With Liz’s parka finished and hanging on its peg above the bed, Einar’s focus that day was on the snow pants he’d been intending to make her, cutting their shell from the second bighorn hide and laying the pieces out on the floor as he sorted through their remaining rabbit hides in the hopes that they might be able to piece together enough of them to line the pants. Weren’t enough, not after Liz’s having used so many in the weaving of her rabbitskin blanket and his using most of the remaining ones to line her baby-carrying parka, and he turned to the carefully cured and tied packet of furs--marten, summer-brown ermine, a few marmots and two coyotes they’d taken during the warmer months--that he had earlier stashed up in the roof-beams. Weren’t enough of the marten and ermine to line the pants, and he preferred to save those for mittens and hats, anyway, but between the two coyotes and the marmots, he figured he’d have enough fur to line the garment. Might not be quite as warm and luxurious as the parka, but that was alright. Would at least provide her some insulation and protection from the snow. By the time he had the liner-hides chosen and laid out Liz had finished her breakfast preparations and was returning from a brief trip outside to take Muninn his share of the meal, which consisted of a small pile of boiled, steaming goat chunks which the raven found most satisfactory. Stomping the snow from her boots Liz returned to the stove, stirring the breakfast pot and warming chilled hands over its steam.
“Alright, the bird’s been fed, now it’s your turn! Can you set those hides aside long enough to share some breakfast with me before it gets cold?”
“Guess my own hide’s in some pretty immediate danger if I don’t, isn’t it?” Einar asked quietly, not wanting to pause in his work and lose the momentum he’d rather struggled that morning to build up, but seeing that Liz appeared quite determined to see him get his share of the meal.
“Oh, you’ve got that right! You’ll end up stretched out on that frame like the mountain goat pretty soon, if you don’t watch it.”
A slight grin from Einar as he rolled up his work and set it aside, rising stiffly and joining her beside the stove. “Smells awful good, that’s for sure. Your collecting and drying of all those nettles and garlic greens and such sure has paid off in better tasting meals, and it’s not even winter yet.”
“Well, I know you probably prefer raw wolverine liver, half-rotted fish eyeballs and the week-old stomach contents of dead black bears…but I’m trying!”
“Aw, your cooking’s always great. But you got to admit, not much beats a good batch of fermented fish eyeballs that’ve been sitting around for a winter or two under a pile of rocks just turning all green and purple and gooey…too bad we don’t get down into the valley often enough to do much fishing. Never come up with enough fish eyeballs for a batch of that stuff living up here at treeline all the time, so I guess we’ll just have to make do with…”
“Oh, stop it! Green and purple and gooey, you say? And I thought I was joking about the fermented fish eyeballs.”
“Well not entirely, because you see the Inuits…”
“Eat, will you? Soup’s getting cold in a hurry, and I just know that if I don’t sit here and watch you finish your bit of it, you’ll be back at work the first chance you get and I’ll be eating it as leftovers in a few hours while you go right on starving. We can hear about the Inuits and their use of fish eyeballs later, and I have no doubt we will.”
Einar laughed, nodding, eating, the soup tasting every bit as good as it smelled and warming his insides as not even the activity of chasing the wolverine had been able to do on that cold morning, and when Liz offered him a second helping, he did not consider it wise to refuse. Had been having an awful time in recent days keeping his temperature up anywhere near normal when not busy with one form of hard physical work or another, or sitting mere feet away from the blazing stove, and while he had never minded being cold, the trend was beginning to concern him just a bit. He could not remember a time when he’d had quite so much trouble producing his own heat. Heart just didn’t seem to be beating fast enough to give him the sort of circulation he needed to keep warm, and he knew he would likely end up losing additional toes or even fingers to the advancing winter, if he didn’t find some way to begin reversing things. Knew what he needed to do, just hadn’t, it seemed, been quite able to make the decision to do it. To keep at it. Too much unfinished business, too many memories dragging at him, and somewhere along the way everything had apparently managed to get all tangled up in his mind until even so simple and vital a task as eating--providing his body with enough nutrients to keep it going--had become complicated, convoluted and at times difficult to carry out. Well. Enough about all that. For the moment he had enjoyed a wonderful breakfast with Liz, was warm in the cabin and had a lot of work ahead of him that day if he wanted to complete the snow pants for her ahead of the next storm, which, judging by the sharpness of the wind, he figured could come at any time.
Liz, having cleaned up after breakfast, sat working quietly on her snowshoe project beside the stove, Einar’s pair finished and hers nearly halfway so, her mind wandering the nearby valleys in whose creeks Einar had jokingly--she hoped--wished aloud that he might have the opportunity to secure enough fish to prepare his fabled fermented fish-eye dish, her own thoughts preoccupied with the acorn harvest she knew they were forfeiting to the squirrels and bears, another valuable source of protein that they might haul up in raw form and leach in the spring until they were sweet and white and nearly devoid of the tannin that made them so bitter when fresh…it would be a quick trip, a day or two at most and they could each bring back as many pounds of the nuts as they could carry, if the year had been as fruitful for the little scrub oaks as it had earlier appeared set to be, on their last visit to the valley. Setting her snowshoe weaving aside she glanced up at Einar, who appeared thoroughly engrossed in stitching a trimmed coyote hide to the inside of her future snow pants.
“Do you still figure this snow’s going to melt off so we can have a few more good fall-like days?”
“Can’t say for sure, but yeah, if we get a day or two of sunlight I expect it’ll be gone, and early as it still is in the fall--what, third week of September, maybe?--it seems likely we’ll see another week or two of almost-summer at some point before the snow sets in for good. Why? What’ve you got in mind? I can see you’ve got something in mind…”
“Well, what would you say to a quick acorn-gathering expedition down to the valley, after the snow melts, of course, so we won’t leave so many tracks…”