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.

No comments:

Post a Comment