30 September, 2011

30 September 2011

With the day warm and nearly windless Einar had managed to avoid further damaging his frostbitten fingertips while out tracking himself, Liz glad when she inspected them during a short break on the return trip and found only a small blister or two. They would heal. Einar did not seem to share her relief and excitement at the discovery, hardly appeared to care about the fingers at all, simply nodding, shrugging and continuing the climb when she told him they’d better put together an ointment of hound’s tongue and bear grease upon returning to the cabin, dress the fingers with it and allow them a couple days’ healing before he ran the morning trapline again in the cold.

Once back at the cabin Einar attacked the task of preparing additional caches with a single-minded fury that would have frightened Liz somewhat had she not still been so thoroughly awash in relief at their being able to return home. Leaving him to his work--was no sense getting in his way when he was like that, and she knew it--she started a batch of stew simmering, unpacked the everyday use items they’d crammed into their packs before their hasty departure that morning, and thoroughly swept every square inch of the cabin floor with a rough broom she’d constructed of dozens of willow twigs, tied and bound to a straight aspen stick. It was good, so awfully, terribly good to be home, good to have the place clean, warm, looking fresh and beginning to smell of stew once again, so good that Liz found her heart fairly bursting with joy even as she sorrowed for Einar, who crouched out on the cold, slushy ground before the cabin bloodying frostbitten fingers in his hurry to weave several of the large willow containers that would hold their additional caches. Good work and necessary, the need for several such arrangements having been made painfully clear by their almost-evacuation that morning, both of them knowing even more surely than they had known before how much trouble they’d find themselves in should they be forced to abandon the cabin suddenly in the winter, baby on the way or having already arrived, without a backup plan or three already in place, rehearsed, tested and found to be practicable. Good work, but she wished he might slow down a bit, allow himself a break every once in a while, a bite to eat, perhaps do the things that might have some chance of preventing his getting into the sort of situation--hungry, exhausted and not seeing the world terribly clearly--that had led to the track scare that morning, in the first place.

Despite appearances to the contrary Einar was indeed contemplating the events of the day, still furious with himself for having allowed such an oversight. What if those tracks had been real? Had not been your own, and you too disconnected and blind to notice them on your first trip through, this morning? Could have been the end of it for both of you, all three of you, and with your job being to watch out for these folks…well, that’s just beyond inexcusable. Got to wake up, find a way to…to get your head out of this doggone fog and back where it needs to be, Einar. Liz is counting on you and if you’re not gonna be able to follow through on that…well, then she and the little one really would be better off down there with Susan, and you’d better just give up on everything here and start planning that hike. Hike out. End it. Give them a chance. Which thoughts--though of course he’d been the one to bring them up, and no other--would ordinarily have left Einar fuming, grumbling and silently ranting to himself about the foolishness of any such plan, but that day they merely made him sad. Doubtful. Questioning it, all of it, the wisdom of bringing a child into the world under such harsh conditions--he’d never questioned that one before, really, and neither had Liz at least within his hearing; others had done it in the past, and so could they--the chances that they could remain one step ahead of their pursuers long enough to give the child any sort of a reasonable start in life, his ability to provide for their little family as they strove to do that…

Don’t know, Einar, just don’t know how you think you’re gonna be fit not only to provide for them but protect them--as is your duty, and as you’ve always done--if you can’t even recognize your own tracks when you stumble across them on the trapline some morning. You’re slipping, missing things, overlooking them and one of these times that oversight’s gonna be fatal or worse, and not just to you most likely--wouldn’t be so bad if that was all…I could accept it that way, gonna happen to each of us, eventually, that we leave our bones out amongst the rocks and provide a little meal for the birds, and this isn’t a bad place to do it--but to Liz and the kid, too. By default. Because those’re awful steep odds, a woman and a new baby all on their own out here in the dead of winter. Might make it, but you know the chances aren’t all that great. Got to do better, see that it doesn’t happen that way, but I just don’t know…how to get things turned around at this point. Finding myself to be pretty lost here, and I just…Lord, I got to do better by them. Got to be here to provide, got to be worth something to them--which I hardly am right now, hard as I work and scramble and try to convince myself otherwise--and I just don’t know how to get there from here. Don’t know.

Liz knew. Came to him with a steaming pot of goat stew, enriched with bear fat, serviceberries and the starch of several carefully pounded lily corms and served with a strong, sweet tea of honey and nettle, laying the meal carefully on a flat stone near where he was working and taking the mostly completed cache basket from his bloody, battered fingers, gently cleaning them, drying, applying bits of freshly made salve until their throbbing grew slightly less and he was able, with the aid of several soft wraps of rabbitskin on his right hand where it had seen the worst of the damage, to take the pot she held out to him. A good start.

“Eat, Einar, and then I’ll help you finish the caches. It’s looking like a clear day, and as fast as this snow is melting, maybe tomorrow will be a good time to place one of them.”

Comments from 29 Sept.

colspt said...
Whew,what a relief and what a wake up call for Einar.
Hope now he will eat more, rest more and heal. Good writing FOTH, thank you.

Hopefully so, with the baby soon to be coming...

apple said...
Thank you for the new chapter, I almost feel I am following a couple in real time :-)

Thanks for reading!

29 September, 2011

29 September 2011

The tracks were not fresh. Einar had been sure of that much as soon as he’d seen them, their depth and definition not in the least resembling the faint scratches and scrapings made by his boots and Liz’s as they traversed the hard-frozen snow that morning, and he supposed the fact ought to be reassuring, but it wasn’t. Meant the intruder must have passed by sometime during the previous day, late morning or early afternoon, judging from the slight melting and expansion around the edges of the tracks, had made his way along through the timber not terribly far below the cabin and might well have smelled their smoke, if not seen it. And now he was gone, long gone by the looks of things and beyond their reach had they wanted to stop him. Which Einar very much did, wanted to track him down, observe him and measure his intentions, and he certainly would have done so had the man not possessed such a solid lead.

As it was, Liz following him at a careful distance and keeping a sharp eye out for any sign that they were being watched, Einar stalked the trail down through the willow-clearing, keeping to the timber and observing it from a distance as it pursued a rather straight course, straighter than he would have normally walked and, as confirmed for him by long experience with such matters, straighter than most other men would have traveled as well, unless pressed for time and bent on covering ground as quickly as possible in pursuit of one mission or another. The man had at times behaved oddly though, wandering from his straight course with footsteps that appeared erratic, stumbling, tripping around for half a minute or so before standing stalk-still, turning one way and another as if attempting to regain his bearings or, Einar could not help but think, trying to remember where he was, and why he had come to be there. Which could mean one of several things, could indicate anything from a wayward and weary hunter--more than weary I’d have to say; fella looks like he’s half dead and mighty confused…wonder if he’s gonna make it down at all?--anxious to be down out of the snowy backcountry to a traveler who had observed some sign of their presence, drawn his conclusions and was moving cautiously, stopping to listen for signs of trouble as he made his way out to report the sighting to the feds. Crouched there studying the man’s track where they disappeared into the spruces he shook his head, wishing he could answer with some certainty the riddle, discern the man’s purpose and intentions. Without some measure of certainty he was beginning to doubt the wisdom of their remaining in the area, starting to fear the prospect of returning to the cabin, even, lest they find that an ambush had been laid in their absence. Liz seemed to sense his growing doubt, crouched beside him and put a hand on his knee.

“A hunter, do you think?”

“He wasn’t carrying much of a pack by the looks of his stride, certainly not any portion of a deer or elk. Not a very heavy fellow for the size of the boots, either. And he was limping, dragging a heel now and then, breaking that real straight, purposeful stride of his and wandering like he was lost…looks like he must have been awful tired.”

“An unsuccessful hunter? Tired and sore-footed and maybe even slightly injured? It’s easy to slip and twist an ankle on the snowy rocks, and with all this new snow, the elk have probably almost all gone down lower, so it’s not unreasonable to imagine he might have been unsuccessful.”

“Yes, as every hunter would know, which is part of what concerns me. Why was he up this high right now? And what did he see?”

“Our smoke, maybe.”

Einar nodded, silent, eyes grave, and Liz knew what he was thinking, shook her head.

“I don’t want to leave.”

“Neither do I, but if it’s between that and waiting around to be captured…”

“We only have the one cache that’s far enough from the cabin. It wouldn’t be much to start a winter on. Let’s not be hasty about it. Let’s try and figure out what this guy was doing up here.”

Einar nodded, went back to studying the tracks.

“Looks like his boots were pretty close to being worn out…see here how the tread’s all broken down along the outer edge? Bet he was anxious to get down out of the high country with these ratty old boots, once the snow started. But there’s a pretty good chance he might have spotted our smoke on his way past, even if he was a lousy hunter with bad boots. And though it’ll probably take him longer to make it down out of the mountains than it might someone who was better equipped, he’ll get there eventually. Seeing how badly he was limping though, looks like I’ve got a better chance than I first thought of catching up to him if I really hustle. Better do it, better have you wait over at our cache--just in case he’s already made it out and reported this--while I…”

“Einar, sit down!”


“Right here on this log--sit down.” He sat, still puzzled but recognizing the urgency in her voice and Liz crouched beside him, pulling off his right boot, holding it sole-side up beside one of the tracks.

“When you were out collecting bark for shingles the other day--yesterday! That was yesterday!--did you come down this far?”

Einar shook his head, rested it on his knees as he placed a hand in the nearest track. Didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, understanding where Liz was going with her question and knowing she was right. He rose, relieved, ashamed and terribly angry with himself--probably would have been frightened, too, had he not been so mad--took her pack as well as his own and started up the slope towards the cabin, grim, silent, unable to meet Liz’s eye when she came up beside him and kept pace but then she stopped and he stopped too, leaning on his spear and staring at the ground until she took his face in her hands--dear, dear Einar, don’t do this to yourself--still trying to persuade him to look at her. Which finally he did, only to find her eyes glowing, full of life and something that could easily have been mistaken for joy.

“It’s alright. It was only part of a day, and now we get to keep our cabin and everything we’ve set aside for the baby…Einar, I’m so glad it was just your tracks we were following all this time, and I know you’re unhappy that you were able to make that kind of mistake but it’s one any of us could make under the right circumstances, so let’s just leave it, go home and get on with the day. I can’t wait to get home! So glad we get to see that place again…”

No, things are not Ok, not with me anyway. I’ve lost it, lost just about everything that was keeping me going out here and now it seems I’ve lost my tracking skills and my mind both, in addition to everything else. “Yeah. Me too. Glad we can go home, and I’m gonna get us some more caches set up so we’ll be better off if this ever happens again. Happens for real. This was a good opportunity to assess our state of readiness I guess, though it never should have happened. I’m just sorry the little one’s got a lousy hunter with bad boots, a limp and a head full of mush for a father. Guess he ought to have better than that.”

“We can fix it! All of it. New boots are next on the list for both of us, and all you need to do to get the mush out of your head is eat, eat more than once or twice in a week and maybe allow yourself a bit of rest now and then, and your head will be just fine. Now. It’s a beautiful fall day, sunny and warming up and the snow’s starting to melt off, so what do you say we go home and do the next step in getting that goat hide tanned?” Reluctantly Einar took the hand Liz was offering him--didn’t deserve it, or her, or any of it, grace, gift freely given and sometimes so terribly difficult to accept--and they started up the slope together.

28 September, 2011

28 September 2011

No chapter today, as I wasn't able to get one written last night.

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

27 September, 2011

27 September 2011

Liz was somewhat alarmed at the sudden earnestness in Einar’s eyes, the way he clung to her, and she stopped in her bustling excitement over the soon-to-be rabbit stew, sat down beside him. “Tracks. I saw tracks on my way up here.”

“What kind of tracks?”

“They were…I might have seen wrong, but looked like they were human tracks. Headed down.”

She was on her feet, staring hard at him and looking angry and scared all at once. “I don’t think you can have seen wrong. You don’t see wrong when it comes to tracks. Human tracks, and you’re just now telling me?”

“Just now remembering… I wasn’t quite awake when I saw them, which is why I’m hoping I just saw wrong, imagined them, something…but I’m starting to think they may have been real.”

“Where? Where area they?” Liz was moving as she spoke, shoving items into her backpack and tossing Einar’s to him, demanding that he hurry, pack, get things together. They were leaving. Had at least to be prepared to leave, because there was no way she was sitting there in the cabin and waiting for some unknown individual--she hoped it was and individual, and not an entire group whose tracks Einar had crossed, but wasn’t sure he would have told her at present, was not certain he would have been able to remember--to happen upon their cabin with them in it. Or to make his way back down to the nearest spot where he could get a phone connection, and call in a tip… Einar got the idea, began packing--didn’t have to add much, as he kept that pack ready to go when he wasn’t using it for other purposes, loaded down with as much as he could reasonably carry should they have to hastily abandon the place in the night--alarmed at the realization that Liz had been the first one to think of the step. He took another spoonful of honey, hoping it might help him wake up, be a bit more quick on his feet.

“Down in the willows they were, between here and the tarn. Just a single set of tracks, heading down. But before we act, I need to go back and make sure. Like I said, could have been imagining things.”

“Einar, you…oh, let’s go. I’m coming with you. Don’t forget about your hands. You don’t want to freeze them again. Better keep them tucked inside your shirt part of the time, under a hide, something. Here. I’ll wear my parka, you take both hides. You’re still freezing from earlier. I can see it. My pack is ready.”

“Mine too. I’ll put out the fire.”

Silently they set out together across the clearing and into the timber, moving cautiously, Einar’s atlatl and darts slung over his back, spear grasped tightly in one hand despite the still-painful results of the morning’s minor frostbite as they descended through the trees, heading for the spot where he believed he had seen the tracks. Wished his memory might be clearer. Figured it would have been, had he eaten some breakfast that morning before setting out.

There. He remembered that twisted, fire-blackened old stump of a limber pine where it jutted out over a grove of lively little willows, enduring victim of some long-ago lightening strike, and he pointed to it, nodded to Liz and traded spear for atlatl, holding a dart at the ready. Hand hurt, but he wasn’t even feeling it. As they advanced on the remains of the tree, step by silent, stealthy step, moving slowly so as not to make crunchings and cracklings in the still-frozen morning snow, Einar found himself wishing Muninn was with them, as the bird seemed quite adept at surveying a scene and giving warning when it was due. The bird had flown off first thing that morning, though, taking advantage of the break in the weather to skim across the treetops and down across the basin in search of a bite to eat, and he had not yet put in an appearance.

Careful. They may be waiting to ambush you. Tracks may have been a decoy to get your attention and keep you looking in the wrong direction while they set up their ambush, and suddenly things took on a very dangerous feel, Einar wide awake and motioning to Liz to keep low, follow him into the willows. Beneath the concealment of the little trees he crouched, waited until she drew so near that he barely had to whisper to make himself heard.

“Up there…you see the little stand of firs just up the hill?”

She nodded. “Get yourself up there, real slow, real quiet, and wait for me. Don’t like the feel of this. Don’t want the little one in the middle of it until I get some idea of what’s going on. Wait for me there. I’ll come for you in a minute.”

Liz did not even consider protesting. His tone of voice left no room for protest. She went, swiftly, quietly, to wait for him, praying that he would make the right decisions down there, conduct himself with caution and be ready should the situation prove more dangerous than either of them yet knew.

Through the willows Einar moved, twisting, turning, barely brushing a stalk or a shoot, despite the density of the patch as he wound his way closer to the blackened tree that was connected in his memory with the sighting of the tracks. Not a sound, not a breath of wind stirred the willows as he moved, and despite the persistent chill of the morning, the place was beginning to seem terribly oppressive. Nothing. Reached the tree without seeing anything out of the ordinary, and he was relieved. Would be embarrassing to have to admit to Liz that he had imagined the entire thing, dreamt it, but he couldn’t have cared less, knowing what those tracks, had they been real, would have meant for the two of them. Einar’s relief was short lived, and he stopped, frozen in his footsteps, staring into the brush around him and listening, listening, but hearing nothing. Sensing nothing. Hoped he could trust his senses. Knew they had been failing him, of late.

Time to go back for Liz, no immediate danger detected in the area, no ambush, and Einar beginning to grow more and more uncomfortable at the idea of her being up there in the trees alone. She was waiting exactly where he’d asked her to wait, bow ready, arrow in place as she crouched behind a small outcropping of granite, peering over its top in readiness. Recognized Einar, lowered the bow. Come, and his voice was barely a whisper, barely a breath, and they reached the burnt-out tree together, Einar pointing to a small clearing just beyond it.

There in the snow, neat and so crisp that she could nearly read the word on the logo in the center of the tread, lay a single line of boot tracks, heading down.

Comments from 26 September

Nancy1340 said...
"Barely even officially winter yet--not that it matters up here, winter starts when it starts--and here you are nearly frozen to death for…what? The third or fourth time? How long do you really think you’re gonna last if you keep this up, Einar? One of these days you’re gonna miscalculate, run out of energy and crash before you make it back to the cabin and then what? You leave your lady and the little one to fend for themselves out here, that’s what. And that’s something you got no right to do, not if you have any choice in the matter. Better find a different solution, different way to do this, better…"

It's about time!!!!
Yes, really it is...

Marcos Eliziário said...
Einar is acting irresponsible and his actions are being utmost egotistical and stupid. His so-called "training" has no rational basis, and is making him less fit to provide his family with the security he is bound to provide as a father. If putting my family at danger, at the same time where I cripple myself to the point of being a burden to others is called survival, I think that I pass on those lessons. In the past, Einar could have been a bit on the paranoid side, and it helped him from time to time, but he is not using judgement adequately. He is insisting on this kind of irrational training knowing very well that this "training" is making him less, not more fit to cope with the challenges that lay ahead.

The training is not irrational, but it is ill-timed. That sort of training has served him very well in the past, and because of this--and the other things that are going on with him--he has an inability at the moment to recognized that he would be better off waiting to resume it. Has come to believe, actually, that only in resuming and maintaining it can he hope to be ready for the winter and all it will bring.

Someone has to make Einar that this is not a friggin game, but that the lives of the people he claims to love are at stake because he is acting like a pampered rebel kid. Grow up man, or next time, I will make sure you'll think of Bud kilgore as a gentle and caressing old lady!

Bud Kilgore only survived that particular incident because Einar knows, trusts and respects him. Einar doesn’t know you. I wouldn’t recommend it.

Thanks for reading, Marcos, and you really do make some good points! I'll look forward to hearing from you again.

26 September, 2011

26 September 2011

Clear, sunny and cold dawned the following day, Einar up early once more to run the trapline and this time returning with a rabbit and two ermine, their sleek coats patchy with the lingering brown of summer, but mostly white, like the ground. By the time he made it back up to the cabin clearing after resetting those snares, Einar’s fingers were going rather white at the tips, too, not at all a good sign, and he swung his arms in an attempt to get some circulation going, beat hands against his legs until they ached and pressed numbed fingers to his stomach, but couldn’t seem to get them warm. Guessed perhaps his morning soak in the frigid black water of the tarn--ice had lain thicker on it that day than he had yet seen, requiring some work with the axe before he could chop himself an opening large enough to be useful--had a good bit to do with getting him into his current trouble. As did his action afterwards.

Hadn’t been able to feel his fingers since he came out of the water, and though he did not at all like to admit such, it was beginning to appear that the training sessions were exceeding his body’s current ability to compensate, and were--a fact which had been lurking at the back of his mind for the past several days--putting him at serious risk of frostbite, or worse. Which of course only made him want to try harder, stay in longer and work through the trouble, bring his body back in line with what his mind was demanding of it, and he’d half considered turning around and going back, starting all over again with the morning’s soaking and probably would have done it, too, but for the fact that he knew Liz would be concerned if he was so late in returning. Kept going, instead, but couldn’t stand the thought of returning to the warm cabin without finding some resolution to what he perceived as a growing weakness in him, an unacceptable slipping that would surely lead to his demise, or worse, if not immediately corrected. In search of a solution he shrugged off the hides in which he’d wrapped himself for the journey, stretching out full length in the snow beneath some willows and lying there still as a stone--but for the shivering, which had been entirely out of his control since leaving the water--staring up at the sky until the deep, throbbing pain eased and his back went entirely numb. Breathing through the pain and the numbness both, he attempted to breathe himself warm again and succeeded in that he did not lie there and sleep the final sleep that he probably ought to have, in his condition, maintaining awareness and working very deliberately against the drowsiness that tried to creep in and take him, keeping it up for a very long time as he watched the sun creep lower and lower on the opposite ridge and finally touch the willows beneath which he lay, sending their heavy coating of frost floating like golden mist to the heavens. Only then did he allow himself to rise, stiff and still and purple-cold all over as he struggled to his feet, but satisfied that he could, when circumstances demanded, still do a fine job of muddling through. Hadn’t much helped his fingers though, and he hurried as well as he was able to cover the remainder of the slope up to the cabin.

Liz was delighted at the sight of the plump, sleek-furred rabbit and the two lithe little ermines when Einar handed them to her, because a nice rabbit stew was sounding good for that day’s lunch, but most especially for what the catch said about the potential of the trapline they had so carefully laid. Appeared it was going to produce. Less delighted about Einar’s half frozen and silent condition--he hardly dared attempt speech, knowing the results would only worry her, stood there instead with glazed eyes and unsteady legs, hoping she would hurry outside to clean the fresh game and leave him alone to thaw his fingers; it was going to hurt--she sat him down on the rocks beside the stove and pressed a pot of hot broth into his hands. Big mistake, and he had to clamp his jaw to keep from crying out--no difficulty, as he was already clamping it to prevent his teeth rattling--quickly depositing the pot on the rock beside him.

“Fingers…little frostbit I think. Better do some warm water real quick, thaw them out. Pot’s too hot.”

“Oh, I’m sorry! I hadn’t seen. We’ve got to make some mittens for the two of us before we do much of anything else, so this won’t happen again. Here. Give me your hands, let me see. Yes, your fingertips are pretty white, but they’re not frozen hard, so that’s good news. They look a lot like mine did a couple times last winter, so I really think they’ll be alright in a day or two. Don’t look like they’ll blister. You did this setting the snares? Re-setting them, I mean?”

“Yeah, I did.” Which while not untrue certainly did not represent the entire story, and Liz suspected as much, wanted to get after him for visiting that icy tarn once again--looked like he’s stayed in far too long, this time--but figured the thawing fingers would serve to reinforce the point far more effectively than she could ever hope to. She let the matter go, turning her attention to the stove and gently heating a pot of water until barely lukewarm, perfect for bringing the fingers back to life. Helping Einar get himself situated near the stove with a bear hide about his shoulders and the warm water close at hand she left him alone to do the soaking, heading outside to clean the recently snared ermines and rabbit.

The soaking hurt as Einar had known it would do, felt like millions of tiny red-hot needles piercing his flesh and reminded him of all the times he’d had to soak his toes in the desperate weeks-long attempt to save them that past winter. The thought of it made him sick, smell of those rotting, gangrenous toes heavy in his nostrils until he snorted and shook his head, pressing his stomach against the nausea and finding himself quite glad he hadn’t yet eaten any breakfast. Better have something pretty soon though from the feel of things. Had it not been for the hurt of the reawakening fingers--good that they hurt, it’s always good when they hurt, means they’re still alive--he was quite certain he would have been asleep by then, having spent all his energy contending with the cold. Barely even officially winter yet--not that it matters up here, winter starts when it starts--and here you are nearly frozen to death for…what? The third or fourth time? How long do you really think you’re gonna last if you keep this up, Einar? One of these days you’re gonna miscalculate, run out of energy and crash before you make it back to the cabin and then what? You leave your lady and the little one to fend for themselves out here, that’s what. And that’s something you got no right to do, not if you have any choice in the matter. Better find a different solution, different way to do this, better…

Better try and wake up I guess, the way Liz is shouting at you. Seems you ended up on the floor somehow, must’ve fallen asleep somewhere along the line, and she doesn’t sound too happy. Not happy at all. Maybe you managed to spill the broth, and that’s what’s got her so agitated. Come on, open your eyes. That’s all she wants you to do, sounds like, and how hard can that really be? Too hard, apparently, because the next thing he knew Liz was lifting his head and pressing a spoonful of honey--he knew it by the smell--against his clenched teeth and his eyes were still closed and she still didn’t sound happy. Not good, and he didn’t want to sleep again but couldn’t seem to help it despite a clumsy-handed attempt to press his injured ribs and jar himself to full alertness, woke several minutes later to Liz shoving a stick between his clenched teeth and after it a spoon of honey and that seemed to help somehow even before he’d swallowed it, let him get his eyes open again, and he sat up.

“Sorry about that. Guess all this heat just made me a little sleepy…you’ve got it real warm in here.”

“It was more than the heat, I think. Here. Finish this honey, and then when you’ve had some more time to wake up we can split the broth.”

“I’m awake. How’re this morning’s critters? Rabbit looked like it had a nice thick pelt.”

“They’re great! Both the rabbit and ermines are very nice and healthy-looking, and I was thinking we ought to have rabbit stew today for a change, since it’s been a while.”

Einar agreed, told her so and tried to muster some excitement at the proposal, seeing that she was quite pleased to have the option of including some rabbit in their diet but something was bothering him, something out there on the edge of memory, pushed aside, it seemed, by his brief but intense period of sleepiness and then he remembered, sat up straighter and took her arm. Had to tell her.

25 September, 2011

25 September 2011

All through the day as they gathered up the thoroughly hardened shingles and stacked them in neat piles in the woodshed, shared a bit of lunch and rubbed the first batch of tanning solution--heated bearfat mixed with the mashed brain of the goat--into the already laced and stretched mountain goat hide, Einar could not get the image of that sizzling, honey mustard-basted roast out of his mind, the thought of it growing so strong that when finally they cleaned up and returned to the cabin he found himself staring up at Liz’s bundles of shepherd’s purse, wondering just how many of them might be extra. He wanted to make her that mustard. Would have to wait though, because at the moment she was hard at work on a batch of supper stew and he supposed he really ought to be getting up on the roof before darkness finished descending, to give the newly-made shingles a test run. Still wasn’t entirely sure whether or not they’d made enough to cover the entire roof, and rather than waiting until the day when finally things dried out enough to install them to gain that information. He’d hate that, hate to get halfway through the project and find that he had to stop and make more shingles, when he could have made them in the first place, and to that end he headed back outside--the evening was cold and still, hardly a whisper of wind disturbing the last brittle golden remnants of the aspens’ fall splendor and the brilliant arc of the Milky Way just beginning to show in a sky that appeared high and vacuous and vast, dimming--and to the spot where they had stacked the finished shingles.

Tied together in bundles, the shingles were a bit heavier than had been the bundles of cut bark he had originally hauled up to the cabin, their thick coatings of pitch adding a bit to the weight. The shingles would be a fire hazard, pitch burning readily should embers of significant enough size fall on it and remain living long enough to provide ignition and he wished they had thought to press each into a mound of dirt or gravel while its coating had remained fresh. Well. Another time. He’d probably be adding fresh layers of pitch to the roof should the shingles work out, and could give them the fire-resistant layer at that time. For the moment winter was coming, and the roof would seldom be without at least some snow to act as protection from the danger of fire.

Right. Better get on with it then, quit wasting time daydreaming or it’s gonna be too dark to see the shingles, which’ll mean you bringing up a couple candles to help illuminate the situation, and then you’ll probably end up tipping one of them over and igniting the whole stack! Bad idea, Einar, real bad idea…though of course considering that the shingles wouldn’t actually be attached to the roof yet, you could just shove the whole flaming mess over the side and into the snow, probably saving the cabin from destruction, but making Liz--and yourself--real mad at how close things had come, and at the wasted effort of making the shingles, in the first place…yep, definitely best to just go ahead and do your little test now before it gets dark, don’t you think? Which he did, actually, though for some reason the image of stacks of flaming shingles had struck him as terribly funny and left him chuckling quietly to himself as he hoisted the bundles up onto the roof, moving slowly and a bit stiffly--the effort of braining that hide, though Liz had been assisting, had really taken a toll on his ribs--as he hauled himself after them.

Starting all the way at the bottom he began laying those shingles, neatly, rows overlapping just enough to effectively shed water but not too much farther, wanting to stretch them as far as reasonably possible, and even before he got to the top, it was plain to him that they had enough. More than enough. The spares could be used on the woodshed, or to reinforce particularly troublesome areas on the cabin, and he perched cross-legged on the roof-summit, looking down with satisfaction at the thoroughly covered roof. Good. It was very good, and had it not been for the fact that the roof itself still needed a good bit of drying and darkness--and the risk of his candles setting the entire thing aflame--almost arrived, he might well have gone ahead and done the entire job right then and there. Didn’t, though, sitting instead all huddled up on the roof’s highest point watching the stars brighten above him and planning the next day’s work--run the trapline again in the morning, hopefully find that a critter or two has stumbled upon our snares, haul more firewood, work on shortening and splitting some of what we’ve already got, do some sewing on Liz’s snow pants and maybe start on a pair of mittens for her, because some of these mornings are starting to get awfully cold, and I’m sure she would appreciate some…and mustard, got to make…honey mustard, because she thinks it sounds good and I…sure am starting to smell something good from down there, guess she’s got some supper going, sizzling goat roast and sure wish I could have some, but I can’t, of course because here I am stuck up on this roof with no way to get down, so I’ll make the best of it, and plan the rest of the day, tomorrow--until he woke with a start at the sound of Liz’s voice, not having realized he’d been anywhere near sleep. Must have been, though, for when he went to rise he found his legs terribly stiff with cold, nearly insensible and useless to the extent that they refused to support him, sending him toppling forward, clinging briefly to the edge of the roof with his heels before taking flight, landing with a solid thud at Liz’s feet in the snow. Finally thoroughly awake if dizzy and a bit sick he still possessed the composure to give her a big grin in the firelight streaming out through the open door, hauling himself painfully to his feet and grabbing the cabin wall hard for support as he fought to get his breath, to fend off the blackness that wanted to come.

“You were looking for me?”

Liz, startled and more than a bit alarmed at Einar’s sudden appearance, was not at first sure how to answer, took his arm and tried to lead him inside but he clearly wasn’t ready to go, so she abandoned the effort for the moment. “Yes, I was coming to get you for dinner but you sure didn’t have to respond by throwing yourself off the roof at me! What were you thinking? Are you alright? You look frozen, as usual, but that was an awfully hard landing. How are your ribs?”

“Still attached. Sorry to have startled you like that. Just checking the shingles, seeing if we have enough.”

“Well, do we?”

“Do we what?

“Have enough shingles? Or hadn’t you got done checking, yet?”

“Oh, got done a while ago and was just…watching the stars come out, you know, and pondering tomorrow’s work. Might have gone right on pondering all night long, if you hadn’t come out when you did and demanded my immediate appearance! And yes, we have enough. For the cabin, and half the woodshed, both. Got a lot done today.”

“You were asleep, weren’t you? And fell off…”

He squinted, scrubbed a hand across his eyes in the hopes of clearing his vision some, but it wasn’t working. “Well I’d rather not put it like that, but yeah, guess so. Real nice place, that roof, and I’d got done with my work, or mostly.”

“Nice, maybe, but not for a nap! What am I going to do with you?”

“Help me bring in the shingles, if you wouldn’t mind too much. Don’t want you and little Snorri up on this roof if there’s any helping it--a person could fall off, you know--but if I could stack them up and hand the stacks down to you, things would go a good bit quicker.”

“Yes, of course. But I don’t know if I want you up there again right now, either! How about just leaving the shingles for morning?”

“Might blow away, and then we’d be spending half the day hunting all through the timber until we found them again. I won’t fall off. Nothing to worry about…” With which he clambered once more up onto the roof, balancing carefully on hands and knees as he collected shingles more by feel than by sight in the almost-gone light of evening and handing them down to Liz.

24 September, 2011

24 September 2011

No chapter today, but I'll be back tomorrow with another one.

Thank you all for reading!

For anyone who hasn't done so yet, perhaps you'd like to take a look at my new story/discussion site, Freedom of the Hills: Home of Einar's Saga and Wilderness Survival Discussion.

Hope everyone is having a good weekend!

23 September, 2011

23 September 2011

Sitting with backs to the stove in the warming cabin Einar and Liz shared a breakfast stew of fresh goat meat, bear fat and serviceberries, Einar beginning to thaw a bit as he leaned over the pot and breathed its steam, hands wrapping the vessel and slowly regaining a bit of their natural color. Seeing that he had not even begun to sample his portion by the time she finished hers and appeared, in fact, about to fall asleep right where he sat breathing its warm steam, Liz got rather abruptly to her feet, nearly upsetting Einar and his stew both as she walked past. That woke him up, sent him scrambling dizzily to his feet with knife in hand, glancing about somewhat frantically for whatever could have precipitated her sudden movement, but seeing nothing.

“You hear something? What is it?”

“I was just about to hear you snoring that’s what!”

Einar sat back down, looking a bit confused. “Ah…no, not sleeping. Just…planning the day and…yeah, guess I may have been getting a bit drowsy, but that’s just because it’s so awfully good and warm in here, and your stew smells so great. I was just starting to dream about stew, I do believe, and it was turning into a real pleasant dream.”

“Don’t dream about the stew, you goofy guy, when it’s sitting here right in front of you--eat it! It won’t do you any good unless you eat it.”

“Oh, it’s already done me a lot of good, so guess I might as well save it for…”

“No! We have shingles to make, I seem to remember you saying, and how are you going to make shingles unless you give yourself a little energy to work with? And besides, I need that pot for the pudding I’m going to make to go with dinner, so you need to empty it right now. Before it gets cold.”

Which Einar did, and he had to admit that the berries were a good bit better stewed than dried, the good rich stew leaving him to feel rather more wide awake than he had, before. And a good bit warmer, too. Hands were starting to function again. Time to carry on with the shingles. Liz followed him when he went to retrieve the bundles of pre-cut aspen bark, carrying two of them herself and marveling at the quantity of the stuff Einar had been able to amass during his short time out in the woods. Opening the bundles and spreading the damper of the bark squares and strips on rocks beside the stove to begin drying, Einar arranged a number of already-dry ones along the cabin’s back wall, propping them on firewood sticks so that their front ends were raised slightly up off of the dirt floor. Time to begin melting the pitch, and to that end he retrieved the flat rock they had previously used for the purpose, propping it atop the stove at an angle and pressing onto its surface several large lumps of raw spruce pitch to begin softening and melting. Beneath the melting rock he placed another with a slightly dished-out center to catch the liquefying pitch, not wanting it to spill down onto the stove where it would burn and smoke and generally make the cabin less inhabitable than currently it was. An effort which Liz greatly appreciated. As the pitch began softening, Einar sorted through the pile of scraps that they had saved from various sewing projects, a strip of sheep hide here, bits of rabbit fur there, and came up with a small clump of bear fur, hide still attached, which he rolled in on itself so that the fur stuck out on every side. Into the center of this fur cylinder he pressed a stick, tightening the fur around it with a bit of cordage at its bottom and another an inch or so from where the stick emerged. Holding up the finished device, he showed it to Liz.

“Here. A paintbrush. As many shingles as we’ve got to coat, I figured it’d save an awful lot of time and frustration if we had a good way to apply it. Take a look, see what you think and if it looks like something you’d like to use, too, I’ll make us a second one.”

Liz tried the brush, experimentally pressing it against one of the shingles. “Well, it would certainly work if we were painting them with…paint! Or brushing honey mustard sauce onto a bit piece of mountain goat we were roasting…oh, that sounds good, doesn’t it? Honey mustard? And I think we actually have the ability to made some, since we have all this honey and I’ve dried and stored up so many bundles of shepherd’s purse just to make certain I’d have enough to use after the baby comes if I have any trouble with bleeding…but you know, I ended up with way more of it than I’ll ever need, and those seeds can be made into a fine mustard! Susan showed me how. All we lack is vinegar. But we weren’t talking about mustard, really, were we? The brush looks good. Pitch is a lot thicker than either paint of honey mustard, but I think the brush’ll still be a big help. Here. I’ll make the second one just so I know how to do it. You can show me.”

Einar smiled. “Yep, I’ll show you… This one won’t be much good for a basting anything, not after it’s got pitch dried into it, but if you’re really serious about the mustard--which I have no doubt you are, excited as you sound about it--I’ll make you a new set of brushes just so you can do that! Got to say it sounds pretty tasty.”

Brushes in hand and a pool of melted pitch beginning to accumulate beneath the angled melting stone Einar and Liz began waterproofing the shingles, working quickly and silently as it was rather tricky getting the pitch spread before it began cooling and hardening, eventually moving the entire operation nearer the stove in order to give themselves a bit more time before the hardening began. The bear fur brushes were working reasonably well, spreading the viscous, golden brown spruce-scented ooze over one shingle and then another, Einar daydreaming all the time of honey mustard being brushed layer after steaming layer onto a browning, sizzling goat roast, almost smelling it as he worked and narrowly avoiding drooling on one of the shingles before he got ahold of himself, shook his head, scrunched his eyes shut and tried with little success to banish the image. It’s pitch, not mustard, and these sure aren’t mountain goat roasts you’re brushing it onto. Just concentrate on your work, and don’t go eating the shingles. That would be counterproductive.

Soon the cabin floor became so crowded with finished and hardening shingles that they ran out of room to work and had to pause to carry some of them outside--where they would, as Einar pointed out, harden a good bit faster than in the warmth of the cabin--and clear some floor space so they could once again move without risking stepping on sticky shingles and becoming trapped, as Einar had very nearly done more than once in his somewhat clumsy movements about the cabin. Working through the morning they ran out of pitch before they ran out of shingles, Einar anxious to go out in search of more but Liz suggesting that they first see how far they might get with the shingles already made. While not at all liking to pause on a project before he considered it finished, Einar did see the sense in her proposing that they wait, considering the mounds of finished shingles piled around the stove cabin and spread in the snow outside.

“Yep, might well be enough. And if we stop now, that’ll give us time to do the first steps in braining that goat hide, too. Good to get that out of the way before the next storm comes, and it’s hard to say how long we have.”

Comments from 23 September

Nancy1340 said...
Thanks FOTH

Thanks for reading!

EdD270 said...
Thanks for the chapter, FOTH. I was thinking EA could use aspen bark for the roof. However, I was thinking of using bark from the smaller trees and alternating them, like Spanish tile, so their being "curley" wouldn't matter, but would help. Sounds like he's going to make flat shingles, though.

I (Einar? Maybe both of us…) thought about that, since the outer bark is a lot sturdier than the inner, but decided that as much as they have to do, it would be quicker to use the inner bark and make flat shingles, since it would take a good bit of time to place and overlap the “curly” ones. But that might be a project for the coming summer, if they’re still in the same location…

22 September, 2011

22 September 2011

In the night the leak stopped, Einar--bones aching, too cold to really get to sleep even beneath his covering of bear hides; body just didn’t seem to be producing enough heat, and while he wanted to press close to Liz in the hopes of sharing hers, he kept his distance, not wanting to risk disturbing her--hearing the drips grow fewer and fewer until they stopped altogether, and he knew outside temperatures had dropped enough to allow the accumulation of half-melted snow on the section of roof there just over the stove to freeze once more. He’d known from the beginning that the roof would likely be a problem when cold, wet weather set in, and it did not surprise him that with the cycles of freeze and thaw over the past several days, snow and ice would have found their way down into its structure, creating openings and melting in the warmth of the stove. Roof needs shingles, that’s what. Water-shedding shingles to keep the moisture from getting down inside where it can cause leaks like this, and I know how to do it. But not tonight. Got to try and sleep some tonight if I can, because cold as it feels like it must be getting out there, I expect the storm’s gonna be gone by morning and the skies all cleared off, and in that case the critters’ll be out and I’d really like to get out, too, and check the snares, see if we’re on the right track with where we put them. With which he rolled over and curled up with hands and arms tucked beneath him in an attempt to thaw them a bit, see if he could get himself warm enough to allow sleep to come, still avoiding Liz as he lay at the edge of the bed. She sensed his restlessness, though, pulled him close and held him until some of the ice had left his bones, after which they both slept, warm as the wind howled on outside, driving the storm away.

Morning was clear and frigid when Einar emerged from the bed, wrapped himself in the by-then dry hides he’d worn the previous day and hurried to bring the fire back to life, knowing Liz would be wanting to make some breakfast when she woke and would appreciate not being able to see her breath so readily in the cabin, as well. Standing briefly over the stove as he gathered a few items into his pack, took his spear and axe and gulped down a hasty breakfast of five dried serviceberries, Einar banked the fire with a good-sized chunk of unsplit spruce and eased his way out the door, Muninn all puffed up and dozing on his perch--watch the place while I’m gone, you big old vulture--and Liz still comfortably asleep in her nest of bear hides. Seemed she was needing more sleep those days, and he was glad they were in a position that allowed her to get it, at least part of the time. Would surely help her be in better shape as the baby’s time drew nearer.

Down towards the tarn Einar followed their trapline, wearing snowshoes and keeping to the timber as much as possible--though snowshoe travel can prove quite difficult where the trees grow close together and deadfall cuts across one’s path--to minimize the tracks he would leave, passing close enough to each snare and deadfall to get a good look. Nothing. Not so much as a track or a hair, no sign that anything had even been out to sniff at the bait, and the more stops Einar made, the more it began to seem that he must be the only and solitary creature out and stirring on that bright, frigid morning. Halfway through the circuit he turned back--no sense in seeing any more; it was too soon after the storm, and every living thing remained asleep, aside from a pair of chickadees he’d seen sitting amongst some willows just below the cabin, puffed nearly round against the cold--stopping for a quick dip in the tarn before returning to the cabin. In the night, the ice had closed in completely over the little patch of open water, and he had to break it away with the axe before getting in. Oh, how that water stung at first, brought tears to his eyes and took his breath but he stayed in, soaking for a good ten or fifteen minutes and focusing on his breathing until at last his legs became so numb that he began to doubt his ability to get himself back out should he stay in much longer, at which he pulled himself back up on the ice, dried off and got into his clothes. Or tried to. It was a major struggle and took far longer than he had anticipated, leaving him dangerously cold and in need of some immediate exercise to get the blood flowing at the end of it, and he was glad Liz hadn’t been there to see. Got to keep at this, though. Doesn’t seem to be doing a whole lot of good, not like it has other years, but if I keep at it, eventually it’ll have to.

Climbing up the slope towards the cabin with as much speed as he was able to muster and finding himself finally able to use his hands once more at the end of it--a good thing indeed, as he hadn’t been able to tie the snowshoes back in place after his time in the water, forcing him to carry them on his back and slog along through the deep snow--Einar began searching for the materials with which he intended to shingle the roof, once things had dried off for a few days. The shingles themselves were, he had decided, to be of aspen inner bark, the stiff, thick sheets coated with spruce pitch to help them shed water and last longer than they otherwise might have. If they’d had cottonwoods in the area, he would have searched for a large dead tree and pried the outer bark from it in great solid sheets and strips, but they were far too high for the trees, and the outer bark of the small aspens growing in the basin was too dramatically curved to make good shingles. The bark could, he knew, be flattened with the application of enough steam and pressure, but with all they still had to accomplish before winter set in for good--if it hasn’t, already--he had opted for using the inner bark, fortifying it with pitch. Choosing a tree, a dead aspen, but not too long dead; he did not want the bark to have begun rotting at all, Einar went at it with the axe, removing large sections of its bark and prying carefully at the inner layer until it separated and could be lifted out in large chunks and strips. Keeping at it until he had a large pile of the bark Einar had to pause now and then to warm his hands, struggling to keep them from going entirely numb and knowing he would have been better off had he not spent all that time in the water--had barely even begun warming from the experience, and knew he probably wouldn’t until back in the cabin in front of the stove--but remained glad that he had kept himself moving forward with his training.

Enough. He had enough bark, at least for the first load, as he knew he’d be unable to carry much more, and he tied his harvest into several bundles with lengths of the nettle cordage they had made that past night, slinging them on his back and returning to the cabin clearing. Smoke curled lazily from the chimney; Liz must be up, he supposed, and keeping the fire going, and then, crossing in front of the cabin to the spot where he intended to stack and store the shingle material he had no doubt, a most wonderful odor of simmering stew greeting him and twisting up his stomach with a cold-strengthened hunger that nearly convinced him to take a break from his work and see if she might let him have some breakfast before continuing. Talked himself out of it, though--knew if Liz saw him just then she’d be doing all she could to drag him in and get him fed and warmed up without further delay, and he wasn’t ready for that just yet--hurrying on around the cabin and staring up at the offending portion of roof.

They wouldn’t be able to shingle the roof until everything had had a chance to melt and hopefully dry out for a few days so he wouldn’t just be sealing the moisture in and asking for trouble with rot, later, which meant they would have to put up with the leak again for a time, once the day warmed sufficiently to allow the ice to begin melting again. Not a terribly big problem to deal with, as their second cookpot had so far done a fine job in catching most of the drips, but Einar was anxious to have the problem resolved. Didn’t figure--though the thought of it made him laugh--that Liz would much like to wake in the morning to the sight of icicles hanging down from their ceiling…which would almost certainly be happening now and then until he got things waterproofed. To help the melting and drying process along, he decided to shovel off the roof, a task which would have been much more easily accomplished had they possessed a shovel, a deficiency he decided to remedy one of those days, after he’d made more progress on some of his other projects. For the moment a deer scapula would have to do the job, Einar tossing one up on the roof and climbing up after it, ribs complaining all the way up but not, as they had the last time he’d had to get up there, for the construction of the chimney, threatening to prevent him from breathing with the intensity of their hurt. Good. Must be starting to heal just a little. Alerted to Einar’s return by the commotion on the roof Liz hurried outside, staring up at him as though she thought he’d gone mad as he scooted about on hands and knees, clearing the roof of snow.

“It’s Ok. It’s not leaking anymore. Come in and have some breakfast at least, won’t you, before you finish that?”

“Will just leak again as soon as the sun gets on it, if I don’t get most of this snow off. And I’m all snowy and wet already, besides. Might as well get done with this messy work before I come inside. Gonna make us some shingles so we won’t have to deal with leaks anymore, but I can’t put them up here until everything dries out. So, I’m helping it dry out.”

“I’d like to help you dry out, if you’ll come down from there pretty soon. Your hair is all frozen, and….where have you been? You snuck out before I was awake, this morning.”

“Trapline. Walked half of it just to see if there’d been any action yet. Didn’t take anything this morning, but I figure that’s probably as much on account of the storm having just now moved out as it is anything. We’ll check again tomorrow, probably have more success. Almost done with the shoveling up here…you want to help me make shingles, in a little while?”

“Sure, if you’ll have some breakfast first…”

“Already had some.”

“Well, come on in and have some more, because I’ve made more stew that little Hildegard and I can finish off, for sure, and you’ve already put in a few hours’ work this morning.” A good point, and though Einar felt somewhat like arguing, thought better of it when he caught another whiff of that freshly made stew.


Peeling aspen inner bark for shingles:

Comments from 21 September

EdD270 said...
There you are...the first roof leak of the season. If nothing's so bad it can't get worse, then certainly when things are going great is when bad things will happen.
Pardon my pessimism. I know, I know, anyone can be an optimimist, but it takes experience to create a cynic. Well, I have experience.
Thanks for a great chapter, FOTH. I'm looking forward to the other site, I need to activate yet. You going to post pics of EA and Liz making cordage, harvesting nettles, setting snares, etc.?? I know they are camera shy, but thought with your close relationship with them you could swing it. lol

Not sure what Liz thinks about cameras, but Einar’s way too camera shy to allow himself to be photographed like that, plus he’s one ugly critter, and I don’t know that anyone would want to see him! But he doesn’t seem to mind too much having his hands in photos, as he demonstrates how to do one thing or another.

Kellie said...
did they ever fix that hole the limb was down in to the water barrel?

They found it so handy for filling the water barrel that they never have fixed it…but probably ought to now, with winter almost there!

21 September, 2011

New site

Please be sure to take a look at the new home of Einar and Liz's stories (and a place to discuss the skills covered in them)


21 September 2011

Liz wasn’t too sure about that roast wolverine. To her, the meat really did taste very much like the live animal smelled--not an appetizing odor by any stretch of the imagination--and though she did eat, hungry after their day out in the snow and knowing how much trouble Einar had gone to in preparing the meal, she could not say that she very much enjoyed it. Einar appeared to be just the opposite, devouring his portion with obvious relish and picking the bones clean before pounding and breaking them on the rock hearth down to manageable sizes and adding them, somewhat to Liz’s dismay, to the pot in which she was to cook the next morning’s breakfast soup. Looks like it’s going to be wolverine, the broth, at least, and I guess I can just hope that the taste isn’t contained so much in the bones as it is in the meat, or we’re in for some pretty interesting soup, when I combine serviceberries, avalanche lily corms and wolverine broth! Einar will love it, I’m sure, even if it does taste of wolverine. Perhaps especially so. Seems he must have been permanently affected by having to eat that first wolverine when there wasn’t much else available and after the major battle he had to endure--and win!--to subdue the creature and keep it from eating everything in his shelter, and now it’s almost a treat to him to eat the meat. Or something. Maybe I’d better not ask.

Supper finished and the wind still howling like mad outside, throwing itself against the cabin until the walls shook and whistling with a sharp, angry sound through the tall, flexible tops of the surrounding spruces, Liz made a hasty trip out to the woodshed to bring in an armful of logs, wanting to be certain that they would have enough to keep the fire going through the evening and, if she had her way, though the night, too. The wind nearly took her breath as it gusted sharp and bitter between the cabin and woodshed, leaving her to wish she might have thought to slip into her parka for even that short stint out in the weather and quickly gathering up her load of firewood so she could return to the warm shelter of the cabin, strong logs encompassing them and shutting out the storm’s wrath; a good place. No sooner had she got the door back open, pulling against the wind and nearly calling out to Einar for help when she felt the force with which the gusts were trying to hold it closed, than a massive black shadow swooped down before her eyes and into the rectangle of warm light. Einar sat watching in silent laughter as Muninn flapped and shook the snow from his feathers--and all over the bed, Liz all but throwing her armload of firewood against the wall by the stove in her haste to stop him getting any more snow on the hides and furs that served as their sleeping robes.

“Oh! Look what you’ve done now, you big scoundrel! Just about the only dry wraps we’ve got left in this place after that trapline run, and now you’ve gone and got snow all over them! I ought to throw you right back out into that storm…but I’m not going to do it. So long as you’ll promise not to do it again. Come on now, away from the bed and onto your perch.”

Still shaking with silent laughter Einar turned to her, shaking his head. “Sometimes I’m pretty sure you have more to say to that bird than you do to me.”

“Well, the bird actually listens.

“Aw, hey now…I listen. Fact that I’ve got a thick skull and enough stubbornness to easily last me two or three lifetimes doesn’t mean I don’t listen.”

“I know. You really do listen when it counts, most of the time…there are times when you seem to hear me even when I don’t say the things aloud, take care of them before I even think to ask or realize that the need might be there, and that’s why I really can’t understand why you…it’s just that I want your lifetime to be…well, I really want you to live. To live, and when it comes to me trying to urge you in that direction, sometimes it seems that you listen, but you don’t really hear. And I just don’t know how to get through to you.”

Einar was quiet for a moment, contemplating, trying to understand but not really succeeding, and somehow managing to say the right thing, anyway, or something close to it.

“Stew. Your stew gets through to me.” She gave him a big smile, which told him he must not have been entirely off course in what he’d had to say, a good thing, as he’d had the distinct impression that he might be growing dangerously near to entering rabbit stick territory…

“Well I guess it does, when you actually eat it! Speaking of which, what about dessert? Do you think you could eat a little chokecherry pudding, because I was thinking of making some…”

Nodding, Einar conceded that her pudding was indeed a wonderful thing and one which he’d be honored and delighted to consume whensoever she might see fit to prepare a batch, which seemed to make her happy, and he was glad. And tired. Suddenly so awfully, terribly weary that it was all he cold do to keep from sinking to the ground right there where he was and going off to sleep without any further delay, but he did delay it, fought the weariness and then finally pressed hard enough on his injured and still rather tender ribs--white splinters of light crashing and crackling over his head and falling away to the floor; yep, that ought to do the trick--that he made it retreat to the dark corners of the cabin where it sat looking out at him dark and sullen-eyed, waiting to claim him should he let his guard down in the least. Which he did not. Not in the least. Mustn’t do that. Mustn’t let it have you just yet…you’ve got cordage to make.

While Liz prepared the pudding, set it to simmer and then worked to spread out their wet hides and her parka from earlier in the day so they could more efficiently dry near the stove, Einar pulled down the bundle of dried, tied nettle stalks that hung up near the ceiling, choosing several of them and going to work preparing them for the making of cordage, gently pounding the stems with a rounded rock, splitting them and removing the foamy-dry, spongy white pith before stripping the fibers from the woody part of the stalks, setting them aside until he should have enough to begin the cording process. Soon finished with her evening chores, Liz joined him, and they worked together to prepare and cord nearly twenty feet of good, strong nettle twine as darkness closed in outside and the wind went on blasting against the walls of the cabin, trying very hard but largely failing to enter.

It took Einar all evening to warm up, just as Liz had predicted, and even then, after hours of sitting on the rocks surrounding the stove and absorbing its warmth as he worked to twine foot after foot of nettle cordage, he still had that cloudy, distant look to his eyes, hands not quiet as steady as they might have been and shoulders occasionally trembling a bit when a particularly strong gust of wind sent a draft in around the door. None of which mattered much to Einar, counting as he did all of it as simply part of the price he must pay in order to ready himself for winter, ignoring the particulars and telling himself that he must overcome, had no choice, but Liz noticed, and could not help but worrying.

Which worry did not last terribly long, being interrupted just as they were beginning contemplate heading to bed for the night by, an insistent dripping along the wall beside the stove, and in an instant both of them were on their feet, scrambling for something in which to catch the water before it could dampen too many of their possessions, Einar knowing that his first task upon the arrival of daylight would be to clamber up onto the snowy roof and see just what might be the matter…

Comments from 20 September

Thanks for another chapter, and for starting the other site for us to read the saga of Einar and Liz. I've just now registered, but of course have not heard back yet. No biggie, I'll read it here, and on the other sites as well.
Somehow, eating wolverine sounds,... well...just wrong. I guess you eat what you have, though. I've eaten some strange things in my years, wouldn't want to again, but I guess I could if I had to.

I’m sure you could… Einar doesn’t have a problem with eating wolverine, but Liz seems to prefer just about anything else, if given the choice!

Sorry you’re having trouble with the other site. I see that you’re still listed as “not activated” over there, so I wonder if there’s something you need to do to activate your account? Did you get an email about it? Hope the difficulty can be resolved soon.

Nancy1340 said...
Thanks FOTH.

Thanks for reading!

Kellie said...
a person who is anorexia; can and will convince themselves they are fat, even when they weigh 88 pounds. E has convinced himself he can still "condition" his body despite the fact he is no where in the shape he was in when he COULD condition his body. He has convinced himself he is fine. just like a person who suffers from anorexia, he is lying to himself. And that is a great lesson for us: we should nevrer lie to ourselves. If we really cannot do something, we should not pretend we can. We need to either LEARN to do it or get some help. OR figure a different way.

Einar doesn’t know any other way.

But I’m pretty sure he does know he’s not fat…in fact, he’d be doing pretty well to get back up to 88 pounds, I do believe, and he knows it. But seems compelled to go on pushing himself, seeing just how close he can bring himself to the limits, and still endure.

As for what he can and cannot do--the day he allows himself to believe that he can’t do the things he needs to do is probably the day he’s going to die. Sometimes you just have to do the best you can with what you’ve got, and in Einar’s case I guess that means having a mind that works against him, at times. But he gets by.

20 September, 2011

20 September 2011

Muninn shadowed the busy pair all day, gliding silently through the falling snow as he kept pace with their movements, his presence concerning Einar a bit as there seemed at least some chance the bird would remain behind at one or more of the sets and attempt to raid the bait, ruining the set or perhaps--in the case of the deadfalls--even hurting himself in the process. Though clearly very interested in the bait while it was in Einar’s possession--Einar was finding the stuff pretty interesting, himself, was half tempted to take a taste sometime when Liz wasn’t looking, but had so far managed to avoid doing it--he appeared to be quite ignoring the stuff, once put in place above the snares or in the deadfalls. Einar, by way of reward, slipped the bird occasional tastes of the random mixture of skin, feathers and half-rotted internal organs he’d brought along to use as bait, carefully sorting through the basket for the perfect bit each time he set a snare or trap, fur and feathers for the cats, meat or offal to attract members of the weasel family. Satisfied with his occasional samples, Muninn kept close to Einar, coming to rest in trees whenever he and Liz stopped and watching with quizzically tilted head and black-gleaming eyes as they did their work.

Trudging back towards the cabin in the waning light of what was proving to be a very snowy afternoon, Einar and Liz stopped at the spring to refill long-empty water carriers and break away a bit of the ice that was beginning to creep across the opening, before heading home. Scouting the area for tracks and setting snares and deadfalls, they had made a circuit of the entire basin, keeping for the most part to the timber and seeing coyote, bobcat, rabbit and squirrel sign, in addition to the markings of ermine and marten. A hopeful start to the winter as far as Einar was concerned, the prospect of being able to supply themselves with a steady supply of small game to supplement their stored meat a very promising one, indeed, and though they had lacked the quantities of cordage that would have made setting out a dozen or so rabbit snares a reasonable endeavor--there was, near the base of the rocky wall that formed the dropoff below the spring, an area of small, closely growing firs which seemed a natural refuge for rabbits; the entire area was crisscrossed with track--he agreed with Liz’s assertion that they ought to return at a later time and do so. In making that final climb up to the spring, picking their way up over steep, snow-smeared granite and using the spiny, fall-yellowed stems of currant and gooseberry bushes as handholds when the rock had nothing to offer, they had managed to shake off a bit of the chill that had come over them in their slow journey through the timber, the long periods of stillness while they tied snares, balanced rocks for deadfalls and set bait having taken a significant toll on Einar, if not on Liz. She was finding herself to be quite snug and warm within the enveloping layers of fur and hide that made up her baby-carrying parka, feet damp and cold due to her failing boots by the end of the day, but otherwise quite comfortable. Wished she could give Einar a turn with the parka, but knowing how he would answer, she did not even bother to ask. Watching him as they crouched together on the rocks beside the spring--back hunched against a wind that cut mercilessly through the layers of damp deer hide, he appeared focused intently on his ice-clearing chore, eyes distant, refusing to meet her own lest she see something of the struggle he was enduring, but there was little hiding it--she shook her head, filled his water carrier and handed it to him.

“That’s good enough on the ice, don’t you think? It’ll try to come back over night, I’m sure, but if we come up here every day and break it, we should always have access to the water, I would think…”

“Yep. For a while. Think it’ll freeze pretty solid later in the winter, but we can always melt snow when that time comes. In the meantime…” He was easing himself towards the water, clearly intent on taking another dip but Liz stopped him, pressing the water containers into his hands so he would be too busy to proceed with his apparent plans.

“Enough! No muskrats in there, I’m pretty sure. It’s going to be dark soon, and we’ve still got a bit of a walk ahead of us. You’re still enjoying the effects of the last swim, anyway, it’s plain to see--look at you, hair frozen stiff and sticking out every which way from under that hat!--so how about just coming home with me now, instead? You said yourself that we need to spend a few minutes before bed each night building back up our supply of nettle cordage…which is even more urgent, now that we’ve got all these snares set out and will be needing replacements for some of them as they get used and damaged, and need to put out more for rabbits, anyway…and how are you going to help me with the cordage tonight, if your hands are no better than big blocks of ice by the time we get back?”

Einar was laughing--meant to say something about using his toes, instead, to make the cordage if his hands got too cold, but had thought better of it seeing as he only possessed five of the latter, and them every bit as stiff and insensible as his fingers at the moment--scooting back away from the ice and getting stiffly to his feet. Still wanted to test himself once more in the water before heading in for the night but was willing to concede that Liz did indeed have a point. Better perhaps that he allow himself to remain useful for the cordage work, return to the spring in the morning.

“Yeah, I’ll come on home. Lot to do tonight and guess I need to get rested up, anyway, because I’m kinda curious to see if these snares produce anything overnight. If it stops snowing, that is. Nothing much is likely be out in this weather, not the way it’s blowing and piling up and all. Traps ought to be alright for a while though, the way we tucked them in under the trees. Take one major storm to snow or drift them under!”

“Is this a sign of a harsh winter to come, do you think? This early snow?”

“Oh, hard to tell. Sometimes you’ll get a few big ones like this at the start of the season and then almost nothing for a month or two, other times…well, it just doesn’t quit. But that’s alright. Let it come! Need to get us some more firewood hauled in, just as a cushion against hard times of one sort or another, you know, and we’ll be all ready for it. Ready as we can be, anyhow.”

“Yes,” she answered, but her eyes were dark, concerned there amongst the ermine-fur frame of her parka hood, and Einar hoisted his pack back into place, took the water containers and started down the trail, supposing that she must be anxious to settle down in the windless warmth of the cabin after their long day out on the trapline. Which she was, of course, though even more anxious to get Einar home and out of his wet wraps. And perhaps coax him into starting work on a parka of his own, or allowing her to do it for him.

The cabin was decidedly not warm when finally, half blinded by snow driven nearly sideways by an increasingly wild evening wind, they stumbled in through the door, fire having died hours before, stove-stones releasing the last of their warmth into the still, chill air, and Liz hurried to bring the fire back to life while Einar hung the remaining bait high in one of their cache-trees and tossed a few scraps to Muninn. He was greeted upon returning inside by the meager but growing warmth of the newly rekindled fire, Liz hovering over it as she prepared one of the wolverine haunches to be roasted for their supper. Shedding his layers of damp and partially frozen deer and sheep hides, he joined her.

“Getting pretty brave tonight, it looks like?”

“Well, if you can eat it I can eat it, and though I’m still not convinced that it’s going to taste any better than it smells, the liver was alright, and I’m prepared to find out!”

Comments from 19 September


A new place to read and discuss the story of Einar and Liz, as well as some of the knowledge and skills that are relevant to their lives up in the hills.

It is my hope that the new format will be more conducive to discussion of the story, as well as allowing you, the readers, the opportunity to share your own knowledge on related topics. Here's the link, hope to see you over there!

I will continue to post the daily chapters here on the blog, as well, but hope many of you will find your way over to the new site, too, and join the discussion.

Thanks, as always, for reading!


EdD270 said...
Thanks for a great chapter, FOTH. Glad to see EA's getting back into training. A little late, but he should be OK, as long as Liz is around to rescue him.

Yep, he needs that training, even if it is late.

Kellie said...
E is really sounding like an anorexia

Well, I’m not really sure what that sounds like, but I’m sure Liz would be happy if he’d eat more.


A new place to read and discuss the story of Einar and Liz, as well as some of the knowledge and skills that are relevant to their life up in the hills.

It is my hope that the new format will be more conducive to discussion of the story, as well as allowing you, the readers, the opportunity to share your own knowledge on related topics. Here's the link, hope to see you over there!

I will continue posting the daily chapters here on the blog as well, but hope many of you will find your way over to the new site, too, and join the discussion.

Thanks, as always, for reading!

19 September, 2011

19 September 2011

Setting out into the storm, they took the snowshoes at Einar’s insistence even though the snow already on the ground was solid as cement after several cycles of freeze and thaw, leaving them to travel with relative ease over its surface. Dark as the sky had become, heavy and ominous with cloud, he knew they might well be measuring the new snowfall in feet rather than inches before the storm ended, and did not want to risk their having to slog back through such depths in nothing more than their badly worn and failing boots, should something delay them for the night out on the trapline. Instead of starting out uphill as they had done before when setting out snares around the basin, Einar led them down towards the open area that held the tarn, keeping to the trees and looking for the wide, spreading branch canopies, spruce, mostly, but also some fir, that would offer the best protection for their sets. By placing the traps and snares beneath such trees, they would increase the number of snowy days during which the sets could be expected to go on working without their attention, should they be unable to run the trapline as often as they’d like, preventing the snow from piling up and burying them as quickly as it would in more open areas.

Beneath some of the trees they set snares on leaning poles, bait tied to dangle just above the point where pole met tree trunk in the hopes of taking martens and ermine as they darted up after the random little bits of meat and fur and feather, beneath others setting deadfalls for the same creatures, with some of them large enough to take any bobcat that might find itself tempted by the bait, as well. Stopping periodically to flex his hands in an attempt to restore some flexibility, rubbing them together and pressing them against his stomach in search of a bit of warmth, Einar was visibly struggling with the cold despite his efforts to keep such difficulties from Liz’s sight--she’d only get after him, he knew, for not being more thoroughly wrapped…he’d worn the deer hide and that of the sheep, both, but had refused her offer of the new parka, wanting her to try it out…and would be supplied with further reason to worry whenever he took off on his own into the snowy woods that winter--but was managing reasonably well despite the struggle, keeping hands limber enough to serve their needed purpose. Inside, though, he felt as though his bones were turning to ice, feet and soon the lower halves of his legs losing all feeling, further confirming the fact that he was in for a mighty difficult winter, indeed, if he didn’t find some way to better prepare himself for the coming cold.

Yeah. Like eat. Eat everything in sight like a bear preparing for hibernation, as I know you really feel like doing, half the time. Instinct’s still there, Einar, you just need to quit resisting it, let it take over for a while, and live. Live. Yeah… he replied to himself, contradicting, opposing argument more convincing than the one he’d first laid out, eating’s one way you could solve this problem, but really all you need to do is get your body to adapt to this changing weather, and you know how to do that, right? Have done it every year for the last many, and with great success. Sure, it’s gonna be harder this year seeing as you’re nearly devoid of natural insulation, but not impossible. Just means you’re going to have to work harder, go to greater lengths to get yourself to adapt, and that’s one thing you know for certain you are able to do, isn’t it? Work just a little harder, push a little harder…that ability has been the only thing to keep you alive, more than once. Come on. Look at it as a challenge. He nodded, shivered, wrapping the deer hide a bit more snugly around his shoulders, the matter settled, at least for the moment.

It was snowing pretty hard by the time they reached the lowest portion of the basin, and the tarn, and at the rate their tracks were being covered, Einar figured it wouldn’t be risking much to venture out to the tiny body of water and have a look. Curious whether the water had yet frozen over and wondering, also, if any of the various species dwelling in the surrounding woods were still using it as a water source he approached from the uphill side, lying down flat on his belly in the rocks that nearly overhung the little tarn. Squinting down through the wind-swirled snow he could just barely make out tracks of some sort skirting the edge of the water where it remained, some two feet out from the bank, still devoid of ice, a deep blackness surrounded by the fragile, snow covered rim that had supported the weight of what Einar took from its gait to have been a fox, but almost certainly would not yet hold the weight of a human traveler.

Curious about the tracks, wanting to confirm that they were indeed fox--would have been the first sign of one he’d seen up there in the basin--and see where they had gone so he might consider placing a snare for the creature, Einar rose, made a feeble attempt to brush off the soft, mostly melted snow that clung to him after his time in the rocks and started down towards the tarn. Liz, who had crouched instead of lying--the shape of her belly would have made it quite difficult to get into such a position, and she had more sense than to lie flat on her face in the wet snow when there were other choices, besides--rose to follow, somewhat anxious when she saw him heading for that black smear of open water and not terribly surprised when, after a cursory examination of the tracks--fox, indeed, and he was surprised and glad to find that the creatures did indeed share their basin--he hurried out of his clothes, across the ice and into the water. She hung back, having no intention of following but ready to toss aside her parka and go after him if he appeared to be getting into any sort of immediate danger. Like having your heart stop on you, you big goof, and disappearing under that water! It’s likely as not to do that one of these days, you know?

Einar’s heart did not, despite Liz’s very real concerns, seem inclined to stop on him, and though it did take him rather longer than he would have preferred to slow its pounding and start breathing through the incredibly intense knifing iciness of that water, he managed it at last, crouching there submerged up to his shoulders and staring out with wide eyes at the snow falling all around him, breaths normalizing, cold seeping in and replacing the pain with numbness. Until the shivering started. Which wasn’t long, and then the pain was back with a vengeance, ribs feeling as though they were being twisted, chest crushed by the iron hand of that bitterly cold water. Enough. Five minutes of that was enough, more than plenty, as far as Liz was concerned, and she eased her way over to the edge of the ice when Einar began moving towards it, relieved, grabbing his hands and helping him out, where he rolled briefly in the snow to dry himself before struggling back into his clothes. Liz did not look particularly pleased.

“You had to do that, didn’t you?”

“Yep. Checking for…muskrat. Had…had to do it! Muskrat…good eating and the coats…real warm.”

“Checking for muskrat! Oh, you’d better be glad I don’t have my rabbit stick right now, mister! Because you’re asking for it.”


“Here. Have some of this honey I brought. It’s going to take you days to get warm, as it is, but this might at least prevent you from ending up flat on your face in the snow because you burned up all your energy just living through your time in that ice water!”

The honey was good. Einar couldn’t deny it. Had a second taste, when Liz insisted. “Now,” He breathed carefully, working hard to keep his voice from breaking, trembling, wanting to show Liz that he could manage it, this thing he’d chosen to do, “these are fox tracks here along the water. And if we…follow them into the timber, might get the chance to take a fox or two. See two sets of tracks here.”

With which their work was resumed, Einar carrying on just as before aside from the fact that he was destined to spend the remainder of the day wandering about half frozen and shaking as they planned and set their trapline, hands a bit less useful than he would have liked but heart lighter than it had been for some time, pleased with himself for having re-started the conditioning he knew would be necessary to get him though the winter and liking the progress they were making on their winter preparations.

Comments from 17 September

colspt said...
I really am enjoying this story but the thing that bothers me is that Liz can't ever speak her mind to Einar. I know Einar has past trauma and also has that mountain man loner thing going on, but he hasn't been alone for awhile now. I know he is socially inept, but is she afraid she will push him over a mental cliff? If that's the case she needs to get herself to town now before the baby comes.

Maybe she simply refrains from saying as much as she is thinking sometimes because that is what works for her, and for him, and for the two of them together. I don’t think it’s that she can’t speak her mind--she’s very good at doing so, when she decides it’s time.

EdD270 said...
Very good chapter, FOTH, thank you for it.
Some pondering on this chapter. On the survival and bushcrafting forums folks often post things about going into the bush to "live off the land". I suspect that none, or extremely few, of them have any idea how difficult it really is. Such as EA and Liz in these last few chapters. EA has badly broken ribs, is suffering from malnutrition and self-amputated toes, Liz is pregnant and also not as well nourished as she ought to be, they are forced to live at unusually high elevation to avoid their pursuers, and now winter is coming early. Snow is beginning to fall. Even though they have some supplies put away in their little cabin, they still have much work to do, twining cordage for snares and other uses, putting out trap lines and maintaining them, gathering additional food and furs when they can, gathering water, and many other tasks. All these MUST be done or they will die. There's no sitting around the warm cabin enjoying the beauty of the snowfall outside, they have to be out in it every day, no matter how much snow, how cold or how sick, weak or injured they may be. If they don't they won't make it through the winter.
Nope, I doubt most folks have any idea how difficult it really is. How much strength, mentally as well as physically, even spiritually. How much determination and drive, self-discipline and will and plain stubborn guts it takes to live like EA and Liz are. Anything less is sure to be fatal.
Thanks again for the great chapters and great story. And for the reminders.

All very good points. Nothing easy about the life they’re living up there, and anyone who thinks it would be easy--especially with no prior preparation and experience!!--to simply head out and “live off the land,” is fooling themselves. Takes a lot of investment of your time, effort and determination to gain the skills that are needed, and even then, life out there can be a pretty uncertain thing.

But it sure is better than the alternative, both for Einar and Liz, and anyone else who might find themselves faced with such choices.

Nancy1340 said...
"Liz did not answer immediately that time, could not help but thing that while he was of course"

Did you mean "Could not help but THINK that while...."?

Very good to see the have a choice when and if they want to run a trap line.

Yes, thanks for catching the mistake…

philip said...
Fall. Autumn. my favorite time of year,

I could personally relate with the thoughts "we are"~"Are We" ready.

night before Last, I nearly froze (yeah right, says Einar) ALL I had to do was get up out of the warm bed, and shut the ceiling vents.... "What, me get out of bed, For that??? I'd rather freeze" early morning, I remembered a second blanket.... reached down and got it....

toasty warm!

tonight, I prepped first, its a bit stuffy with out them open... Can we achieve Balance????

I think so.

Almost froze--ha! Glad you found that second blanket in time… : )

I’m sure you’ll find a balance between open vents for fresh air, and the proper number of blankets. What happens later in the winter? Do you have a way to heat the place, if you want to?