need, it looks like, so I just got to stack it, make everything fit together good and tight and then probably give it a good coating of mud plaster, mud and spruce needles--ha! Kinda like what I had smeared all over me yesterday, by the time I’d managed to pass out on the ground a time or two and end up all encrusted with a few pounds of forest floor--because it’s hard to seal off all the cracks just by the accurate stacking of rocks, when you’re talking about something like that chimney. Hard for me to do it, anyway. Maybe a master stone mason could do a neater job of it, but I’ll get us something functional going, and you can have your fires, your good warm stove to keep the place toasty when little Snorri comes along.”

“Well I don’t know about ‘toasty.’ You probably couldn’t stand to be in the place for more than seconds at a time if we made it toasty, and Snorri and I would more than likely wake up one morning to find you frozen solid out in the woodshed where you’d sprawled out for the night to get away from the toastiness, but being able to keep the place somewhere above freezing at least part of the time when it’s thirty, forty below outside sure would be a good start.”

A more difficult task, Einar knew, than Liz might be imaging, but determined to make it happen, he hurried inside as soon as they reached the clearing to begin making progress on the chimney. The stove, coupled with a good quantity of wood stashed in the woodshed and leaned up lengthwise under nearby evergreens where it would be kept relatively dry and accessible well into the winter, would give them their best chance of being able to keep the place reasonably warm when needed. More insulation wouldn’t hurt, either. I’ve got this place pretty well chinked, not too many breezes blowing through, except for that big opening above the door...will hate to lose that thing, ‘cause it’s what lets me see the sky at night, but guess I’d better see about plugging it up, because a lot of heat is bound to escape through it…and that debris wall I put together around part of the perimeter seems to have been a big help, too, but I need to finish it, maybe see about letting it come up higher on the wall.

24 April, 2011

He is Risen!

I hope everyone is having a blessed and joyful day as we celebrate our Lord's rising to new life, and the completion of our salvation!

"Dying, he destroyed our death, rising, he restored our life!"

Truly a glorious thing.

24 April 2011

Einar did have ideas for separating the wax from the honey, having been contemplating the matter of processing the honey for a good while that morning. “Yep. Only thing that really seems practical for us out here is to put the combs piece by piece into the cooking pots, as much as will fit each time, mash them to get the honey out, heat it just slightly so it’s more fluid and then run it through some sort of filter--piece of cloth or something--to get the waxy bits out. Then we melt down the wax in a little water just to keep if from getting too hot during the process, leave it to cool in the pots until it shrinks, take it out and we’ve got it to use for the future.”

“That ought to work, but…I wonder if we might lose too much honey in the filtering? Maybe we ought to just allow for some waxy bits in our honey. I don’t think they’d hurt anything.”

“No, nothing but the texture, and we don’t really care about that, now do we? Don’t mind having to chew a little, now and then…sure. You’re probably right about losing a good bit, and we’d have an awfully sticky sock or whatever it was to clean out too, after the filtering was done.”

“Oh! I hope you weren’t really thinking about using one of our socks for the filter! What a nasty idea!”

“Well, I would have washed it first…”

“Doesn’t matter! These socks need a good boiling, or perhaps burning would be more effective. Have you smelled them lately?”

“Can’t say I’ve much noticed, but we do have the new ones from Kilgore and Susan, if you’d find them more acceptable…except that I think we’ve agreed not to filter it at all.”

“Yes, let’s try it that way first, and if it’s too clogged with wax bits, we can always go back and use one of the new socks for a filter. Then just add the sock to a pot of simmering tea when we’re all done, to make sure we don’t waste any of the honey.”

At which Einar gave her a strange sideways glance, trying to gauge whether or not she was entirely serious but not quite able to tell, so he did not risk commenting. Had been about to say that even had they used a not new sock, he would have insisted on simmering the honey free for their consumption rather than--the horror!--simply washing it away in the spring, but he wisely kept his mouth shut, ducked into the cabin for the cooking pots. Choosing several large slabs of aspen bark from a pile beneath a spruce where they stored such things he laid them out in the clearing, clean white smooth side up. With a quartz flake he carefully scored each of them in two places, length-wise, taking, when he was confident that he’d got the score deep enough, a granite chunk and giving each several hard raps. The tree-trunk shaped arches of the bark slabs then collapsed, leaving nearly a square yard of the clearing covered with a solid, nearly flat white sheet of bark. A necessary precaution, Einar had decided, should they end up spilling or dripping any significant amount of honey during the processing. Would be an awful lot easier to retrieve the spilled goo from the bark slabs than it would have been from the needle-covered ground, though goodness knew he’d have found a way to do the latter, had it been required of him. Which it certainly would have been, had eh ended up spilling any honey on the ground. Much as it had cost him--and valuable as it was as a food source for the winter; concentrated sugar of that sort could prove absolutely invaluable in bringing a person back from serious hypothermia, or simply giving an energy burst at a critical time--the thought of wasting any of the precious stuff was practically nauseating to him.

Or maybe that was just the lingering result of all those stings acting up again. Difficult to be sure. Despite the swelling in his face having gone down significantly, he was still struggling with a systemic difficulty of some sort, legs painful, swollen and supporting him only with difficulty and his hands at times proving very nearly too puffy and ineffective to be of much use to him at all. Figured his kidneys were still working too hard to try and eliminate the waste products released into his blood in the aftermath of all those stings--hoped they weren’t still being released, because that would mean he was losing muscle, having it break down, and he really couldn’t afford to lose any more, just then--and kept reminding himself to drink frequently as he worked. Wouldn’t have had to remind himself, as Liz was doing the same, having taken it upon herself to make certain that he had a pot of tea always ready and sitting handily beside him. Until, that was, he went and appropriated all of the pots for the honey project, gulping down the remaining tea before carefully scooping portions of honeycomb into each of the pots. Using a clean stick to carefully mash the honeycomb in one of the pots, he broke it up--wasn’t difficult, the thin-walled wax cells being rather fragile vessels, if ingenious and amazing ones--stirring quickly and releasing the honey and ending up with a thick, sticky slurry of wax and honey which did not terribly greatly resemble the honey one finds in jars at the store. Was wonderful stuff nonetheless, its color the rich, dark red-brown that resulted from the numerous wildflower species that had fed the bees, and Einar was quite certain he had never tasted better. Still, the wax bits posed something of a problem. They didn’t appear to be either floating or settling, and he was not at all sure how they were to separate them out for future use, without going through the straining process that they had both tentatively agreed ought to be avoided.

“Would have been better if we’d been able to press the combs somehow, wouldn’t it?” Liz mused, scooping up a big finger full of honey and eating it, wax and all. “That way most of the wax would have been left behind.”

Einar nodded, but he had an idea, took the second pot and set it near the fire, just close enough to begin slightly warming the honey but not, he hoped, close enough to see any serious melting of the wax. Watching it carefully for a full minute--watched pot never boils, so they say, and I sure don’t want this to boil!--he finally decided that the pot had been near the warmth long enough, snatched it away and deposited it back onto his smooth aspen bark work surface. Reaching a hand cautiously into the pot--stirring stick abandoned; it did too much harm to the integrity of the little wax cells, left the honey full of bits of wax that would have to be strained to be removed--he gently took a lump of comb and squeezed it, working it in his hand as he liberated the honey and slowly, trying hard not to end up with a handful of over-crushed wax particles, worked the entire thing into a ball of slightly softened, nearly cohesive wax, free of much of its honey. Success, or something like it, and he moved on to the next pot.

23 April, 2011

23 April 2011

Just about the time Einar and Liz were draping the last few strips of thinly sliced future sheep jerky over the drying racks, Bud and Susan were making their way down the last few hundred yards of steep, heavily timbered hillside that lay between them and the spot where Bud had left his rented pickup just over a week prior. Motioning to Susan to wait for him in the trees, Kilgore went to investigate.

Bud’s truck appeared at first glance--made while lying on his belly in the chokecherry scrub overlooking the place where he had parked it--to be exactly as he had left it, but he knew better than to mistake appearance for fact. Never a good idea. Could get a man killed out there, or worse. Susan was watching him, waiting for his “ok” to head down to the vehicle but he motioned for her to wait, to keep down, and she did. Kilgore’s demeanor that morning--quiet, intense and serious as she had seen him--commanded respect and demanded that she heed him carefully, reminded her of the way she’d seen Bill, her husband, a few times. He’d always had good reason for it, and she expected Kilgore did, as well, so she waited. Cautiously Bud circled the little smear of dirt where the truck was parked, little more than a slight clearing in the aspens, the spot where finally the trees had closed in and prevented further wheeled travel, looking for anything that might have changed during their week-long absence, scouring for the slightest sign that spot might have seen the passing of anything human. There wouldn’t be tracks. They knew better than to leave tracks, but he didn’t need tracks to get the message. Sometimes the absence of sign where there ought to have been some could speak loudest of all. In the little clearing, Kilgore noted no such absence.

The place was rich with the sharp-toed impressions of wandering deer feet, little piles of spruce cone debris where a squirrel had sat busily stuffing itself for the winter, the scuffling, snuffling marks of a bear who had been busily turning over granite slabs in search of grubs to further his weight gain for the winter, and Kilgore took all of these things as signs of safety, parts of a whole which assured him, much as a man of his background can ever be assured of such a thing, that it was not pure madness to show himself in that clearing. Permission to proceed, and he did, Susan remaining right where she was, having seen no signal that he intended her yet to join him. Which indeed he did not, approaching the truck carefully and giving it a thorough visual inspection before going any further. The vehicle had not been tampered with; he was sure of that now, waved to Susan and relieved himself of his pack. His employers had, it seemed, accepted his story, thought his stated need to spend a week alone scouting for sign in the high country a legitimate thing and not meriting further investigation. Fools. Unless, of course, they’d simply tasked a Predator drone to follow and record his every move… Doubted it. Surely they wouldn’t have waited so long to make their move against Asmundson, had that been the case. Yet one could not be sure, and the knowledge bothered him. Bud Kilgore liked to be sure.

· · · ·

Racks of sheep jerky drying, Einar turned his attention to the basket of honeycombs that Liz had stowed away safely in the cabin. While he supposed the stuff ought to store just fine as it was, as the bees had left it for the winter, he wanted to separate it from the wax in order to make that rather valuable resource available to them, as well. Already he had plans for portions of it, wanted to wax boots and waterproof baskets, create, even, a pair of poncho-like garments of buckskin that might be made water-resistant in key places with wax to help shed the rain that would be coming that fall and again in the spring, and reduce the misery of having to travel for extended distances under such conditions. This protection would be especially important, he expected, with the coming of the baby. While he and Liz could sustain themselves through a certain amount of cold and wet--a rather significant amount, in his case; he knew how to do it--the same certainly could not be expected of a little one, and if they were forced to pick up and move on with little notice sometime during the rainy months, those ponchos could well mean the difference between life and death for their child. Pretty urgent business. With these projects in mind, and perhaps the making of a few candles as well, Einar wanted to separate the honey from its combs, melt down the wax and get it clean so it would be merely waxy--and not unmanageably sticky--when the time came to use it. Not so good to have sweet-sticky snowboots and ponchos and such, even if they are waterproof! Stuff sticking to them wherever you went, ants swarming you… Though that might be a good way to bait bears, I guess. Put on your sticky honey-wax poncho, go out and sit on a rock with your spear, wait for the critter to show up and…instant meat! For either you, or the bear…anyone’s guess as to who’d come out on top, in that little game. Nope, best to clean the wax, separate the honey so we can wear one and eat the other, keep things separate in the way that makes most sense.

Liz met him in the cabin when he went after the basket of honey, tried to get him to sit and eat before continuing with his work, and he would have refused--so much to do--had the stew she was offering not smelled so very good. Onions again, seemed she was always putting wild onions in the stew these days, and when she did that, he found himself having an awfully hard time passing up on the stuff. Eating, he studied the honeycombs there in the basket. Nearly all of the cells on those he had harvested were closed, capped with their precise little lids of wax--amazing creatures, bees, with their ability to produce uniform geometric shapes, one after another, and the pattern fascinated him--and ready to serve the insects as food for the winter. While some of the cells had inevitably been broken and their honey released in his rather haphazard harvesting of the combs, the majority appeared to have remained intact. Einar had no experience in processing honey, but he knew they must somehow separate it from the wax. Liz, finished with her stew, was watching him, appeared that she was waiting for him to speak.

“Figure you can make us a couple more of those good tightly woven pitch-coated willow baskets like we’re using for water carriers? Seems they ought to work real well for honey holders, especially if I make them aspen wood collars for the mouths like I did our water bottles, only make them a lot wider this time so it’ll be easier to get the honey in and out. Stuff will crystallize eventually, I guess, so we’ll need to be able to dig it out with a stick…”

“That’s the only problem I see with storing it in the pitch-coated baskets. Crystallized honey can be liquefied again by gentle heating, and if we heat a pitch-coated basket…”

“Oops! A wonderful sticky combination of liquefied honey and oozing pitch, right? Oozing right out through the willow weavings of the basket as it got more and more fluid. Sounds like something I’d eat, alright, but not what we’re really after. Afraid I don’t really have a better idea though for storing the honey. The glass jars would be the most obvious solution because they’re easy to heat, but this stuff’s just too valuable to risk losing like that, if we were to break one of the jars.”

“I know it is. How are your legs doing? Face looks a lot better…”

“Oh, it sure is! Good to be able to see again. Legs will come around. I’ve just got to keep drinking a lot today, whole lot, and hopefully it’ll flush the rest of this stuff out of my system, let my kidneys catch up, and…hey! Weren’t we talking about honey? How’d we get on this subject? Were talking about ways to store and carry this honey, and unless you have a better idea, I think we’d probably better go ahead with the pitch coated baskets. Won’t be able to heat them directly, but it shouldn’t be too difficult to dig the crystallized honey out in clumps this winter if we have to. Not a problem.”

Liz nodded, could not, at the moment, think of a better solution. “You looked like you had a plan when you came in here a few minutes ago. Do you have ideas for separating the honey and wax?”

22 April, 2011

22 April 2011

No chapter today, but I should have them ready for the rest of the days this weekend.

I hope you all are having a blessed Good Friday, remembering the time when Christ, on the cross, willingly gave his life for us who had done nothing to earn such a gift, and gave us the true meaning and definition of love, too:

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
John 15:13

21 April, 2011

21 April 2011

Finished with the skinning Einar rested before carrying on with his work, didn’t want to do it but was left with little choice, stretching out right there on the ground beneath the ewe--he’d got it raised again before passing out, smeared with fresh yarrow to deter flies--and sleeping. Liz covered him with the deer hide, carefully propped his feet on a log to help with the swelling, and let him be. He’d be awake again soon enough no doubt, and back at work; best let him get the rest while he could. While he was out she cut some meat from one of the sheep’s quarters, got a fire going in the outdoor firepit and set it to boiling, hungry again and expecting Einar would be the same, when he woke. Then, taking advantage of the fire, she gathered a good pot full of aspen leaves, focusing on the still-green ones with the thought--wasn’t sure of its validity or lack thereof--that they might be more effective than those that had already begun yellowing, richer in the salicylate that would hopefully help ease the discomfort of Einar’s stings. He had earlier refused her offer to make him the wash but that had been, she suspected, due more to his eagerness to get started on the sheep without any delay than to an opposition to using the treatment. He had, after all, been the one to bring it up, and she couldn’t think of anything better, wanted to do something for him. Especially since fresh layers of mud were going to be a bit harder to come by, now that they had left the spring.

Topping the pot off with water she set it to begin simmering. Einar still was not awake, was beginning to look cold there in the shade of the trees and she added the ewe hide to his covering, moving very slowly so as not to startle him awake, but having the feeling--not a particularly comforting one, considering his usual disposition--that she really needn’t have worried. He seemed quite thoroughly unaware of his surroundings. No wonder. She knew he couldn’t have got much sleep that past night, if any. The ewe hide lay folded--flesh side in--where Einar had carefully laid it in the shade of a spruce and she took it, retreated to the leaning aspen whose smooth white trunk they had previously used for the purpose and began the scraping process. Working quickly, rhythmically, she removed the bits of meat and fat left behind by Einar’s half blind skinning process--he’d done remarkably well, actually, considering the state of his vision and somewhat swollen hands--scraping away at the layers of membrane until she was satisfied with the hide’s readiness for the next step in the tanning process. Still no movement from Einar, except that he was now shivering, unable, it seemed to keep warm there in the deep shade of the spruces and she wanted to move him nearer to the fire, or take it to him, but knew either action would risk waking him, and she was pretty sure he needed sleep more than anything. He’d be alright. The day was sunny, warming. Already the rest seemed to be helping him, the stillness. His legs were appearing less swollen, feet more their normal size. Good.

Leaving Einar to his sleep, Liz went back to the hide and rolled it up, wanting to keep it damp so she could move forward with the tanning process, assuming the creature’s brain was still in usable condition when she got into the cavity to check. If not, and with Einar’s approval, she would resort to using bear fat and ashes--a sort of primitive soap--for the tanning. She’d never tried it, but expected he had. Simmering meat was ready then, and she ate, setting the pot with the remaining food on a rock near Einar when she was finished, hoping the smell might wake him, give him the idea that he ought to partake of the meal. In the meantime, waiting for him to wake, that sheep was calling to Liz, all but demanding she come and start making it into jerky--already she had got out the racks they’d used for previous projects, hauled them out from their spruce-canopy hiding place and arranged them in the sunny clearing--and while she resisted the call for a while, not wanting to work directly over Einar like that and risk waking him, she at last could wait no longer. Working carefully so as not to disturb him--couldn’t believe he was still asleep, hoped he was alright but he certainly appeared to be, aside from the shivering--she began taking slices from the sheep, would have found the job a good bit easier had she been able to lower the animal to the ground but that wasn’t an option just then. Not without setting it directly atop Einar, which simply would not do.

Einar woke a time later--quite a time; Liz had already filled three of the jerky racks by then--to the sight of someone standing over him with a knife, and things might have gone very badly had he been any less cold and stiff, able to move more swiftly. And had Liz not decided, partway through her jerky-slicing job, that Einar’s knife was the better tool for the task, and borrowed it. Didn’t see how he ought to mind, as she wouldn’t at any time be taking it more than three feet from where he slept, hoped she might be able to finish her work and return it before he woke, anyway. By the time Einar realized--feeling carefully around, quietly, for he saw that the man’s back was to him, and he had a chance--that his knife was missing, began gathering himself for the spring that would have knocked his captor to the ground…Liz had turned to him, realized that he was awake and not quite himself, and she took a few steps back.

“Einar, hey! Look how much I’ve got done on the sheep.”

He knew the voice, knew her, rolled to the side and sat up, rubbing the half-dream images from his once-more open eyes--the swelling had gone down greatly while he slept--and feeling about confusedly for his knife, wishing very much to know its location, to have it in his hand for a while as he got things sorted out. Liz sat down beside him and, her words just then registering with him, he squinted up at the hanging sheep.

“You got…really got a lot done. Should have woke me. Didn’t mean to let you do all the…all…hey, you seen my knife? I can’t seem to…”

She handed him the knife, wiping it on her jeans and smiling apologetically. Einar, still not quite awake, glared at her for a moment, tried to refrain from growling too loudly when he spoke. “You took my knife What…”

“I’m sorry. I used mine for a while, but after two racks of jerky…yours just works better for slicing it, and…” She could tell from the look in his eyes, half-open as they were, that she had underestimated the seriousness of taking his knife, in moving it from his side without his consent, realized that she might not have realized the significance of her actions. Einar did not stay disgruntled for long, had little time to think of such things, as he was quickly immersed in his own struggle to get himself up and moving again, to catch up on the work he’d lost through his unplanned two hour nap. While he wouldn’t have liked to admit it, the quietness had done Einar a great deal of good, given the swelling a bit of time to go down and made movement easier when he tried. Legs were still a problem, face somewhat puffy, but it seemed he might finally be past the trouble with losing his sight, a very good thing indeed. Liz certainly had been busy. Making his way over to the drying racks he looked over the row after row of jerky she had sliced and hung to dry, pounds of meat now safe from flies, too thin to be attractive as egg-laying material and quickly developing the leathery shell that would further deter tampering by insects. A job well done, and there was little sense in slicing more of the meat until either some of that first batch had dried, or they built more racks. Guess I’d better get busy on some more racks. Go cut willows, lash them together…first better flesh out the hide, though. Before it can start to dry. Liz, though, had already done it, as he discovered in searching for the hide--Liz, herself, had retreated to the cabin for the moment, realizing that it would be wise to give him some space for a bit as he woke up and got his bearings once again--leaving Einar feeling rather as though he’d slept through a significant portion of his life, and shaking his head to help clear it, he set off to cut more willows.

Two more willow drying racks Einar built there in the clearing, teepees of three sticks each secured at the top with nettle cordage lashings and two levels of horizontal sticks lashed between them to provide places from which to hang the drying jerky, and as he built, Liz worked to slice more jerky. Before long seven racks of sliced meat strips stood in the small sunny space out front of the cabin, smoke from the firepit drifting gently across them as they dried. Food for the winter. Great bounty. And so much still to do…

20 April, 2011

20 April 2011

Frost had come overnight, a light one, barely visible as the thinnest of white rimes on the bent and browning stalks of the alpine grasses that graced the little clearing beside the spring, so faint that Einar, eyes half open, wouldn’t have even been aware of its presence but for a slightly different smell to the place that morning, and for its soft crunching under his still-bare feet. Liz did not even need to see the frost to know it had come. She could feel it in her bones, in the sharp chill of the air as she lay there watching the little breath-clouds rise and disperse into the growing brightness of the morning, and she hurried to Einar, draped the deer hide over him where, finished with his ablutions, he sat huddled on a rock by the spring, apparently waiting to dry. Or freeze, or both. Perhaps he was waiting for the water to freeze on him so he could stand and stretch and have it crack like a shell and fall off, thus saving the time and effort of having to dry himself… Sometimes she really had to wonder about that man.

Einar--whose intention truly had not been to sit on that rock long enough for the water to begin freezing on him; he’d simply been trying to gather the strength to move again, to get himself back over to the fire--squinted up at her, glad to see her again, had missed the sight of her, and she truly was a lovely sight that morning with the frost-yellowed canopy of the aspens rising all around her, halo of loose hair softly framing her face where it had come free in the night from the braid she had taken to wearing of late, absolutely lovely…though Liz, feeling cramped with cold, short on sleep and rather short-tempered in general, that morning, might have disagreed. Fortunately, it was not Einar’s habit to mention such things aloud. Despite the general grumpiness with which she had started the morning, Liz was so glad to see Einar on his feet, able to see and by all appearances doing a good bit better--despite apparently spending the night making a good faith effort to freeze himself to death, or perhaps, knowing him, because of it--that she found it difficult to remain cross for long, and she took his hands, led him back to the fire and made sure he sat down near the warmth of its flames, which she realized then for the first time he must have spend a good portion of the night feeding and keeping alive for her.

“Got a little chilly overnight, didn’t it?” (She had been thinking to complain of being cold, as truly she was, but refrained, knowing that Einar had to be feeling it a good bit more keenly than herself, having just left a reasonably warm and insulating bed and benefiting as she was from the extra warmth and blood flow of carrying the baby.)

Einar moved a bit closer to the fire. Its heat was still aggravating to the stung flesh of his hands and face, but he needed it, needed to get warm, had let things go a bit far, there towards morning, but had not even realized it until washing off in the icy water of the creek just then. “Yep. First frost. Aspens’ll really start turning, now. And the chokecherries…give ‘em a couple more weeks, couple more frosts, and they should be starting to get sweet, ready for harvest...”

Had more to say to her, wanted to apologize for the trouble, for keeping her away from the cabin and leaving her to make the trip back down there for supplies by herself, but first he needed to catch his breath. Took a while. During which time, seeing that he needed some space, Liz busied herself with the breakfast preparations, re-heating the remainder of the past night’s stew and adding some fresh violet leaves that she harvested from a damp area just below the spring. Einar seemed to have found his appetite that morning, restrained himself with some difficulty from gulping down the entire contents of the stew pot when Liz handed it to him, managed it, starting with a small sip before quickly passing it back. The prospect of having that entire sheep back at camp to deal with suddenly seemed very exciting to him, a great blessing, and though he knew they’d better eat sparingly of the fresh meat, slice most of it for jerky, he could hardly wait to get down there and start on the job. Breakfast was completed with a silent intensity that morning by the hungry pair, pot passed back and forth until it was quite empty, and though Einar still felt a hint of nausea now and then as he consumed the more solid bits, he managed to get enough so that his body breathed a great sigh of relief at the end, badly needed nourishment beginning to have its effect. Eyes drifting closed, he scrambled to his feet. Time to get moving here before you fall asleep, can sleep later, and he began gathering up pots and baskets and preparing things for the walk, his newfound energy rather surprising Liz.

Can you walk? She wanted to ask him. That far, I mean… And what about your kidneys? Surely a problem like that wouldn’t resolve itself overnight, would it? Your legs still look pretty swollen, and I wonder if it’s a good idea to be… Kept silent though, knowing that Einar would likely be aggravated at being thus questioned up when he was clearly--despite his quick and purposeful movements--using all the strength he could scrape together just to keep on his feet and string a few words now and then. Besides, though believing rest would be the best thing for him that morning, she really did not want to say anything that might convince him to delay their descent to the cabin. They needed to be there for the safety and security of their food supply, needed that bear hide to keep warm through the increasingly chilly nights, and--perhaps the strongest reason of all for her wishing to be back at the cabin--if it should happen that Einar was not yet done with his bee-sickness, if things should happen to get worse…better that they were sheltered and safe at home to face it. Would have been difficult to hold Einar back even if she’d wanted to, as he was already struggling into his clothes--still not even remotely comfortable having anything in contact with his skin, but he was awfully cold, having a hard time keeping warm enough to stay mobile in the stiff morning breeze; would have put his boots on, too, only his feet and lower legs were too swollen to allow for it--and preparing to load himself down for the descent.

Liz hurried over to the honey basket and slung it over her own shoulder before he could finish dressing and claim it, an action he noticed, but did not protest. Was going to have a pretty interesting time just getting himself down there, he could already tell. Wouldn’t do to risk falling with the honey basket and losing some of its contents. Better that he should carry the pots, pans and water containers, which he did, securing as well as he could against the almost-inevitable fall. Liz was circling the camp, making sure they hadn’t forgotten anything, and he used the opportunity to do a bit more testing of his legs, quickly striding from the spring up to the trees and back again. Workable. Weak and terribly sore, heavy-swollen and not particularly agile, but they’d carry him. Would have to carry him. He had work to do down at the cabin, sheep to skin, honey to press out of the combs and wax to clean, hide to scrape and the chimney for their stove to finish. Wanted to have the thing ready to use as soon as possible, now that frost had put in an appearance. The stove would provide them with a good way to heat the cabin when they wished to, without filling the place with smoke as the open-firepit-placed-beneath-a-smoke-hole concept occasionally did. Figuring he’d better get a head start, he took off down the trail, greatly relieved at once more being able to see it, to make his way without concern of becoming temporarily lost.

Walking hurt. There was no way around it, so Einar just gritted his teeth and kept moving, motioned for Liz to go around him when he realized how slowly he was going to be traveling, insisted that she go around so that he wouldn’t unnecessarily delay her, but of course she had no intention of going on too far ahead of him, sticking close until together they walked into the cabin clearing. Home. Hanging from its tree, the ewe remained undisturbed, a great relief to them both.

Something about the walk seemed to have aggravated the swelling in Einar’s face, hands, and Liz urged him to rest for a while, lie down and let her make a wash for him from boiled aspen leaves as he had mentioned to her the day before, but he wouldn’t hear of it, not until he’d skinned that sheep. The job needed to be done, and he didn’t want to wait, concerned that he might again lose for a time the ability to get his eyes open. Liz could have done it, of course, was quite competent at the task, but after all she’d done for him over the past day, Einar figured it was his turn to do some of the work. Got it done, not the quickest or neatest job he’d ever done of peeling a critter, but he managed to avoided nicking the hide too badly--so Liz told him after a brief inspection, anyway; couldn’t much see it, himself, by the time he was finished--which, in addition to preparing the sheep for jerky making, had been his main goal. Just to get another good usable hide off the critter. Had to make some serious progress on their winter clothing needs, and that additional hide would be a good start. Now just got to think about another bear to add to it, couple of deer for moccasins, bunch of rabbits and martens for warm fur to line our parkas and mittens and everything…

19 April, 2011

19 April 2011

Bringing the fire back to life and setting some soup to simmer, nettle and fresh sheep, Liz began searching out a tree from which to hang the honey harvest for the night, knowing that the scent would prove highly tempting to any autumn-hungry bear that might be wandering through anywhere within miles of the camp, found one and, after scooping a generous amount of honey into one of the cookpots for sweetening tea, raised the basket high up out of the reach of bears for the night. Einar, though still unable to see, had worked his way carefully closer to the fire in her absence, stirring and tending the soup, whose texture by that time reminded him more of a thick stew, keeping it from sticking and for the most part even avoiding burning his fingers while doing it. Figured he’d better make himself useful in whatever way he could, and it turned out to be a good thing, too, for Liz’s basket raising took a bit longer than she had anticipated, and their supper might well have stuck and begun burning without Einar’s attention. By the time she got back, it was ready to eat. Ready enough, anyway, Liz’s chunks of sheep meat nicely browned on the outside and the dried nettle flakes re-hydrated to create a wonderful thick slurry, and only then did she realize just how hungry the events of the day had left her. Einar ought to have been hungry too, but if he was he couldn’t feel it, the smell of the stuff leaving him nauseated once more, and he would have been quite content to allow Liz to enjoy the entire contents of the stew pot, but she wouldn’t have it, knew he needed the salts and minerals from the cooked meat and poured him several cups of the broth in the other cookpot, mixing it with the honey water she had already stirred up and insisting he drink. He thanked her, knew she was right, wondered how he had managed to forget about the need for electrolytes, which had been foremost in his mind sometime earlier, before he’d gone to sleep, and before the walk. The rich, salty broth tasted good--Liz had added a partial cake of dried bear’s blood to his portion--and even seemed to settle his stomach some, left him a good bit more sure of his words when he again spoke.

“How’s that ewe doing? Flies leaving it alone?”

“There were a few buzzing around, but they dispersed pretty quickly when I rubbed on some fresh yarrow. She’s way up in the tree now, should be safe overnight. There were what looked like some coyote tracks under the meat, but I didn’t see any sign of bears. I’m a little surprised.”

“Me too. Especially considering that most often where there’s one, there are more, and we know for sure there was at least the one pair up here. Other one may have headed down where there are oaks and such. We’re a little high for bears up here, really. But I wouldn’t be surprised if we see another before the snow flies. Would like to take another, actually. Den hunt maybe, if I can find where one has denned up. More fat, meat, another of those great hides. Hides are always best just after they den up, fat most plentiful, too. Sure would like to see you and the little one able to curl up between two of those hides for those first couple long cold months this winter…”

“Well, yes, but I’d really like to see you in there with us! So I don’t know about the den hunt. That sounds pretty dangerous, though--yes--I know you’ve done it before… We’ll have to see.”

“Ha! Yes, see… Seeing would certainly be a good start, wouldn’t it? Pretty sure I’ll be able to see again in the morning, and then I’ll get started with the rest of this. Skin out the ewe, all of that. Lot to do. And we’ll have chokecherries to start thinking about here in a week or so, too.”

“Yes. Looks like it’s going to be a good year for them, judging by the way they bloomed and the quantity of little green berries that were on there earlier. You take your time though, wait for this swelling to go down before you give yourself too much to do, Ok? This honey is certainly worth a day or two of work, worth more than that, actually, so if you have to spend a day or two resting after harvesting it, I don’t see that as a loss. How are you doing, anyway? Besides the stings, themselves, because I can guess how they feel…”


“I know, but you’d say that if you were on your last breath, and knew it, wouldn’t you?”

“Of course. Hope I’m not that bad off, though. Got a little problem with my legs still, things just don’t want to work right, want to accumulate fluid in a pretty disturbing way, but it’ll be alright in the morning, I expect. All be fine in the morning.”

“It’s disturbing because you think your kidneys may be involved?”

He looked at her slantwise, or would have, had he been able to get his eyes open. Whatever gave you that idea? Didn’t want to mention it until I was sure, and I’m not sure, may still just be some weird reaction to the stings… “Yeah. It’s a possibility. Would explain some things. I’d have checked, if I could see…though there’s not too much we could really do about it, anyway.”

“Check? How do you…”

“I’ve been drinking a lot of water, tea, broth, lots of fluids today. Probably a good gallon, gallon and a half, in all. Urine ought to be pretty nearly clear, after all that. If it isn’t clear, and especially if it’s dark, anything approaching brown…well, I’ve got a problem. Would mean the bee toxin was a little more than my body could easily handle, has caused some muscle to break down--that’s what bee toxin does, you know--and my kidneys are having a hard time keeping up with the job of filtering all the little bits of broken down tissue out of my blood. Had this happen once before, when I…well, it can be brought on by crush injuries that destroy muscle tissue and release it into bloodstream, as well as by getting too much bee toxin in your system, and I dealt with a lot of this after I escaped that time, long time ago…made that week in jungle a good bit more difficult than it might have otherwise been. But I lived, then, and I’ll do it again now. If that’s even what’s going on. Would explain a lot. Explain the leg troubles.”

“Well, you’d better let me check.”

He scooted away from her, shook his head. “Nah, I don’t think so. There’s no real reason to…”

“Oh, don’t get all modest on me now. Of course there’s a reason to know. We should know. I’ll step away while you…”

Einar nodded. Supposed the information might prove somewhat useful, waited until he heard Liz’s footsteps recede into the distance, and produced a sample. Which, Liz inspecting it, left little doubt. “Looks like weak coffee. That can’t be good.”

“Yeah. Figured. About the only thing for me to do is to keep on drinking, hope to flush all that stuff out before it can do too much damage. Been doing that all along since this morning, so it may work. Ought to work. Baking soda--bicarbonate--might also help, since it would reduce the acidity of my blood and make things easier on my kidneys, but that doesn’t grow on trees, out here…”

Which made Liz wonder if there might be a plant or two out there that might have a similar, acidity-lowering effect, but she could not think of one, and was reasonably certain that Einar, had he known one, would have mentioned it. They’d just have to do the best they could with what was available to them, which at the moment was looking like honey water and sheep broth. She hoped it would be enough. At least Einar was lucid, present and not only cooperating but taking the lead in making sure he did what he could to help minimize the damage, which--she shook her head at the memories--had certainly not always been the case. It was almost dark, and Liz left the fire to collect more firewood. The nights had been increasingly cool of late, a hint of frost in the air at times, and if she couldn’t convince Einar to cover up more thoroughly than he currently was--certainly a rather uncomfortable proposal, considering all those stings--a good sustainable fire would be more than a simple luxury that night. Especially if Einar insisted on applying another layer of mud, which, returning to camp with an armload of wood, it appeared he intended to do. Had already crawled over to the spring, and was preparing it.

“Won’t you freeze tonight if you do that now? It’s just minutes from dark.”

“No. I’ll be fine. Stings are really acting up again. One more time with the mud seems like a real good idea. It’ll dry before the night gets too far along.” Unable to dissuade Einar and thinking that it would have been rather unkind of her to try, Liz helped him apply the mud, leading him back over to the deer hide in front of the fire when the job was finished, mixing up another pot of honey-sweetened broth and making her own preparations for the night.

Night stretched on long and cold for Einar as he froze in the damp air there beside the spring, mostly-dry coating of mud and his reluctance to spend more than minutes at a time close to Liz’s fire--its heat, though badly needed by the rest of him, set the sting-irritated patches on fire--behind which she had built a rather effective reflector of parts of three fallen aspens, leaving him to spend most of his time shivering in the nearby tree-shadows, trying hard not to wake her and thinking somewhat longingly of the soft bed of spruce needles where she lay sleeping in the pocket of still, warm air between the fire and reflector. Needing something to help him pass the time and keep his mind off the various discomforts of the night, Einar made it his mission to tend the fire, feeling carefully around on a regular basis and feeding the coals whenever they began sinking towards sleep, those brief times hovering near the flames serving as brief reprieves from the chill of the night, his only opportunity to warm just a bit. Liz, best as he could tell, was sleeping, and he was glad. Had been a long day for her.

Morning, and Einar could see. Still dimly, eyes mere slits, but at least he could get both of them open, and he got to his feet, was pleased to find himself somewhat steadier than he had been the day before, though not so much as he would have liked. Legs still remained swollen and seriously lacking in strength, hurt, though in contrast to some occasions during the night the pain was bearable, and at least he could stand. Liz woke to find him seated by the spring, washing all the mud from his face, arms and shoulders and looking a good bit more human than he had the evening before. Feeling it, too. He was ready for some breakfast.

18 April, 2011

18 April 2011

Loosing his grip on the wolverine claws about his neck, Einar managed to stay awake just long enough to feel around for the woodpile Liz had left, get his still rather swollen hands to close around a length of aspen and--carefully, didn’t need burns, atop everything else--get it into the fire, which Liz had wanted him to keep going. With that, and after a concentrated but only partially effective attempt to force at least one eye open despite the swelling--took both his socks, removed them, poured some of Liz’s cooled tea over them and pressed them to his eyes, draping them up and over his head to keep them in place--he was out again, very quickly beginning to lose consciousness when he attempted to stand. Low blood volume, he thought through the haze that was quickly descending over him, darker than the sightless darkness in which he had been existing since Liz’s mud plaster blocked the last of the light that had been making its way through his eyelids, and that means I’d better be drinking more, as much as I can, just as long as it’s…be best if it’s got some electrolytes in it, and… Too late, darkness complete, world silent as he sprawled back against the crossed aspen trunks of the reflector, lying there for a long time as afternoon slipped on towards evening, sunlight softly shifting as it fell in shining slivers through the trees, sinking, silent, spruce-swallowed as it met the high horizon of the far ridge.

Einar woke with the changing light to the realization that he was cold, terribly, tremblingly cold, and he could see. Barely, but when he brushed aside the socks with which he had adorned his head before his latest involuntary nap--still wet, no wonder he was so cold--he was very much pleased to discover that he could get his left eye open just far enough to obtain through it a dim and indistinct picture of the world around him. Which was when he found that the fire was out. Not good. Liz was counting on him to keep it going, and if he couldn’t even manage such a simple task, well… Wanted his clothes, squinted around in search and found them folded neatly on the aspen trunk just above Liz’s little woodpile. After much effort he got the shirt draped loosely over him, which seemed the most he could do, probably the most he wanted to do, too, badly as contact with the cloth seemed to aggravate the bee-stung portions of his anatomy; just have to go on being cold for the moment. It’s better than being on fire, and at least the fire seems to have subsided some. Yeah. Subsided so much that it’s down to coals, if that. The real fire, that is. Looks like I’d better be…right, move slowly, don’t want to pass out again…better be working to bring that thing back to life, before Liz comes back thinking about cooking her supper and can’t do it because you been sleeping instead of tending it.

He might have been content to go on resting and tending the fire after that but then, working diligently to break up sticks for kindling, for indeed the fire was down to coals, the coals very nearly gone black--kindling breaking, he found, worked best if he gripped the stick to be broken between his teeth, pinning its far end to the ground with one hand and using the other, far more club-like than hand-like in its swollen state, as a blunt instrument to slam its middle and break it shorter, a little hard on the teeth, but effective--the thought occurred to him that since he could see again, just a bit, there really was no reason he ought not head down and meet Liz at the cabin, save her the walk back up to the spring and let her know that they could go ahead and plan on staying the night at the cabin, that night. No reason, that was, aside from the honey. He couldn’t leave it there, certainly not, might have some success at raising it, basket and all, up into a tree for protection, but no sooner had he made an attempt to crane his neck back and get a look up into the trees than he discounted the idea. Couldn’t seem to hold his head up in that position for more than a fraction of a second, for one thing--neck muscles just wouldn’t do it--and for another, his limited vision precluded his discerning an appropriate hanging-branch, let alone having much hope of throwing a length of cordage up and over it. Would just have to take the honey with him. Which meant either carrying the basket in his hands--not a good idea, as he needed at least one hand free to grip the spear whose support he could tell would still be necessary to keep his legs from folding beneath him--or somehow slinging it over his shoulder with cordage strap. No problem, he had enough cordage, more than enough, and, fumbling with his pants until he found it, he began the slow and laborious work of creating a carrying strap for the honey basket.

Paused halfway through the job, head hanging, needing a rest. Didn’t feel so good. Aside from the burn and itch of the stings, which he could have done a pretty good job of ignoring, had they been the only trouble, Einar was dealing with what seemed to be a growing congestion in his lungs, nausea that welled up whenever he tried to move and a pain and swelling in his legs that he really did not understand, given that the greatest concentration of stings, by far, was on his upper half. No matter. It would subside, all of it, the further he got from the initial event. Had to hope so, anyway, and in the meantime he had finished rigging the basket strap, was ready to get the thing up on his back and start down for the cabin. Squinting about camp he checked for items he might be forgetting, found the mostly empty tea pot and finished drinking its contents, stowing it safely in the basket with the honey and draping folded up clothing over his shoulder to help cushion the weight of the basket strap. Figured he’d be grateful of all the padding he could get, seeing as there were quite a few stings in that area… Very nearly cried out as the weight of the basket settled on his shoulder, clamped his mouth shut to prevent it and hauled himself to his feet, balancing there for a good minute as he fought back the nausea and vertigo, fought to remain standing, and won. Triumph! That basket felt awfully heavy on his back, threatened to send him sprawling if he did not move with a measured care, but the cabin was at last within reach.

He made it nearly a quarter of the way down to the cabin before Liz, hurrying as well as her burden would allow back up to camp, found him with one arm hooked around the slender frame of an aspen for balance, feeling all around with his bare feet in an attempt to find his way back onto the trail. Sight having left him once more as the untimely activity slightly increased the swelling in his face, he was having a rather difficult time keeping to the path, didn’t want to wander off into the woods and thus alarm Liz when she returned and found him missing, knew he ought to be able to follow that trail by feel alone, normally would have had no trouble doing so, especially barefooted, but the ground was a mystery to him that afternoon, indiscernible. Liz hurried to him, tried to relieve him of the honey basket, whose carrying strap had left a raw stripe across one shoulder and down his back where the folded-clothing pad had somewhere along the way slid to the side, and when he insisted on keeping the basket, eased him to the ground.

“You were coming down there after me…?”

He nodded, mouth very nearly too dry to speak, and Liz gave him a drink from her water carrier. “I could see. Woke up and could see out of one eye, so figured I’d save you the trip back up here, come on down and skin out that ewe, but…”

“Your eye swelled shut again? Here, come on, let me help you back up. We’re not far below the camp, and I’ve got everything we need here to make a good pot of stew for tonight. ”

“Afraid I let your fire go out.”

“It doesn’t matter. Let’s go.” No more mention of her taking the basket, and Einar was glad. It was his to carry. Camp, again, Einar--following Liz by the soft sounds of her footsteps in the spruce duff of the trail--could tell they were getting close when he smelled a faint hint of smoke, began hearing through the sighing of the evening breeze in the evergreens the gurgle and drip of moving water, living, moving water, and then they had reached it, Liz spreading the deer hide for him to sit on and Einar, reluctant, wishing he’d been able to do more in her absence, get more done, keep the fire going, at least, sank down gratefully, allowed her to ease the honey basket from his shoulder. It was to be a long night, but they had everything they ought to need right there within reach and were, despite the situation, each, when they contemplated that heavy basket of honey and wax, reasonably content with a day’s work well done.

17 April, 2011

17 April 2011

When Einar learned that Liz intended to make a trip back down to the cabin that afternoon he of course wanted to go, spent a good deal of time and energy attempting to demonstrate to her that not only could he make the walk--if only he could get to his feet--and was perfectly capable of skinning out that ewe, even without the benefit of eyesight. Liz did not doubt the second part, as Einar had over the months demonstrated to her that there was little he could do in the daytime that he could not more than satisfactorily replicate after dark and without the assistance of supplemental light--a good skill to have, and one she was herself working on--the first part, the bit about his making the walk...well, she could not see that happening anytime in the very near future, hoped he’d realize as much before she took off, and willingly remain behind. Hated to leave him at all, as much trouble as he was having and still being unable to see--she remembered what it was like, the uncertainty and disorientation of suddenly losing one’s vision, even if the loss was temporary as it had been with her snow blindness, as it would be for Einar, his sight surely returning soon--but his breathing did not seem to be getting any worse, and between the fire and his consumption, at her urging, of several pots of sweetened tea, he was beginning to warm some from his time in the water. No better time to go. She took his spear, which had been set aside during his soak in the spring, placed it in his hand.

“Come with me. That’s right, just a few feet, scoot back a few feet and you’ll feel a couple of aspen logs I’ve dragged in and crossed for reflectors. You can lean back on them if you need to, and as long as you stay here with your back against of the logs, you can be sure of where the fire is because it’s exactly one spear-length from the aspens. See?”

Einar nodded, fighting to catch his breath from the exertion of hauling himself those few feet. “Got it. But why…where are you going?”

“I wasn’t done, quite. There’s wood here…” she took his hand, placed it on a stack of sticks and broken branches she had arranged just over to his left, “plenty of wood to keep the fire going while I’m gone, if you could do that. It’ll save the effort of re-starting it later, when I get back with sheep meat to stew.”

Einar was on his knees, struggling to go further. “Fire…we could cover the fire with a rock slab, plenty of them over by the spring, and we’d have coals to start over with when we got back. Though I can’t say I see any real reason to come back. Had all the mud I need for now I guess, so we might as well wrap things up here and move on back down to the cabin. I’m coming with you. Got to…intend to deal with that ewe before the day’s over. Though I wouldn’t have to--ha!--guess it really doesn’t matter whether I get it done before dark or not, since I can’t see anyway…can work all night, if I have to!”

Meant it, fully intended to act on the plan, all-night sheep-skinning session and all, but he couldn’t get to his feet, legs simply would not respond, would not support him, and his lack of ability to overcome it--this thing that had hold of him--scared Einar just a bit; he’d never quite experienced the like. Wasn’t giving up, though. Legs didn’t work, refused to work, so he’d crawl. Had crawled before. Knew how to do it. Easier might be to enlist Liz’s assistance, get an arm around her shoulders, rest a good bit of his weight on her and hope to be able to make up the difference with the spear, make his way, but he couldn’t ask that of her, not now with the child already demanding so much of her, adding its own weight and bulk to her own, a burden she could not put down. Not for another few months. Three months. He would crawl. Liz stood off to the side watching him, silent, offering no assistance, as he had asked for none, letting him be, letting him figure it out. Took longer than she might have hoped, but not as long as she’d expected, as after some ten yards of crawling--you are one incredibly stubborn, mule-headed man, Mr. Asmundson, and I do love you for it, but would really prefer you didn’t kill yourself here just to prove that you can--he collapsed on his face in the spruce needles, out of breath and barely able to raise his head when Liz knelt beside him, offering water. Trail to the cabin was looking like an awfully long one, and when Liz offered to help him back up to the fire he nodded, allowed it, reclining, when they reached once more the makeshift camp, in the notch created by the crossed aspen trunks, and it was a good five minutes before he could manage speech once more.

“Guess I’m…staying here for the night, since it is an option. You need to head on down there, check on things and then…I ought to be with you, can hit a critter with a dart or thrown knife pretty reliably even if I can’t see him, so I’d be some help, at least… But yeah, you need to head on down there, settle in, cook up some stew for you and the little one, go ahead and spend the night down there so the place’ll have that fresh human scent about it, won’t be unoccupied. Critters can get bold in a might big hurry if they notice a lack of human activity around a place, and I’d hate to have the cabin bothered, the sheep eaten up…”

“I’ll go down there and check on everything, make sure the sheep is still up there good and high in the tree where it’s safe from critters, but as for tonight, I am not staying down there without you. Nope, I want to be with the guy who can hit a critter in the dark without even seeing it. That’s where little Hildegard and I want to be--wherever he is!” Which Einar knew was simply her way of saying no way am I leaving you alone for the night when you can’t see and are half paralyzed from bee sting toxin and mostly frozen from being in the water so long, no way at all, and he appreciated her not coming right out and saying it that way, for he would have certainly had to object, in that case… Before leaving, Liz prepared another pot of tea, mint and a generous scoop of honey from the portion that had oozed out into the black plastic-lined willow basket that held the honeycombs, making sure that it was easily within his reach and securing from him a promise that he would continue drinking it as often as he thought to do so. She didn’t like the way his hands, lower arms and legs seemed to appear even more swollen than they had for the first hour or so after his being stung, even though the swelling in his face and neck appeared slightly reduced. Something going on, and though it was beyond her understanding--not entirely beyond his; Einar was becoming increasingly convinced that his kidneys were been adversely affected by the breakdown of muscle tissue from the rather significant injection bee venom, but had not yet mentioned his suspicions to Liz--she hoped that his continued consumption of significant amounts of water might help him maintain adequate hydration, start reversing the trend she’d been seeing towards an increasingly slow and weak pulse, almost as though he was on the verge of going into shock. Enough, Liz, she told herself. He’s holding his own, and you need to get going before you change your mind, because while there is a risk that things may deteriorate in a dangerous way while you’re away, you know beyond any doubt that he’s going to be in big trouble if he spends the night up here unclothed and plastered with damp mud, sitting in the wind with nothing to cover him. You’ve got to get those hides. Got to. And some meat for him to eat, meat to make broth for tonight. The broth with a little honey added should be even better for him than plain honey water. Go!

Einar, near as she could tell, was close to sleep when she finally took her leave, exhausted from his experimental crawl, though he did manage to rouse himself sufficiently to wave in her direction as she set out, mumbling something about the sheep, how she needed to watch for wolverines down there, because they’d make quick work of that sheep if it ended up hung too close to the ground…with which he was out again, fighting a wolverine in his dreams, grappling with the creature as it tore at his face, hands, and when he woke again, he found himself gripping the string of wolverine claws around his neck--face had been too swollen to get it off, and he hadn’t wanted Liz to cut it--so hard that his hand was bleeding.

Hurrying down the trail Liz soon reached the cabin, finding to her relief that the sheep remained right where they had left it--she’d had her doubts--unmolested aside from the presence of a few flies who were beginning to congregate around the open body cavity. Hastily collecting a good amount of yarrow Liz crushed and rolled its leaves between her hands as she had seen Einar do, rubbing it in and around the areas of the sheep in which the flies seemed inclined to show an interest, and when she had finished, and finished retrieving a pound or two of the meat for their supper, she raised the animal as high up into the tree as she could manage. Into the cabin then, a hasty glance around to make sure things were adequately secured for the night, which they were, provided a bear didn’t show up determined to force his way in, and at the thought of a bear, of Einar alone up there with a bear, her movements quickened even further as she gathered up a bit of jerky for their next morning’s breakfast, dried nettles to add to the stew, and a little packet of mullein leaves that she figured might prove useful in reducing inflammation in the throat and drying his lungs should Einar continue to have trouble with his breathing. Good. That was good, was enough, and rolling up the deer and ewe hides--still wanted to take the thick warm bear fur, but still knew it was too heavy to carry all that distance along with her other burdens, especially considering that she was already feeling some extra cramping after all the rushing around that afternoon--she left the cabin, securing the door behind her and starting back for the spring, and for Einar, very nearly forgetting the hides in her haste. Stopped, took one last glance about the place and threw the hides over her shoulder. They certainly were to be needed that night.