10 July, 2011

10 July 2011

Up at the spring Einar lowered himself into the clear, rock-bottomed pool that had built up behind his low rock dam, slightly downstream from the place where they filled their water jars but close enough to the spring’s source that the water, constantly refreshed as the spring replaced what overflowed the dam, remained an even, achingly icy cold. Literally thousands of times in the past Einar had lowered himself into such water, so many times, in fact, that he had all but trained out of himself the natural shock response that most people experience upon plunging into icy water--heart rate and breathing speed up, and one must make a conscious effort to avoid panic and organize one’s movements and breathing in order to avoid drowning or making some other potentially fatal mistake--but this time was not like those others. Some unfortunate combination of the rib injury and his ongoing state of extreme undernourishment--the body can do a good bit more than one might expect of it with minimal fuel, but there do at some point come limits, and consequences for those who insist upon continuing to ignore them--conspired to leave Einar gasping for breath and fighting a desperate urge to get back out of he water again as soon as it had encompassed him up to the shoulders, a fight which he won, but just barely. It hurt, the sting and then the deep ache of that icy water, a sensation for which Einar had been prepared and one which he always got through--it does pass, one’s skin fairly quickly becomes numb--by means of a series of carefully controlled breaths, but this time he could not seem to control his breathing, could hardly breathe at all through the hurt of it, actually, the way the muscles tightened around his injured ribs, tugging at them, twisting and seeming to crush him around the middle.

Not three minutes had gone by before the shivering started--should have been a good bit longer, but things weren’t working at all the way he was used to, that morning--and after that breathing became such agony that he didn’t see how he was going to keep at it, twice almost made the decision to cut the training short, get out and find a way to warm up and found himself rather unexpectedly close to panic one time because his breathing was so shallow and rapid with his body’s involuntary effort to reduce the hurt to his ribs and he could feel that he wasn’t getting enough air, between the ribs and the cold squeeze of that icy water around his middle, and did not want to pass out there in the water… Forced himself to slow down, take deep, deliberate breaths despite the hurt of them, and he soon had more oxygen to work with, was able to sit there and look at the situation with some measure of objectivity, however small it might be, in comparison to the usual nonchalance with which he went about such activities, and it was some measure of comfort to him that he was able to remain still, stay in the water, despite the fact that cold training had never felt like this before, never even close…

Einar stayed in for somewhere upwards of thirty minutes just because he couldn’t see much point in staying in for less, especially when he had planned on an hour, finally dragged himself out and lay on the ground beside the spring, soaking wet and quickly getting colder in the morning breeze, knowing that he pretty urgently needed to do something about his situation, but it seemed just about all he could do to go on forcing himself to take breaths through that hurt in his chest. So he went on lying there, face down in the spruce needles, as the sharp chill of morning lessened--a light frost had shown on the angled wall of the woodshed that morning, whitening the lupine and Indian paintbrush that still bloomed here and there in splashes of color against the yellowing grasses--and the sun climbed higher in the sky.

He had not intended to fall asleep. Would not have even believed it a danger, a possibility, even, the way he’d been having to actively struggle for each breath, yet it seemed sleep must have claimed him somewhere along the line, for he was very much aware of waking to the glare of sunlight in his eyes, realizing by the position of the sun that he must have been gone from the cabin for a very long time; it was no longer morning. This realization alarmed him somewhat, because he had intended to be back shortly after Liz returned form her willow gathering, and he’d clearly allowed that deadline to come and go. The untimely nap would have alarmed him for other, more pressing reasons, too, had he been thinking quite clearly about such things, but his only concern at the moment was Liz and the fact that he had not returned to her in a timely manner, and now saw little chance of his being able to make that return walk particularly quickly, not with his breathing the way it was, legs and arms cramped and numb with cold. Lying there on the wet, spring-seeping ground as he tried to collect his thoughts and get his limbs to begin responding to the promptings of his brain, he took comfort in the fact that at least he’d left a note. She would find the note--almost certainly had already found it--and would know where he had gone, and why. Might even come after him, eventually, though he hoped not. Needed to make it back down there on his own. A somewhat inauspicious start to his attempts to prepare himself for the coming of winter weather, but things would get better. Would have to.

Liz did not find the note. Came back with her bundle of willows to discover the cabin door barred from the outside and did not even bother to open it before beginning to scout about the clearing, looking for tracks. Didn’t immediately see any. Einar was careful by habit, even when not specifically trying. And he might have been trying, for all she knew. Trying for some unknown reason to slip away from her, and she could only hope that his errand had not carried him very far from the cabin, and would soon bring him back to it. She had a bad feeling about it, though, a thing that she could not explain when she paused to study the matter, but she had learned over the past months out in the hills that it does not pay to ignore such premonitions, if one wants to call them that, because they normally have some basis in fact. Got to find him, then.

Where did you go, Einar? Up into the rocks, maybe? Seems you go up there a lot when you need to think, only I got the impression that things were starting to go pretty well for you yesterday and last night, so I’d be surprised if you needed to get away right now and do the kind of thinking you seem to go up there to do…but one never can tell, especially with you. Which thought frightened her some, as it left her wondering whether perhaps he had seemed so cheerful that past day precisely because he had a plan of some sort for the morning, already knew what he intended to do and how, and the possibility made her even more certain that he ought to be found. Really though, what ought to happen is that you ought to trust him. He’s never not come back from one of these little excursions--though a few times it’s been way too close, and you know he has no intention of abandoning the child. His duty to the child. You know what that means to him. He’ll be back. Still she worried. The fact that he would not intentionally abandon her or the child at that point did not provide any guarantee that he might not do it by accident, and one thing was sure to her--he was in no shape to be wandering too far from home, not after seeing how he’d barely been able to stay awake after supper, her main concern being that he might have wandered off somewhere with a clear mission in mind--he almost always seemed to have a clear mission in mind--only to find himself lying out there somewhere in the basin several hours later fast asleep, waking without the energy to make it back. If--she didn’t want to let her mind go in that direction, but had to--he woke at all. The morning was quite cool, and he had not taken the deer hide. Time to get serious about tracking him. Just pretend he’s a deer I’m trying to track down. Or a bear, maybe. Definitely more like a bear than a deer, because there can be definite consequences to finding him, if he doesn’t want to be found…


  1. all caught up! thanks so much!!!

  2. Kellie--glad you're all caught up. Thanks for reading!