12 April, 2011

12 April 2011

Breakfast eaten, Einar worked to construct his bee-smoker, Liz watching with interest as he laid out one of the curved lengths of somewhat fire-resistant aspen outer bark, spreading on it first a layer of damp moss and then one of dry, rolling up a handful of dark brown, stringy inner bark to separate the fibers just a bit before adding it to the mix. Onto this he placed several small coals, scooping them from the fire with the other piece of outer bark and covering them quickly with more of the finely-shredded bark. Continuing with layers of dry moss and then damp he completed his sandwich, wrapping a bit of cordage around the entire thing to hold it together. Picking up the bundle, he blew gently into the moss-filled channel left by the clamshells of outer bark. Smoke. Not a lot of it, but the amount was increasing and continued to do so as he gave it air, until before long thick grey smoke was all but billowing form the little packet, smoke, but no flame. Einar set it down then, triumphant but out of breath, indicating to Liz that she ought to give it a try.

More smoke, it came as easily for her as it had for him, and she could not help but think that the device might prove every bit as useful for shooing away the clouds of mosquitoes that sometimes tormented them in the afternoons, settling on arms and necks so thickly that a well timed swat or brush of the hand could result in dozens dead. The yarrow that Einar always rubbed on his skin and tucked up under his hat so that it hung down over his ears and into his eyes like the mane of some ancient, mossy green creature of the forest worked fairly well, but sometimes in the evenings it was not quite enough to do the job. The smoke, perhaps, might make up the difference. She would try it that evening. In the meantime, Einar was clearly quite pleased with his invention, blowing smoke every which way as he tested to make sure the bundle wasn’t overly inclined to burst into flame with continuous use, which it appeared not to be; a good thing, for who really wants to be caught way up in the branches of a honey tree, bag of stolen honeycomb in one hand and three thousand angry bees wanting a piece of you, only to have your smoke bundle burst into flame in your hand, requiring you to drop it? Not me, doesn’t sound like much fun to me, but the image it brought to mind--losing his balance as all those bees swarmed at him, falling, toppling from the tree like some oversized, wingless bird and landing atop the flaming smoke-bundle, thirty pounds of honeycomb splattering down atop him an instant later, sticky wax bursting into flame, flaring up just in time to prevent his being stung to death by all those angry bees…saved, only to perish in the flames of the wax-and-honey inferno…would have preferred the bees, really, if he’d had a choice, but seldom does one have a choice in such matters--struck him as so hilarious that he very nearly laughed out loud, didn’t, quite, shaking instead with silent laughter until the tears came.

Liz, watching, worried for him, wondering if he had perhaps inhaled too much of the smoke and ended up short on oxygen, took the bundle from his hand and set it aside, grabbing his shoulders and looking him in the eyes. She realized, then, that he was laughing, had no idea what about but soon joined him--goofy, goofy guy--laughing until the tears came for her, too, until both of them were quite thoroughly worn out, exhausted, silent. Einar’s ribs hurt, and he was having a hard time catching his breath. Wiped his face, got dizzily to his feet and helped Liz up, leading her to the cabin and pointing out to her a large willow basket that she had recently finished. Into the basket--see? Here’s a way we can carry the honey--he placed the large plastic garbage bag that had been among the items left them by Bud and Susan, folding it in half. Basket will bear the weight, and the bag ought to catch any honey that leaks out when we have to disturb the comb in retrieving and moving it. What do you think? Do you like it? Liz understood, liked it quite well, liked especially the fact that Einar was by all appearances ready to get serious about fetching the honey, but still wished he would speak to her about all of it. Just a few words, just to let her know he was alright. Had not permanently lost the ability--or the will--to speak. No such luck, and after a few moments she gave up waiting, and Einar, seeing that she had no more to say, rose, took the basket and beckoned for her to follow. Looked like they might very well be heading for that bee tree without further delay, which was certainly Einar’s typical way, once he got something firmly set in his mind. Not much liking the idea of Einar climbing some twenty feet up into the tree and contending with a nest of bees in his current condition, she hoped he might let her do that part of the job. Not that she was at the moment terribly graceful, herself, the growing child throwing her somewhat off balance and physically preventing her from climbing the way she normally would have. Well. Between the two of them, they would find a way to manage it, would end up--hopefully--with a good supply of honey for the winter.

Stopping by the fire, Einar prepared a fresh coal bundle, the original one having died for lack of motion and therefore airflow, set it aside and turned his attention to the ewe where it hung seasoning in the tree, somewhat concerned about the appearance of several flies who had shown up to buzz around it with the warming of the morning. Wouldn’t do at all to have maggots infesting the meat before they had a chance to start slicing it up for jerky, and he began casting about the clearing for yarrow, finding some, showing it to Liz and continuing with his work when she got the idea and started hunting for it, too. Amassing a good-sized little pile of the delicate, finely-fronded leaves between the two of them they began crushing the highly aromatic greens and rubbing them in the body cavity of the sheep, covering each and every surface that was exposed and might prove attempting target for flies. Finished, they left the remains of the leaves inside to partially stuff the creature, hoping to further deter the advances of hungry insects.

Einar had used the yarrow-rubbing method before more than once, the first time--he remembered it well--being his first autumn on the run when, closely pursued, badly injured, nearly unable to move and facing starvation, he had come across the trail of a bear wounded and left by hunters, had tracked it, crawling, up to its lair in the old mine where he had found it recently dead, skinned it out and lived on the meat--what wasn’t stolen from him within the first few days by wildcats--for a good while. Unable to use smoke to help keep the flies off and preserve the meat he had used the only thing close at hand, which had been yarrow. Had rubbed it all over that bear carcass several times each day just trying to keep the flies off until the weather cooled down just a bit more and he no longer had to worry about them, and had been largely successful. He had ever since associated the smell and especially the taste of yarrow with those dark and tenuous days holed up in the abandoned mine, shuddered a bit at the thought of their future sheep jerky tasting that way, but shook his head and put it out of his mind. Yarrow was a way to protect the meat, nothing more. Any further significance it might have to him was…rather insignificant, really. He’d got used to the taste before, and would do so again. And besides, only a bit of the meat would actually end up absorbing the flavor, the way they’d done it. Finished protecting the ewe Einar returned his attention to the fire bundle, again tested it--still worked, didn’t need to be opened up and modified--and wrapped it more carefully than the first one with cordage, as he needed it to hold together, to last. Taking one final glance around the camp and clearing--might be a while before they returned, wanted to see that everything was in order--he handed Liz the basket, took off up the trail to the spring, and the bee tree.


  1. I can't wait to see exactly how they gather the honey!!! great chapter!! thanks so much!

  2. Hope it's not bee stings that gets Einar talking again...

    Mmmmmmmmmmm a supply of honey will sure be nice.

    Thanks FOTH.