31 August, 2011

31 August 2011

Late getting back, will comment on the comments in a little while...thanks for reading!


With evening the sun finally put in an appearance, its rays weak and angled and hardly making a dent in the fresh snow cover before it dipped once more below the high, timbered horizon, cold setting in very quickly with its departure. Pausing in his firewood gathering--a task to which he’d returned after a brief bit of lunch with Liz--Einar watched the sun linger briefly amongst the trees before vanishing, a small, dying star swallowed by the blackness and gone. Immediately he felt the sun’s absence--thin atmosphere insufficient to hold in its meager heat for long--and responded by moving more quickly, working just a bit harder in an effort to generate more heat as he struggled yet another log down towards the cabin. He was leaving trails through the new snow, the deep, inevitable trails of a man dragging downed trees through the snowy timber, and though he was taking care to keep his paths as well concealed as possible beneath the evergreens, he knew there was some risk of the trails being noticed, should anyone fly over with their eye out for such things before the snow melted off. A risk worth taking, he had decided, seeing that winter was just around the corner and already making itself felt. Warming numbed hands briefly against his stomach--ought, in theory, to have worked quite well, but that day his stomach didn’t seem much warmer than the rest of him--Einar got the tree started down its last slide before the woodshed, a steep bit of slope upon which he found the heavy aspen somewhat difficult to control.

Liz’s presence would have been helpful just then, but she’d stayed behind, stayed inside, seeming entirely uninterested in helping him gather wood when he’d insisted on departing again to do so and leaving Einar to wonder at first whether her uncharacteristic reticence might simply be a way of expressing her displeasure at his decision to spend more time out in the snow, rather than resting with her in the cabin, and devouring a fresh pot of stew every two hours as she seemed so keen to have him do. He doubted it though. Seemed to him more than that, and Einar wished he was just a bit better at interpreting the moods and motivations of others, so he might have some idea of what was troubling her. Hoped she was simply displeased with him and choosing to show it by boycotting the afternoon’s work. If not…well, she just wasn’t acting like herself, and it worried him some. Especially with the baby’s time drawing nearer, but definitely not arrived yet. It was too early. Well. He was getting ahead of himself. She was likely fine, just worn out from all the climbing and hauling brought them by the past few days, as--if he was to be truthful--certainly found himself, that day. Girl just has more sense than you do, Einar, knows she needs to slow down and do something about it, both for her sake and that kid’s. Let her rest for the remainder of the day, and she’ll be back to normal, I’ve got little doubt. Yet he had some doubt, and it was more than he wanted to have with so much at stake, began contemplating, as he panted and struggled with that stubborn, snagging aspen, just what he--they--would do if for some reason Liz should happen to go into labor too early. Not much to do, other than perhaps try to get her down lower, and with no place prepared ahead of time and stocked with food, furs and firewood against such an eventuality, the entire thing would be rather a doubtful endeavor, even if they did manage to lose a thousand or fifteen hundred feet of elevation before the time came.

Liz was up and about when Einar freed his boots of their layer of heavy, clinging snow and stomped back into the cabin, working over the stove and giving him a big smile which he returned, relieved to see her looking better. She did not appear equally relieved at his condition, however, hurried to him and led him over to the bed, pulling off his boots and the sodden, snow-soaked socks that seemed to have absorbed everything his boots had come into contact with--not far from the truth, considering their state of disrepair. She seemed upset, and he stumbled over himself in an effort to improve the situation, would have spoken more promptly had he not been fighting so for breath, all the strength seeming to have gone out of him the moment he allowed himself to sit down. Finally he managed a weary rasp, far from the reassuring tone he’d wanted to take, but at least it was something.

“Snow’s gonna stick around for the night, looks like. I got a bunch more wood hauled down, stacked in the shed…”

“Your boots are all wet. They’re no good. Coming apart at the seams. You’re going to lose the rest of your toes, at this rate.”

“Right now? Nah, I wasn’t out long enough to…”

“You know what I mean. And you’re not taking me seriously. As usual. Now let me get your feet dry, before you freeze them.”

Einar wasn’t sure what to say, was too tired to think of a diplomatic answer and too stubborn to keep his mouth shut entirely as he probably ought to have, so he managed to get himself into worse trouble than he was already in by commenting that it wasn’t even below freezing yet out there, because the snow was still soft, and not crunchy. A fact, to be sure, but not especially relevant to Liz’s point, and he couldn’t really fault her when she exploded at him, tossing his boots across the cabin and declaring him a “thick-skulled old mule who doesn’t have the sense you were born with and clearly don’t care whether you’re alive or not to see your son born,” afterwards making a hasty retreat over behind the water barrel, where he could hear her crying softly, hunched over and seemingly trying to make herself invisible. Einar shrugged, shook his head and rested it briefly on his knees, bone-weary and too dizzy at the moment to trust himself on his feet, but he did not long remain thus, rising and making his way over to Liz and sitting there with her on the cold dirt floor, but she never did look up. Eventually he put a hand on her arm, rested his forehead on her shoulder and she grabbed him, held on.

“Lizzie, I uh…I’m sorry if I… You alright this afternoon? Everything Ok?”

“No.” She was still in tears, trying to get them to stop so she could speak. “Not alright. Something’s wrong and I don’t know what, but I’ve never felt like this and I don’t know what to think…”

“The baby?”

“No, not like that. Not…labor, thankfully, but…things aren’t right. Can’t seem to keep my eyes open these last few hours and I can’t think. Brain’s just all fuzzy and…I know this must not sound like much to you, but it’s not normal and it’s been so sudden.”

“Yeah, was gonna say it sounds pretty normal to me, at least for lately, but that’s me and not you. So we got to figure it out. I have an idea. Let me see your hands.”

She held out her hands, Einar very deliberately keeping his face still, unreadable when his suspicion was confirmed. “Take you thumb and try to touch the base of your little finger with it.” She couldn’t. Her hands were too swollen.

“You need to have some more stew. Something with protein in it. Need more protein.”

You need more protein. I get plenty. What are you talking about?”

“Your hands. See how they’re all swollen? Face is looking a little fuller, too, bet your ankles are starting to do the same, and it’s an indication that you need more protein, you and the little one, or you’re gonna end up with…”


“Yeah. Not good. Not if you let it go, but we’re not gonna do that, so come on sit down on the bed, and I’ll get you some of this stew, big bowl with lots of meat in it. Gonna be just fine.”

30 August, 2011

30 August 2011

Won't be able to post a chapter today, as I didn't get one written last night, and it's a bit of a busier week than usual for me.

Thank you all for reading, and for your patience, and I'll be back with another chapter tomorrow!

29 August, 2011

29 August 2011

By the time the storm began slacking off early that afternoon a good eight inches of heavy, wet snow had blanketed the area around Einar and Liz's basin, sagging the boughs of the evergreens and breaking branches here and there from aspens whose leaves still clung golden, plentiful and snow-heaped to branches not designed to bear such weight. When Einar stepped out sometime just past midday to retrieve another armload of firewood it was to the sight of mixed gold and white on the ground, freshly fallen aspen branches poking up here and there through the snow. Einar yawned, squinted at the brightness of the scene--clouds thinning, sun showing some inclination to try and come out--and scrubbed a handful of snow across his face in an attempt to bring himself fully awake. Worked real well; the cold seemed to go right through him, aching in his bones and leaving him trembling and starting to go purple in the still very lively wind before he’d finished collecting his load of firewood, and his seeming inability to adapt to the changing temperature bothered him greatly. Wasn’t normal for him, wasn’t what he typically expected or demanded of himself, and seemed no way at all to start the winter. He knew how to fix it, wanted to strip down and lie in the snow there beside the cabin until his body once again adapted, learned how to produce more of its own heat, and he would have done it without the slightest hesitation, had it not been for Liz sitting in there just on the other side of that wall, and the fact that he knew she’d be unhappy about the whole thing. No sense deliberately doing something he knew would make her unhappy, especially not after all the extra work she’d done on their elk hunting expedition. Better to do the exercise--series of them; far behind as he was, it’d likely take a whole series of sessions before his body began to regain the adaptability that had always given him an extra edge in the winter--sometime when she was otherwise occupied, and wouldn’t notice. But it had to be soon, or he feared he’d find himself unable at some point to do the work necessary to see them through what almost certainly promised to be a ferocious mountain winter, seeing how high was the basin in which they’d settled…

Beginning to shiver so insistently that it was growing difficult to maintain his grip on the armload of firewood for which he’d ventured outside in the first place and realizing that Einar figured he’d better be getting back in. Better do it real soon here, too, or you know Liz is gonna find it necessary to try and warm you up, which will almost certainly involve her insisting you have some more of that stew. Stew. Yes, the stew was part of his problem… Einar had ended up sleeping for several hours that morning after breakfast, drifting off due, best as his hazy memory could tell him, to a rather marked oxygen deficit in the wake of his hard work with the firewood, area around his injured ribs swelling up and seeming to further constrict his already labored breathing, but he’d stayed that way because he’d been warm and so full of good stew that his body had apparently seen no reason to wake him any sooner. For which there was no excuse, really--and which was why he couldn’t stand the thought of having any more stew just then; he’d just end up going back to sleep, he was sure of it--and Einar had been frustrated and a little angry upon waking to discover just how long he'd been out, and displeased with Liz, if not vocally so, for having allowed him to go on being so lazy when the demands of the day were numerous and pressing.

Even Muninn had remained quiet, it seemed, in his absence, perched on a stout branch Liz had stuck into the wall for him in the corner over behind the water barrel, head tucked beneath his wing, fast asleep. Einar, brushing the snow from his clothes, stomping it from his boots and easing his way back into the cabin, deposited his load of firewood somewhat noisily beside the stove--couldn’t help it, really; arms were starting to give out--causing both Liz and the raven to startle and jump before settling back into their relaxed positions, Liz busy adding yet another row to the woven rabbitskin blanket that was to serve as warmth and protection for the baby. He’d thought she was done with the blanket a good while ago, but it seemed she must have had a good-sized pile of rabbit skins stashed away somewhere, and now she was adding to it once again. By the time she got done, the dense, soft blanket was going to be large enough to cover their entire bed, from the looks of things. Folding her work and setting it aside Liz rose, joined him beside the stove and brushed the bits of wet, half-melted snow from his hair. What have you got against wearing a hat, you goofy guy? Wore one all summer and didn’t seem to have a problem with it.

“What’s the snow doing out there? Has it stopped yet?”

“Almost stopped. Looking brighter. Think we’ll see some melting before dark, for sure, and then it’ll probably be a real cold night. Often is after a storm like this clears up and moves out, sky gets clear. Guess that goat hide may end up freezing before we get a chance to tan it, but I’m sure we’ll have some more warm days still.”

“We’ll get it taken care of just as soon as things thaw out a little, because it’s looking like winter isn’t going to wait much longer and we need to have all that good warm white wool ready to use! Since we already have the two bear hides and now this rabbitskin blanket for keeping warm in the cabin, what do you think about turning the goatskin into a parka of some sort that we can use when it gets really cold? Even if there’s not enough area on it to cut up and make both the body of the parka and the sleeves, we could always do the sleeves of elk or sheep hide, and insulate them with rabbit or marten fur…”

“Whew! I don’t know. Goatskin’s mighty heavy with all that winter wool on it, but would be the warmest thing you ever encountered, most likely, and I know there are gonna be days up here when we’d appreciate that, times when it gets down to forty, fifty below and we’re having to run the trapline or sit for an hour or two waiting for something to come by so we can snag it and have a little fresh meat for supper…and a thing like that could literally be a life-saver if we end up having to take off and leave this place in the dead of winter, not look back…could act as a wearable blanket that’d allow us to sleep out there without freezing, like we used the bear hide last winter, but an awful lot easier to carry.”

“Oh! Don’t talk that way! I sure hope we don’t have to leave this place, not now…”

Einar sighed, sat down with his back nearly touching the side of the stove, its thick rock wall radiating a good bit of heat but not too hot to touch, a major advantage of the sort of stove he’d built them, as those rocks took as long to cool down as they did to heat, releasing warmth into the cabin all night long, even when the fire had gone out long before. Cold. He shivered, pressed himself a bit closer to the rocks. Bones ached, limbs ached, felt as though they were made of ice after his time out in the wind and though he was trying his best to conceal the fact from Liz, he had little doubt that she would have noticed. “Yeah, I hope not too. But you know it’s always a possibility, and the moment we start feeling too secure here and limiting our options because we’ve quit believing that the threat is real…well, that’ll be the end of it. And I don’t want it to end that way. Especially not now.”

Liz nodded, knew he was right and was a bit sorry for having got her mind so set, over those past several days, on the idea of their little home in the basin, giving it, she had to admit, a permanence in her thoughts that it could likely never have in life; they were nomads, a transient and hunted tribe, and would likely always remain so. Long ago she’d resigned herself to such a life, counted herself privileged, in a way, to be able to live it if it meant living out her days with the man she had come to love, but lately, with the baby’s time drawing nearer and nearer…well, the prospect of a safe, settled existence had begun appearing more attractive than ever. Well. For the moment, at least, they had a good secure roof over their heads, plenty of food and a reasonable hope of being able to stay put for the time, and for that she would continue to be grateful, even if with the understanding that they could lose it all at a moment’s notice, as Einar had just reminded her.

Comments from 27 August

Kellie said...
a roof over the door maybe to help keep the snow from building up in front?

maybe Einar will rest today.....

.....yeah, right! lol! Maybe Liz can distract him with making more cordage since they are very low.

I learned that Dogbane makes good cordage.

Don’t know if she’ll be able to distract him with cordage making this time, but they really are running short and will have to have more pretty soon…

Yes, dogbane sure does make good cordage! Does it grow there in your area? Does grow here, but the stalks are a good bit shorter than at lower altitudes. If you made some, I’d love to see pictures.

Here are some partially prepared fibers from the last time I made dogbane cordage, and a bundle of the stalks.

R. Fager said...
Starting with his eccentricities Einar has a interesting perspective on things. (understatement)
Multiplied by his malnutrition, and his lack of oxygen, if he does not listen to liz i am afraid he will not be with us in the spring.

Thanks for all your work. This is my first comment sense the change and it great as always.

Glad you found the story here! Good to hear from you.

Einar’s eccentric, is he? Huh. He’s always considered himself pretty normal--but the rest of the world sure is weird!!

Anonymous/EdD270 said...
Liz is getting all domestic. Nice to dream about the good life, but they won't have it, or if they have it it won't last long. Then they'll be on the run and roughing it again. Sometimes it's just so nice to dream, though.

Nice to do, but can be dangerous if you let it distract you from the reality of things…

Russell H Whyte said...
oh oh. Every time things start looking up Murphy drops by to enforce that law of his. Hunters coming lower increases the chance of detection. As does a crying baby which is not far away now.

Compared to previous winters they're much better prepared, and great timing getting those hides. But still worried about what may be coming next. Feds won't give up. As we saw recently in the news with DB Cooper, even old cases are still getting attention.

Hunters going down lower will actually be a good thing, as they’ll now be below Einar and Liz and less likely to stumble across them. Which is a good thing, because a crying baby certainly is a security risk if you’ve got other people wandering around nearby!

No, the feds won’t give up, and Einar and Liz’s lives will always be somewhat uncertain because of that--but they certainly will scale back the search and let it go quiet if there are no sightings for a while. Eventually they’ll change their tactics yet again, and hope to catch Einar when/if he makes the mistake of initiating contact with some of the folks down in the valley.

Anonymous/TheFishinMagician said...
Did they ever fix the hole in the roof when they encountered that bear? That might be an important thing to fix, with winter coming on.

Einar's got plenty to keep him busy without risking his life...stocking the woodshed, topping off the water barrel, getting the trapline started again, making the winter clothes out of the new hides, etc. Should give him a good chance to heal up...which he desperately needs to do!

They never fixed the hole, since Einar found it such a handy way to fill the water barrel whenever it rained… But will let a lot of warm air out in the winter, and probably ought to be closed up. And yes, Einar has plenty to do and had better get busy with it, too, now that snow has arrived.

Nancy1340 said...
Thanks for a new chapter. It would be nice to have a spell where Einar got helthy and things just settled down, at least for a few months. Maybe 'till spring?

That would certainly provide a better start for the baby, and hopefully may be able to happen.

28 August, 2011

28 August 2011

No chapter today, but back with another tomorrow. Today my Jeep is finally running again, after what turned into an unexpected summer-long process, so this is a pretty good day for me!

Thank you all so much for reading and for your comments!

27 August, 2011

27 August 2011

Finding the basin fully engulfed in a fall snow squall whose end did not appear to be anywhere in sight, Einar stood for a time beside the front of the cabin, partially sheltered by it from the full fury of the storm as he squinted up at the white-plastered trunks of the surrounding spruces and firs, bits of gold showing where aspens bent and rattled in the gale. He shivered, drew the deer hide tighter about his shoulders--way past time to be getting those parkas finished, looks like--and stepped away from the cabin, supporting himself against the woodshed for a moment when he stumbled under the force of an especially strong gust--shed remained well over half empty, despite the previous work he'd done in gathering dry wood, and though they'd stacked numerous scraps and small trees beneath sheltering spruces to dry during the cabin building process, it wasn't enough--and making his way into the timber. Had to do something about the state of their firewood supply and couldn't see how any time would be better than the present, but did not want to clean out all the standing and leaning dead timber right there around the cabin; that was their emergency supply, and needed to be left in place should a time ever come when they were both struggling, physically, for one reason or another, and had depleted their stored wood. And... he didn't like to think it, but knew he must, need to leave it there for Liz in case anything happens to me and she finds herself alone here with the baby at some point. Needs to have a ready supply of wood if that should happen. Needed, he thought to himself, to have the wood even more readily available than were the standing dead trees near the cabin, if she was to be there by herself, and the thought of it gave him added motivation as he worked his way up the steep slope in back of the cabin, in search of suitable trees. Needed to fill that woodshed, and needed to do it in a hurry.

Deer hide getting in the way as he worked Einar soon abandoned it, hanging it in the woodshed on one of his return trips, where he hoped it would stay reasonably dry and free of snow and going about his work without its protection, ranging far from the cabin as he hauled in one tree after another, small aspens, mostly, fallen already or at least leaning and most of them with a fresh coating of wind-plastered snow, but he knew they would dry in plenty of time. Trees were leaving drag marks in the snow, his own footprints joining them to make highly visible trails, but the way it was still snowing and blowing, sky heavily overcast and no hint of sun showing through, he was not terribly concerned. The storm would cover his tracks, and the woodshed would greatly benefit from his morning of work, meanwhile.

Settling into a rhythm and maintaining it was a task Einar found somewhat difficult that morning, ribs hurting him and breaths seeming to come with far more difficulty than they ought to have but he managed it, working until his hands were purple with the raw, wet cold of the storm, legs near giving out with the work and he would have kept at it still, kept going until he’d filled the woodshed, most probably, had not Liz emerged then from the cabin and seen what he was doing, gone to him. The look on his face told her he already knew quite well what she thought of his being out working in the storm like that, so she didn’t bother to say it, took the deer hide instead and draped it around his shoulders, put a hand on his arm, took the ten foot aspen he was currently hauling and held on until he relaxed his grip.

“Einar. It can wait. Come have some breakfast with me.”

He allowed her to help him with the tree, each taking one end and carrying it into the protection of the woodshed, where they huddled against the wall, wanting to escape for a minute the force of the wind.

"Snow came." Einar's voice was rough, a little shaky; couldn't seem to get his breath and he was, despite the heavy work in which he's been engaging, awfully cold.

"Yes. Do you figure it's here to stay, or will we have a few more weeks of fall?"

"Hard to say. Stuff's real wet..." he stared at his soaked boots, kicking heel against toe and stomping a bit in an attempt to restore some feeling, "yep, real wet and if the sun comes out later, I don't think it's gonna be with us real long. It'll linger in the shadows, up on the peaks maybe, but my guess is we'll see the ground again before the snow sets in for good."

"I hope so! Though I guess even this one storm will help drive the elk down lower, and the hunters too, so that has to be a good thing..."

"Yeah, except that we probably won't be seeing too many more elk. Or sheep, either."

"We're doing well on meat, aren't we? Two bears, the goat, a couple of sheep, for starters..."

"Not bad. Would have liked to add an elk to it still, but really not bad. And yes, it'll be good to be able to worry a little less about hunters. Not safe yet, not as long as the season's still going on, but the snow'll drive most of the game lower, and they'll know it."

"Well, we added an elk hide at least, on this last trip."

"Yep. Just got to tan it now, get started on another parka so we'll each have one, and..."

"And let's finish this conversation inside!" Liz exclaimed, grabbing Einar's hands and attempting to lead him out of the woodshed, where they'd been standing freezing in the wind as they talked, Einar soaking wet from his time outside and Liz wondering if he would ever decide on his own that it was time to go in. Didn't appear so, and she was tiring of the experiment.

"My goodness, here you are shaking like one of those aspens in your wet clothes--I can practically see your temperature dropping, you know--when I've got a nice cozy fire going inside and hot stew on the stove. A person would think you actually preferred being soaking wet and half frozen, if they didn't know better..."

He twisted free of her grasp, began gatheing an armload of wood to take in. "A person wouldn't be too far wrong on that one, but yeah, I sure am ready for some breakfast and haven't been able to feel my hands for a good long while now, so guess it's time to get in there.”

“We ought to let Muninn come in too don’t you think, just for a little while? Seeing as we're probably somewhat to blame for his sticking around up here when he normally would have been heading down a little lower, himself. I know ravens are mighty hardy critters, one of the few who can survive arctic winters way up North, in fact, and really don’t migrate, but I do believe he might have gone down and spent it at a slightly lower elevation, if not for our influence.”

“Yeah, guess we can do that, if he’s at all inclined to come in. Can’t let him stay for too long though, or he’ll get all soft and weak and won’t make it through the winter. But seeing as he’s probably only up here due to our influence…”

"Oh, I don't think we chose him--he chose us. You. And maybe he likes it up here, and is a solitary and ornery creature just like yourself who would have stayed regardless, just to spite the rest of the world. But I still think we ought to let him come in out of this storm, so long as he behaves himself and doesn't get after my chokecherries!"

“You'll behave yourself, won't you Muninn?" She shouted up to the black mass that sat silent and all ruffle-feathered against the cold in the leeward branches of a nearby spruce. The raven answered with a shake of his feathers, sailed down to her feet and took a few lurching hops through the deep snow as if he'd understood, heading for the cabin.

Sitting there in the warm cabin, wind howling outside and spruce boughs scraping the wall on one side with a rythmic sound that she found oddly comforting as she watched Einar sitting sprawled out amongst the bear hides, finally beginning to get warm and obviously enjoying his breakfast of rich, nourishing stew, Liz could not help but think that the good times might--just might; lots that could go wrong, still--perhaps be arriving. Finally. Pondering it, she was surprised at how very much she found herself looking forward to hibernating for the winter in the snug little cabin with Einar and the baby, plenty of meat waiting outside secure it its treetop caches, hollow logs of fat, gallons of honey, bundles of dried herbs and baskets of berries and lily corms secure inside and giving the place a wonderful spicy-sweet aroma, Einar having plenty of time to relax, heal and regain some of the weight he'd lost, as snow piled up outside and the baby grew and flourished through his first winter...it all sounded too good to be true and probably was, but that day the vision seemed so real she could all but touch it, and she could not help but hope...

Comments from 26 August

To all of you who have been or are about to be affected by the Hurricane Irene, you're in my prayers. Stay safe.

Anonymous/EdD270 said...
WOW! A great welcome home meal, a good night sleep, and awake to a few inches of fresh snow. Man, it don't get any better than that.
Still lots to do, but the pressure is mostly off. Now if EA will just let those ribs heal.

Yep, a pretty good sort of morning…

They do now have most of what they should need to make it through the winter, though a number of hides still need to be tanned and warm clothes made. Einar's going to have a struggle with those ribs for a while I expect, and may have more trouble with the cold than he's used to or expecting, but if he can eat more, that will slowly get better.

Kellie said...
I bet Liz isn't sleeping anymore! lol! Ok, so their door opens OUTWARD, will not the snow block them in eventually? Shouldn't they have a door that opens inward?

It does open out, partially as a security measure of sorts and partially to save space in the cabin. The trees that overhang the cabin will help reduce the depth of the snow that will pile up in front of the door from any one storm, but yes, they could end up trapped in there and having to crawl out through the hole in the roof if they ever happen to hibernate through a 3 day blizzard without keeping up with the snow removal!

26 August, 2011

26 August 2011

Liz had spared no trouble when it came to preparing their supper that night, adding wild garlic and a generous helping of dried nettles to a pot full of chopped goat meat, along with the creature’s heart. Bits of bear fat had been added to fortify the meal, and a handful of serviceberries thrown in for additional sweetness and flavor, the broth further thickened by the addition of several avalanche lily corms, pounded to a powder and stirred in near the end of the cooking. Off to the side in a coal-burned bowl sat what smelled to Einar like a pudding of some sort, rich and brown and consisting, he found upon later inquiry, of goat’s blood--Liz had managed to save and bring back a quart or so of the stuff--chokecherries and honey, thickened once again with a bit of lily root flour. Limping to the cabin after his struggle with the heavy hide in its frame Einar had been more than ready to simply roll into bed and not move for a very long time, had, in fact, rather doubted his ability to keep himself upright for much longer than it would take to make it in the door, and had been hoping Liz wouldn’t mind if he simply crawled into bed just as he was, travel-worn clothing and all. The smell of that supper, hitting him like a solid wall and enveloping him as he entered the cabin quite changed his mind, reminded him of just how hungry he was after the past few days of hard work and climbing and left him feeling quite wide awake as he hurried over to the water barrel to wash up. During which attempt he promptly fell asleep leaning over the barrel, washrag in hand and head sagging forward until his hair and forehead trailed in the water; had not, apparently, been as wide awake as he’d thought and did not wake again until Liz turned from her stew-stirring and saw him apparently taking a much needed bath…in our drinking water supply!

“Hey, Einar, you’re contaminating it! Let me heat you a pot of water if you want a bath before dinner, but don’t do it right there in the barrel!”

Which got her a surprised grunt from Einar as he returned rather suddenly to wakefulness, whirling around on her with eyes wide and water streaming down his face, shaking his head and snorting as he cleared the water from his nose. “What? No…no bath, I was just…washing up for dinner and guess I must’ve kinda fallen asleep for a second…”

“You were sleeping in there? Now I know you like sleeping in the water from time to time, springs, creeks, half frozen mud puddles or whatever’s available…but seriously, our water barrel?

“Well it wasn’t intentional!” He was laughing, shaking the water from his hair and drying his face on a sleeve, sopping up the bits of water that had splashed out onto the floor with his sudden departure from sleep. “Think I’d intentionally go to sleep--in the water barrel or otherwise--with the a supper like this one waiting for me?”

“I honestly don’t know what to think of you, sometimes. Sounds like something you might do. Now come on and sit down before you fall asleep again. You need to eat, and the stew’s getting cold.”

Full of good warm stew and pudding and tremendously relieved to be safe at home after their long, uncertain days up on the ridge Einar and Liz slept soundly that night, warm beneath the bear hides and lulled into a deeper rest by a rain that started soft and steady sometime in the early hours of the morning and continued to thoroughly soak the ground, the sweet and earthy odor of damp, newly fallen aspen leaves rising to fill the air.

Several times Einar woke suddenly to listen to the night, his mind returning to the route they had taken on their return to the basin and to the likelihood that he hadn’t been nearly as cautious of their trail as he ought to have been, and at the thought of it his heart would pound terribly until it ached against his ribs and the breath seemed to catch in his throat, urging him up and out of the cabin to go watch, make sure they had not been followed, surrounded in the night…but he knew the possibility was a small one; a major hailstorm and now that night’s rain, besides, separated them from the ridge where the potential had existed for them to be spotted, and if they had somehow been followed, anyway, there was little reason why their enemy should not have surrounded them that previous night while they huddled on the mountainside beneath the flimsy cover of the few stunted firs that had sheltered them.

And a fine fix we’d have been in, too, had the enemy put in an appearance last night, with you barely able to keep on your feet come morning, and having no idea of where you were half the time as the day went on…no excuse for that, none at all and now you’d better try and get some more sleep, so you’ll have some chance of being a more useful sort of critter come tomorrow when it comes time to take care of the goat meat, start on the hide, gather more firewood and generally make this place ready for winter… Which he did, arms crossed over the continuing ache and burn of his ribs and nose tucked beneath the bear hide for warmth, but sleep continued to elude him for a time, ears sharp for sounds from outside and stomach twisting and grumbling with a hunger that Liz’s stew seemed to have awakened in him, so insistently demanding more that finally, afraid of waking Liz with his tossing and turning, he crept from the bed and eased his hunger with a small scoop of bear fat from the nearest of the two hollow-log vessels. Stomach quieted for the moment and his mind somewhat more at ease, as well, he took a moment to stand silently at the door, sampling the rich scents of the rainy night--leaf-rot, damp evergreen, somewhere far off in the distance, a slight tang of willow and, he was pretty sure, the scent of snow being swept down from the high peaks--before returning to bed and finishing the night in quiet slumber.

Morning, and the smell of snow was stronger than it had been when last Einar was out of bed, stronger even than the wonderfully enticing aroma of the previous evening’s supper that lingered in the corners of the cabin to set Einar’s stomach grumbling again as soon as he woke, and when he peered out from beneath the bear hide it was the sight of a stronger than usual light seeping in through the crack above the door, and he knew the snow had reached them in the night. No surprise, considering the temperature; already his face was cold in the chill air of the cabin, shoulders shaking a bit as he sat up to get a better look out through the now mostly chinked door-crack that represented their only way to see out of the cabin.

Got to do something about that, not safe at all, need to have a way to shoot out of here if we need to, not just look out. Maybe I can remedy that today. Yeah. Along with all the other things I’ve got to do…really need to get serious about filling the woodshed so we’ll have plenty to burn when we get two, three day blizzards here and aren’t venturing too far from the cabin for a few days…not real common here but it does happen, and need to have plenty stocked away for when the baby comes, anyway, in case I’m having to stick real close and help Liz then, and am not able to go out every couple days after wood. At least we’ve got our food supplies pretty well squared away after this most recent goat, the last bear, but still got a long way to go on having warm clothes ready. Got the hides though, a good start on them at least, so if nothing else we can wrap up to stay warm until we get the sewing done. Need to be thinking about a couple pairs of snowshoes though, or we’re gonna end up in a situation where we’re getting our lower halves wet and cold every time we have to go anywhere through the snow, at least until it gets consistently cold enough to keep the snow real dry and frozen. Better start gathering some willows for the snowshoes today, for sure, because as late as it is in the year, this storm could be it. Might not melt off, might just keep coming. Not real likely, but I’ve sure seen it this early.

Einar was up by then--took him a while that morning, limbs felt like they weighed a ton and he found the slightest exertion leaving him dizzy and out of breath, on the verge of blacking out, not good, guess you need some more of that stew…and maybe a new set of ribs--and standing at the door, brushing aside the little skiff of snow that had been driven in beneath the door and wrapping a deer hide around his shoulders against the deep chill that had pervaded the place despite the remains of the previous night’s fire. Upon opening the door Einar was greeted by several inches of heavy, wet snow and a howling wind that whipped the still-falling whiteness nearly sideways, plastering it against tree trunks and coating one wall of the cabin, and he hurried to ease the door shut behind him, slipping out quietly into the whiteness, not wanting to wake Liz.

Comments from 25 August

Anonymous/philip said...
I absolutely loved Mountain Refuge, 24 August. Einar, in his correct mind, wondering whaaaaaa???

Liz, in her CORRECT mind, helping her husband.

As for me, I took the day off, eating only leftover pizza, & water... hmmmm, was @ the water/brain point in story, set it down, and ~had one~, for Einar.... water that is...

Einar surely thanks you for remembering him with the water (but probably wishes he had some of that pizza, too…) and I’m glad you’re feeling better. Hope it continues for you.

25 August, 2011

25 August 2011

Meat secured, their long journey and the exertions of the morning behind them, Liz wished the remainder of the day to be a time of rest for both of them, for all three, but knew that the goat hide ought first be dealt with, fleshed and perhaps stretched before it had too much more time to begin drying and becoming difficult to work with. The thing was heavy, bulky, and when Einar saw her struggling to carry it over to the leaning aspen trunk they used as a fleshing beam, he helped, securing one end while she took the other. The wool had largely remained clean the way Einar had rolled and carried it on the return to the cabin, would need some brushing to remove bits of lichen and grass from where the goat had lain amongst them, but little else, and Liz admired its sleek white outer hairs, parting them to reveal the dense wool beneath.

“Between the two bear hides and this one--and the extra elk!--we’re doing a lot better on being ready for winter than we were just a few weeks ago. I’d like to see this goat hide made into a coat for you, a vest, maybe, so warm that you could sit out on the rocks in it all night if you wanted to and watch the snow fall, and not get cold…”

Einar laughed softly, shook his head at the image. Would be good snow camo, for sure… “Well, we’ll see. Would make an awfully warm covering for the bed, too, for you and the little one. Incredibly valuable thing to have got hold of, either way. Figure if we can flesh it out today and maybe get it stretched, there’s no real hurry when it comes to braining it and working it soft. Can do that anytime before the snow comes. Or after, but I expect we’ll be wanting the use of the hide, when winter really starts setting in!”

They worked together in silence for a time then, scraping the remaining bits of flesh and fat from the goat hide and tossing occasional bits of the stuff to Muninn. The great bird had taken up a position in the nearby half-rotted remains of a long-fallen spruce and was reminding them frequently of his presence with harsh little rasping noises, hopping now and then from the log to take a few awkward leaps closer and tilt his head at them, too proud to come right out and ask for scraps, but certainly not the least bit subtle about the nature of his desire. Einar grinned at the bird, shook his head and tossed him another bit of meat.

“Earned it several times over on our little expedition to the ridge, you old vulture. Enjoy.”

Turning back to his work Einar moved a bit too quickly and--he’d been fighting it all day--felt his legs go out from under him, tried but failed to prevent the fall and ended up face down with his limbs tangled rather awkwardly around the scraping beam, Liz rushing to help him when she saw that he seemed unable to immediately get back to his feet. He was giving it his best effort, trying hard to hide his struggle from Liz, but it was too late. She took his arm, helped him up onto the aspen trunk where he sat rubbing his legs in a hasty attempt to bring them back to life.

Liz sounded a little scared, despite herself. “What’s wrong with your legs?”

“Ah, nothing much. Been doing this off and on for days, but worse yesterday and today. Just seem to give out after awhile and don’t have any strength in them, won’t respond the way they ought to.”

“Last couple of days? I wish you’d told me. Do they hurt?”

“Ache something awful most of the time, but I’m getting used to it.”

“Getting used to it? Don’t do that! It’s no wonder your legs don’t have any strength in them sometimes, because they hardly have any muscle left on them. Sometimes I really wonder how you do half the things you do when you’re so…” Liz stopped herself, shook her head. What had she been going to say? When you’re so far gone? When you’re so close to finally starving yourself to death, finishing the job once and for all, as you seem so intent on doing? Neither sounded very good at all even if both were true, and seemed not the right sorts of things to be saying, not very productive. “What you really need is protein, you know. Four or five batches of soup every day with meat chunks and nettles and bear fat floating on top and I’m going to make sure you get it, alright?”

He nodded, gave her a little smile, yep, I’m sure you will, and I’ve got to say that sounds awfully good right now… got back to his feet and returned to scraping the hide, this time bracing himself carefully against an adjacent aspen, determined to remain on his feet, and managing it, though with some difficulty. It was late afternoon by the time they finished scraping and stretching the goat hide, sun beginning to sink as Einar threaded the last bit of nettle cordage through the holes he had meticulously punched around the edges of the goat hide, pulling, stretching and finally tying, job finished, hide ready to be raised up into the trees for protection through the night. Liz had taken her leave some time prior to get a fire started in the stove and begin work on supper, savory smells beginning to drift out the open door as Einar struggled to raise the hide high enough to keep it from the depredations of any curious coyotes or bears who might wander by in the night.

Couldn’t get it, not quite, not even when grasping the hanging cord in both hands and pulling back with all his might--would have wrapped it around a tree and pulled, but as it turned out there weren’t any quite close enough to allow for that, not with the somewhat too-short length of nettle cordage he’d been left with using, as they were growing somewhat short on cordage--and it frustrated him so that he tried it over and over again until finally the effort left him doubled over on the ground, struggling for breath and pressing his ribs--which did not at all care for the strain--with one hand and maintaining a desperate grip on the cord with the other, not wanting to lose any of the several feet by which he’d so far managed to raise the frame with its heavy burden of goat hide and wool. Angry. Got to be able to do this. You carried the thing, why can’t you raise it? Come on, give it all you got, and it never even occurred to him, as he hauled himself upright and grimly wrapped the cord several times around his arm, that perhaps he ought to have called Liz for help. That time he got it, grabbing his wrapped arm with the opposite hand and throwing himself to the ground with as much force as he could muster, the hide frame coming up off the ground and into the tree as his full weight landed on that cord, after which he lay there for a good three or four seconds breathless and stunned by the hurt of his ribs hitting the ground like that, hardly even noticing that he was still hanging by one arm from the cord, slowly but steadily being pulled up into the tree by the weight of the frame, which was apparently somewhat greater than his own…

Muninn brought him out of it--perhaps sensing the seriousness of his plight or perhaps simply hoping for another scrap of meat--when he gave a harsh cry and floated down to the ground beside Einar, tugging at a bit of his hair and hopping back to await a response. Jarred out of his trance and not at all liking the fact that he found himself suspended rather painfully by one arm and gradually losing all contact with the ground Einar began struggling, would have cut the cord and freed himself but for the knowledge that any such action would send the frame crashing to the ground and possibly damaging it as well as negating all the hard work he’d gone through in raising it in the first place, so he did the next best thing, arching his body and swinging himself to the side until he was able to get both his legs wrapped around the spruce from one of whose branches the frame dangled, raising his upper body so that he could grab a low branch with his free arm, and steady himself. Then came the hard part as he struggled to bring his trapped arm close enough to the tree that he could snag the cord on a stub of a branch, catching it just above the spot where it was wrapped around his arm and quickly wrapping it twice, taking his weight off the arm and allowing him to free it. Hand was white and bloodless and didn’t work at all, but he didn’t care, knew it would be fine, given time. Using his teeth and fingers and whatever else was available he got the cord securely tied to the branch stub, sliding rather unceremoniously down the spruce trunk and to the ground the instant he was finished, badly winded and too exhausted to move, but at the same time so oddly triumphant that he found himself laughing aloud, Muninn standing over him and staring quizzically.

Some minutes later supper was ready and Liz, stepping outside to call Einar for the meal, was pleased to find him stretched out on his back, taking a break beneath a tree and apparently behaving himself quite well. When he responded to her announcement of supper time with nothing more than a weary little wave of a hand, as if to say wait, give me a minute, can’t get up just yet, she began to wonder whether she might have misinterpreted the situation, hurried to him and was about to be cross with him for having gone ahead and raised the hide without waiting for her help--she’d offered to help, insisted that she would help--but refrained, seeing as he was arguably doing the right thing in resting afterwards, as she’d been trying unsuccessfully to convince him to do ever since they arrived back home. One thing puzzled her, though, as she stared up into the spruce.

“How did you reach so high to tie that cord? You’re taller than me, but you’re not that tall.”

Einar laughed, slowly rolled over, hoisted himself up to his knees and stood. “Ask the raven…”

Which she did, but the bird wasn’t talking.

Comments from 24 August

Kellie said...
home sweet home!! thanks!

Thanks for reading!

Kathy/LADY KAYDEE said...
Poor Einar acts like he is about half dead.

Well, at least that leaves him half alive, still! Where there's breath, there's hope...
He’s trying not to let any of it show, but that can get awfully tiresome after a while.

colspt said...
Ahh, home at last. They have meat and two more good skins. I sure hope Liz will use that rabbit stick and make Einar eat and rest like he desperately needs to.

That goat skin, especially, will be excellent for the coming winter. And yes, I imagine Liz is contemplating the use of the rabbit stick, if Einar doesn’t behave.

Anonymous/EdD270 said...
Home and safe. Now EA needs to lay down and eat a lot of meat and honey, and sleep for about three days under the bear hide so he's warm. Then he needs to take it easy for about a week and let those ribs heal. He's showing all the signs of suffocation, or more properly oxygen deprivation typical at altitude. He'll be getting pulmonary and later cerebral edema if he don't take it easy.
EA take it easy? Yeah, like that's going to happen. But he will if he really cares for Liz and the baby. That's the only way he'll stay around to care for and protect them. And realize his dream of seeing his son grow up.

Going to be difficult for him to slow down at all, though maybe realizing that they’re finally doing pretty well on food and hides will help, some.

He is indeed having trouble with lack of oxygen, mostly because of the ribs but the altitude can’t be helping, at this point.

Nancy1340 said...
So glad they made it home.

So are they!

Anonymous said...
Yes Natural is the way to go, as I keep telling my wife, who only partially listens......

I guess cultural influences can be very powerful…

Anonymous/philip said...
philip here, just wanted to say thank you for writing... I was without internet, for Two whole days and survived (insert big cheesy smile of ~the kidd here~) However, on a serious note, I am having much trouble with nerves radiating from Lumbar #4/5 (sciatic nerve) and my right leg is either on fire, throbbing & generally bringing me to tears, OR numb, and not trustworthy to hold me up……

I am enjoying sleep in small beginnings, when I position myself free of nerve damaged areas...

cooked first meal in it... simple eggs & bread, not even toast! ~that is my report from out back of my town house, philip & Miss Cleo.

Philip, sorry you’re having such a rough time with your body right now. You’ll certainly be in my prayers.

Glad you’ve cooked your first meal in your new home, and are enjoying sleeping there!

Hope things improve soon with your leg.

24 August, 2011

24 August 2011

Anxious to be on her way home and hoping very much to be able to get Einar further from the red ridge before the helicopter returned for the day--if it intended to return--Liz was up early, lying wide awake on her side of their improvised bed of fir boughs, deer hide and mountain goat wool and staring up at the gently swaying tops of the little firs and the stunted, twisted orange-leafed aspens that had shielded them for the night as she contemplated their route, comfortable and hardly wanting to move but knowing they needed to be on their way. The night had been a surprisingly comfortable one considering the exposed, windy location of their camp and its lack of fire, mountain goat wool keeping them so warm that she was reasonably certain not even Einar had been awakened in the night due to the cold. He certainly did not appear cold at the moment, sprawled out on his back under the goat hide with arms crossed on his chest and the lines in his face looking just a bit less deep and firmly set than she’d been used to seeing them of late--must have found a more comfortable position for his ribs last night because it looks like he’s breathing a little easier, not hurting as badly, and I’m guessing the simple fact that he’s thoroughly warm for once and not having to shiver and huddle just to get through the night probably had a lot to do with that--seeming so exhausted yet so peaceful all at once that Liz hated to disturb him, but she knew his peace would never last past the first distant buzz of that returning helicopter, eased her way out of bed and began preparations to be on their way.

Awake at Liz’s first movement but seeming unable to quite get his eyes open--would have been able to manage it, no doubt, had there been some indication of a threat out there, but she was moving slowly, calmly; seemed all was well--Einar lay there for a time drifting near sleep, a great heaviness in his limbs and in his head that wanted to hold him down, pressing, leaden, pleasant in its own way and he would have liked to give in to it, go back to sleep but instead fought it--you’re just worn out and short on water, Einar, and it’s not gonna get a whole lot better until you get up and drink something, stir around, maybe even eat a little--got himself finally rolled over and up onto hands and knees, leaving the warmth of the bed and finding himself suddenly fully awake in the morning chill. Liz crouched over the cairn, dismantling it and removing the meat, and he joined her, moving slowly, legs still feeling the effects of whatever had knocked him off his feet and left him practically immobile for a time during Liz’s absence the day before. Fine morning, he wanted to tell her, time to head for home just as soon as we get things packed up, and it took him a long time to realize, sitting there helping with the meat and wondering why she wouldn’t answer, that he had not spoken at all. You need water. No more delays. Brain’s not working the way you think it is. But they’d finished everything the night before with their supper, Einar having poured most of his portion of their quart of shared water into Liz’s canteen so she would think they had plenty and be sure to drink as much as she needed--wouldn’t do to have her going into labor on the way back up to the cabin because she was dehydrated--which she had, and now it was all gone, but he knew what had to be done, got to his feet and started dizzily down towards the seep. Which alarmed Liz--she’d been trying to get some response from him since he’d joined her that morning, but he seemed not to be hearing her, and now here he was taking his hasty leave from the camp and nearly running into a small cluster of aspens with his first few steps--and she went after him.

Quickly as Einar was moving, walking headlong into trees but somehow seeming to bounce off them and continue without too much harm to himself--or the trees, poor things might end up dented by that hard head of his--Liz did not catch up until he’d nearly reached the seep, hung back and watched as he fell to his knees beside the entirely filled cook pot and consumed nearly half of its contents in one big, thirsty gulp, remaining there bowed over the damp granite slab for some minutes looking as though he was about to be sick as his body began absorbing the badly needed moisture. Finally Liz moved a bit closer and Einar looked up somewhat sheepishly, offered her the remaining water.

“Took all night, but the thing got full.”

“Yes. It’ll be enough. There’ll almost certainly be a little creek in the next draw, and we can fill up there. Come on now,” she grabbed an arm, pulled him to his feet, “it’s time to go.”

Not understanding the sudden urgency with which Liz wanted to be on their way and a bit puzzled at what he took to be an unusual level of crossness in her dealings with him--maybe she’s not feeling well this morning, tired from all her work yesterday and anxious to be at home--Einar hurried as well as he could back up to the cairn, Liz offering him a steadying hand now and then when he appeared likely to walk into a tree again or topple over backwards down the slope. Wasn’t bothering him much aside from the slight delay thrown into the climb, but as Liz seemed disturbed by the trend--must be in a pretty big hurry to get back to the cabin, and I can’t really blame her--Einar reluctantly accepted her assistance from time to time, and before he knew it they were on their way up the slope above that night’s camp with packs on their backs. It was always to remain a mystery to him how he’d got into that pack, and why he didn’t remember doing it, would later disturb him but for the moment he was so focused on keeping up with Liz--what’s got into that woman today? Never seen her move so fast I don’t believe, and my doggone legs just aren’t working the way they’re supposed to--that the thought did not even enter his mind.

Then the chopper came, zipping up the valley and hovering once more on the ridge, scouring the intricacies of its many adjoining basins and draws, and after that Einar had no more trouble at all keeping up with her.

Home. He knew the place long before catching sight of the distinctive granite outcropping that marked the area above the cabin itself, knew they needed to approach with caution on the chance--was always the chance, and always would be, so long as they were living as hunted creatures--that the place had been discovered in their absence, kept under surveillance or booby trapped or…Liz had paused too, was looking at him rather sharply and he realized that he’d sunk to his elbows in the prickly yellow remains of the summer’s grass there beneath his chosen evergreen, stomach pressed into the ground in an unconscious effort to give his ribs a bit of relief, and he scrambled up, back against the tree.

“Need to be careful how we do this. Circle the place. Make sure no one’s been here.”

“I already have. It looks fine.”

“You…?” Got to his feet, squinting up at the sun and desperately trying to figure out just how much time had passed since he’d last looked up, thought it looked like a good hour or two. “You really need to start kicking me if I go to sleep on my feet like that…no excuse, none at all.”

“You weren’t asleep! You were guarding the meat while I made a circuit of the cabin, checked it out. Somebody had to stay with it, or the coyotes might have moved in.”

Einar nodded, believing her but greatly distressed at having somehow lost the last few hours of the day and knowing that he almost certainly wouldn’t have consented to crouching under a tree at a safe distance while she went to recon the cabin…that was his job, but she’d apparently done it for him this time, and it seemed he ought to be glad, if anything. Grateful. Must let her think so, at least. And he tried, fought back the anger that was rising in him and kept silent instead of insisting, as he wished to do, that he must go take a second look at things before deciding it was safe to approach. She was sharp, competent, and he needed to trust her. Gonna have to in this case, because here we go

The cabin, much to Einar’s still somewhat doubting relief, was as they had left it, door bearing no new scratches to tell them of attempted raids in their absence and the nearby trees remaining full of their bounty of well-packaged dried meat and fat, and as they worked together to hang the goat meat for the night--the afternoon was cool; the meat could be dealt with the following day--Einar and Liz could not help but think that it had never been better to be home.

Comments from 23 August

Anonymous/EdD270 said...
Sounds like a pretty good night all things considered, except for the water shortage. And "only a few hours’ travel from home", that's really nice. Having had occassion to be on the road away from home for extended periods while working, I can appreciate how nice it is to be back home, or even near home.

Yes, and with the possibility of bears and other critters trying to get into the cabin the longer they’re gone, they have extra motivation to want to be home as soon as possible!

Kathy/LADY KAYDEE said...
I bet Liz would love to have some shampoo....
a razor...and deodorant... her underarms, by now, probably look like she has "Buckwheat" in a headlock!

Uh…no comment!

Except, I suppose, to say that I’ve never understood why some folks can’t be content with allowing their bodies to be the way God made them. (And now I’d had better quit before I really get in trouble, I guess…would hate to get kicked off my own blog for expressing unpopular opinions!)

RememberGoliad said...
And thank YOU, Chris, for your tireless efforts at telling these fine folks' story!

Well, thanks for reading! And for your comments.

23 August, 2011

23 August 2011

Afternoon gone, evening well underway and the meat almost entirely protected by Einar's mostly-finished cairn, it seemed to Liz only sensible that they should stay where they were for the night, rather than attempting to finish the several hours of mixed climbing and descent that would be required to reach the cabin. Einar, knowing how hard she had worked in retrieving the hide, did not object to the plan.

"Can't have a fire here though, not with us being still pretty close to the red ridge and those men, for all we know, still up there. Have to stick with a cold supper if we stay here."

"I'll admit I was really looking forward to a nice hot stew of fresh goat and serviceberries, but we still have some pemmican left, and between that and the remainder of this liver, we ought to be able to come up with a fine supper. I think we need to go ahead and camp here for the night. I could make it home and so, I'm sure, could you, but it would be well after dark and little Snorri was starting to complain a bit on the last part of that descent, so I think he'd be happier if I stopped now for the night."

"Complain? You having trouble?"

"No too much. Just some contractions that were a little heavier than normal, and some cramping...it's all stopped now, and will be just fine, I'm sure. I probably just need more water, like you did. And still do. Here, let's each have some."

"I'm out of water. Wanted to go down there to the seep in the bottom of this draw and fill up my container, but couldn't leave the meat until the cairn was finished. If you'll stay with the meat, I'll go get us all some more water."

She didn’t want to let him go, not the way he was looking, eyes all distant and face drawn despite the water she’d given him and his largely successful attempts to actively participate in the conversation, but being truly tired herself and ready to be off her feet for a while she nodded, handed him her water container and the cooking pot. The seep, as she remembered, was not too far down below them, just a small smear of dampness on a moss-covered slab of granite, and they hadn’t even bothered to stop on the way up, but she was sure Einar would find some way to extract water from it, and replenish their supply. So she stayed, working to stack a few more of the stones he’d gathered and complete the cairn--a tremendous amount of work he’d done in collecting and stacking those rocks, and she shook her head at the realization of the effort he’d put into it--thoroughly covering the meat but first removing the hide from the cache. Already the evening was quite chilly; they’d be needing the warmth of that good thick wool to get through their fireless night on the mountainside. Would need some shelter from the wind, too, and she spread out the contents of their two packs, taking the sheep hide, which still hadn’t had the opportunity to dry after its soaking in the hailstorm the day before--wish Einar would have spread it out in the sun while I was gone this afternoon so it could have at least begun drying, but it sounds like he was trying to keep himself ready to leave here at a moment’s notice, so I can’t blame him for leaving everything all packed up, really--and draping it over two stubby little firs adjacent to the cairn.

While too wet to provide them any warmth or insulation for the night, the sheep hide ought, she thought, to serve quite well in breaking the force of the wind. And the deer hide, in which they’d slept the previous night, was dry, as were their clothes--a huge improvement over last night, and that’s not even taking into consideration this incredible goat hide we’ve got to cover ourselves with! It’s looking like this may be our first truly warm night since leaving the cabin, if nothing happens to interfere with it. Like another hailstorm. Or Einar somehow managing to enlarge that seep so much in his quest for water that he ends up sitting in it and comes back thoroughly soaked and mostly frozen…that would interfere, all right! But I don’t think even he can get that much water from a damp slab of granite. I’ll have to hope not! And she shook her head at the thought of it, began searching for a few soft-needled fir boughs with which to cushion their bed and get them up off the cold, rocky ground for the night. Having amassed a good-sized pile of small branches--not her first choice in bed-making, normally, but on that high, rocky slope, all the branches were small ones--Liz carefully stacked and arranged them behind the sheep hide screen some twenty feet from the meat cairn, close enough to hear and intervene if anything tried to get at their food in the night, but far enough away not to be directly in the critter’s path, should it be something like a bear. Branches all in place she tucked the dry deer hide in overtop them, spreading the incredibly heavy, woolen coat of the mountain goat over that. A fine bed, and the best they’d had since leaving the cabin, for sure.

Einar, meanwhile, was having a hard time obtaining much water at all from the seep, whose extent his thirsty brain had apparently rather badly overestimated. Finding no puddle in the rather porous gravel beneath the slab over which the water oozed he tired pressing a length of nettle cordage against the dampest part of the rock, trailing its bottom end down into the cookpot and hoping it might serve as a channel for moisture to run down, eventually filling the pot. Which it would have, by morning perhaps, but as Einar crouched there shivering in the raw wind and watching--squinting, light beginning to fail--one slow drop after another find its way down into the pot, he knew he’d better be coming up with another strategy. While he might not have minded spending an entire night watching--and then listening to--water seep and dribble into the pot, Liz would doubtless have some objections, especially considering that she was short on water and counting on him to fetch her some. Shaking himself from the near-trance into which he’d settled and rubbing cold-stiff hands to restore some flexibility he began choosing clumps of moss that had grown up along the course of the water, squeezing them into the pot and filling it with reasonable speed, that way. Wasn’t enough water to fill both their containers and the pot, as Liz had hoped, and knowing how long it would take those moss clumps to become saturated again Einar stood, cupped his hands around his ears and turned his head this way and that, listening for an alternate source of water, but hearing nothing. Not close by, at least, and with darkness nearly complete and Liz up there at the cairn waiting for her water, he decided to call it a night and make do with what they had, which amounted to well over a quart between them.

Too bad we’re not up just a bit higher, or we could be using one of those icy little leftover snow banks for water. Leaving the cookpot behind with his bit of cordage trailing into it in the hopes of finding it full come morning he started stiffly up the slope, much to the relief of Liz, who had begun to wonder if he really had found a way to turn that little seep into a pool and decided to soak himself in it for the night. Would not have been entirely unlike him…

“Little short on water tonight. Seep wasn’t what I remembered it being.”

His voice sounded all shivery and exhausted--was too dark by that time to see more than faint, shadowy silhouettes in the last of the evening light; darkness was coming noticeably earlier, of late--and she wished they might have a fire that night after all, heat what water he had managed to scrape together and have a little hot soup and tea, but knew she’d have to be content with the fact that they had a good dry warm bed, plenty of fresh liver and some leftover pemmican for their supper, a bit of shelter from the wind and were, come morning, only a few hours’ travel from home.

Comments from 22 August

colspt said...
Wow, a love scene! lol

No, no…that was just Einar attempting to act human. He’s not very good at it, most of the time…

Nancy1340 said...
Smart bird and I ain't talking 'bout the bird. LOL

: )

Anonymous/EdD270 said...
Woah! Einar getting romantic?? Now that IS something to write home about!! Good on you EA. Thank heavens for Munnin, what a great "pet" to have with them. He seems to be smarter than EA sometimes anyway.

Well, I guess it’s better to be called “dumber than a raven” (ravens being extremely smart critters, as critters go) than “dumber than a rock,” so Einar shouldn't mind that insult too much.

RememberGoliad said...
Another observation, for what it's worth... Sense of smell must be relative, at least what pleases a person [grin]...

"...scent of her hair sweet like willows in the sunshine..."

Hmm.... how long since she's washed it? And remember the really gross jokes the campers were making about Einar? Like I said, must be that the pleasing aspect of a smell is a relative thing :)

Yes, I would think that what pleases a person can tend to be a mighty individual thing…

With easy access to the spring while at the cabin, I expect Liz washes her hair fairly frequently, if she wants to. But even if she hasn’t done so recently, human hair doesn’t smell unpleasant if left in its natural state. It only smells badly when washed too frequently with the nasty chemical and perfume laden “products” that everybody seems so fond of, these days < yuck! >

22 August, 2011

22 August 2011

Moving carefully and as quietly as he was able, Einar continued working his way up towards the source of the raven's alarm, knife in hand as he went, knowing that when he closed with his foe, the distance would likely be quite short and the timber too dense to make much use of the atlatl. A bit more climbing, Muninn's calls seeming to grow more and more frantic as the distance closed between Einar and his adversary, and then he could hear it, a faint swish and crackle as the man--men? Almost certainly wouldn't send just one--worked his way down the draw, still hidden from sight by a screen of shoulder-high firs so dense the sunlight could barely pass through them...when it was sunny, which it was not, and Einar was cold but didn't feel it except in the untimely cramping of his legs as he fought to remain standing, searching, hoping to ambush his foes and dispatch them silently before they could send word that they had been spotted, radio for help, all but one, who he must keep alive at least long enough to extract from him all the information the man might have on where they’d taken Liz, what they intended to do with her and what their plan might be for bringing him in, and who knew? Perhaps he’d end up having to keep the man as a hostage, head down with him to town and negotiate for…no way, forget that. Would never work. You’d all end up dead, you and the fed and Liz and the baby, all of you, if you try anything that direct… Close. They were very close, and Einar stopped moving, took up a position perched somewhat precariously on the narrow trunk of a fallen aspen, waiting, hovering directly upslope from what looked to him like their most probable path and fighting hard to prevent himself toppling over and ending up lying on his face in said path, which despite his focus on the approaching enemy he felt himself rather close to doing, wished they’d hurry up and show themselves...

The enemy did not come. Liz did. She looked worried, hurried as she emerged from the trees and began casting about it search of him, and Einar observed her in silence for several seconds from his position of concealment, watching to make sure she wasn't being followed as he didn't want to give himself away and lose his advantage if she was, but she did not appear to be, not closely, at least, and it was with great relief that Liz regarded him the next moment as he eased down from his perch and joined her beside the cache. Throwing down her burden--appeared that whatever else might have gone wrong up there, she had indeed retrieved the elk hide--she ran to him, took him by the shoulders and looked him in the eye for a long moment before leading him over to the nearest pile of rocks where he sat down heavily, suddenly very dizzy and not understanding why, not liking it. Einar did not understand her behavior, either, kept glancing up the draw behind them and wanted very much to ask what had delayed her, how great a hurry they might need to be in as they took their leave of the area. Tried to get the words out but just ended up coughing instead, which hurt his ribs and felt as though it must be tearing something in there, and besides Liz wasn't listening, was wrapping his middle with a strip of cloth, tying it and insistently holding water from her container--his had been empty for hours--up to his mouth so that he couldn’t have spoken even had it not been for the coughing fit, and finally he drank just to get her to stop.

"What is it, what...what's the hurry here? They see you? Coming?"

"They...no! No one was up there. No one saw me. I just got tied up for a while and I'm awfully sorry, tell you about it soon but I was hurrying because of Muninn. He came to get me and it seemed pretty urgent the way he was carrying on, trying to lead me to you in a hurry, so I hurried."

"Oh no, nothing...I thought they might have found you up there, nothing wrong down here but I was trying to get this cairn done so I could leave the meat and come for you, and guess I...wasn't working quite as quickly as I should have been, but it was coming along. The cairn. Wanted to protect the meat while I was away. I was about to start up there when you showed up... Don’t know why Muninn was so anxious to get you down here. Way he was acting I thought he was trying to warn me about whoever was coming, but I’m sure glad he wasn’t, because he kept flying from you to me and swooping in on me in a way that would have surely given me away, had it been the enemy and not you who was coming… What happened? You run into some sort of trouble up there?"

Nothing wrong down here? Except for you being half frozen, terribly short on water and having worked yourself nearly to death moving these rocks, you mean? This raven was a smart bird, coming for me when he did. I thought he was talking to me the way he kept swooping back and forth between us, trying to tell me I needed to come quickly. He knows when a person’s getting in trouble and needs some help realizing it… "No trouble, really. I ran into terrain that wasn't quite as I'd remembered it, that's all. Going up the way I did left me a big open space of steep rock to cross--probably two or three hundred yards of it with nothing but some little mats of willow for concealment--before I reached the level where we'd stashed the hide, and with that chopper still buzzing around in the distance and men on the main ridge, I sure didn't want to commit to that much time out in the open. So I had to inch my way over through the steep timber until I found a spur where the little trees went a lot further up, and I could make my way along without being out in the open. It worked but took so much longer than I'd anticipated, because those little trees were so tangled and close-growing, and the whole spur was chopped up here and there with little draws and ten foot cliffs I had to either climb or go around, both on the way up and again after I'd got the hide and was heading down...I'm so sorry for using our entire afternoon this way!"

Einar didn't say anything, just pressed her to him and kissed the top of her head, scent of her hair sweet like willows in the sunshine. "You're quite a mountain woman, Lizzie. Real proud of you. Did exactly what you needed to do. And got the hide, too."

"Oh I had no intention of leaving the hide, not after making that climb! But I'm sorry I made you worry by being gone so long...and this cairn had to be a tremendous amount of work."

"Ah, you didn't make me worry, really. Managed that all by myself. Just glad we're back on the same chunk of rock again, now."

"Why, because you've 'kinda got used to' me, just like you said about the raven?"

Einar smiled, got that faraway look in his eyes that Liz had seen a number of times but could never quite interpret, looked away. "Yep. Guess that must be it. Something like." And she didn't mind his answer at all...

21 August, 2011

Comments from 20 August

No chapter today, but back with another tomorrow. Hope everyone is having a good weekend.

Anonymous/TheGatherer said...
Einars perception of 'why' the Raven is acting strangely... may just be Einars perception (+ his past)... then it just may be Susan wanting to be a midwife... only the FOTH knows...

His perception is no doubt being affected by past experience, but best to be safe.

Nancy1340 said...
Sure ...... leave us hanging while you take off tomorrow. Meanie..LOL

Well, I’ve got to end a chapter somewhere…

RememberGoliad said...
waaah waaah... maybe they were wrong about the timing??? Liz did something too strenuous????

That would definitely be an urgent reason for Einar to want to go find her…though I’m sure Liz would be quite capable of handling the situation on her own, if she had to. Hope it’s not the baby, though--it’s too early still, and there’s no extra oxygen up where they are…

Kathy/LADY KAYDEE said...
I love that bird......he's a real asset
to Einar and Liz.

They’re definitely getting used to him, too.

Paradox said...
Argh! I take a week or so off of regular daily reading, and come back to a cliff of this magnitude?! NOT NICE! :)

Well, I never did claim to be nice…

Thanks for reading!

20 August, 2011

20 August 2011

Muninn, watching him from the tree, looked skeptical of his idea and so, Einar supposed, should he be; Liz was careful and had known the risks of climbing up above treeline with people on the ground and the chopper in the air, and it seemed quite unlikely that she would have allowed herself to be seen, let alone captured. And the wildlife survey probably was…exactly what it seemed to be. Still, the unexpected did happen, and Einar could not shake a feeling that something must have gone terribly wrong up there to delay her so. Wanted to go looking for her, start after her up the draw where he'd watched her disappear, but he knew he must not leave any of the meat behind lest they risk losing it to hungry scavengers, and when he measured the two loads with his eyes, trying to think what it would be like to carry both up that slope on his back, he shook his head, lowered himself back to the ground beside the pack boards. Couldn't even seem to haul himself around very effectively at the moment, and could tell he would be hard-pressed, if nothing changed, to get his own scrawny carcass up that chute, let alone all or even half the meat. Well then, something had to change, he had to make it change so he'd be ready if Liz did not show up soon or if he had reason to believe she needed help up there or wherever they’ve taken her...don't go there Einar, you know they probably haven’t taken her at all, but he couldn't help it, and when he thought of trying to get himself down to the valley, find out where they had gone with her and devise a plan for getting her back, all without getting the three of them--or at least the two of them, guess I’m pretty expendable in this mix, when it comes down to it--killed, it was almost more than he could wrap his brain around.

Sure hope you're safe up there Lizzie 'cause if not, doggone it, I'm coming for you and there’s no way that child of ours is gonna be raised in captivity. Shouldn’t have let you go up there by yourself, not now with the baby probably limiting how fast you can move if things do go wrong...though truly there isn't much sign of it in the way you conduct yourself day to day, a person would hardly know, aside from the little one being so visible now... And with the possibility of a rescue mission of one sort or another foremost in his mind and suddenly rather angry at himself for allowing the combination of circumstances that had rendered him all but useless when it came to such things he forced himself to his feet, put all of his concentration into keeping his legs under him and, locking his knees, managed it for a good fifteen seconds or so before collapsing in a heap on the goat hide, out of breath and so cramped up he could barely pry himself out of the ball he'd curled into.

Not working too well is it? Looks like a fella can only get so far on water and adrenalin, no matter how thoroughly convinced he may be that he can sustain himself indefinitely that way, and your legs seem to be telling you they’re about through. Things aren’t working right, electrolytes out of balance and what muscle is left not doing what you need it to do. Gonna have to have some more to eat...you know how it is, don’t have to wait for Liz to come along and remind you about the liver or shove some broth into your hands and stand over you with the rabbit stick until you finish it, like she’s just about resorted to doing a few times here lately...just get yourself some more of that liver, why don’t you?

Which he did, but only, he insisted to himself, as if needing to justify the action, because there was some chance Liz would be needing him up there, and he simply had no way to get there in his present condition. Liver helped so he had some more, more, even, than he'd had just after cleaning the goat, felt like sleeping after that but kept himself wide awake watching for Liz to reappear at the top of that chute, listening for the scrape or clatter of a rock from far above, anything that would have given him some indication that she was on her way, but hearing nothing. Glancing up at the sunlight on the adjacent ridge he wondered how long it had been since he'd awakened, returned to awareness, whatever he'd done, and though it felt like hours he could see it had not been long at all. He would wait then, had to wait, give her adequate time to make her way back down on her own before going after her, and in the meantime, he set about trying to figure a way to secure the meat in his absence, should he have to make the trip up there. Sure wasn't taking it with him. But at least he could stand again, legs not too steady and feeling on the verge of cramping up again if he demanded too much of them but they would get him up the slope, and would have to do.

The meat and hide he would have to cache, piling heavy granite slabs all around it until it was covered and hoping they would be enough to temporarily keep it from the jaws of scavengers, as the area entirely lacked in trees large enough to suspend such a quantity of food far enough off the ground to do it any good. The strategy would work quite well against coyotes as they were not strong enough to move aside the rocks he would use--that’s assuming you’re strong enough to move the rocks you’re gonna use, which is assuming a lot, today--but bears, if one should happen along, would have no trouble at all accessing the meat. Well. He'd do what he could. And had better get started, long as it might take him to move all those rocks into place. Wouldn't want to be starting the job just as dark was approaching, Liz still having made no appearance and he deciding that he must go after her. Granite existed there on the slope in abundance, the ground beneath the timber being little more than a slightly overgrown rockslide, so Einar had no trouble finding suitable slabs as he moved the two packs close together, covered them with the hide and began encasing the lot in rock, one slab after another, building them up higher and all the time keeping one ear out for Liz. Or the helicopter. Or both. Moving quickly at first Einar got the first two rows of rocks stacked, slowing down then despite his best efforts, as the strain of all that heavy lifting began to wear on his ribs, further inflaming things and making it increasingly difficult and costly to draw a full breath. Had to keep going.

One can only keep going so long on inadequate oxygen, however, and after a time Einar found himself draped forward over the partially built cairn, pressing his ribs and feeling near losing consciousness as he fought to clear the welling blackness from before his vision, get back to work. Would have managed it sooner, he was pretty sure, had his heart not been behaving so strangely, speeding up and then slowing down and seeming to miss beats here and there, only adding to his breathless, and he drifted for a good while somewhere between dream and a desperate, wide-eyed attempt to keep himself breathing. The dream side of things won out after a time, Einar’s head falling forward and the world going dark. Watching him, Muninn the raven stirred restlessly on his perch, glided down and brought Einar hastily back to full awareness when he landed on a nearby rock and gave him a gentle tap on the shoulder. And almost got himself turned into supper, too, barely hopping back quickly enough to avoid Einar's knife.

"Don't do that to me, you cantankerous old vulture, not if you want to live through the evening..." But he was grateful to the bird, really, once he got over his startlement a bit, took a gulp of water and returned to work on the cairn, completing another row of rocks before again pausing.

The sun had gone from the far ridges as he worked, and still Liz had not returned. He was going to have to make that climb. Or so he thought, until Muninn, who had been watching his work with a critical eye, tilting his head this way and that and at times offering a harsh word or two by way of commentary, took flight and swooped up along the heavily timbered sides of the draw, circling and rasping and cawing around a spot nearly halfway up before returning to Einar and roosting on the half-finished meat-cairn, croaking and cawing and generally making a fuss looking like he wanted to take off again.

"What is it up there, fella?" Einar whispered to the bird as if half expecting an answer. "You see her in those trees, real fine looking lady with an elk hide on her back, or is it someone else that's got your feathers all ruffled? Never seen you get upset like that about Lizzie showing up."

Muninn answered him with a quick peck to the arm and a harsh rasping, launching himself back up into the air and again making the quick glide up the draw. Einar didn't like it, thought the bird's behavior most unusual compared from what he'd come to expect of it, almost as though the creature were trying to alert him to the presence of whoever or whatever was up there...or it of him, which appeared to be more the case, but that hardly made sense. Either way he knew he must be ready, left the meat and crept up in amongst the timber above the cairn, small but dense and concealing, working his way slowly up towards the spot where the raven seemed to be focusing most of his rather noisy attention. If it was Liz coming down that draw so much the better, but the bird's behavior indicated something different, more sinister, and Einar's mind went immediately to a number of possible scenarios, chief among them being that with Liz captured and taken off in the chopper, they were now coming for him. He would be ready. Would not let it end that way, not for him, and not for her, either. If only that doggone bird would quit swooping back and circling round his head, alerting the enemy to every change in his position...