19 September, 2013

19 September 2013

Night, and Einar lay wide awake beside Liz as he tried to picture in minute detail the probable course their climb would take once they reached the canyon floor and began ascending again.  From the rim, he had studied the possible avenues of approach, worked out in his mind which would provide the best cover, which seemed least likely to end in cliffs, trapping them before they reached the series of broken, sparsely timbered gulleys near the top, near the caves, and when he closed his eyes to shut out the still-dancing orange of the dying coals, he could still see that picture clearly as when he’d been looking right at it.  Should go, if they were able to find the right course from the limited perspective they’d have at the bottom of the canyon, and stick to it.  Needed a landmark, something they would be able to spot from the bottom.  Would be sure and look for one in the morning before they went anywhere.  

With which thought he probably should have let go and allowed himself to sleep in preparation for the exertions of the coming day, but something was bothering him.  Tried to push it aside, think of other things, and for a while it worked, smiling as he remembered Liz’s efforts at getting Will to say another word, any other word, after his somewhat tenuous but unmistakable naming of fire, little one stubbornly refusing to try, his interest having moved on to other matters and Liz in her excitement doing enough talking for the three of them… 

But then the memory faded, silence of the night pressing in all around him once again and there it was, the call of the snowy rock and timber outside, his need to answer it—to leave everything behind and spend a night alone in the elements with a length of nettle cordage, testing himself, repenting, in some small measure, for the ease, the luxury, the food and warmth he had allowed himself over that past day in the cave—nearly too strong to resist.  Resist he did, though, turning to face the rock wall and forcing himself to keep still, to stay.   Would need all the strength and stamina he could muster just to get himself, his gear and his family to the bottom of those cliffs the following day, and knew he had no business spending it all on simply getting himself through the night.

Liz, sensing his restlessness, woke and stirred up the fire, saw it in his eyes, the need, the struggle, recognized the thing she saw, silently pleading with him not to go—not tonight, not up here on this wild, windy cliff face; we’d never see you again—and not realizing that his decision had already been made.  After a while she moved closer, held him, and he, though wanting desperately to be alone, allowed it, stillness of the night eventually creeping in, both of them sleeping.

With the coming of day the wind eased; inside, Einar could hear the change as he lay wide awake and trying not to shiver at Liz’s side, warmth of the coals gone and temperatures outside falling fast with the departure of the storm.  Already, that past night before sleeping, they had largely made ready their gear, stowing everything as securely as possible in the drop bag and cinching it down tight against what both knew would likely be a difficult and at times complicated descent.  Little remained to do beside make one final check of the place, stash the sleeping bag, secure Will in Liz’s parka hood and take their leave, but Einar was restless, pacing from back of the little grotto to cave mouth, crouching, staring out into the unfamiliar stillness that had fallen over cliff face and canyon, rising, returning to the back of the cave to stare again into the darkness of the tunnel beyond.  No decision to make, really.  They must leave, had settled it in their conversations the day before, and now was the time.  No reason for the sense of uncertainty that had come over him.  He was not staying behind.  The tunnel was not an option for him.  Had to lead his family off that cliff, and seek for them a new home amongst the broken rock, black timber and sheltering caves of the canyon’s other side, and for the last time he turned from the tunnel, blinking into the brightening, dazzling light of day and gently stirring Liz from her sleep.

“Better get going, if we want to have a full day of it.  Got some breakfast ready for us, just some bars that Susan sent, but this seemed a good time for them.”

Liz was out of the bag and on her feet in seconds, crouching beside Einar as they shared their hurried breakfast, cold but satisfying, she immensely glad to see him finishing his portion and he striving to stay singly focused on the task before them.  Bag would be the hard part, safely lowering it over the more vertical sections, preventing it pulling them off the wall; given time and proper equipment he could have rigged a system to assist with this, but equipment was in short supply, and time—well, the less time they spent out on that wall where they would, with the departure of the storm, be visible to any who might pass by, the better.  Seemed about the best he could do was to make sure that he, and not Liz, was the one managing the bag, minimize her risk and Will’s, should something go wrong.  These thoughts he did not share with Liz.  He’d seen her previous unease with that narrow, snow-covered ledge, and did not want to do anything to increase it, before they set out.  Soon—Lord willing—they would be on the canyon floor, laughing about their near-misses and planning the climb up to what would hopefully be more permanent shelter.

Time to go.  Cave checked and rechecked, empty, good shelter from a storm which would surely have scoured them from the wall without its discovery, and they left with grateful hearts, Einar leading the way back along the ledge, looking, now that daylight was full and the snow no longer swirling, for a feature in the severe terrain of that wall which might allow them passage.  They had not traveled long before he found it, what started as a mere brokenness in the rock quickly opening up into a good-sized cut in the wall, steep but not impassable, and studded here and there with stunted vegetation to give them some additional handholds, twisted frames of the tiny, tenacious subalpine fir and limber pine each older than the combined ages of the two adults in the party, if barely taller than the youngest. 

No way they could have seen this route in the storm which had driven them to the cave, even smaller chance that they would have survived an attempted descent under those conditions, blinded by storm and already dangerously exhausted and chilled as they had been, but now, belaying Liz through a particularly steep and exposed section with a length of parachute cord, he gave thanks for the means of escape which had been provided them. 

Though the descent was by no means easy for him, Einar did find himself feeling a good deal stronger than he remembered doing for some time, body starting to come back, a bit of the muscle tone and agility with which he had for so long been used to meeting the world, and though he knew he still had an awfully long way to go, things were beginning to look hopeful.  Which, for reasons not wholly known to him, only increased his need to retreat off into the snowy woods, meet with the ropes and spend a night thus challenging himself.  Half wished he didn’t need to it, but knew that he must, if he wished to stay in this world. 

Which—Will loudly practicing his words on Liz’s back and Liz answering him with delight in her voice as the two of them came along behind him—he certainly did, and a successful descent being their first and most immediate priority, the rest of it could wait for some other time.  Grinning, Einar plowed ahead through the snow, spruce scent sharp and life-giving in his nostrils, all the world seeming tremendously alive and full of promise around him.

Movement grew easier as they descended, gully opening up and the trees becoming more numerous, until after a time they found themselves walking with relative ease over a snowy boulder field, still steep, a struggle, especially for Einar, who was burdened with the bag, but definitely walking rather than climbing, and below them through the timber, the canyon floor was in sight.


  1. Thanks FOTH:

    There is something I have been wondering about for a long time. And sense I am not likely to live long enough to find out; I am soliciting the faithful readers of this saga to speculate on how it might be solved. The question is that of the “Cain Conundrum” that Will is faced with. Where the heck is he going to find a wife? I mean, girls like Elizabeth don’t grow on trees. And the old drag her home by the hair method is frowned upon these days.


    P.S. The author is allowed to speculate also and will not be expected to hold to it when the time comes.

  2. Mike! Don't know how I missed your comment before, but yes, that's a very good question. Guess it may be something they all have to figure out as Will gets older--at least they do have a number of years to think about it!

    Maybe he'll have to make a few very careful trips down to civilization at some point, to see how the rest of the world lives...