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.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous25 June, 2012

    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.