08 August, 2012

8 August 2012

Dawn, and Einar was outside to greet it, having lived up to his promise to Liz and remained in the bed all night, but growing increasingly restless as morning approached.  Cold as the night had been there was something in the wind--chill, restless, singing a tempestuous tune in the spruces and setting winter-bare aspens swaying and clacking together--that spoke to him of spring, a changing of the seasons, and he’d needed a closer look.  Now he stood, part of his weight supported by a fallen aspen in an effort to spare the more seriously frostbitten portions of his feet, staring off through the timber, breathing deeply of the breeze that flowed down from snow-locked ridges far above.  Changing, warming, it lacked the icy bite he might have expected after a storm such as the one they’d recently endured, giving further confirmation to his suspicions of an early spring to come.  Coming, it was, and little doubt, but spring certainly hadn’t arrived yet, and he shivered, tucked hands beneath his arms in an attempt to preserve some feeling in them.  Still not doing any good with the cold, really, and in one sense it disappointed him that winter should be departing before he’d had the opportunity to better acclimatize himself to its harshness.

Normally, he would have spent a good deal more time chopping holes in the ice and lowering himself into the resulting space of open, black water until his breathing settled down and he could come to some mastery of mind and body, breathing life and warmth through his freezing limbs until they were freezing no more, and function returned.  Not that it would have done him much good, this year.  He’d tried, more than once.  The margins for error, always tiny when dealing with such things, were gone.  Wiped out entirely by the realities of his physical state, which in one sense made the thing all the more challenging, alluring, a challenge to be overcome at any cost, but Liz kept telling him he was going to do himself in if he kept after such pursuits that winter, and she was right.  Had nearly done so a number of times, without even meaning to put himself in a situation where his abilities would be called into question, simply by existing in his current state.   If he wanted a challenge, all he’d got to do was sit still in the cabin for an hour or so with minimal clothing, and he’d find himself faced with just about all the challenge he could take.  Didn’t like it, but facts were facts, and that was indisputably one of them.

Though the weather was taking a decided--and very early--turn, the snow and cold would be with them for several months still in some capacity, and he’d be doing well simply to bring himself through that time, without deliberately adding too many extra burdens.  Which knowledge would not, of course, stop his trying, but it was at the same time good to keep things in perspective, as much as one could.

He shivered, turned to more fully face the wind, which was already beginning to rise from the valley instead of sweeping down from the heights; a normal daily trend, but coming hours early this time; the valley breeze smelled of sunlight on damp soil.  He wanted to retrieve those traps, spend his week or so taking as many beaver and muskrat as he could before the quality of their fur began declining for the spring, but still his feet remained too swollen to wear boots, wrapped instead in the furs and hides which had protected them on his trek up to the spring after those transcripts.  They appeared otherwise to be healing, frostbite amazingly having done little permanent damage and the pain a bit less with every dressing change, but he knew he’d almost certainly re-injure them if he insisted on making that trip to the valley before he was ready to wear his boots, again.  And that would be the end for the rest of his toes, and probably for the rest of him, too.  Not a very promising outlook.

The troublesome swelling was due mostly to his lingering frostbite injury, but was also, he knew, was a result of his trying to eat a bit more.  Seemed it happened every time, even when he was careful and took the whole thing slowly instead of simply diving in and devouring whatever was set before him when he‘d decided to start eating again, and every time the swelling began to appear, he’d back off on the amount he was eating and return to the near-starvation that had got him into trouble in the first place. Which virtually guaranteed a future need to repeat the entire process yet again.  It was tiring.  He was tiring, inclined more and more to simply let the process play itself out, however it might go.  Would be far easier than starting and stopping the process over and over as he’d been doing for the past year or so.  But the easiest answer was seldom the best one as he well knew, and this situation was no exception.  Easiest answer would leave him dead within a couple of weeks in this case--might as well be honest about it, Einar.  Be really stretching it to expect any more than a good week or two out of yourself at this point, if you quit eating again--and that simply would not do, not with spring coming, jerky to make, beaver and muskrat to trap…  Shook his head, took another deep breath of the wind and turned to go back inside.  The swelling in his feet would simply have to be endured; he knew it would go down in the end, if he kept on the right track.  Which he could do, if he really wanted it--and that was the entire problem...

Enough already.  Frustrated with himself, he slammed a fist into the nearest spruce, skinning knuckles and drawing blood.  Did it again.  Helped, somehow.  And didn’t seem to hurt the tree, in the least.   Now.  Get in there and give Liz the all clear on the fire you know she’s been wanting since last evening, and then slice up another batch or two of that jerky, why don’t you?  Maybe even do the fire yourself, if she’s still in bed.  Goodness knows she’s been doing enough for you, these past few weeks.  Way too much.  Got to quit letting that happen, because it’s all backwards.  Especially with little Snorri depending on her for most everything, still.  Not for long though, from the looks of him. Kid can’t wait to get moving, cover some distance on his own, and soon as he’s out and doing that, I ought to be able to help her out a lot more with him, take him wandering with me from time to time and…  The thought of it scared him, somehow, of his doing such a thing under present circumstances, and when he again resumed his walk to the cabin, it was with a determination not only to start that fire for Liz, but to fix breakfast and have a good portion of it, himself.

Too late.  She was already up, already had a fire built and ready to light, and was slicing up venison for a breakfast stew when Einar ducked through the tunnel and poked his head inside, blinking in the dimness.  Though trying hard not to let him see it--not that he would have been likely to notice--she was tremendously relieved to see him, had been intending to give him fifteen more minutes or so before going out searching.

“Quiet out there this morning?”

“Windy, but otherwise quiet.  If you want to have a fire…”

She’d already struck sparks before he finished saying it, flames climbing enthusiastically through her nest of dry aspen bark fragments, nettle fiber scraps and milkweed down, and he smiled at the speed with which she had managed the thing.  No hesitation on her part, that was for sure.

“Well, that’s good.  It’ll help the jerky dry so we can get that second batch moved in over the fire where it’ll be quicker to dry.  Got a lot of meat yet to dry, and then this spring when the snow melts out some, I plan on building us a bunch more caches, some in the basin but most on the other side of the ridge, down in the valley, all the places we’d have to go if we headed out of here in a hurry.  That jerky’ll make a good addition to the caches, lightweight and long-lasting.”

Light weight and long-lasting…just like you, I guess.  “Yes, we should have enough jerky to put in some caches, it’s looking like.  That’s a good idea.  We got a few put out last fall, but with the baby coming and all that was going on, I know we didn’t do as many as you wanted to.  Always good to have more options.  What’s your hurry, though?  It’s still a couple months until the snow’s gone, and you’re acting like you have spring fever already!  What’s got into you?”

Einar shrugged--oh, you don’t want to know!--added a stick to the fire and hurried to busy himself with jerky-slicing.

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