04 October, 2012

4 October 2012

She could see something was seriously wrong, went to him, laid the snares aside and tried to get him to his feet but he resisted her at first, kept staring into that icy water with bared teeth and hand gripped so tightly around the spear that she feared him about to use it, though why or against whom she was slightly less sure.  Regardless of the cause of the present situation--she had her suspicions, glancing sideways at the reporter where she stood just inside the nearest stand of timber, trying to look busy--it simply wouldn’t do, evening coming and Einar crouched there on the ice in a silent rage with soaked and already mostly-frozen sleeves, so far from realizing that he was slipping inexorably into a dangerous hypothermic haze that she probably couldn’t have convinced him, had she tried.  With the matter seeming pretty urgent to her, Einar nearly got the bad end of the rabbit stick before she thought better of it.  Seldom a good idea to wade in with maximum force when one doesn’t know the particulars of a situation, so instead she simply took him firmly by the arm, raised him to his feet.

“Einar, help me.  I need you to take Will for a minute.  Can you do that?”

More silence, then he nodded, reached for the little one but stopped himself, staring at his sleeves in a moment of confusion and then shaking his head, wringing icy river water from their cloth.  “Too wet.  Don’t want to get him wet.”

“Well then for goodness’ sake get rid of the wet shirt!  Your parka looks dry, just switch, and then you can take him.”

Didn’t want to do it, not with Juni watching, staring, but he had little choice, as he certainly couldn’t be soaking little Will’s warm, dry clothes with night coming and them unable to safely have a fire, so he turned his back on the reporter, changed as quickly as his cold-stiff limbs would allow into the dry parka and got Will snuggled down in the warm folds of its fur-lined hood.  The child was wailing, angry and quite indignant at having been wakened from a sound sleep, pulled from his warm nest and stuffed into a parka with someone whose body temperature was likely a good three or four degrees lower than his own, and Einar paced with him, skipping, bouncing, swaying and doing his best to return contentment to the world.  By the time he had achieved this, Will drifting once more into sleep, he was himself fairly thoroughly warmed through the exertion, weary and beginning to sway quite involuntarily but no longer shivering.  Only then did he have the focus to spare on seeing what Liz was about, why she had been in such a hurry to hand the little one off to him, but when he looked up she was nowhere to be seen.  Nor was Juni.  Good thing, that.  Tracking them, casting about warily as if half expecting an ambush as he stalked up through the timber, Einar ended up at the camp, where the two women crouched working together to prepare a cold supper.  They didn’t see him, so he stopped, kept still behind the trees and watched them, listening to the conversation, suddenly suspicious for no good reason at all.  What were they plotting, those two?

Nothing much, it seemed, aside from the best way to turn cold pemmican and dried chokecherries into a palatable and nutritious supper, for when he eased his way closer and cupped a hand behind his ear, that was exactly what he heard, Liz expounding on the nutritional benefits of pemmican and how it could, in fairly small quantities, keep a person going over even the roughest terrain and through the sub-zero nights of winter…but it didn’t, she allowed, taste all that great until one turned it into a nice, warm stew, which of course was only possible with a fire.  With fire, she pointed out to Juni, a person could make one of the rich, thick stews the likes of which had kept the Utes and others going through the winter months, dried venison, fat--either from deer, bear or some other source--dried berries for sweetness and additional energy and, if one had dug, dried and stored them during the spring months, a handful of starchy roots to round things out.

“Where do you get starchy roots,” Juni was curious, “since I’ve never heard of wild potatoes or anything like that around here.  Do you use cattails.”

“Oh, cattails are a real treat as far as I’m concerned, when we can find them.  They’re so much like real potatoes that you can hardly tell the difference, really.  Just boil the roots whole in four or five inch sections, split them down the middle and scrape the starch off the fibers, and you have instant mashed potatoes!”

“Yes, I tried that once in one of the classes I took.  Only that time, we roasted the roots in the coals, just like you’d roast potatoes.  Only first, we coated them with a layer of swamp mud to keep them from drying out too much.  It really worked.  Yep, mashed potatoes.”

“We’re too high up here for cattails, though.  Down in the valleys you can often find them, places like this, but we didn’t get down this low very often last summer, so we didn’t have the chance to gather enough cattail roots to dry and save.  Mostly what we did gather were spring beauty roots--corms, actually, little round things that look just like new potatoes, and taste that way, too--and avalanche lily roots.  The avalanche lilies have slightly deeper roots and are a bit more trouble to collect, but their roots are really starchy and good, also, and sometimes you’ll find a slope where the snow has just left in the spring--which is June, up here--and it’ll be covered with avalanche lilies that there’s no way to walk without stepping on several of them!  Thousands and thousands, sometimes covering an acre or more.  So when it’s like that, you can see that it isn’t too difficult to get a pretty good supply of them put away.”

“How many did you get put away?  Is that what’s in some of those covered baskets hanging from your ceiling at the cabin?”

“Yes, some of them.  Between the lily roots and the spring beauty, we got nearly forty pounds of dried roots put away!  Which is quite a lot, just for the two of us.  A lot of Ute families actually gathered fifty or more pounds--dried--for the winter, but we just didn’t have time to do that this year, and besides, some of those roots were for trading.  The dried roots were like a currency for a lot of the tribes.  They’d trade with other groups, roots for dried meat, hides, things like that.”

Interesting information, all of it, Einar had to concede, but not much of a secret, really.  Still, he crouched down right where he was and went on listening, sure something else must be coming.  If it had been, however, he was never to know, as Will, disturbed at the extended lack of motion and waking rather suddenly, began crying again, giving away his position.

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