Full of wolverine liver--Liz, knowing it would be good for the baby, had in the end partaken of the snack, though initially rather repelled by the odor of the animal and by the thought of eating anything that had come from it--and weary from the flurry of midnight activity, the two of them soundly slept away the remainder of the night, waking with the sun to find a thick rim of ice around the edge of the water barrel and its entire surface nearly covered, air in the cabin crisp and chill. Liz wanted to start a fire, Einar to head directly outside and see if the wolverine had frozen overnight. And, Liz suspected, to freeze himself just a bit in the process, so she caught him by the arm before he could get out the door, offered him some more of the liver in the hopes that he might allow himself a bit of fuel to work with.
“It’s a little icy, but ought to still be good, don’t you think? Start with this, and I’ll have some hot breakfast ready in a few minutes.”
“Sure it’ll be good! Wolverine liver ice cream always was my favorite…kinda hard to come by in the stores down there in town, though, but that’s the advantage of living up here. Good thing other folks don’t know about this, or we’d soon be crowded out of the basin and forced to move on. Yep, wolverine liver ice cream! Nothing better out there.”
“You’re certainly spunky this morning…what’s got into you?”
“Wolverine liver, that’s what!”
And he bounded out the door before she could do anything more to delay him, without the liver and, as usual, without so much as the deer hide to wrap himself against the cold. Liz just smiled and shook her head, shut the door against the stiff morning breeze and resumed preparing and lighting the breakfast fire. He’d be back in, eventually, and though she couldn’t very well prevent him from spending his chosen amount of time out in the weather, she could at least have a hot breakfast waiting for him at the end of it. Needed to heat water and make a batch of berberine solution, also, gently simmering several crushed Oregon grape roots until they released the bitter yellow pungency that made them so useful in preventing the onset of infection and halting its advance if it had already taken hold. She had cleaned the deep, ugly wolverine slashes on his arm the night before with warm water, bandaging them with soft, absorbent mullein leaves whose mildly antiseptic properties she could only hope would do the job until she could prepare a proper wash for the wounds, and the time had definitely come to take that next step. Now if I can just get him to sit still long enough for me to take a look at the arm…don’t know if it’s the wolverine liver, the change in weather or what, but he sure seems lively this morning. It’s good to see--as long as he doesn’t end up doing too much and damaging the ribs again just because he feels so good…
Before Liz was finished assembling the breakfast soup and simmering the berberine out of the handful of Oregon grape roots she’d tossed into the second pot of water Einar burst back into the cabin, cold and shivering and blotchy purple from the waist up as she’d expected--how could he not be, spending half an hour out there working in the snow…or for all I know lying in it…without the benefit of so much as a deer hide?--but looking triumphant as he held up what appeared to be a carefully butchered hindquarter of the wolverine, a good bit of meat and fine looking, but smelling unmistakably of the creature. Liz wrinkled up her nose as Einar addressed her, setting the meat on the stone slab they used for food preparation and doing a dizzy little half-dance, half stumble as he hurried to put some distance between himself and the stove, not wanting to warm himself too quickly.
“You ever had…roast wolverine for breakfast before? Bet you haven’t, rare as the critters are around here, so get ready for a real treat! Roast, baked, fried, boiled…ha! I’ve even had it raw, raw and frozen and me gnawing the stuff off the bone and enjoying every bite of it, hungry as I was at the time, but we don’t need to do that, nope, we can roast it real nice and baste it with some chokecherries and honey for the best treat we’ve ever…”
“Treat, huh?” Liz was laughing as she watched his antics, laughing at him and then with him when he joined her merriment, wiping the wolverine stink from his hands and sinking down to sit on the side of the bed, laughing until he had to press his injured ribs with a hand and an elbow just to keep from crying out, but still he was laughing, and Liz sat with him until finally he stopped, exhausted and having to work way too hard to get his breath but not seeming much to mind.
“Good to have what we need for a change, and plenty of it, huh? If a feast of wolverine doesn’t sound particularly appealing to you, well, I can keep that all to myself and roast you some fresh goat for your morning feast, instead!”
“Yes, it’s good. You’ve done a good job of providing for us, Einar, and winter can come as it comes. We’ll be ready. No need to roast any goat, though. I’ve got some soup here that needs to be eaten, but not before I look at your arm, alright?”
“The one the wolverine tore into last night, you big goof! This one, right here. With the blood-soaked mullein leaves all over it. Or have you forgotten that already?”
“Ha! Yeah, guess I kinda had, and I think it’d be fine the way it is, but since I see that you’ve already got some berberine ready to go, guess it can’t hurt to wash those scratches out again just in case. Those critters don’t always keep their claws particularly clean, that’s for sure.”
Suppressing a smile--you sure do know how to understate things, don’t you?--Liz shook her head, pulled Einar back down to sit on the bed while she retrieved the pot of lukewarm berberine and a stack of mullein leaves. While she was happy to see him full of energy and seemingly enjoying life as he had not since the rib injury, the entire situation still concerned her, he concerned her, but she wasn’t sure how to go about addressing the matter with him, wasn’t even entirely certain that she ought to do so. Best, perhaps, to allow things to go on as they were for the moment, see what the next few days brought. Other than another major winter storm. The way the wind was blasting that morning, keening through the trees and reaching with icy fingers through every crack in the cabin walls--there weren’t many; Einar had cared for most of them--she had little doubt that another weather change was imminent.
· · · ·
Down on the high slopes above Culver Falls--high, but not nearly so high as Einar and Liz’s basin home--others were making their winter preparations ahead of the oncoming weather system, which was, according to weather reports, expected to dump upwards of four inches of snow on the town and surrounding area. While the high country had already seen several such storms, the coming one would be the first for the valley.
Bud Kilgore, balanced somewhat precariously on the second highest step of Susan’s fifteen foot ladder, flattened himself against the side of the greenhouse as the strongest-yet gust of wind tore up the slope, threatening to spill him to the ground. Time to come down, at least for the day, and really, he was ready. Had accomplished what he set out to accomplish; most of the day’s remaining work could take place indoors. For the past five days Bud had made the long, switch-backing drive up the hill to Susan’s place, working from dawn until dusk helping her get the greenhouses wrapped up for the winter, cleaning out the chimney in the one that she heated all winter with a small stove and installing the panels of insulating, cloth-covered foam which would help maintain an even temperature through the cold nights that were soon to come. The winter preparations were a yearly task, and though Susan’s son, daughter in law and friends from church had shown up to help with it in the two years since the loss of her husband, Bill, she appreciated Kilgore’s being there for the entire process, kept offering to pay him and assuring him that she could finish with no trouble if he needed to be getting back to his work for the Mountain Task Force, or back home to Arizona, but somehow he didn’t seem to be minding the work at all, nor the good home-cooked meals she had been preparing for him each evening before he headed back down the hill.