Baskets full to overflowing with bruised chokecherries and the deer hide turned into a heavily-laden carrying sack, Einar and Liz were ready to head back to the cabin, but they didn’t have enough hands, no way to both carry all of those baskets and support the drawn-together ends of the hide. Einar had a solution, quickly connected two baskets together with lengths of nettle cordage, rolled his shirt up for padding and slung the cords over his shoulders, taking four of the six baskets this way. Liz protested that she ought to carry just as many as he, but Einar just shook his head, touched a hand to her belly and insisted that she was already carrying a great deal, had to let him do his share. Each taking two ends of the deer hide and carrying its load between them they started up the slope, Einar dodging the heaviest of the brush in the hopes of avoiding any major entanglements--always a good thing to avoid, yep, no more major entanglements for me, if I can help it, had enough of those to last me a lifetime--but still finding the load a difficult and unwieldy thing to manage. More even than the fact of its weight--Einar was himself carrying well over forty pounds between the four baskets suspended over his shoulders, and supporting fifteen more with his end of the deer hide carrier, a light load for him on a good day, but it had been a while since he’d had a day that good, and he was struggling with it--was the unusually flexible nature of the carrying container that held the greatest single portion of the berries, and this lack of structure gave them a tremendous amount of difficulty when trying to navigate their way through the brush and up that hill. Would have been a good bit less hassle if they had been traveling over level ground where one of them wasn’t always so much higher than the other that circumstances threatened to send the entire load of oozy, squishy fruit tumbling out of the downhill end of the carrier and all over the unfortunate soul who happened to hold the position at the time--Liz, mostly, for Einar was ahead, plotting their course--and after covering less than half the distance Einar stopped in exasperation, eased the baskets from his shoulders and crouched for a minute with head bowed, face averted from Liz in attempt to keep her from seeing what the effort was costing him. Needn’t have bothered; she could hear it in his breathing.
“Not working so well, this way of carrying the hide, is it…?”
Liz allowed that no, it certainly wasn’t, made the suggestion that they abandon the hide for the time, get the baskets safely up to the cabin and come back for it with empty hands.
“Bear’d eat it! He’d wander along here, smell the berries and gobble up the whole lot, hide and all, because really, what could be so bad about chokecherry-seasoned buckskin to a hungry bear? Sweet and salty, the ultimate snack…gone, it’d be! And us not too happy about the whole situation.”
“Well, I wasn’t finished. You didn’t let me finish. I was going to suggest we tie the four corners of the hide together, and suspend it from a tree, so…”
“Suspend it from a tree! Brilliant, Liz! That’s exactly what we need to do. Should have thought of it myself, but seemed I couldn’t stop thinking about those elk steaks with chokecherry sauce, the ones we were talking about earlier, long enough to come up with such an idea. Sure glad you did. Now, all we need is a nice straight little dead aspen, ten, fifteen feet long that we can break the straightest portion out of to…”
“Break a portion out of it? Whatever for? And since when would a ten or fifteen foot little dead aspen be enough to protect a big sack of berries from any determined and hungry black bear? You’re not making much sense, Einar. I think maybe you need a rest and some water before we move on, whatever we end up carrying with us.”
“Nah, I’m fine. Great, actually. And don’t you see? Because of your idea with the dead tree…”
“My idea involved a live tree!”
“Well, live tree then, though it’s gonna be a lot heavier than a dead one, and harder to fell, too, but anyhow, because of your idea, we don’t need to worry about the bears anymore. Because the berries will be with us, tied to the little tree. Tie the four corners of the hide together, hang the bundle from the center of the little tree and each take an end over a shoulder, which will eliminate an awful lot of the tripping and stumbling and almost-spilling of the berries we’ve been doing. Isn’t that what you were talking about?”
Liz was laughing. “Oh, dear, no! I was thinking we’d hang the hide full of berries from a tree branch, way up high, to keep it from bears until we could come back for it! Which is why I didn’t understand your insistence on using a short little dead tree. But your idea saves us a trip, and the effort of hoisting the thing up into a tree, a live tree, a tall one, so let’s do it! If you’re alright with the weight for a little while longer.”
Einar snorted, make a great effort to stand up a bit straighter, halt the slight tremor that was increasingly coming over his legs when at rest. He was awfully tired, but couldn’t allow himself to think about it until they were back up at the cabin with their load. “’Course I’m alright with it. That’s what I’m here for. Now. Dead tree. Small, short dead tree. Seen any around here?”
Their tree search did not take long because Liz had, in fact, seen just that sort of tree in the vicinity, having very nearly run into one not two minutes before, while struggling along somewhat blindly on the downhill side of the carrying hide, and she hurried back to it, knocked it over--dead, and had been so for quite some time--with one good hard shove of her foot and dragged it back to the spot where Einar, despite the assurances that he was doing just fine with the load, appeared to be very nearly asleep on his feet. He startled a bit at the sound of her returning through the brush, hastily got to work tying up the deer hide into something of a better bundle, now that they would no longer need to use its two long sides as carrying handles. The bundle formed and secured, Einar took several wraps of good stout cordage through its tied ends where they met at the top, lashing them to the center of the ten foot long aspen pole Liz had retrieved for the purpose, and ending up with a very serviceable carrying arrangement. Much better than they’d had before, at least, and just as soon as they got themselves fitted once more with their various baskets and the pole hoisted up onto shoulders, the improvement became even more obvious. Was still going to be a challenge, especially for Einar, who already had baskets hung from each shoulder, but it seemed they were now far less likely to lose the entire load to a simple misstep.
Back at the cabin, sun sinking quickly and the basin already full to the brim with shadow, for they had spent a longer time down there harvesting berries like soon-to-be hibernating bears than either of them would have guessed, Einar and Liz carried their treasure inside and dumped all of it out on the by-then quite red-stained deer hide, using it as a ground cloth as they carefully stirred and spread the gooey berries in an attempt to give them as much air as possible, for the night. Einar knew that if they didn’t use caution and get the things spread in the sun--or at leas spread thin out in the open, stirring air--they’d be more likely to end up with a mass of sharply fermented chokecherry vinegar than with the dense, sweet cakes of dried fruit and crushed seed they were aiming for. Not such a bad idea though, maybe. A little chokecherry vinegar. Might be able to use it to preserve other foods in, clean and disinfect things, add to water or tea for a little extra flavor…would be real refreshing in the summer when we’re out working in the heat, if there was any left…maybe I’ll see if I can find an appropriate log, make a small replica of our wood-burned water barrel and set some of the berries aside in there, see what happens. Just a small quantity of them, because of course most have to be dried, starting tomorrow. Harvest isn’t gonna be a total loss after all, it looks like. Isn’t going to be too bad at all, after all our fast work this afternoon. And he turned, satisfied, back to Liz, who was saying something about supper, and how it was to include a nice chokecherry pudding that night, thickened with spring beauty root starch and honey-sweetened. A most welcome-sounding meal, after the work of the day.