Working their way back up through the timber, Einar and Liz were temporarily delayed in their return to the cabin clearing by the discovery of a good bit of bear sign, rotted logs pawed apart and wood scattered everywhere in a frantic search for the fat white grubs that had been sheltered within, and for a time Einar followed the trail of destruction as the creature--the same one that had attempted to raid their honey supply, he expected--blundered its way through the timber, but when it took a sharp turn down-slope and seemed disinclined to start back up again, he abandoned the tracking effort. Could resume it another day, but just then, he didn’t want to wander too close to the valley and its hunter’s camp. Liz was much relieved at their change in course, not wanting to go to the valley, either, but having been especially concerned at the possibility that Einar, proficient tracker that he was, might actually find that bear, catch up with it and insist upon charging it with his spear, killing it, no doubt, and probably himself, too. Not a good way to start the winter.
In addition to the bear sign they saw a good bit of evidence that the area was home to a number of rather active smaller creatures, as well, plentiful rabbit droppings and the scratches, caches and occasional track of a bobcat telling Einar a story of prey and predator, and he wanted in on the action. To interrupt the action, actually, eat the rabbits and snare the bobcat, turn his good sleek hide--imagining it, only, but considering the creature’s plentiful food supply and the cooling weather, the cat certainly ought to have a thick, warm hide--into a pair of mittens or a hat to help keep them warm that winter. Liz did not need to wait for him to speak to guess at his thinking.
“We’ve got to get some traps and snares set out again, haven’t we?”
“It’s the time of year for it, for sure. Those summer rabbits we took are worth something, gave us a little to eat and your woven blanket project seems to be a good way to use their thin hides, but now is when the critters’ll really be starting to put on some nice fur, thick and warm for the winter, and put on some fat, too. Those that are inclined to do so, anyway. Rabbits won’t. Really wish we could get down in the valleys and go after muskrat, beaver here in a little while, because you know how nice those pelts are. Would give us great material for vests, robes, all sorts of warm things for the winter. Give it a couple months, let the hunters come and go and clear out of here, and hopefully I’ll be able to think seriously about doing that. Getting a valley floor trapline set up along the creek. Give me something to do while you’re getting to know the little one, get me out of the house so we don’t make each other crazy being all cooped up in there…”
“Ha! You’re just afraid you’re not going to be able to stand being in there with her crying and making noise all the time, aren’t you?”
“Crying? Oh, I figure he’ll have to learn pretty quick to be quiet like the young of any other wild critter who’s not at the very top of the food chain, out here. I’ve seen it in…other places around the world. Places where there’s trouble. The children get real quiet after a while, almost like it’s instinctive, you know, like they can feel that they need to do it, pick something up from the parents and…I don’t know. Maybe it gets into the genes or something after a couple generations of having to live like that, but it seems to be a pretty universal thing in troubled places around the world. Little Snorri shouldn’t have to be that quiet, though. We’re gonna be the only ones for miles around by the time he comes along, and he ought to be able to holler to his little heart’s content, ‘cause when the search isn’t active, we are at the top of the food chain out here, long as we take reasonable actions to secure our position. So yeah, figure I’ll spend a good bit of time out tending the traps and such this winter while you’re in there with the little one, especially when the weather’s bad and we don’t want him to be out in it so much, wind, blizzard, that sort of thing. Anything short of that, I expect he ought to be fine carried down under your parka or later in a cradleboard sort of thing, and maybe you two can come with me on the trapline, after a while.”
Liz gave him a big smile, liking to hear him talking about the future like that, about their family, but her eyes a bit sad at the same time, knowing that their position was terribly tenuous, everything hinging on their ability to remain there in the basin, not having to abandon the cabin with its secure shelter and the growing food supply that they had been able to amass there. She prayed that it might be so. “Yes, I’d like to come with you. It can never be too early for Snorri to start learning his father’s trade, can it?”
“His father’s…yeah, I’ll have him trapping rabbits by the age of two, bobcats at three, and by the time he’s four, he ought to be ready to graduate to Mantrapping 101, shouldn’t he? Lots to learn, there. Then building crossbows and bringing down choppers and cooking up explosives out of elk droppings and charcoal by the age of six…he’ll be way ahead of me already by that point, of where I was at that age, anyway, and… Ha! His father’s trade…” And while Liz did not entirely understand the dark, ironic undertone to his laughter, she was glad to see him laughing. And, presumably, planning. It was a good thing, a hopeful thing. There would be a future, and for the first time in a good while, he seemed to be seeing himself as a part of it. Now, back to the present, and as she hurried after Einar, for he had taken off rather quickly into the timber, still chuckling softly and muttering something about his father’s trade… (hoped she hadn’t said the wrong thing in bringing it up, as she hadn’t really meant anything by it, not nearly as much as he seemed to have put into it, anyway, and she hoped he’d soon let the matter go before he got any more weird and distant) she scanned the ground for the rabbit droppings that had initially begun their conversation, trying to figure the best places to put out the snares that she had a feeling they would be constructing within the next day or two.
They’d have to be careful in setting up trapping routes, she knew, because of the presence of the hunters and the likelihood that more would end up wandering through the general area before the snow came deep and heavy and closed it off to further traffic, would need to keep to the timber and avoid leaving too many new trails that would be obvious to people scouting from the air. Her old trapline had been set up with similar concerns in mind, and as it had been a fairly good producer when it came to rabbits, she hoped Einar might think it reasonably safe to establish another along roughly the same route, in addition to the new one he’d been talking about down there in the acres of black timber between the cabin and their cache site. For the time at least, until the baby’s arrival grew a month or two nearer, it seemed to make sense for each of them to have a trapline to take care of, hopefully doubling the amount of game they might take. Made sense, at least, after Einar had given himself time to recover a bit more, rest, and since she knew he’d be highly unlikely to allow for either, he might as well be out harvesting rabbits and martens. Best get the snares set up before the next few frosts really ripened and sweetened the chokecherries as they seemed likely to do, too, since they would then be in a frantic race with the bears and birds to collect as many pounds of the deep black-purple fruits as they could.