Melting ice for water with their body heat certainly didn’t sound like a very good idea to Liz, especially for Einar, hard as he was already having to struggle just to maintain an adequate body temperature without any such added challenge and with a fire going in the stove, and wanting to delay the time when they would have to begin relying on such methods, she felt her way over to the water barrel, probing about its edges with a stick in an attempt to judge how thick might be the layer of ice that had formed over its contents. Not too thick, not yet, thanks to the fires they’d had in the night and she pried at the ice cap, breaking it in two and lifting out the pieces, one by one. Einar heard what she was doing--too dark to see, but he recognized the sound of ice snapping, the lap of water as she removed the pieces--and joined her beside the barrel.
“Save that ice. Lot easier to melt ice down than it is snow, you know, and without going up to the cliff behind the cabin, we don’t have a good way to get more ice. Might not be any there even if we did go, cold as these last couple days have been. We’re surely gonna be needing that ice before this is over.”
“Yes. I’ll set it just outside the door where we can find it again. What about this water, though? I want to find a way to delay its freezing for as long as possible, because there’s no sense letting it all go to ice that we’ll have to spend the energy to melt again, if we can prevent that…we need to somehow insulate the barrel, I guess.”
“Barrel already provides a good bit of insulation, just being carved out of a big old tree trunk like that, but it’d do even better if we could pack a bunch of needles and leaves and such around it, like we’ve got against the cabin in back for insulation. Might as well use some of the stuff we pulled out of that tunnel, or some that’s still in there, since we haven’t quite finished the job… Better get that door put on there, too, so we don’t lose heat through that back door and have it show up if they come back over. Door’ll turn the tunnel into a big air pocket that should prevent too much heat from leaking to the outside. Here, lets…I’ll crawl into the tunnel and pile some of that insulation up on a deer hide, hand it out to you and you can pack it around the barrel. First though…”
Einar went silent, and Liz could hear him moving across the floor, feeling his way in the darkness until he bumped up against the stove. Huddling there against it for a moment as he shivered, absorbing a bit of its remaining warmth and pressing his hands to its stones in an attempt to restore to them some usefulness and flexibility, he pushed open the stone door and poked around inside with sticks until he found what he was looking for. Rocks. A series of smooth, oval chunks of granite and sandstone which he nearly always kept in with the coals so as to have them hot should the need arise to quickly heat some water or warm numbed hands, and now he worked them carefully to the front of the stove, testing one with a finger and finding it to still be quite hot. Good. Plan would work. Grabbing a couple of rocks with a scrap of hide to prevent burning himself, as they were still quite hot, he crouched there for a minute with the rocks pressed to his chest, absorbing a bit of their warmth and trying his best to suppress the rattling of his teeth. Over to the water barrel then, where the stones hissed and sizzled as he lowered them into the water. A good bit of heat, not enough by far to bring the water to a boil but its addition would significantly slow its freezing, provide them a water source for a while, at least.
Catching on to what Einar was doing Liz helped him retrieve the remainder of the rocks from the stove, checking to make sure they didn’t overflow the water barrel with the addition of so many stones--last thing they needed was a wet, muddy floor to navigate there in the dark--but discovering that they were still several inches away from any such danger. Not wanting to be in Liz’s way--it was difficult enough to navigate about the place in the dark, without the risk of running into one another--Einar crawled into the tunnel and began removing armloads of spruce needles, loading them onto a deerskin and wrapping it around them, shoving it ahead of him and out into the cabin.
“Here, got our insulation. Gonna have something of a challenge keeping it up against the barrel, but on at least one side we can jam it between the barrel and the wall and I guess on the others…”
“How about we just stick some willows into the floor, weave a few crosswise between them and let that hold the insulation? It won’t be perfect, but ought to help.”
“Sounds about perfect to me! Be a little rough seeing what we’re doing without any light in here, but I guess we could open the door for a bit.”
“Oh, no need. I’ve made so many baskets and other willow structures over the past year or so that I can do it all by feel. And I’d hate to lose what little heat we do still have in here. Cold as it is this morning, I know it’s got to be an awful lot colder outside.”
“Yep, no doubt. Alright, you put together the insulation cage, I’ll haul stuff over and shove it down in there. Guess we might want to get something over the top of the barrel too, just to help keep the warmth in. Could fold up one of the bear hides I guess, let it hang down over the sides some for extra insulation.”
“No! We’re going to need all the hides we’ve got just to stay warm until we can have a fire again, don’t you think? I’ll stuff a deer hide with spruce needles for a lid, instead.”
Einar shrugged, nodded--Liz couldn’t see him, of course, but he figured his silence would imply approval of her idea--and was about to say something about their having plenty of hides, more than they needed to keep warm in the cabin but he thought better of it, hearing the strain in her voice at the though of being without a fire and knowing that she was probably a good bit more correct than he’d like to admit. Already could hardly feel his hands, legs beginning to go numb where he sat resting for a moment on the floor, wearied by the hasty work of the past minutes.
Outside the day was beginning to grow light, grey dawn showing through the crack above the door and Einar scrambled to his feet at the sight, knowing that he’d better--for several reasons, now--be plugging up that crack. Would let too much cold air in but worse, would allow the warmth generated by their bodies in the enclosed space of the cabin to leak out in a concentrated stream that would almost without doubt be visible to anyone who might fly over in the dimness of morning, evening or night looking in the right direction. Many times he’d meant to do the job, but had put it off partially due to the press of other tasks that needed doing and, he had to admit, partially because he liked being able to see that little strip of sky when he slept. No more. Searching on hands and knees until he came up with Liz’s bag of sewing scraps he laid out a piece of deer hide, lined up bits of rabbit fur and other odds and ends on it and rolled the entire thing up into a somewhat bulky tube, stuffing it into the crack above the door and shoving it further into place with the aid of a stick and stepping back, satisfied, the light entirely blocked. Which meant darkness in the cabin once again, near total darkness and a good bit of difficulty when it came to carrying out their daily tasks, but he really wanted to wait until after the sun was up and heating the outside world just a bit before allowing them even the meager warmth and light of a single candle, just didn’t want to risk it, the chance that they might do another flyover before the morning began warming.
Weary. Terribly weary all of a sudden Einar found himself after the whirlwind of activity, exhausted, but the work had been good, had steadied him some and given him time to think about their situation, begin to formulate a plan that he hoped would bring them safely through the following days.