10 May, 2012

10 May 2012

By the time the sun began brushing the tops of the spruces the next morning they had a second batch of jerky sliced and beginning to dry, this one seasoned with bits of salt, black pepper and garlic from the supply Susan had brought them.  Einar had become quite used to nibbling on the stuff in its plain, unseasoned state when traveling or even at home, on occasion, but Liz remembered the stuff people had called “jerky” down in civilization, a different creature entirely from the simple, traditional dried meat which they had been making to preserve some of their kills, and she hoped to be able to replicate it.  Seeing how she was set on flavoring some of the jerky Einar had helped make the brine and soak the meat strips, knowing that they ought to prove more appetizing than their plainer counterparts as trail snacks, and would add some good flavor to stews, as well.  Nothing wrong with making their edibles a bit fancier if she would enjoy the results, since they currently had the means.

Once again the day had started out clear and sunny, Einar watching the changing light through the slightly cracked door as they worked and wishing they might be heading down that day to the river to set up their trapline, but after his latest talk with Liz he had not so much as brought it up again, knowing she preferred to wait but hoping that preference would soon run its course so they could get on with things.  Already he was feeling terribly antsy stuck in the cabin like that.  Awfully weary, too, feeling as though if he ever once lost momentum he might find himself having a terribly difficult time getting going again, and the prospect scared him some, for he knew it to be a sign of just how far he had allowed himself to slip, physically.  Could think of no remedy though, aside from the maintenance of the furious pace to which he had become accustomed in recent days.  Knew Liz had other ideas, wanted him to eat and rest and all that, but so far as he was concerned, those two could not peacefully coexist within him at the moment--eating and resting.  It had to be one or the other, and he had promised one to Liz.  So, second batch of jerky finished and awaiting drying and the sun barely peeking over the tops of the spruces, he was looking for another project.

Hide stretchers.  That’s what he ought to do.  While they had done just fine stretching the larger hides of deer and elk in the frame he and Liz had put together, and those of marten, ermine and other small animals over the smoothed, pointed-tipped boards he had created for the purpose, they didn’t have anything for beaver.  From past experience--long past, from the days when he used to sell the furs--he knew that beaver came out the nicest when stretched in a round frame, metal hoops having served the purpose much of the time back then but of course they had no metal hoops, and would have to make do with wood.  Which meant  bending, lashing and steaming some stout lengths of willow, a task to which he immediately put himself.  No suitable willow in the cabin; everything was either too short, or too narrow, and besides, willow just didn’t peel too well unless done while it was fresh--he preferred to make his hoops with peeled willow, so the bark didn’t slip later and mess up the lashing job on his drying hide--which meant a quick trip down to the nearest stand of alpine willow, just through the timber and below the clearing.  Liz looked up questioningly when she saw him slipping into his boots.

“Just going after a couple willow shoots.  Need to put together a few stretching hoops for the beaver we’re gonna take as soon as we get down there to the river, and I figure willow’s going to be the easiest to soften and bend without breaking it.  Probably the only thing we got around here that will really work.  Willow’s what the old-timers always used, bent it, tied it with rawhide and steamed it over the fire as it dried, made dozens of these hoops in different sizes, but figure I ought to settle for three or four, to start out. Be back in just a few minutes.”

No objecting to that, and though she wanted to find a way to keep him in there where it was warm and stew sat only feet away at all times, ready to be eaten, she figured any attempt might be going just a bit too far.  Willows were all around them, several stands not too far away at all, and it shouldn’t take him too long at all to find and harvest what he needed.

Muninn was glad for some company after being exiled from the cabin for the sake of the drying jerky and followed Einar as he set out after his willows, circling, swooping and generally making known his delight, rasping up a storm until Einar acknowledged him with a laugh and a wave of his hand.  “Alright, alright you big vulture!  I see you up there.  Yeah, come on, why don’t you, and help me pick out some willows.  You can even carry one back for me, if you’ve got a mind.  Might as well make yourself useful, don’t you think?”  The raven responded by very usefully swooping down and landing so hard on Einar’s shoulder that he was sent sprawling in the snow, laughing and spitting and trying to get the stuff out of his mouth and nose so he could breathe again, and by the time he got himself righted and on his feet, the bird had sailed up to a safe location high up in a nearby spruce, chortling his amusement while staying well out of reach.   Well, serves me right, Einar laughed.  Should have been paying more attention…

Finding the nearest stand of willows without too much trouble or delay Einar set about cutting a number of the stoutest he could locate, waiting to peel them of their bark with the thought that if he did it near the cabin, they would have the stuff to dry and use later should anyone need willow tea or, as he had so often done when dealing with his frostbitten toes, simply a wad of the bark for chewing.  He shivered, slightly sickened at the memory of those times, stick a sliver of willow bark in his mouth and chewed thoughtfully just to make it more real, more present.  Worked.   Now why’d you go and do that?  He spat out the bark, continued with his willow harvest.  Ten good, strong and straight willow wands later Einar was satisfied for the time, bundled them up with the bit of nettle cordage he always carried in his pocket and slung the bundle over his shoulder for the short walk back to the cabin.  Feeling playful and very much living up to the reputation of the mischievous raven, Muninn waited until Einar had made it across the clearing and very nearly to the tunnel mouth before again swooping in, this time coming to rest with an audible thump on the far end of Einar’s willow bundle, quite upsetting it, and Einar as well, leaving everything scattered chaotically in the snow.  Delighted at his success the raven made such a racket of rasps and chortles that Liz hurried out to see what might be the matter, nearly stumbling over Einar where he lay gathering himself in the snow, trying to stop laughing long enough to get his breath.

“What trouble have you two managed to get yourselves into, this time?  What happened?  Did Muninn shake snow out of a tree and knock you off your feet, or what?”

Picking himself up, still laughing as he brushed the snow from his hair Einar kicked the willow bundle free and pulled it to the surface, swinging it towards the tunnel before the bird could get anymore notions.  “Nope.  He was just helping me get this thing inside, and we got a bit off balance with the whole thing.  Bird’s heavy, and it doesn’t work so well when he all of a sudden decided to use the far end of the bundle as a perch!”

“No, I don’t suppose it would.  Look at how he’s keeping his distance since I came out.  If I didn’t know better, I might think he was still mad at me for wanting to put him out because of the jerky.”

“Oh, you can be sure of it.  Critter’s memory is probably better than mine at the moment, and he’s even more focused on food than I am, too.  By the way, what have you got cooking in there?  Because it smells awfully good…”

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