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.