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.”