30 June, 2012

30 June 2012

I am once again heading out for a week or so to places where there is no internet access (or computers, or electricity or too many other human critters, either, come to think of it...) and so will not be able to post chapters during that time.

Hope you all have a good Independence Day, and maybe get out and put some rounds downrange, practice a primitive skill or two, work in the garden or do something else to help secure your own personal independence and that of your family, because we sure are losing it, as a nation.

Thanks for reading, for your comments and your patience; I should be back most likely next Sunday with another chapter.  

29 June, 2012

29 June 2012

Feeding the raven bits of meat from one of the muskrats--the others he’d hung securely from a high branch, knowing the meat would freeze overnight and be preserved for later use--Einar pondered his own supper, considering simply chewing on another strip of jerky and leaving it at that, but the muskrat was looking awfully tempting, smelled good, even raw, and though he knew it must remain that way in the absence of fire, he decided the fresh meat would probably do him good, help provide energy for the remainder of his trapping endeavor.  Decided also that there simply wasn’t enough left on that first rat, tossed it to Muninn, retrieved a second, and ate it.  All of it.  Every shred.  Hadn’t really intended to do so, figuring a few bites really ought to be plenty, but once he’d got started he found it very difficult to stop, carving slice after slice of the rich meat, and then he decided there was no reason to stop, body screaming for more of the stuff and he realizing that realistically, his chances of making it through another frigid night out there in the open were an awful lot better if he started into it with a full stomach.  Ended up full alright, sitting there with half-closed eyes and bowed head as his body began the slow and laborious process of digestion, seemingly lacking the energy to both keep him awake and deal with the aftermath of the feast at the same time.

For a time he fought it, the intense weariness that had come over him, focusing intently on Muninn as he picked the bones of the first rat and began cracking them for their marrow, and jarred somewhat from his drowsiness by the sound of cracking bones, he took a rock and did the same with his rat, retrieving the thin strips of jelly-like marrow and consuming them with as much relish as he had the meat.  Wanted more, staring up at the third rat where it hung slowly freezing from its branch, shook his head and pressed his stomach and told himself to wait.  Better be saving some of that meat in case the traps were unproductive the following day and besides, the meal he’d already devoured was rather larger than anything he’d been used to eating of late, and he would surely end up in some pretty dire straits should he do it all over again so soon.  The third rat must stay, and did, but as Muninn was still busily cracking bones on the first carcass and had not yet found his way over to the spot where the fleshing had been done, Einar hurried to do so, scraping up all the little bits of fat and meat that he’d cleaned from the pelts and scarfing them down like a starved coyote.  Could barely move when he got done, limbs feeling leaden and head drooping, and despite an aversion to lying down while light remained in the sky he retrieved his sleeping bag from its tree, made a cursory examination of the area and checked to see that his weapons were easily accessible, crawled in and slept.

Cold was the evening in those long, dim hours after sunset, Einar entirely unaware of the fact as he slept so soundly that not even the nearby sound of Muninn cracking and snapping the few bones he’d left untouched on his muskrat carcass could stir him to wakefulness, and before darkness was full he was shivering again in the bottom of the sleeping bag.  That muskrat got Einar through the night, if barely, body having some fuel with which to keep itself going, and it was a good thing, too, deeply as the cold settled in the valley that night.  When finally he woke--vivid dream, trapped, barely able to breathe, struggling to escape and it didn’t help any that he found himself bound securely in the confines of the sleeping bag when finally he managed to reach wakefulness--he was very nearly too stiff to move.  Moved anyway, clawing and crawling his way up towards the draft of air that entered breezy and unrelenting through the spot where he had quite forgotten to finish zipping the bag upon crawling in that past evening, frigid and sharp with frost but terribly, achingly welcome.

Reaching the opening he lay gasping and trembling in the darkness beneath the spruces, head and shoulders halfway submerged in powder snow--he had, in his struggle, managed to roll entirely free of his bed of insulating branches--and eyes wide and wild as he stared up at a billion hard, unblinking points of light that seemed in the high, still air to hang mere feet above the treetops.  Took him a minute to fully realize where he was, and why, and in just what sort of trouble--significant, if he didn’t get himself together and find his way out of the snow that was beginning in places to melt slightly beneath him--and with the realization came movement, slow and stilted though it was, back into the bag with arms and hands tucked beneath his body and knees all drawn up as he tried to begin warming himself.  It was little use, thoroughly chilled as he’d managed to become after a night of stillness and oblivion down in the bottom of that half-open sleeping bag and with the wind whispering all around him the way it had done, and for some reason--perhaps it was the muskrat, brain and body liking the presence of more fuel than they were accustomed to receiving over what might sometimes be as much as a week’s time--he was alert and aware enough to realize his danger that morning, and to recognize the need to remedy it.

Fire.  But, he could not have a fire.  Oh, he could probably build one, supposing he could work his way out of that bag and into his parka and boots to go search for a bit of dry wood and provided his hands would cooperate, had successfully made fires under far worse circumstances in the past, but trouble was that one of the conditions of his coming down to the river valley had been that he must take the utmost care to avoid doing anything that might attract the attention of the random backcountry skier or other traveler who might happen through the area, and in his mind, this entirely precluded the use of fire.  Perhaps, given the circumstances, he would have been wise to reconsider, allow himself a bit of leeway but he had seen enough to know that leeway is what gets a man killed--or worse, discovered and captured--and his mind would not allow him to go there.  So, fire was out.  Which left…well, he could go on as he was presently doing, huddling in the damp sleeping bag and hoping it remained capable of trapping enough heat to get him through the remaining dark hours, and he himself able to produce such, but those odds were not looking particularly good.

On your feet then, into the boots and parka and best get moving.  It’s not entirely dark.  See?  Just the tiniest hint of grey over there through the trees, and once you get out of the heavier timber it’ll be lighter still, and you may be able to go ahead and do the trapline.  That’ll get the blood flowing.  That, and you can eat the third rat when you get back.  Really helped, last night.  Except for the part where it put you so soundly to sleep that a helicopter probably could have landed on you without disturbing your rest…that wasn’t so good.  Maybe stick to half of one, this time.  And you could use some more water, too.  Stuff you brought back from the river last night seems to have frozen again.  Just not putting off enough heat in the night to keep the thing thawed out.  Might manage if I could remember to tuck it in right up next to me, but wasn’t thinking about anything like that last night.  So really need a trip to the river.

It took Einar a painfully long time to get himself up and mobile enough to work his way into boots, parka and mittens, temperatures having dropped dramatically in the night.  He could tell by the way that air felt in his nose that is was significantly below zero, and by the time he finally slung the bag up and over a tree branch and set out, the sky was growing noticeably pale with morning.   Not bad.  Got through another one.  Little stiff this morning, but no further frostbite.   I can do this.  Got to keep eating if I want it to work, but can do it.   Stumbling, he nearly ran headlong into the bare white trunk of an aspen before catching himself.   Who’re you fooling, Einar?  You nearly died last night, would have, without all that meat in your stomach, came mighty close the night before, too, as I recall, and here it is dropping down to be as cold as it’s been all winter up in the basin.  This isn’t looking good.  Got to figure something else out, and you better do it pretty quick here, while you’ve got your head on more or less straight and can reason through these things.   Good plan, but first he must have water, must avoid being too deep in thought as he approached the river, too, lest he miss some sign of human presence.  The planning could wait, if not for long.

28 June, 2012

28 June 2012

Holes frozen over but not yet so heavily that Einar had a hard time breaking the ice to check them, the first three traps were empty, leaving him to fear that perhaps his chosen bait of re-hydrated lily roots had not been to the muskrats’ liking.  That, or perhaps he had simply overestimated the population in the area, for not all of the traps relied on bait, and he would have expected to be seeing something by then…  More luck with the fourth trap, one of the conibears which he had placed just beneath the surface in an obvious traffic path where streamers of frozen bubbles had marked the frequent passage of the animals, a relieved grin spreading across his face as he realized that the brown he was seeing there beneath the thin new skin of ice was none other than a fresh-caught  muskrat, first of the season for him and confirmation that his expedition was not to be entirely for naught.  That, and he could feast on muskrat for breakfast, the realization sending his stomach into a series of hungry grumblings that left him nearly doubled over with their hollow hurting as he pulled trap and stick up out of the water.  Fair-sized critter, not huge but would certainly a good sign of things to come, and it was all Einar could do to prevent himself falling on the little rodent like a hungry coyote, shredding it with his teeth, devouring it and rendering the hide quite useless in the process.

Besides which, your teeth would probably fall out if you tried a thing like that, and I hardly see how ending up toothless and without any nice furs to show is gonna help convince Liz this trip was a good idea!  Nope, you just be patient for a while here, get this thing back to camp after you’ve gone on ahead and checked everything else, and then you’ll get to eat.  All in good time, and all of that.  You got plenty of practice at waiting.  Plenty.  And now in the meantime, how about dipping down in this hole here and having a drink, because if you get much drier, your eyes are gonna stick  open and your mouth stick shut, and that’d be a real unpleasant way to go, don’t you think?  I can sure think of better ones.  Worse ones, too, but no need to go into that just now… 

Somewhat giddy with the excitement of his first trapping success down in the valley—wouldn’t normally have got so worked up about one somewhat puny little drowned rat, but any success at all was seeming like a big thing, just then—and with the effects of dehydration and the cold, Einar knelt beside the hole from which he’d just pulled the trap, scooping out a bit of the remaining ice chunks and taking some of the icy water in his cupped hands, drinking, shivering, repeating until he could no longer feel the hands and his stomach was bulging with the icy liquid.  Better.  Knew he was risking Giardia by drinking straight from that somewhat slow, stagnant water which was called home by so many small mammals, knew that while under more usual circumstances the illness usually proved more of an inconvenience and a discomfort than a danger, it could easily kill him in his present condition, but didn’t see himself having too much choice.  In the absence of a good amount of water delivered in a timely manner, dehydration would certainly have done him in.  Had been in the process of doing so even then, so he had risked the water.

Standing, sloshing, he warmed numbed hands against his stomach, finding himself slightly surprised that it remained warm enough to do them any good, icy as it felt on the inside.  Would need to get moving again in pretty short order, do his best to generate some heat to counteract the effects of all that frigid water, for already he could feel himself beginning to lose what little dexterity he’d had left after the night, temperature dropping again after having climbed a useful amount through all the activity of checking the traps.  Not that he’d had much more choice about drinking the water cold than he’d had when it came to consuming it, in the first place.  Had no way to heat it at the moment, and without it, he’d have gone right on sinking down, down into the oblivion of hypothermia as the morning wore on, probably ending things by crouching on the ice before one of his trap holes, staring stupidly into the water until he went to sleep.  Well.  He shivered--couldn’t stop, all of a sudden, and the force of it was making walking difficult--shuffled back to the bank.  Not happening that morning, and the water would warm inside of him.  He could eat the muskrat to make up for the energy his body used in doing so.

Bandages were all soaked and falling off from the effects of the water, and he knew he’d better be tending to the fingers as soon as he finished checking the traps and returned to camp.  Didn’t appear too much worse for the wear, the ones he could see, and certainly seemed to be functioning fairly well, a relief; he needed them, and was only then--hydration doing its job, clearing his head--coming to realize in what state he’d spent a good portion of the night, knew things could have turned out far worse.  Must try and avoid spending another such night, though he knew such might prove a good deal easier said than done.

The next set was empty, as was the following, but before finishing up for the morning Einar did take two more rats, both of them on the same pole in twin snares he’d baited with an especially tempting-looking bit of lily, not a particularly respectable take for a day of trapping, but at least it was something, and for his first day in the area and with a rather limited number of sets, he figured he’d take it.  Figured he had to, actually.  Would return to camp for a bit, take care of his hands, maybe have something to eat and then head out for another round of scouting and trap placement along the river.  Needed to get more of them out there, start thinking about beaver, as well as muskrat.

Working his way cautiously back up along the river towards camp, Einar took a closer look at the large beaver lodge he’d spotted earlier in the day seeing a spot near the bank where the constant coming and going of the animals had kept the ice from forming and marking it in his mind as a future location for a conibear or two.  Hardly had enough traps to work both beaver and muskrat simultaneously as he normally would have done, so intended to focus on rats for a few days, before switching.  Muninn had been off doing some scouting of his own, winging his way a mile or two down the river as Einar tended the traps, but as if able to sense the man’s intentions even from that distance the raven appeared seemingly out of nowhere as soon as he started up through the timber towards camp, circling once before swooping down and landing heavily just directly in front of Einar’s feet and nearly causing a collision.  Coming to a quick stop and nearly toppling forward over himself in the process, Einar gave the bird a weary grin.

“Come for your share, have you?  Well, you’ll have it.  Just let me get back to camp and skin these critters out, and you’ll have some, soon enough.  Got to find some willows first, though.  Forgot my willows, and without them I’m not gonna have a good way to stretch these furs once I get them off the meat.  Right, I know, you’re a lot more interested in the meat than the furs right now, and I might admit to the same, but furs are the reason I’m down here, after all.  Got to be able to make good, warm things for Will and his mama, and these muskrat pelts are still real fine this time of year.  Want at least a few dozen of them, hopefully more if things go well, and while of course we’re not selling them and therefore don’t have to get that real uniform look you expect from drying them on stretchers, well, they just come out better that way, so I need some willows for stretching.”

Seeming somewhat disappointed at the change in direction and knowing it meant a delay in his snack of muskrat, Muninn followed at tree level, circling as Einar cut a bundle of straight, stout willow wands from an area near the river, wrapped them with the ever-present bundle of  cordage that lived in his pocket and slung them over his shoulder for the walk home.  Camp, approached carefully and with a keen eye on the raven should he offer any clue of trouble up ahead, was just as Einar had left it, no tracks in the area aside from his own and those of a small weasel--ermine, he was pretty sure--which had explored the base of the tree from which his sleeping bag and pack were hung, apparently finding nothing of interest and moving on.  He sat down on a fallen aspen he’d earlier cleared of snow, relieved and suddenly finding himself immensely weary.  Could have gone to sleep right then and there, plopped those three cold, wet muskrats down in the snow, used them as a pillow and drifted right off for the rest of the day, but he had critters to skin and a rather boisterously anxious and demanding raven to feed, so he pried his eyes open, rose and got to work.

Despite some difficulty with his frostbitten fingertips and hands that were less than dexterous with cold, Einar made quick work of skinning out the rats, long practice of the skill leaving it almost second nature to him.  Time to scrape the fat and a bit of the membrane, then, which he did by laying the skins flat on his aspen log seat and carefully working with his knife.  Time to stretch them, then, for which he made rough frames of bent willow and inserted them in the pelts, which remained fur-side in.  This stretched the furs to their maximum size and kept them flat and straight for drying, which would result in a nicer finished product.  Nice enough to sell, actually, had he been doing such, but under present circumstances he was happy simply to have the hides to help keep his family warm.  Hanging the stretched pelts in trees out of the reach of scavengers, Einar turned his attention to the small carcasses with their dark, rich meat, on which Muninn had been keeping a very close eye.  Einar was hungry.  Every bit as hungry as that bird looked.   Time to eat.

27 June, 2012

27 June 2012

No chapter for tonight, been a busy couple of days, but I'll have one for tomorrow.

Thank you all for reading.  :)

26 June, 2012

26 June 2012

The parka was not enough, would not have been enough even had it stayed in place, but it didn’t, slipping down as he slept, his shivering eventually dislodging it entirely so that it slid away down beside him.  Waking, groggy, Einar tried drawing himself into a tighter ball against the encroaching cold but it wasn’t doing any good, no effect at all and he changed position, creakily rolling over and wrapping arms about his knees, ribs, trying to compress everything together and find a bit of warmth somewhere.  Only made matters worse. Seemed his sleeping bag wasn’t holding in any heat at all, but he knew that the more likely scenario involved his simply generating far too little, in the first place.   Tried gnawing at the strip of jerky that he’d stashed away for breakfast, but he couldn’t seem to get the stuff down, mouth filling with dry crumbs that choked him as he tried to swallow.  No help.  Appeared he must have managed to end up a bit short on water, along with everything else.  Knew he’d got to move if he wanted to make it through the night.   Move, then.  Get up.  Come on, you can do it.  Just get some motion going, some momentum.  Not gonna get any better so long as you’re lying here. 

All very easy to say, but doing something about it was another matter entirely, body stiff and unwilling when he tried freeing himself from the sleeping bag.  Couldn’t operate the zipper, fingers unable to close around the pull and he exhausted himself striving to manage the task, all but gave up and was about to squirm his way out of the tightly cinched top of the bag--alarmingly enough, he really could have done it--when he had the idea to try his teeth.  Success.  Flopped out onto the ground where he lay fighting for breath, snow not even beginning to melt into his clothing as he stared up at the shapes of the spruces overhead, dark, blotting out stars with their jagged black forms.

Cold.  Had to do something about it, and lying in the snow, though it had been his erstwhile goal, wasn’t going to help any.  Into the parka.  Rough going, but he did it, arms tucked inside the main body of the garment, huddling up against the granite wall behind his camp and wondering just what he’d thought he was going to do about the whole situation, anyway.  Parka wasn’t any warmer than the bag, certainly, and now his feet were sticking out there, nothing but socks to protect them from the sub-freezing temperatures and snow.  Didn’t sound like progress, to him.  Well, put on your boots.   Right.  Why not?  And he did it, rising, stumbling about for a minute or two and wondering where he was supposed to go--hot spring, that’d be a real good thing about now, just spend the night in that thing, but I don’t remember ever seeing sign of one along this stretch of river--until his aimless motion came to an abrupt halt with his rather sudden and unexpected meeting with the rock wall.  Had walked right into the thing, crouched stunned for a minute in the snow, tasting blood and only growing colder as it oozed damply down the front of his neck.  The jarring had done more than bloody his nose though, had managed to reach him through the fog that was so quickly developing in his brain and get him in motion again, and this time his movements had some purpose.  On his feet, shuffling and stomping, throwing himself against the wall, beating numbed limbs against one another and swinging them out from him like the rotors of some crazy, malfunctioning helicopter until at last the intense sting of returning circulation crept in to tell him that all was not lost, his efforts were having some effect…

Weary, and he stopped, forehead drooping against the rock wall and the rest of him threatening to follow, knees folding.  On the ground.  Needed a fire.  Couldn’t keep up that exhausting routine of stomping and swinging and pounding himself against the wall all night long.  Yeah, he’d done such things before but that had been then and this was now and much as he might try to deny the fact, things had changed some in the meanwhile, and if he tried it now, he’d probably never see morning.  Would end up passing out and freezing in the snow before daylight ever began showing itself.  Needed another plan. Sleeping bag sounded good and besides, he couldn’t think of anything else, so he crawled in, shedding snowy, bloody clothes along the way and curling himself into a ball way down in the bottom of the bag, parka overtop--enough, he hoped it would be enough, for it was all he could do, and he had traps to check in the morning--and arms wrapped hard around bony knees as he shivered himself to sleep.

Daylight.  Just a sliver of it, a tiny chink visible where the bag’s zipper revealed some small defect, and staring at the brightness, Einar came slowly awake, aware of his surroundings at last, ready to be up and checking traps.  Actually moving proved another matter, body so stiff from his long night in the cold that at first he couldn’t get it to respond at all, briefly considered going back to sleep but knew that would be a tremendously bad idea under present circumstances even if he didn’t have traps to check, which he did, so finally and with much effort he clawed his way up to the top of the bag, peered out, blinking in the strengthening glow of the daylight.  Not too late in the day, if not the predawn rising which was his long-established custom, and he shrugged, searched about for his breakfast, figuring he might as well eat in the relative warmth of the bag.  Found the jerky strip and found his water bottle, also.  Frozen solid.  Not good.  Guessed it must not have been quite as warm in there as he’d thought, and inspecting fingers and toes--somewhat flexible if mostly numb, none of them the dead, frostbitten white which he had feared--he supposed it was a wonder he hadn’t frozen anything, in the night.  Water would just have to thaw as the day went on, and in the future he would need a better solution for keeping it liquid through the night.  Dehydration would do him in, if ever he let it get a toehold.  Wasn’t merely a problem of desert plains and hot, summer afternoons; could be every bit as deadly in the cold, thickening a man’s blood, slowing his responses and leaving him to slowly freeze without even realizing he was in trouble.  Einar had been there, or almost there, on more than one occasion, and had no particular desire to repeat the experience.  On with the day, then.

Clothes, when he searched for them, were strewn about everywhere, lying here and there in the snow and he gathered them up, pulling the items one by one into the bag and doing his best to thaw them out before struggling them onto his body, wondering all the while at the extent of the bruising that was showing up purple and tender all over his legs, shoulders and sides, the stiffness that had come over him in the night.  Guessed he must have ended up getting pretty enthusiastic about trying to warm himself; remembered some close contact with that rock wall, and supposed it must provide the explanation.  Well.  No matter, really, for he was still able to move after a fashion, and did, shaking the snow from his bag and hanging it in a tree to air out for the day, nodding to the raven and setting out for the first trap.

25 June, 2012

25 June 2012

Einar scouted down the river a bit more until he found at last an area where things widened out, river taking many small channels and the whole place turning marshy, last year’s battered cattail tops showing here and there through the snow.  A very promising spot, and he edged closer to the ice, brushing here and there at the snow in an attempt to get a look at conditions beneath, hoping to see some sign of muskrat “shines,” the distinctive pattern of air bubbles frozen beneath the surface of the ice which would indicate the creatures’ frequent passage, show where they visited little clumps of mud and vegetation that stuck out into the water and give him good clues as to where to leave his snares and traps.  No such luck, not under present conditions.  Hard to move enough snow to see any such thing though, ice rough in places beneath it and not entirely clear, either, just as he had expected, and he knew he’d have to base his trap and snare placement more on proximity to dens and pushups than on the look of the ice.  One den he spotted in the snowy, marshy expanse of that small delta, several of the mud and stick “pushups” that the creatures used as resting and snacking stops on their daily food-gathering travels, and the area looked to him a pretty good bet.  Well.  Best get to work.  Snares first.

Most of the snares Einar planned to place un-baited up near the surface beneath the ice because that’s where the animals typically traveled, down near the bottom in some spots  near cattails, because they’d be down digging for roots.  Some would be baited, and he glanced at the handful of avalanche lily roots which he’d brought along for that purpose, having soaked them for a time in camp to begin the re-hydration process…wished he had some of the carrots, turnips or parsnips he used to grow for bait while living up at his cabin.  He’d found all three to work pretty well, but hoped the lily roots would prove similarly attractive.  Some of the sets--especially the snares he planned to set in some of the narrower channels near the dens where trails of frozen air bubbles told him of the animals’ passing--wouldn’t even need bait, relying instead on the rats’ somewhat restricted course through the area to get them snared.  So, he figured he ought to be able to get some, even if the bait didn’t work out and he had to come up with another plan for next time.  Like cattail roots.  Could work, only the things were pretty doggone near inaccessible that time of year to anyone who was not actu`lly a muskrat.  He would have had to dig through the snow, chop through a large area of ice and then make an incredibly visible mess of frozen mud trying to get at the things just then, not to mention thoroughly freezing himself in the process and ending up caking his clothes with frozen mud and ice.  Not a very hopeful prospect.  Would have to make do with the reconstituted lily roots, if at all possible!

While thinking it all through Einar had been busy chopping, brushing snow aside and going at the ice with his axe, and he was now ready to place the first set, wiring a pair of snares to a spruce branch pole, firmly attaching a length of lily root between them and lowering the set vertically into the water so that the snares were submerged by nearly a foot.  Good.  Not done though, for he must still wire the vertical pole to another large branch which he laid horizontally on the ice to help prevent anything swimming off with the entire set, should a beaver or other large creature manage to get itself tangled up in his snares.  Did it, stood up and warmed numbed, aching hands against the skin of his stomach, pleased with the set.  It was a good start, and he went on to do several more, leaving the small set holes open and uncovered as he went.

He planned on covering over the trap holes on the beaver sets he would later do, but had learned over the years that the light actually seems to attract muskrats instead of scaring them off, as it generally did for beaver.  Muskrat, it seemed, were more active in the day beneath the ice than were beaver, and he’d often in the past found that his traps would be tripped during the daylight hours.  Leaving the holes open and uncovered would mean, unfortunately, that he’d have no way to protect them from being frozen over with ice again in the night, and he’d have a bit of chopping each day to retrieve the rats he’d hopefully catch, but supposed it would be worth the work.

In addition to putting out a good number of snares, Einar chopped through the ice in several places and left the precious conibear body hold traps Kilgore had brought him, traps positioned to grab the rats’ bodies as they swam through some of the narrower channels.  Traps needed to be up fairly near the surface, and he baited all of them just for good measure, wishing again that he had some carrot or turnip but still hoping the once-dried lily roots might prove nearly as tempting.  Carefully choosing the location and doing his best to fix it in his mind--might have marked each upright stick that held the sets with orange tape or some such, under different circumstances, but he didn’t dare make any more of a scene than necessary under present circumstances, and would have to rely on simply spotting the sticks where they poked up above the surface of the ice and snow--he chopped the first hole, lowered in the trap, wired securely to a stout spruce branch so that he could angle it in about a foot beneath the surface, and jammed the pole securely into the rocks at the bottom.  Several more he set this way, continuing until he was out of conibear traps.

Evening.  Too dark to see what he was doing anymore even if he had more to set, and Einar knew it was time to turn in for the night.  Bone-weary as he headed back to camp and cold from working around the water all afternoon, he found himself not anticipating the long, fireless night with a great deal of relish but there was no dread, either.  He was too tired to dread much of anything, and besides, he’d done such before, cold camp after a long day; shouldn’t be a big deal…and might not have been, the last time he’d spent a winter trapping a similar river valley a good number of years previously.  What he failed to realize, settling in for the night already thoroughly chilled and still painfully hollow and hungry after a small supper of jerky and bearfat, was that he’d weighed a good sixty five or seventy pounds more in those days than he currently did, and even then, hadn’t been carrying a spare ounce of fat.

Too weary to think about any such thing or to measure in his mind the inevitable implications, Einar simply curled up in the sleeping bag with knees pressed to his chest and hands wadded up beneath his chin, waited to begin warming.  Never happened, and had it not been for the raven, he might well have slept right through his own demise, that night.  Perhaps the bird was simply hungry after his own meager supper of a single strip of jerky, perhaps he sensed Einar’s danger or possibly a bit of both, but regardless of the reason he was restless, stirred in his sleep and finally flew down from the low perch he’d picked for himself in the boughs of one of Einar’s sheltering firs, hopped over to him and searched around in the mouth of the sleeping bag until he was able to come up with a good-sized beak full of the sleeping man’s hair, which he twisted so hard that it came out at the root.  Pistol in hand--even in his weary state, he had not neglected to bring it into the bag with him--Einar flipped over to face the menace, seeing in the last remaining twilight glow the bird’s huge form silhouetted against the trees and sinking back down into the bag, shaking his head and laughing.

“Really got me there, you big vulture.  No good jerky-stealing carrion eater.  What’s this, you’ve decided to take my hair to line your nest, now?  Building yourself a nice warm spot to spend the night, and figured ‘hey, he’s got a stocking hat, what’s he need with hair?’  Well, let me tell you.  I need the hair.  Gonna freeze without the hair, so you’d best leave it alone unless you want me taking your feathers for a down vest.  Might almost be a fair trade…”  And he tucked his nose back beneath the top fold of the sleeping bag, shivering hard, mind going grey again in a hurry, exhausted at having to interact with the bird.  Muninn wasn’t satisfied, still wanting to eat and--Einar would later come to believe--also wanting to get him in to some sort of state in which he might have a chance of surviving the night; it’s a real bummer when your food source freezes solid and you’ve got nobody left to hand out the jerky, and he persisted in his campaign of harassment.

Einar didn’t want to move, certainly had no desire to stir from the sleeping bag and in the process admit more cold air, either to retrieve jerky for the bird or to pull the parka up over his bag as he vaguely knew he needed to do, but raven was relentless and besides, things clearly weren’t working out too well at all with the cold the way he was trying them, either.  Wouldn’t be likely to go well at all, if he tried finishing out the entire night as he was.  At last he uncoiled a single stiff, trembling arm and used it to paw about in the pack for his food bag, tossing the bird a strip of jerky and bringing one into the bag with to help remind himself to eat in the morning, tucking it away in a cold corner beside his already partially-frozen water bottle.  He searched also for his parka, dragging the garment up over the bag, and himself, before returning to his compact little huddle.  Ought to increase the bag’s efficiency by a fair factor, keep the wind from whispering so coldly about the bag where it seemed doing its level best to find admittance, and as he lay shivering uncontrollably and trying his best to warm the arm before it could manage to further chill him--wasn’t working; thing was like a block of ice against his already cold body--he hoped rather sleepily that the parka would be enough.  Would have to be enough, for a fire simply wasn’t an option he was allowing himself to consider.

Comments from 25 June

Anonymous said... 
Thanks for the chapter! I have trapped many of the critters Einar is after; I will be very interested to see how he manages to make muskrat sets that will not stick out like a sore thumb, to any passersby, under those conditions. Maybe I will learn something!
If Einar could find a decent snow bank in a nice out of the way spot in the timber he might have a chance. A candle can bring a snow cave down below freezing, and with a decent amount of top cover and also timber to penetrate, thermal signature would not be a worry. With that shelter and warm clothes, a good sleeping bag, and about 12000 calories a day, he might make it. In his condition, his plan to huddle in a little nest of brush is a nonstarter; he just does not see that yet.

Oh, yes, I’m pretty sure he’s going to be finding that out…  Ought to know it already, but he has an occasional tendency to overestimate his abilities when it comes to such things.  The snow cave would be good.  He'd wear himself out pretty well digging it, but it'd serve him for the entire time he was down there.  I've spent many comfortable, quiet (wind free!) nights in snow caves.

As for the muskrat sets sticking out like a sore thumb, yes, he’s going to have to chop holes in the ice and they’d show up to anyone who happened by in close enough proximity, but about the best he can do is to try and place them in areas where it seems unlikely skiers would venture, since that’s who is most likely to be in the area that time of year.  Aside from the holes though, not too much should be visible.  He’s not going to do platforms, and it’s too icy for floats.

24 June, 2012

24 June 2012

With a fair number of daylight hours remaining and Einar beginning to grow quickly chilled sitting there in camp he set out to scout the river, taking only his knife, spear and the pistol Kilgore had left for him.  A weapon, he knew, of last resort, as he couldn’t afford the chance someone might hear its sharp report under any but the most dire of circumstances, but he was glad to have it, as he knew very well that there is simply no telling when things can turn ugly, and he was glad for any advantage on which he might be able to call.

Chilly down there in the valley, sun within an hour of dipping behind the opposite ridge though it was scarce two hours past noon, and he knew it would be quite late rising in the morning, as well.  Despite the altitude and its attendant difficulties, their basin did have the advantage of a later sunset, being up out of the valley by a good two and a half thousand feet.  Would be a real advantage had they intended to try a garden of any sort at all, those extra few hours of sunlight, but he doubted they would get around to such a thing.  They were and ought to try and remain foragers, roving omnivores living off the bounty of the land and planning their movements around its seasonal patterns, gathering, digging, trapping and hunting as necessary but never coming to rely too heavily on one particular source of nutrition, for of such unwise endeavors were famines made, and they would have enough struggle as it was, finding enough to eat up there from time to time.  Would all depend on the year itself, snowfall, weather, abundance of one crop or another and the health of the various furry critters which fed on them, and the last thing they needed was to try and add agriculture into the mix.

Not that it would have hurt anything to have a small patch of potatoes, some strawberries, perhaps, cabbages and broccoli and beets…his stomach growled at the thought of beets, their good earthy richness which had always seemed to him something like eating the soil itself, in the best possible way, and he hungered for them, wished they had a few stashed away up at the cabin, securely stored beneath a foot or two of slightly damp spruce straw to prevent freezing…  Shook his head to dispel the tasty fantasy, glanced furtively about the camp as if half fearing someone might have managed to sneak up on him during his brief reverie, but there was no one.  Would be no garden plot out front of the cabin anytime, either, not something they could risk, despite its obvious benefits.  The appearance of cultivated ground--such a garden hardly being something one could tuck away in the dark shadows beneath the timber; it needed sunlight--being too great of a draw for any eye which might be passing by in the sky, a break in the pattern which might well serve to give them away.

Our freedom for a bushel of beets.  Nope, don’t think so.   If we want root veggies, just gonna have to stick to spring beauty and avalanche lily for now, maybe add some cattails to the mix if I find a good patch or two down here near the river that we can raid next year during the warm season, but we’re foragers and scavengers and small-time trappers, and gonna need to stay that way.  Just like bears, but with less hibernating and a little more predation.  Yep, that’s us, and not a bad life, really.  Just look at all we got stashed away up there at the cabin.  May not have any beets, carrots or cabbages, but we sure do have plenty of meat, both fresh-frozen and dried, berries aplenty, dried greens, starchy roots, bearfat and all that honey…yep, we’re mighty rich, and can probably do even better this next year, if we’re able to stay in that location.  Now.  On with your scouting.  Not catching any muskrats just standing here, and the day’s passing.   Passing, indeed, and cooling as well as the sun sank near the impossibly high horizon, Einar already trembling slightly in his sweater, having left the parka back at camp.  Had to get moving, or he risked finding his hands near useless when finally he did find the spot where he’d begin setting out traps and snares.

Cautious as he approached the river, pace slowing and every sense alert for the presence of others--raven was little help, having gone on ahead , rasping, soaring and swooping over the river--Einar found a spot where a dense stand of spruce swept down very nearly to the water’s edge, or the spot where it would have been, had the ice not been so thick at the moment, and using this for cover, he explored for some distance along the banks.  There amongst tangles of scraggly spruce, red osier dogwood and willow he found the tracks of marten and ermine, places where a porcupine had been gnawing the bark from a spruce, leaving a large yellow sap-oozing patch which would have killed the tree in time, had it gone much further around, and in one place, signs of recent beaver and muskrat activity.  All good news, and a hint of a grin spread across the weary, drawn lines of his face as he read the unmistakable account of the abundance that existed down along the river, meat and furs theirs for the taking if only they could do it safely and without too much risk of exposure and discovery.  Hoped so.  Sure hadn’t seen any signs of human presence as of yet, no ski tracks in the nearby chutes or on the valley floor, nothing, and he hoped very much that things might continue in a similar way.

Where the trees ended, Einar spotted the distinctive leaping tracks of a bobcat, the animal having landed deftly on the snow-covered form of a fallen aspen that jutted out across the ice, picked its way along the tree and then leapt to the far bank, and he followed.  Slippery out there on the crusty, curved snow lining that fallen tree, and Einar moved carefully, one foot in front of the other and arms spread wide for balance, his customary agility having been impacted somewhat by the various half-healed bumps, bruises and worse of recent weeks but remaining sufficiently intact to prevent his toppling to the ice below.  End of the tree, its top having fractured in the brittle manner of aspens and been swept somewhat downstream earlier in the year while the river was doing more flowing and less freezing, and he crouched there where white, broken wood marked the spot where it had sheered off, staring down into the gentle eddy of water that showed between thick banks of ice that had encroached from both sides.

Calling him, that black water seemed to be, urging him to strip down and test himself in the iron embrace of its jaws, and had it not been for the little family that awaited him up at the cabin, he almost certainly would have done so without a moment’s hesitation.  As it was, he simply shivered, rose and turned, easing his way back along the log until he’d reached solid ground once more.  The water would have him, no doubt, but not that afternoon.  He had traps to set, and only a few hours of daylight during which to do it.

Comments from 22 June

Philip said...
Chris, A week ago, I was in Sweat Mode, hot not as ~blazes~ but maybe like a small teepee fire ;-
Today, Long Sleeve Shirt, and almost a full on ~chill~ an Oregon Chill mind you, not some 12,000 foot Glacier ~chill~ if you follow the drift... 
I mean we should have Red Tomatoes on the vine by now, or soon any way, and... they are not even PLANTED most places!!!!
But I am always thank full for Mr. Gore, without Al, I be Freezing now, right???
hey, the plot line right now: Liz says "Travel", GO, I won't stop you.... ~ouch~ that lady has got to be hurting!
IT Takes a strong willed Spouse to ~let go~ I mean... we are talking Einar here, the dude is only Sinew holding a few shreds of muscle that is left, sort of Skin hanging on a ~bone~ hanger as I picture it....
I sure hope the guy lights a fire down there....

Yeah, that’s pretty much the extent of it, little bits of sinew and muscle, on bone.  Might alarm him some if he was still capable of alarm, but it's amazing the sorts of things a person can adapt to, both mind and body.  Really difficult to keep warm though when a person has so little natural insulation, even if they happen to be trying…  One advantage however is that it’s easy to cool off, when it’s hot!  Just a short soak in some cold water, and you can be shivering for an hour or more, even if it’s 100 degrees out!  Really helps.

I do wish it would get cloudy and rain, though.

This place is burning up.  Literally.  New fires starting every day, and the heat and wind just won't quit.

23 June, 2012

23 June 2012

Causing minimal disturbance to the ground outside his little grove of trees as he set up camp, Einar trampled down the snow and cut branches for a bed, knowing that he would be needing as much insulation as possible from the cold of the ground, especially in the planned absence of fire.  Not much else to do, really, since he wasn’t setting up for a fire or gathering wood.  Saved a lot of work.  Except when it came to melting snow and ice for water, cooking, keeping warm and such things…  Would have to find alternatives for those, which meant drawing most of his water directly from the river, eating his meals raw—or at least cold—and doing his best to stay something vaguely resembling warm, in the absence of fire.  Liz had insisted on his taking the sleeping bag left months prior by Bud and Susan on one of their earlier visits, and it, in combination with his parka, ought to provide a fair amount of protection during the freezing nights.  With which thought he knew he was fooling himself at least to some extent, the combined warmth of the bag and parka being barely enough to keep him alive and going through a long night of stillness under present circumstances, and even that small benefit was only available to him should he find himself able to take advantage of it, rather than huddle down in the snow beside a tree, perhaps clad in his parka and perhaps not, as he had been increasingly likely to do, of late.

Well.  None of that on this trip.  Couldn’t afford it.  Liz was expecting him to return, wanting him to, even, though her possible reasons baffled him at times, and he had an obligation to do so, if only as a provider of the food and furs his little family needed to make it up there in the high country.  For that, even if not for his own benefit, he could do the things required to get himself whole and intact through his week of trapping on the river.  Which meant keeping up his energy so his mind wouldn’t end up drifting and betraying him in one way or another, and in order to do that, he must eat.  No shortage of food at present, Liz having loaded his pack down with a good deal more than he would have taken, if left to his own devices, and he delved into the recesses of the pack, pulling out a portion of leftover stew--now frozen--and some of the jerky she’d sent him.  Good stuff, and hunger growing as he ate, he kept at it until he’d quite finished the icy stew and made a dent in the strip of jerky, one of those that he’d seasoned with salt and pepper before drying.  Tasty.  Ears alert as he ate, he listened to the chortle and gurgle of the water as it ran beneath the ice, and then he heard another sort of chortling, the strange, hollow notes of a raven in flight, nearby and already diving down through the timber by the time he caught sight of the bird’s iridescent black feathers, sunlight glinting and flashing off the smoothness of his beak as he turned his head this way and that, searching.  Found what he was looking for, landing heavily beside Einar and demanding a share of the meal.  Einar grinned, shook his head and obliged with a few chunks of jerky, which the raven promptly scarfed up out of the snow.

“Did Liz send you to keep an eye on me, you big vulture, or what?  Make sure I eat my supper, knock me between the eyes with that vicious beak of yours if I lie down in the snow for the night instead of crawling into my bag and pull some branches up over me so I don’t freeze?  I bet she made a deal with you, didn’t she?  You enforce her edicts down here, and she gives you a strip of jerky a day for the rest of your ravenly life…”

The bird wasn’t talking, tilted his head and stared with black, shining eyes, but Einar suspected Liz might have done just that.  While he would have preferred the raven stay up around the cabin--critter had a keen sense of danger, of impending change, and might have been able to alert her to any approaching concern--he did not mind Muninn’s company.  Would allow him to sleep just a bit easier, relax slightly when stalking the river during the days, knowing the bird with his sharp senses and gift of flight would see trouble before he was himself able, perhaps give him the advantage of a few extra seconds or even longer, and that time could make all the difference when it came to being seen or remaining undetected.  That prospect still worried him some, the possibility that he could inadvertently expose his position to a random skier, snowmobiler or other backcountry recreationist who might be making his way along the river; one chance encounter with a man curious enough to pursue the matter, and he would find himself in real trouble, hard-pressed to make his trail disappear in the still-deep snow.  And that was if he found himself aware of the breach, in the first place.  Which, he had to admit, was not particularly likely.  Just as possible was a scenario in which he’d already finished running his trapline for the day when the intruder came through, sitting in camp unawares as the man--or men; few traveled alone so deep in the backcountry, that time of year--studied the strange, limping snowshoe trail, shoes clearly something other than standard, followed them, perhaps, and found a few of his traps…  If they really pursued the matter they would fairly easily be able to follow the tracks to their maker, as he wasn’t going to be traveling too far at the end of the day, and then the game would be up.  So, he was glad of Muninn’s company.

“Keep a sharp watch out, you old vulture, and let me know if you see anybody, alright?  We’ll handle it if we got to, but the more warning I have, the better.”  Muninn hopped up onto his shoulder, twisted a bit of his hair and chortled in agreement.

Dismissing the raven with a gentle shove--bird was heavy, and he’d only just got the pack off a few minutes ago, was still trying to catch his breath--Einar resumed setting up camp, stowing his remaining food and once again sorting the traps and snares he’d brought, planning which to take with him on his first scout of the river and setting the others aside, hanging them from the broken off branch of a fir near his sleeping spot.  Next came his hands--should have come first, perhaps, but he’d left his gloves on upon reaching camp, had been managing alright and hadn’t wanted to deal with the hurt of a dressing change before eating, as it certainly would have put him off his food for a time, and he’d felt himself beginning to slip, go all dazed and dreamy,  had needed to eat--and he eased off one glove and then another, unwinding the gauze with which Liz had treated the worst of his frostbite and softening a bit of salve between his palms before spreading it on the areas.  Hurt, but didn’t really look any worse than they had that morning, which he took as a good sign.  He’d have to keep on top of things, especially with all the handling of cold, wet metal which would inevitably be required by his trapping endeavor, but it was appearing he might well get away with fairly minor injuries, this time.  A good thing.

Immediate camp tasks done his thoughts turned to the cabin and to Liz, to the child who was probably wide awake by then and enjoying some morning sunlight as it streamed in through the open door, and the thought was a good one, and his hope was on returning home soon to see them.

22 June, 2012

22 June 2012

I don't have a chapter ready for today, but ought to have them on both weekend days.

Thank you all for reading, and for your patience!

21 June, 2012

21 June 2012

Down through the timber, snowshoes on his feet and blood singing in his head at the exertion of the thing, load on his back representing well over half his current bodyweight and the clear, high-altitude sun arcing upward through the vast purple spruce-studded canopy of the sky, Einar set out that morning for the river valley.  Liz had let him go with a reluctance roughly commensurate to her legitimate concern as to the prospects of his safe return, stuffing him with as much hot, rich stew as he could hold and pressing yet another packet of pemmican into his pack, tucking it beside the pitch-coated, woven willow-encased portions of honey, the jerky and bearfat and dried, pounded chokecherries that he was to add to his own stews down in the valley, the ones she hoped somewhat desperately he would remember to make for himself, have the will and the strength to eat…it was all out of her hands, now, and she had known it, had let him go with as much courage and calm as she could muster.

Still dark when he left, she had placed his son in his hands for a quick farewell, her forehead against his own in the glow of the firelight, and for a brief moment--of weakness?  Strength?  Sometimes he had a bit of difficulty telling one from the other, in such matters--he had found himself drawn very powerfully to stay with them, return to the bed and pass the remainder of the dark hours in the quiet warmth of her company, but the river was calling. His pack was ready, and he must go.

Tree to tree now in the dawning light, eyes full of wonder as he stared out at the rapidly melting snow of the valley, dirt appearing here and there in small but growing patches and the scent of springs rising softly on the morning breeze to softly infuse his entire being, gentle, warm, deceptive.  Too early.  Many more snows to come, yet he shed his wool cap as he descended, shook hair and wiped sweat from his forehead, exposing it to the welcome breeze.  One might have almost believed spring was coming.  One would have been wrong.  He’d be freezing by nightfall, shivering in his parka and wishing he’d allow himself to build a fire, little doubt about it.  Which he almost certainly would not do, not down there, the following days destined to pass in a long string of hard work and cold camps.  Best enjoy the warmth while it lasted.  He shivered, hitched his pack up higher on his back--straps were cutting into this shoulders, should have done more to pad them--and continued on his way.

Increasingly cautious as he neared the valley, Einar further slowed his pace, stopping frequently to listen and picking with greatest care a course that led him through the heaviest timber, concealing tracks, working his way out occasionally to lookout points that gave him a vantage, timber-choked as it might  be, over the valley, allowing him to watch, survey the place for potential dangers, for signs that he might not be alone or recently had not been, but never seeing anything to arouse his suspicion.  Particularly sharp was his watch for the ski tracks which would tell him the valley had been playing host to recent visitors.  That would have been a game-changer, would have turned him around without a moment’s hesitation.  Some part of him, he realized, scanning the most likely courses that would have been taken by such intruders, almost hoped to see the signs, so he would have a reason to turn back. 

Descent had taken a lot out of him, more than it ought to have, left him swaying on his feet and near collapse if he did not take special care to keep himself upright beneath the weight of his pack, and he knew he was in for a pretty rough time.  Which ought not matter, usually would not matter, as he accepted and even welcomed such challenges, and would do the same with this one.  Right.  Get moving again.  All clear down there, near as I can see.  No ski tracks in the places where they’d most likely travel, and I don’t see any in the less likely spots, either.  No turns through the powder in the wider gullies coming down to the valley or on that open slope over there, which would be a pretty obvious attraction to anyone spending time down here this time of year.  Nope, unless there’s something tucked in against the hillside where I won’t be able to see it until hitting the valley floor, it’s looking more and more like I’m alone down here.  Just me and the muskrat and beaver.  Best get trapping.

First, he had to find and establish a camp.  Good safe spot in the deep timber where no one would manage stumble across him even should they somehow find their way into his valley, and after some searching he located just such a place in the dense tangle of young firs which backed up to a steep and almost overhanging wall of rock some hundred yards from the banks of the ice-locked river, its sound a mere gurgle at that distance, allowing him to listen almost unimpeded for any sign of danger.  Another important factor in choosing his camp, for the rush and roar of water in his head would have rendered him quite unable to adequately listen for approaching voices, footsteps or even aircraft overhead, rendering his time in camp far less than restful and putting him at great danger of accidental discovery.

 No such difficulty in his chosen location, and he unbuckled his pack where he’d cinched it tightly as possible across his hips, breathing an exhausted sigh as its weight left his shoulders and he eased it to the ground.  Felt incredibly light in the absence of that pack, almost as if he could step off the ground and right up into the air, and he knew that though such was a typical sensation after freeing one’s self from such a burden long carried, he truly was almost light enough to have done so, had a stiff wind been blowing, and he supposed the fact ought to scare him, some.  Might have, had he not over the past months grown so accustomed to his own progressing physical obliteration, to the occupying of ever less space, but he had, as a person will grow accustomed to nearly anything, given enough time, and as he worked to rub some feeling back into pack-numbed shoulders and hips, his thoughts were all on the river. 

He would need to scout it well, look for signs of recent beaver activity and for the tracks and slides that indicated the presence of muskrat.  His stomach growled at the thought of muskrat, and he pressed an elbow into the great hungry cavity between ribs and hips, hoping to quell its sudden aching; that good, rich meat had become one of his favorites over the course of the past winter and early spring, when he and Liz had eaten it more than once on the verge of starvation and benefitted greatly from its nutrients.  Often, that seemed to be the way of things with him, the foods eaten in times of desperation becoming precious and greatly to be desired in the future, some trick of the brain perhaps responsible for assigning them greater value and worth than might have otherwise inherently been theirs.  The Nutella which he had first tried that time at Liz’s when stepping gingerly back from the brink of starvation, the muskrats that had fed them later and even the piles of rough, bitter usnea lichen whose barely-nutritious bulk had served to stuff his empty stomach during yet another lean time…each of these had come to hold a special place in his heart, perhaps not entirely rational, but very real.  And now he found himself excited at the prospect of once again feasting on muskrat.

20 June, 2012

20 June 2012

Experimenting somewhat cautiously with his sore and blistered fingers, Einar found that he could, through a carefully concerted effort, bring himself to manipulate various sorts of traps and snares with reasonable success and a manageable level of pain, and without, he was pretty sure, doing too much damage to the already injured areas.  If anything, they seemed overall a bit better that morning, for which he knew he had Liz’s quick action with warm water and balm of Gilead salve to thank.  She’d probably prevented infection, maybe even saved a finger or two.   Can’t be doing that again, sitting out there to freeze for the night with no thought given to your hands, and he knew he wouldn’t do it again, not if he was in his right mind and thinking about the consequences, never would have done it in the first place had he been taking such things into consideration at the time, but he’d got stuck, just staring off into the snowy distance up there with mind blank and body inert as the night had slipped by him, and he shuddered at the thought of it, memory hanging heavily and the chill of it still in his bones.  He shivered, pressed arms briefly to his sides for warmth and continued his inventory of  the traps and snares.  No matter about all that.  He had a mission now, a very clear purpose and wouldn’t be sitting down in the snow to freeze again anytime soon.  Had muskrat and beaver to trap!  And Liz to inform of his plans, too, but so far as he could tell she was still sleeping, and he meant to allow her to remain that way for as long as possible.  Had been aware of her occasional wakefulness in the night, restful breathing interrupted and eyes on him in the darkness; he’d felt them, knew the vigil--which had included once leaving the bed to replace the hot rocks placed around him with new ones--must have interfered some with her own sleep.

Quietly retrieving his pack from behind the water barrel and speaking softly to Muninn when the bird stirred, ruffled his wings and threatened to wake for the day--not yet, you big vulture.   Keep it quiet there for a while, or you’re gonna get us both in big trouble--Einar began coiling up snares, easing traps in between items of clothing to prevent their rattling and generally preparing himself for departure.  Some of the traps, he knew, would have to hang from the outside of the pack; Kilgore had been generous, and they would not all fit inside.  These he secured as well as he could, wiring them together to prevent excessive noise in travel and making sure none would fall from the pack as he walked, even donning the near-completed pack and jumping cautiously up and down there in front of the stove to check for stray rattles.  An old habit, and not a bad one.  Nothing rattled, nothing, that was, except for his bones when he took a hard landing and collapsed in a heap beneath the pack, biting off a groan and pressing his eyes together until a bit of the dizziness passed.

Well that was a pretty doggone dismal failure, O Great Trapper.  Come on, pick yourself back up and see about the damage, here.  Anything twisted, broken or otherwise rendered useless?  No?  Good.  Back at it then, and I guess jumping’s out for the moment.  But, at least there weren’t any rattles that I noticed, not until the whole thing went tumbling to the floor, at least.

Liz was awake.  He could hear her stirring, figured he’d better get a fire going so the place would be a bit more comfortable for her when she left the bed, found it easier said than done with his fingers the way they were, but he managed it, stood shivering in the spreading orange glow of the flames as it reached out to begin illuminating the darker corners of the cabin, glinting with an iridescent sheen off the feathers of the sleeping raven and sparkling in Liz’s hair where she sat up in bed, watching him.  Silently slipping her arm from beneath the child’s head and carefully tucking him back in beneath the hides, she joined him by the fire.

“What are you doing, here?   Looks like you’ve got some big plans…”

“Trapline.  Figured it was time for me to get serious about the river, before springtime gets any closer and the quality of the furs starts declining some, and besides, it’ll give you two a little peace and quiet around the place for a few days.  Plan is--if you don’t object too greatly--for me to go down there for two, three days and get things established, do a little trapping and then come back for the two of you, if you still want to come.”

“I think I may object too greatly…”

He was about to laugh, teeth flashing white in the firelight in what Liz took to be the beginnings of the fierce grin-grimace with which he had taken lately to expressing his delight on one matter or another, but seeing that she was to all appearances quite serious, he stopped.  “What do you mean?  Object to which part?”

“To the part where you take off by yourself for the valley.  Looks like you’re all packed, and everything.  Were you just going to disappear this morning, without even telling me?”

“No, I was gonna tell you.  Just didn’t want to wake you.  Wasn’t going anywhere before we talked, though.”

She looked relieved, hard lines at the corners of her mouth easing in the firelight.  “I’m glad of that.”  Studied him.  “You’re really intent on going this time, aren’t you?”

“I am.  It is best.”

“Go, then.”


“I’ve stopped and delayed you three or four times already, so if you’re ready to go, I won’t try and do it again.  Just promise me…”  hand on his arm, stared at him until he looked up and met her eye.  “I want to see you again.  Promise me you’ll take care of yourself out there, eat, stay warm at night, don’t go out of your way to lose any fingers…”

That grin again.  Sure, he promised.  Had to eat, so he’d have the energy to set all those traps, pull muskrat and beaver from the river, break away the ice day after day and…

“And don’t you be hopping in one of those holes for a soak, or a swim, or a bath or whatever you call it, either!  You need all that energy just for keeping yourself alive and warm and going, down there.  No swimming!”

Mock dismay, a lopsided grin, but no promise on that account. He’d use the water if he needed it, and there was no stopping him, not this time, not ever.  But she believed him on the other matters, could see that he was sincere in his intent to make the most of the trapping run, work as efficiently as possible and conserve his energy towards the end of taking furs.  All she could do, then, was to hope and pray that he might keep on track down there, avoid getting lost and mired down in the sometimes rather dark and winding passages of his own mind to the extent that he might end up--for this was really what she feared--not being able to find his way out again before it was too late, and the elements took him.

“Have some breakfast before you go?”

19 June, 2012

19 June 2012

Einar woke almost warm and thoroughly terrified some time later in the darkness, feel of the stove’s still-radiating heat against his face and the remnants of a very dark dream hanging over his mind like a shroud, body still tense and trembling with the fading energy of the thing so that it took him some time to be entirely sure what belonged to that world, and what to the one that lay still and sleeping around him.  One thing was clear, which was that he, himself, belonged to the dream world more than he did to the slumbering peace of the cabin, couldn’t believe Liz had allowed him to go to sleep under that roof, in the first place, but her oversight--it was his hands, he was pretty sure, that had done it; she had seen their state and didn’t want him losing fingers--did not have to be his continued negligence, and carefully he eased back the hides, meaning to roll to the floor and take his leave.  She had him.  Wouldn’t let go.  Had not, apparently, been quite as thoroughly and peacefully asleep as he’d judged her to be, and had halted his retreat.  He didn’t like it, felt a moment’s panic at his sudden inability to go on with his planned exit, but not wanting to wake Will, managed to suppress his urge to struggle.  Whispered.

“Time for me to go, Lizzie.  You know I can’t stay here, not at night.”

“You’ve been staying just fine so far.  Give it a chance.  You’re just now starting to warm up, and your hands…”

“They’ll be Ok.”

“Not if you leave now, they won’t.  I can see they must hurt, the way you’ve got them all stretched out in front of you like that and trying to avoid contact with everything, but you need to keep the blood flowing to them if you want them to start healing and keep the damage from getting worse, and you know the only way that’s going to happen tonight is for you to stay right here where you’ve got some chance of being warm.  Please.”

“But you and Will…”

“Oh, you’re not so scary.”  She got her arms around him, fingers finding the deep hollows behind his collarbones as she tried to rub some of the ice from his shoulders, and he relaxed slightly against her.  “I’ve got my rabbit stick, and I know how to use it.  If you wake up with a big knot on the side of your head and a vague memory of  getting hit by a falling tree, you’ll know it came to that.  Otherwise, just don’t worry.”

A silent grin, unseen in the darkness.  “Yeah, you know how to use it.  Might as well go ahead and do that, knock me out for a few hours so I’ll be better company for the night, and then maybe it’d be alright for me to stay.   What do you think?”  To which proposal Liz made no answer, instead pulling the bear hide back up around his shoulders, for already, halfway out from beneath the covers in his halted attempt at escape, he was trembling in the night chill, needing either to go hover over the stove or curl back up in the bed but not, of course, realizing it.  Thinking, in fact, mostly of the fact that he really couldn’t take advantage of Liz’s admirable if perhaps slightly misplaced faith in him, must do the right thing and remove himself from the cabin for the night.  Dreams were simply too frequent, too real, and even if he could manage to keep himself anchored to present realities through the daytime hours by the system of strict discipline he intended to impose upon himself, night came with no such guarantees, and unless he intended to remain in wakeful vigil until daylight again began showing itself--at which pursuit he could hardly have trusted himself, even had it been his intention; he was far too weary--he must go ahead with his plan, and he did, ducking Liz’s embrace and rolling from the bed before she could make a move to stop him.

Liz did not pursue, simply waited for him to settle somewhere, which finally he did, pressed up against the tunnel door in what she supposed must to his mind be some acceptable form of compromise, halfway out the door but not wholly rejecting her gift, and she was glad he could apparently find it within him to allow for some sort of middle ground, for once.  He would have frozen out there, further frozen his fingers, at the least, which injury would have proven devastating to him in its limiting of his use of the weapons and tools so necessary to life up in their basin.  Let him sleep by the door if he had to; at least he was inside where the stove’s radiating warmth could improve conditions for him and she could cast an occasional eye in his direction, listening, when she half-woke to feed the baby, for the telltale whistling and puffing of his breath which would serve as warning that he was becoming badly chilled once more.  Which, she knew, was bound to happen, and in a hurry, even with the stove’s lingering warmth; he simply lacked the resources to keep himself warm absent either a good deal of physical activity or an outside source of heat.  Like hot rocks.  She left the bed, using the stove’s lingering glow to make her way carefully over to its far side, where a number of granite rounds and slabs leaned against the base of the chimney, remnants of the water barrel-thawing project that she had earlier completed.  Muninn stirred sleepily on his perch as she brushed by him, chortling softly to her but not fully waking.  Wrapping several of the smooth, round rocks in dry socks she nestled them close to Einar where he lay huddled against the door, and he did not reject the gift, pressing one of the stones to his chest where it rested somewhat painfully against his ribs, bruising beneath crossed, pressing arms.  Already, he was freezing.  The rocks were most welcome.

As Einar lay there wide awake and trying his best to keep himself that way, thinking, he came upon what seemed to him the perfect solution to their present dilemma, a plan by which he would be able to put a bit of distance between himself and the place just for a few days, give him time to sort things out and at the same time starting on a project they had been intending to begin for some time, one whose seasonal nature made it somewhat urgent, considering the constant press and passage of time, the coming spring.  He wanted to go trap the river.  Sure, they had intended to do it as a family, Liz with Will in the parka as they spent a week or so seeking beaver and muskrat along the ice-bound river, and he supposed she could still come if she had her mind set on it, but perhaps she would see the wisdom in a solo trip on his part to establish the trapline and run it for the first week or so, after which he could come back for the two of them and they could spend their time down there, Liz taking care of the skinning and stretching while he maintained traps and extended their territory.  Weary, warm, mind more at ease than it had been all day in light of his new plan of action, Einar’s mind finally released him by degrees from its enforced vigilance, stiff muscles relaxing slowly and, at long last, sleep overtook him.

Fingers.  They woke him, hurting, throbbing in time with the slow, not always entirely regular thumping of his heart, and he tried to bend them, nearly crying out at the resulting jolt.  Well.  Real thoroughly thawed now, aren’t they?  Doggone it, I can feel the blisters on a couple of them, no doubt about it.  Things may pose a bit of a challenge when it comes to that trapline, Einar.  Got to be able to exert some pretty significant pressure with those things to set the traps, gonna be chopping through ice, repairing snares and making camp and a whole bunch of other things that require a certain degree of manual dexterity, and I just don’t think you got it, right now.  Real bad deal.  Would have a real struggle right now if you didn’t have all this good meat and other stuff stored and were gonna be relying on your hands to provide yourself with meals on a day-to-day basis, wouldn’t you?  Would be in for a real rough time.   Guess you’d better be getting up pretty soon and giving these fingers a try, see just how much trouble you may be in when it comes to handling the traps.  Hopefully the worst of it is confined to a finger or two, which really is what it feels like, so you’ll still find yourself up to the task and can head out here pretty soon. 

18 June, 2012

18 June 2012

The sun set, leaving Einar and Liz to face another fireless evening, their last for a while, she hoped, provided there was no sign of the reappearance of rescue personnel down in the basin.  Doubted there would be, had strongly doubted from the beginning that there would be any further repercussion of the rescue and knew Einar would have almost certainly seen it the same way, had he allowed himself to slow down and really think the thing through.  But for the time she was doing fine and so was little Will, snug and quite warm either in his nest of goat wool and rabbit fur or pressed against her body in sling or parka, and the fire could wait for at least one more night.  After that they would be out of the icy, half frozen slush that had been passing in recent days for stew, and she would be greatly wishing for a fire to make another batch.  Besides which, the water in the barrel had begun to freeze up, and she needed a few hot rocks to help reverse the process.

None of which even took into account her greatest and most pressing reason for wanting a fire once more; that reason, living, breathing bundle of raw-boned, shivering humanity that it was, did not want to be taken into consideration and would have vehemently denied its own need for warmth, had it been asked.  Liz did not bother asking.  His need was painfully obvious even without her trying to initiate a discussion on the matter, purple lips and deeply shadowed face speaking to his struggle, but as usual, he barely even seemed to notice.  Was giving some consideration to his hands, though, painful and blistered as they were and he not wanting the damage to worsen, if at all possible, doing his best to keep them warm in the deep chill of the cabin as evening went on and giving Liz at least some hope that he might soon be persuaded as to the wisdom of resuming the use of their stove.

Try as he might, Einar could not maintain an adequate supply of blood to his hands, thoroughly chilled as he remained at the core.  Body was struggling simply to keep him alive, doing its best to conserve his blood around the vital organs where it was needed to sustain life; extremities were dispensable.  He knew all of this, had at one time or another been fully aware of the facts, but his conversation with Liz ended and mind beginning to drift a bit in the cold-haze that waited always just around the corner to sink its claws once more into his body, he could not currently seem to puzzle out the source of his difficulty.  Kept breathing on his hands, rubbing the backs of them--fronts were too raw and red and blistered for such contact--on the opposite arms in an attempt to restore some feeling, even if it was to be pain, but nothing worked, and finally he wearied of the effort, sat, eyes on the ground, and waited.  Didn’t even know for what.  Did not suppose it mattered much.  Was going to lose the fingers, some of them.  Only a matter of time.  

Liz, working to break up the stew-ice and prepare them a bit of supper, saw his drift, the lostness in his eyes and had a pretty good guess as to what was happening.  Knew she  had to act pretty quickly, lest he end up near-irretrievable again.  Watching him, she saw how little progress had really been made during the course of that day, all her pots of candle-warmed tea and the hours in the sun serving barely to boost him up from the edge of hypothermic stupor, but not really allowing him to warm as he needed to do.  Time to take matters into her own hands.  Considered simply steering him to the bed and bundling up with him for the night, but Will would soon need to eat and without her full attention, she feared Einar might not manage to turn things around before the deeper chill of night set in.  Fire, then, was appearing their only option, and wholly confident herself that she was not putting their security at risk by doing so and hoping Einar would either see it the same way or be so far gone that he wouldn’t bother to resist until the warmth had done its job, she began preparing a fire.  Watching in wide-eyed wonder as the little flames came dancing up through Liz’s carefully prepared cone of willow shavings, Einar did not move to stop her or to crush the new little life there in the stove; all that with the helicopters was past.  He’d been wrong, had told her so, and despite a nearly overwhelming urge to do something about the heat signature that would soon paint their cabin with the bright glow of a target for anything that flew over, he forced himself to keep still, staring, silent.  When she came to him and attempted to talk him nearer the flames, he started as one asleep, for indeed he very nearly had been, scrambled clumsily to his feet and joined her in front of the stove.

“Come be warm, Einar.  I have to thaw the stew and heat a pot of water, and then you’ll have some good hot tea to sip.  It’ll help.  Your hands need it.”

He nodded, held bloodless hands out to the flames but she gently pushed them away.  “You’ll burn yourself.  Wait.  It’s your body that needs warming, not your hands.  The blood will start flowing again, just as soon as we get the rest of you warm.”

Another nod.  Of course she was right; how often he’d warned her of the same thing, of the need to avoid accidentally burning numbed, compromised extremities by exposure to too much heat while they lacked the blood flow to adequately use the added warmth without scorching, in the process, only somehow it seemed he must have managed to forget the fact, and then the next thing he knew he was lying face down on the floor and his nose was bleeding, dirt in his mouth and Liz hovering over him, making some remark about how he really ought to try and aim for the bed, next time.  He grinned--sure, sounded about right to him, and would save a lot of mess on the floor, besides--sat up and leaned back against the wall, dizzy with the warmth of the stove and feeling for the first time since his long night out on the cliffs both relaxed and warm enough at the same time to risk closing his eyes in sleep without imminent risk of succumbing to the elements.

Elements.  Yep.  They existed inside as surely as they did out, and they’d nearly had him.  Again.  He could feel it, now, that old familiar tightness around his middle which meant he’s pushed things nearly as far as they were able to go, the thing he’d so diligently fought off all through his conversation with Liz, managing only because of his recent time in the sunlight, and it had crept back in with amazing swiftness and silence the moment that light had left the cabin, nearly taking him.  No matter.  Headed in the right direction now and a good thing, too, for he could see that it was getting dark outside and soon he must take his leave of the place, seek out the shelter which might give him some chance of shivering his way alive if not quite well through the night, to see the start of a new day.  Tunnel, maybe, but only with her leave.  It was so close, and while he seemed to have a vague memory of the two of them trying to talk things out, resolve them, somehow, if such matters could ever be resolved, it seemed he also remembered those efforts failing.  His fault, for sure, price his to pay and now--stumbled to his feet; wanted so badly to sleep, and the wanting hurt, made him want to hurry and find that spot, curl up in his parka and give it a go--he must be on his way.

Only, Liz stopped him.  Fed him.  Wrapped the pot in a clean sock so it wouldn’t hurt his hands so badly and pushed it at him until finally he took it, drank, warm, sleepy, better be going, and she led him to bed.

Comments from 17 June

Anonymous said…
Welcome Home, Chris...
FOTH Wrote:
FreedomoftheHills08 June, 2012
Yes, that was the way I understood it, and no, I can't imagine how one would be expected to remember! Especially since I'm sure to you, it was just one ordinary word amongst many, in your sentence.
You described it so much better than I could ~ever~ reply to her requests... Maybe that is why she broke our engagement, to marry her Therapist! 
Now there is a quandary, who is sicker than whom? But I seldom think of it anymore, I just know... I gave all, for naught... and happily receive those benefits!

Life is quite a mystery sometimes, people even more of one.  Sounds like a rough time.

I had hopes to add to the energizer side story, however, I instead traveled north to PortLandia, where Grand Daughter Graduated at the same time Mother/Daughter was giving her Master's Dissertation...
and those issues produced some late night awake times... as is the case now, upon my return.
MOST of my life ~in~ RVN was ~night work~ and interestingly, as I became civilized again ~hee hee~ I kept jobs ~best~ that I worked nights on... in fact, if Richard was not in my Guest Bedroom, right now, I would walk into my Wood Shop and Create as Creative juices lead me... a zillion items need to be made, even such things as a Modem Mast, to lift it into the air, for better reception!

Philip ("civilized"--ha!) it sounds like you simply need to master the art of *stealth wood shop work,* so you can do what you need to do at any hour and without giving a hint of your activities to anyone else who might be in the house!  Takes 5 times longer than the regular, non-noise discipline kind, but you've got all night anyway, right?   :)

FrRichard said…
Welcome back, glad you are writing again, though, I understand the calling...... God Bless.

Thank you, FrRichard, and thanks for reading.

17 June, 2012

17 June 2012

Einar stayed in the cabin, sitting in the sun with Will and warming as the sun continued its path across the sky and began dipping below the spruces, a bit of wind sighing softly through their lithe, flexible forms and stirring the air in the cabin, which had warmed significantly since Liz’s opening of the door.  He shivered, draped his blanket over Will, who was no longer in full sunlight.

“Here you go, little one.  Might as well be warm, if you can.  Not working for me, anyway.  Hands are all thawed out by the feel of things, but the rest of me seems pretty well determined to stay frozen for the day."

Will smiled, reached for him with a little hand.  Einar had never seen him do that, before.  He smiled back.

“Getting to know this old world a little bit, aren’t you, Snorri?   Not too well yet, though.  Not with that big smile on your face.  Oh, there’s plenty to smile about, for sure…sunlight dancing through the aspens early on a summer morning, ridges sharp and white with new snow stretching off to the horizon and beyond and you staring out across them from the very top of the world, of your world, center of the world that you’ve worked so hard to climb…yeah, plenty to smile about, little one.  But I can see that your smile s that of one who doesn’t yet know the full story, when it comes to this world.  And I’d like to keep it that way for you, if I can.  Not for too long, though.  Doesn’t pay to keep a fella in the dark for too long.  He’s gonna find out one way or another, and  I figure some lessons are best had sooner than later.”

With which pronouncement Einar’s face went dark and he fell silent.  Reality returning, immediate realities, including the one in which he no longer belonged in the cabin and wouldn’t even be there, had it not been for the fact that he’d frozen mostly to death in the night, and Liz insisted.  Sure couldn’t stay the coming night, had to find some other place for himself, some ledge he could huddle beneath, curled up in his parka to face the night and see how his frozen hands might fare…the prospect, usually little challenge to him at all, appeared rather daunting at the moment, but not nearly so daunting as facing a night in there with Liz, Will and the unknown quantity which was himself.  He inched away from Will, an exile already, though still present.

Liz saw, guessed at the meaning behind his actions, read it in the stricken, hollow look with which he was regarding the sleeping child.

“Now.”  She sat down beside him.  “I said we’d talk about all of this later, and I guess now is later, isn’t it?”

He nodded.

“Well, what’re you thinking?  Last I heard, you wanted to run away and live out in the snow and probably die out there, and I’m telling you right now, that won’t do.  Not if I have any say in it, or Will.  We want you here.  So, let’s get down to it.  To the root of it.  Will you do that with me?”

“Liz…”  His voice was halting, uncertain, subject not something he spoke of.  Ever.  Yet he must.  Noting left to lose, and he owed her.  “ I want to get past all of this in one way or another, so I don’t have to be a person you shouldn’t trust…”

Einar.  You always did have a way with words, didn’t you?  Leaving me nothing much to say, here.  If you had said, “you don’t trust me,” I could have countered by saying that “yes, of course I trust you, and we’ll figure things out,” but you didn’t even leave that possibility did you?  That opening.  Never gave yourself a chance.  She did not say anything, just held him and tried to pull the blanket back up around his shoulders, but he wouldn’t let her.  

“I want that for you, too.”

“Don’t know how to do it.”

She thought.  She didn’t know, either.  Didn’t even know where to start.  Then, something came to her.

“Remember a long time ago when you were telling me about caving?”

“What about it?”

“How you used to enjoy it, but then when you came back, not so much?  And what you did about that?”

Einar was quiet for a minute, thoughtful.  “Grew up caving.  Loved it.  Loved being underground, the silence and the solitude and adventure of it.  Like I was exploring new worlds, touching things no one had ever touched before and forging routes that had never seen a human footprint…  Pretty hard to find that on the surface, these days.  But then when I came back…well, being underground reminded me of how I was captured, which of course made me think of what came after, which I believe I was just trying real hard not to think about, right then…so it was pretty rough trying to get back to it. 

“Hated that it was so doggone hard for me.  Decided one day just to go for it, take this unexplored line into a place I knew, ride out whatever might come ,and have that part of my life back again, if nothing else.  Big mistake.  Got about five hundred feet in there, unexplored territory, I hit a low crawlway, and I panicked.  Can’t do that.  Can’t panic in a cave, and I knew that of course, but it didn’t make any difference.  Rational parts of my brain just weren’t engaged, at the time.  Lost my light, couldn’t think to get to my backup and before I even started to get things sorted out in my head, I was lost with no idea which way I’d come from.  Took me two or three days—still to this day don’t know which—to find my way back out again, and I was quite a mess when finally I saw daylight again.”

“Guess maybe I ought to have just called it quits with caving, then, but I couldn’t.  Went back the very next weekend, different cave, same story, but I made myself stay in there, just beyond sight of the entrance, scared stiff of getting lost again and seeing that other tunnel and my captors far more of the time than I was seeing the darkness around me, and I just made myself stay until some of the strangeness passed and I was able to find my place in the world, again.  Never did have any more trouble with caves.  Even guided in that cave for a while, the one where I’d got myself lost, took groups through and showed them some of the flowing purple curtains, white-crystal walls and shapes of flowstone and calcite…yep, got the cave thing sorted.”

“Did they ever know, the people you guided?”

Eianr snorted, shook his head.  “Gosh, no!  Never talked about this stuff with anyone…other than at the debriefing, of course.  You’re the first.”

“Not even the guys you served with in Rhodesia?  Surely you must have got close with at least a few of them…”

“I was there to kill Communists, not to socialize!”

Liz—rather unexpectedly—laughed.  “I doubt you’ve ever gone anywhere for the purpose of socializing, Einar!  Surprised you know the meaning of the word, in fact…”

“Hey now…”

“Seriously, though.  You mean they never had questions about your past history?”

“Ah, well I’m afraid I had a bit of a reputation over there, actually…  I was that surly, silent guy who everyone knows better than to question or cross, unless said questions were asked by my direct superiors or had some relevance to the mission.”

She nodded.  That guy.  “Well, if you could do it with caves, then maybe you can do it with other things, too, don’t you think?”

“Do what?”

The disconnect baffled her.  Perhaps he was bluffing.  But Einar seldom bluffed, and she could see in his eyes  that he wasn't doing so, now.  She saw only misery there; he wanted to understand, but didn't.  Forget it.  Some other time.  Too great of a leap.  For now, let's just get through the night, here in the same place with other, and the rest of it can come later.