Finding three small aspens Einar leaned them against the woodshed for future use in constructing the smoking frame, returning to the cabin to check on his pots of heating water. Water was hot, and he plopped several chunks of raw bearfat into each, crouching against the wall as he waited for them to begin melting. He wanted to hurry back outside and assemble the smoker while the fat melted, but knew from past experience that it would be unwise to leave the stuff unattended on the stove. Last thing they needed was splattering, smoking, burning grease all over the cabin, just when they were beginning to really get the place in shape for winter. Waiting on the bearfat, he added a skin to the parka lining, pleased with the progress he’d been making on it here and there whenever he’d got the chance to sit down for a few minutes. Already he had finished the portion that would line the inside of the hood, and was nearly two thirds of the way done with the much larger section for Liz’s back. When it was finished, he could attach the lining to the parka section he’d already cut out of sheep hide--the hood-pouch for the baby, and the part that would cover Liz’s back and come around on each side beneath her arms--and be well on his way to finishing the garment. Just in time too. Morning frost had become a regular occurrence over those past few days, each night’s chill seeming just a bit sharper than that of the one before. He shivered, moved a bit closer to the stove and rubbed his hands to restore the flexibility he’d lost while sitting there immobile, contemplating. Could use a parka, himself, if he wanted to be out doing much trapping during the winter without returning half frozen each time as he had so often during his previous winters out there. Would be a good thing to avoid this time around, especially just after the baby came when Liz would be depending on him to do all of the outdoor chores for a while.
Checking the fat while he was near the stove, Einar found that it was ready to skim off into storage vessels which, he remembered suddenly, they hadn’t yet constructed. Liz had gathered the willows for making more pitch-coated baskets the previous morning before his trip up to the spring, but hadn’t yet woven any baskets as far as he knew, and neither had he done any coal-burning on the aspen log they’d brought into camp with the intention of turning it into a second fat-containing vessel. Well. Guess I could pour it all into one cooking pot to sit while I go put together a few baskets. Don’t especially want to do the coal burning during daylight hours, since it makes so much smoke. Doggone your lazy no good hide, Einar…you should have done that last night, instead of falling asleep directly after dinner, the way you did. It was all that good warm grouse broth, that’s what did it. Put you right to sleep. Don’t know what’s happening to you. Thought you weren’t gonna have any, not last night anyway, and then next thing you know you’ve finished it all up and are half asleep with Liz pushing you towards the bed. Can’t blame her, that’s just what she does, but you…well, you’ve got to do better than that, for sure. No good to let yourself get behind on the work right now, especially when it’s something like burning out that log that can’t be done during the day.
Lacking a quick solution to the storage problem, Einar carefully emptied the water out from beneath the fat in one of the pots, skimming the melted layer out of each of the other two and adding it on top, until the first pot was nearly full. Liquid gold. Might as well be, considering its value to them during the upcoming winter, and he carefully set the full pot aside to cool against the back wall of the cabin. Liz, meanwhile, was hard at work over the outdoor firepit they’d used for cooking during warmer summer days, searing their breakfast bear steaks on hot slabs of granite while keeping them constantly basted with fat to prevent their drying out.
Though her initial breakfast plans had involved another stew, she had seen the single-minded intensity with which Einar was going about his work that morning--as if he believed he’d be in a bad way if for even a moment he allowed himself to slow down, perhaps unable to get back up to speed again for the rest of the day and she had no doubt he would, but wished he’d do it, anyway, wished he’d rest--and she hadn’t wanted to interfere by taking over the stove for her breakfast preparations. Besides, they almost always ate their meats stewed--one gets more nutrition out of the meat that way, as Einar had always told her, as none of the juices are lost as they are in roasting or other methods of preparation--and the change would be nice, for once. Beside the sizzling meat she heated a small portion of half-dried chokecherries, slowly re-hydrating them with drops of water and honey as they warmed. A sauce, of sorts, to be eaten with the meat, and she hoped Einar might find the breakfast appetizing. Which was a silly thing to hope, she told herself, as it had become quite clear to her over the months that there was very little he didn’t find incredibly appetizing, in the way of food. He simply chose not to eat it a lot of times--seemed the better he liked a thing, the more resistant he was to consuming it when he was like that; a mystery to her--which was another matter entirely, and not one she could do too much about. She shook her head, flipped over the nicely browning meat. Whether or not Einar wanted breakfast she certainly did, and so did the baby, and it was all starting to smell terribly good to her. Einar must have smelled the food just about that time too because there he was emerging form the cabin, coming over to crouch by the cooking fire, empty willow basket in his hands. She was about to ask him if he was ready for some food, but he spoke first.
“I messed up.”
“Oh?” Are you here to confess that you’ve been wrong all along about not getting enough to eat, and show that you’re changing your ways by devouring this breakfast? I hope so, but it doesn’t seem particularly likely…
“Needed to get that log burnt out last night so we’d have a place to store the rendered bearfat, but didn’t do it. Fell asleep and didn’t do it.”
“You needed to sleep. There’ll be time to finish the log later. I’ll help you.”
“Yeah, but now I have no place to put the fat I just rendered. You had this basket hanging up in the rafters, full of mullein leaves. I stuck the leaves on a rock slab for the moment, held them down with another slab, and was wondering…”
“Sure! Of course. I’ll make another basket for the leaves, and if you just coat that one with pitch, you’ll have one of those portable, cache-able fat containers we were talking about the other day!”
Einar grinned his thanks, was about to hurry away after their supply of pitch so he could coat the basket, but Liz grabbed him by the arm.
“Wait! Breakfast is ready, and I don’t want it to get all dried out, here...”
He pulled loose from her grasp. “Sure smells good, but I’m not really…”
“Eat anyway! What’s the point in working so hard to set aside meat and fat and berries for the winter if you’re not going to eat enough in the meantime to keep you alive until the snow falls? Don’t you see the inconsistency there?”
“I’m alive, and intend on staying that way for the foreseeable future if I have anything to do with it. But as far as what the point might be…well, the point of it all is to make sure you and little Hildegard will have plenty, that’s what.”
Einar, though wanting to go right on with his work, sat down on the log bench beside Liz and prepared to share the breakfast she had made the two of them.