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?”