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.

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