A couple more photos from last week...
Having finished Liz’s pot of soup--Einar carefully avoiding everything but the broth, Liz noticing but saying nothing--they worked together to finish cutting out the log sections that covered what was to be the cabin’s back door. Escape tunnel. Whatever they wanted to call it, but Liz could see that there would be no rest for Einar until the project was finished, determined as he’d become to give them a second way out, and without delay. Agreeing with his assertion that they needed the door though perhaps not sharing his sense of urgency, she did find his need for rest a pressing matter that day, so made the door her own first priority as well as his. Swinging the axe in that confined space proved not the easiest thing for either of them as they took turns working away at the logs, Einar’s grip a good bit stronger since he’d eaten but still not quite as reliable as he would have liked, arms still tending to cramp up on him from time to time, and he insisted on Liz removing herself to a safe spot--the area behind the water barrel being the only place he really deemed safe enough--whenever his turn came to do the chopping. Finally removing the last of the log sections they paused to clean up some of the mess that had ended up all over the cabin floor, wood chips, bark, bits of insulation from the berm behind, sweeping the debris into little piles and tossing it into the stove where it flared up into flame and added to the warmth of the cabin, which had already grown rather too great for Einar’s taste, hard as he’d been working on that wall.
Though seeming increasingly susceptible to the effects of the cold as the winter went on he was also finding that he heated up quite rapidly when working, leading to the shedding of clothes and eventually to more freezing, when his work slowed a bit; appeared there was no middle ground for him--body had, perhaps, lost a bit of its ability to regulate his temperature, had forgotten how to do it but he hoped that problem might go away if and when he managed to start eating more, and on a regular basis--but what was new? Opening the front door by a good foot he sat with arms outspread in the draft that swept in bitter and snow-filled from the ongoing storm outside, shivering within minutes as he cooled down and the sweat tried its best to turn to ice on his back as he watched Liz work over the stove, where she appeared to be preparing a soup of some sort, chokecherries and serviceberries simmered with bits of bear fat and honey until they began releasing a smell that very nearly proved tempting enough to pull Einar away from his post in front of the door, but not quite. That job was left to Liz who, herself beginning to feel the draft rather keenly and thinking Einar had simply left the door ajar while going out to fetch more firewood, let out a little cry of dismay when she turned to remedy the situation and saw what he was doing.
“What’s this? How are you going to help me dig that tunnel and finish the door if your hands are frozen all stiff and useless? What’re you doing, anyway? I thought you were going to hold off on that sort of cold training for a while, give your body some time to start getting stronger before you did too much of it…”
Einar shook his head, gave her a quick little grin, lips nearly purple in the sub-zero air from the still-open door. “Not…cold training really, I just needed to cool off, was hot from working.”
“Well you’re not hot anymore, and neither am I! Now close that door before you let all the heat out and I have to build the fire up again just to replace it, won’t you? And then come have some of this fruit soup I’m experimenting with. I need someone to test it, and you look like you need the sugar, too.”
“I look too sour, huh?”
“Something like that. Here. Have some. Oh, you big goof! Can’t use your hands, can you? Can’t even feel them, it looks like. Well, I’m not feeding you, so if you want to try this stuff you’d better warm up pretty quickly, or I’ll have it all eaten.”
Liz’s vehemence on the subject striking him as somehow quite humorous--never did ask you to feed me, nor would I, but yeah, it does look like you’re gonna have that soup all gobbled up in another minute or two--but nonetheless quite concerned that he might not get so much as a taste of the wonderful-smelling stuff if he didn’t hurry and claim it, he held numbed hands above the stove, pressed them to his stomach and beat them against his legs until a bit of circulation was restored and he could grip the soup pot without the risk of dropping it, tasting a little sip of the rich, sweet liquid in which the berries had simmered, liking it, and having more. Tasted a good bit like the lily root-starch thickened puddings she had on occasion made with them, only thinner. A good winter treat, and he gratefully finished the portion Liz--who’d had no intention of eating it all out from under him, but didn’t mind that he had thought so--had left for him.
Instant energy and warmth that soup gave Einar, and he crouched there staring at the newly opened hole in the back wall of the cabin, a gap approximately two and a half feet high and approximately as wide, just large enough for them to comfortably exit should the need arise, but not so large as to significantly destabilize the structure of the wall or let in too much outside air when they were trying to keep the place warm. Speaking of which, he could feel the frigid outside air working its way through the several feet of loosely packed leaf and needle insulation that now represented the only barrier between the cabin interior and the harsh, windy cold of the outside world, and he figured they’d better go ahead and get that tunnel dug, shored up and closed off at its end so the cut log sections could be assembled into a door, and installed. Crawling over to the opening--made more sense in this case to crawl than to walk, a point he hoped might not be lost on Liz, as he didn’t want her knowing the level of difficulty he was still experiencing in compelling his legs to support him; doggone muscles--he began digging at the insulation, loading it into a willow basket that he passed out to Liz whenever it began growing full, waiting until she’d deposited the load just inside the door before he removed more. They would, after the tunneling was through, take the spare insulation and pack it in here and there around the cabin in places where the initial cover had been thin, helping shore it up against the cold of winter.
Pausing now and then in his work to shore up the tunnel walls with rigid strips of white aspen outer bark and jam sturdy branches lengthwise across the “ceiling” of the tunnel--light as that insulation was, there would of course be no danger should a section of the three foot long tunnel collapse on one of them someday, but Einar didn’t especially want the work of having to reconstruct it should such occur, and figured the bark shoring might help prevent a collapse of any sort, especially when the snow load began growing heavier outside--his mind wandered back to some of the caving he’d done over the years in the many miles of limestone passageways that honeycombed many of the nearby cliff faces, an interest he’d pursued with a voracious passion during his growing up years and again in the two decades before his going on the run, but he remembered also the gap, the year and a half when he wouldn’t have been able to force himself into anything remotely resembling a tunnel to save his life, remembered how he’d overcome it, got back to the underground world he had so loved, and learned to love it again. Wondered if…quit it, Einar. You got work to do, and this stuff’s just distracting you. Some other time, maybe. Now come on, finish this tunnel. Liz’s waiting out there for the next load of insulation.
Finally sometime late that morning--tunnel finished, door begun--the snow began tapering off, winds dying down and ragged bits of blue showing through the layer of cloud that had for the past several days clung as a solid ceiling just above the basin, and when Einar next ventured outside, it was to the sight of sunlight on the distant peaks. Kicking and clearing a path from door to woodshed he brushed away some of the wind-blown snow that had accumulated on the woodpile, visually estimating the further snowfall of the night and early morning to be somewhere upwards of ten inches. A significant storm, longer in duration than was normally to be expected in those mountains, and with its departure, Einar found himself anxious to be out and exploring the trapline, clearing snow from deadfalls and snares and rendering them functional once more.