31 October, 2013

31 October 2013

Liz watched as the distant light bumped and swayed out across the canyon rim until finally it went out of sight behind a timbered rise in the ground and was gone, men never stopping, never pausing to investigate the place where they must have once again crossed the little family’s trail, and Liz hoped this could be taken as a reassuring sign that whatever their purpose up in the high country, it had nothing to do with a search of any kind.  She had to hope.  In any case, the light was gone, and when after watching for a good fifteen minutes more she saw no sign of its return, she decided she’d seen enough, turning to Einar and once more attempting to wake him, but without success.  His fever appeared to have gone down a bit, face and side of his neck quite icy to the touch when she checked, but clearly the silence into which he had fallen was somewhat deeper than dozing, and guided by the light of a near-setting moon she worked to get him back into the cave. 

Difficult job, rocky and low as was the entrance to that place, and she ended up going in first and dragging him a bit gingerly by the shoulders, not wanting to further injure his damaged arm or to delay his hoped-for return to consciousness by bashing his head on a rock..  Succeeding at both aims she finally reached the little chamber and eased him over to the remains of the fire, which despite being so long neglected, still glowed a faint red.

Will, thankfully, still slept, and working quickly Liz brought the fire back to life, confident that even should the men on the far rim make a return, they would not be able to see even the slightest glow from those flames.  Might smell the smoke, might have seen it, had the moonlight been bright enough, but with the moon near setting and a strong, gusty wind picking up, this worried her little.  Soon, fire crackling happily and its warmth once more beginning to fill the cave, Liz searched the place for a handful of fist-sized stones, setting these to warm in the coals as she worked to roll Einar’s upper body onto a mattress, of sorts, which she had made from their two packs.  While the pine boughs they had earlier put down did something to insulate him from the warmth-robbing chill of the rock floor, the packs, she supposed, could only help improve the situation.

Still no sign of stirring from Einar, and though worried, Liz also found herself a bit thankful that at least in his current state, he could not insist they pick up and depart, flee the area in the night, leaving behind all the moose meat they’d worked so hard to butcher and secure in the trees, not to mention the entire contents of the drop bag, save what they’d carried with them on their backs…  This, at least, would give both of them some time to think the situation through, to come up with a plan which would hopefully both keep them secure against any threat represented by the two men on that snowmobile, and prevent the loss of all their supplies, so early in their sojourn in this new place.

Rocks thoroughly heated, Liz used sticks to remove them from the coals, wrapping them in spare socks and placing them close to Einar—under his arms, around the small of his back where they would warm the blood passing through his kidneys—so that they could begin to thaw him a bit.  Between the rocks and a proximity to the fire which he would almost never allow himself when awake, she knew he’d end up a good deal warmer than he had been in quite a while, by the time he did finally return to alertness.  Knew he might not like it much, but that could be dealt with later.

“And in the meantime,” she spoke aloud, sorting the things she’d removed from her pack before using it as a mattress,” maybe this will actually do you some good.  You think?  Since it seems to be the only way you can get any real rest, right now…  I do wish you’d go ahead and wake up though, because you really need some more Oregon grape root tea for your arm.  Got to get rid of whatever infection is causing you this trouble, and I don’t really have any better idea as to what its source might be.  Guess I should look at the arm again while you’re out.  Can do something for that, even if you’re not ready to take the Oregon grape internally.”

The arm, when she got it eased out of his sleeves and into the firelight where she could inspect it—not an easy task, Einar’s limbs somewhat stiff and inflexible, seeming to fight her a bit even in unconsciousness, though she knew this was not likely—did not look too bad, inflammation appearing to have gone down somewhat since the last time she had checked it, in the canyon that morning.  She took the opportunity to bathe the wounds in Berberine solution and apply fresh dressings, Einar never stirring during the process.  Well.  Let him rest.  Not much else she could do, really, but if he was to remain in that state for the rest of the night, she really wanted him in the sleeping bag, and unzipping it all the way down she did her best to roll him in, replacing the now-cooling rocks with fresh ones and easing her own sleeping bag over beside him, unzipping and overlapping it so warmth could be shared. 

At least, she thought to herself as she crawled in between Einar and Will, the cave did a lot to keep temperatures from dropping too low.  While the low fifties is pretty cool if one is simply sitting immobile all day in barely-adequate clothing, it sure feels warm in contrast to the below-freezing weather and wind outside. Didn’t take much to heat it, either, at least not the small chamber in which they found themselves, and she could not help but recognize the advantages of staying in such a spot, at least until the coming of spring. Except for the fact that Einar would consider the area to have been compromised by those men on the snowmobile—and the fact that he might be right. 

Probably not good to stay so near the canyon rim, anyway.  If people sometimes explored its far side, what was to say that they might not venture over onto the one that hung some two hundred feet above their current position in the cave?  Anyone poking around up there for long enough would be sure to smell their smoke if not see it, a situation which would be inviting disaster.  They would never be able to relax in this place, not even to the degree they had done at the cabin—which had not always been terribly significant! 

No, they must move on from this place, find something more secluded, and probably the sooner, the better.  Well.  It would not be happening that night, and much as she would habe liked to stay awake and puzzle through their entire situation, plan a mode of transport for the moose meat and study the map until she found a place for which they reasonably ought to head, Liz’s weariness finally got the better of her, and she slept.

In the night Einar’s fever left him, body still too exhausted to respond, too low on resources to allow him to wake, but he, too, slept a sleep which was deep and good and which was to be much appreciated, come the morning and the things it was to reveal.

28 October, 2013

28 October 2013

Standing together in the snow as they scrutinized the distant light, Einar and Liz looked for a pattern, trying to understand the potential purpose of two men scouring the canyon rim in the darkness.  None of the likely answers seemed good ones, not when it came to their situation at the cave and in the canyon, as all carried risk of having their tracks seen, followed, their location exposed.  Einar wanted to leave.  Take the small packs they’d brought with them, pick up and leave, never look back. And do it without any delay, before the men on that far rim could have any more time than had already been allowed them to become curious, start to puzzle things out and maybe even radio in about their discoveries, depending on who they were and what might be their original purpose for stalking the snowy high country so late in the night. 

So much to lose if they were to walk away…hundreds of pounds of by-then frozen moose meat hanging in the trees, nearly the entire contents of the drop bag, the potential of shelter and security there in one of the well-hidden caves to whose elevation they had at last managed to climb—but so much more to lose, potentially, if they did stay, and were discovered.  The light had not moved for some time, and when Liz reached down and took his hand, he realized that she’d been repeating a question, waiting for his answer.

“Do you think they’ve seen our tracks?”

“Can’t say for sure.  Just can’t say.  Didn’t appear to stop at the place where we came down over the rim, but they had to cross it, no way around that.  And would have almost certainly seen our trail.  Now whether they paid it any attention or not…”

“I guess that would depend on their reason for being up here, wouldn’t it?”

He nodded silently, still staring at the light, which remained unmoving.  “Know you’re not gonna like to hear it, but how about we clear the area real quick?”

“You mean leave the canyon?”


“But the meat…”

“No good to us if they follow our trail, find it, maybe set up an ambush down there…”

“If they were out to ambush us, do you really think they’d be giving themselves away with that light?  Surely if they were part of some search, they would have turned that off at the first sign of us, gone quiet, maybe even called in a helicopter or something.  I don’t think they have anything to do with us, really.”

“Maybe not.  But that could change.  Even if they were up here for some other reason initially, seeing the tracks might change that.”

“But we’re so far from the search area.  No one knows we’re here.  Surely we wouldn’t be the first thing on someone’s mind, even if they had seen our tracks!  They wouldn’t have any particular reason to be interested or concerned.”

“Well, we hope no one knows we’re here.”

“How could they?”

A long silence.  "Roger, Bud, Susan...things happen."

“Bud and Susan didn’t even know where he was taking us.”


“Well, whoever they are, at least they won’t have been able to see our fire, the way we’ve got it hidden down in the cave.  So we ought to be safe here for right now.  Even if they took some kind of interest in our tracks, fact is they didn’t follow them, they stayed up there on the rim doing whatever it is they’re doing with that light.  And it’s too dangerous for us to try and move in the night anyway, up on this cliff face.  So how about we watch them until they’re out of sight, then spend the rest of the dark hours tucked away in this cave, deciding what to do.  Good plan?”

Einar wasn’t sure whether it was a good plan or not, fighting the fever with all he had but feeling as though he was losing, losing alertness, losing the ability to consider all the factors and make a quick decision which would be best for his family, losing his grip, and silently, swaying, hand on the trunk of a limber pine in a bid to say upright, he prayed, wordlessly pleading for protection, for wisdom, for things to start making sense again.

Instead of making sense—prayers are seldom answered immediately or exactly as we might have had in mind, though always with a timing more perfect than we could have ourselves imagined—they took on a decidedly less defined look, swirling, swaying as the ground went out from under Einar, and he fell.  Might have gone over had not Liz been there to catch him, but she was, hastily dragging him back out of danger, away from the sheer wall of rock that dropped away below their lookout, and up into the safety of the small cluster of pines that concealed the cave entrance. 

The snow, she thought, ought to wake him, its good clean chill seeping up through his clothing, but it did not, and for a time she debated between getting him quickly back inside where he could stop losing warmth, and watching the lights until they vanished, but it did not take her long to give immediate priority to the lights; it was exactly what Einar would have done, and she would have hated to have him wake and ask about the progress of their unwelcome nighttime visitors, only to be forced to explain that she had given up watching, in order to get him inside.  That would not do, so instead she rolled him quickly to one side and slid a few pine boughs beneath him by way of insulation, draped her coat over him and returned to her vigil.

The light was moving again, more slowly this time and in a different direction, men doubling back, it appeared, in their own tracks, heading back for the spot where Einar had first spied them.

25 October, 2013

25 October 2013

Roused from his near-stupor—pleasant, if potentially deadly; at least he’d been getting some rest—by the realization that he was looking at a light which almost certainly could not be part of the natural order of things, Einar struggled to his feet, rubbing stiff legs and working to restore some flexibility to numbed hands and arms before making his way to the edge of the rocky little plateau out front of the cave entrance, crouching in the snow between two little limber pines and squinting to get a better look.  The light was not moving as that of a vehicle might have done, nor did it possess the live, flickering quality of firelight.  What, then?  Was he misunderstanding the terrain over there, mistaking its meaning in the uncertain light of the setting moon?  Perhaps it really was a star that had caught his attention, or a planet, more likely, as its light neither blinked nor flickered, but as he watched all such notions were dashed by a slight jerk and then a definite if somewhat irregular sideways movement of the light.  Not flying.  At least the thing was not flying, movement far too bumpy to be explained in any way other than a vehicle of some sort moving over rough ground, and for another moment Einar crouched where he was, puzzled, half paralyzed by the cold and thoroughly captivated by watching that light.

Needed more information, finally made himself tear his eyes from the far side of the canyon and hurry, best as he was able, back into the cave.  Coals still orange, giving off some light when he blew on them, and briefly he crouched to shiver over their lingering warmth, hands able, after a long half minute, to manipulate the zipper on his pack.  Felt around for the binoculars, found them, slipping the cord over his head lest he drop them in the snow—or over the canyon wall—and lose them for good.  Creeping once more past the remnants of Liz’s fire he briefly fought an urge to curl himself around its warmth and rest for a while, won, squirming back out into the open air of the night and searching somewhat frantically for the light lest it have disappeared in his absence.  For a moment he was convinced this was the case, chiding himself for having taken the time to go after the binoculars instead of keeping his eyes on the thing and watching to see where it disappeared, but then there it was again, appearing smoother this time, and moving with a bit more speed.  Finding it with the binoculars he sought to steady himself, elbows on knees as he studied the intruder.

Just a light at first with no definition, he was able to make out no details until the thing stopped again and he saw the distinct if distant shadow of one man and then another as they passed in front of the light.  The vehicle itself was still concealed from any hope of sight by the darkness and the glare of its own light, but considering the snow depth over there on the far side of the canyon and the fact that he saw the single light and no other, Einar could only surmise that he must be looking at a snowmobile with two riders.  But why?  What were they doing over there, and why—even more mysteriously—were they moving at night?  For these puzzles he had no answers, and the lack of information disturbed him, inevitably left him wondering if perhaps the search had somehow been reactivated, ended up on their trail and tracked them to the canyon’s rim. 

Seemed unlikely, highly unlikely, but to dismiss the possibility would have been foolishness, and looking away from the light for a time to allow his eyes to adjust one again to the night, he scanned the rim, trying to remember precisely where he had first noticed that light.  Not far from the spot where they’d begun their descent, it seemed to him, not far at all, and considering the state of near-sleep from which he’d had to pull himself on first becoming aware of the appearance being out of place—well, who knew for how long it might have remained there stationary before he’d noticed its existence?  Long enough, perhaps, for those two men to have seen their tracks in the snow, searched around and found the spot where they’d begun their descent down into the canyon.  They had not stayed, however, to follow the trail, if indeed they had spotted it, but had moved on by what Einar estimated must now be at least a mile, making periodic stops and leaving their machine to explore for periods of ten to fifteen minutes, each time.  Rather strange, all of it, and not a little unsettling.   

Wished he could get over there and do some reconnaissance, find the spot where the men had been camping and trace their steps at each stop, see if he could determine their purpose up on the rim and how great a threat it might represent to his family and to the massive quantity of moose meat they had left down in the canyon…  He knew, though, that aside from there being little chance at all of his making it down one side and up the other before the men had entirely cleared out of the area—would take him a good eight to twelve hours, under present circumstances, if he pushed himself rather harder than would be reasonable—any such action on his part would likely do more to expose them to further danger and even to discovery than would simply staying put. 

Not that he had much choice at the moment, anyway, when it came to staying put, for as he’d been fully focused on the light and its possible meaning the fever had begun creeping back unnoticed and now was in full swing, Einar sweating and shaking in the chill air, steam rising from his clothing where he’d opened his coat for a bit of coolness.  Strange sight, and it made him laugh a bit, mind starting to seriously wander and the light on the far rim—which had again begun moving—seeming to dance and shimmer most oddly, now on the ground, now hovering in the air until he nearly managed to convince himself of the existence of flying snowmobiles. 

In an instant of confusion the thought became utterly terrifying, for it meant they could breach the canyon and be outside the cave in a matter of under a minute, should they see him…which they certainly would, equipped as they would be with night vision goggles and infrared scopes on their rifles and then he looked up and was sure he saw the thing coming at him, light advancing quickly across the gulf of open space that was the cabin, and he turned, ran, meaning to reach his rifle before they could arrive.

Liz met him at the cave entrance, grabbed him by the shoulders—trembling and soaked in sweat, skin like ice where it had been exposed to the effects of evaporation and the bitter night air—but he brushed her off, slipped inside and somehow managed to find the rifle on his first try in the complete darkness, back outside in under five seconds.  Crouching in the snow beside a tree he growled at Liz to keep behind him, rifle trained on the advancing specter of that light, ready, waiting for the moment.

Liz’s voice soft behind him, “what is it, what do you see?” and he couldn’t imagine how she was missing it, wished she’d be quiet so as not to interfere with his concentration, but she was persistent, had a hand on his shoulder now and was repeating her question.

“Light,” he breathed, “coming right at us.  Got to stop them.  You better get down.”

She did not get down, instead tightened her grip on his shoulder, twisting a bit so that he could not be at all sure of reliably hitting his target, and the move infuriated him, intentional as it seemed to be.  “I see the light.  Way over there on the other side of the canyon.  It’s not coming.  Can’t come, because of the canyon.  Looks like it’s just sitting on the ground, there.  What is it?  A snowmobile?”

Suddenly a bit less sure of himself, Einar let his grip ease slightly on the rifle, light, when he studied it, no longer seeming to move quite so quickly towards their position, and he was confused—until Liz repeated her question about the snowmobile. Yes, it was a snowmobile, he’d been sure of that, and of course snowmobiles could not fly, could in no way cross thousands of yards of open air in mere seconds, as he’d seen the thing doing, and when Liz put a hand on the rifle he relinquished his grip, got shakily to his feet.

“Yeah, snowmobile.  Been watching it for a while.  Keeps stopping, two guys getting off and looking around…don’t like it.”

“No. Me either. What do you think they’re doing over there?  We didn’t see sign of recent traffic of any kind, before dropping down over the rim…”

23 October, 2013

23 October 2013

Small chamber soon warmed by the heat of the small fire and smoke slipping reliably up along the ceiling and out through the entrance-crack, Liz prepared for them a simple soup with bits of meat and liver she’d brought from the moose butchering, its odor soon filling the place and rousing Einar from his untimely slumber.  When she sat down to eat—Will now wanting his own bowl, and she gave it to him, carefully cooling the broth and mashing bits of liver for him to retrieve with curious fingers—Einar joined her beside the coals, but had little interest in doing more than smelling the soup.  After watching Will ask for and receive most of the liver she had so carefully included in Einar’s soup—the huge, curious grey eyes would have been enough, she as sure, to communicate his desires to Einar, but after mastering the word “fire,” Will had quickly gone on to begin excitedly repeating “mook!  Mook!” which seemed to be his word not only for milk, but for all food, and specifically for that which he wished to be eating at any given moment—she finally lost patience, dished Einar out another helping and scooped the child up out of his father’s reach.

“Will isn’t big enough to help me haul that moose up the draw, so you’d better eat and get some strength built up, don’t you think?”

“He’s talking!  Just like that, he’s telling us things, asking for things…you ever wonder how that happens?  How they actually learn?  It’s amazing.”

“It is absolutely amazing.  Every one of us has done it, but to see the process in action…no, I can’t explain it either!  I’ll give him more liver and broth, don’t worry.  I know every time we respond to the words he’s learning, it will encourage him to keep using more, but that doesn’t mean he gets to eat all of your soup!”

“Not real hungry, myself.”

“I know.  But it was a long climb, and you’ve got to have something because in the morning we’re going to go scout for other caves, you said, and then at some point, we have to go after the moose, too!”

Einar nodded, trying his best with the soup and managing a few bites before the nausea set in and he had to take a break.  Liz was watching.

“Fever’s bothering you, isn’t it?”


“Can I take another look at your arm?  I thought we’d cleaned it up pretty well, but that coyote did get in a few good chomps before he let you go, didn’t he?”

“Guess so.  It’ll be alright.  Not feeling so hot anymore as it was earlier, but yeah, maybe could use some more salve.”

After hastily finishing her own supper, Liz unwrapped the spot where the coyote had torn into Einar’s arm, only to find that while it appeared to be healing reasonably well, one of the rope-wounds from his time alone in the canyon the other night was looking a good deal worse than the bites.  Restraining herself from any commentary—later; now was not the time—Liz did her best to clean and treat the area, bandaging his arm with fresh gauze and wordlessly stoking the fire, washing the soup pot and setting some water to heat. 

The antibiotics Bud had included in the drop bag medical kit she knew he would refuse—would have some story about wanting to save them for the future, for a time when someone might really need them—but true to the long-formed and unshakable habit of one who has lived in the woods and entirely off the land and her own resources, she had at their camp down in the canyon dug the roots of a few winter-purpled Oregon grapes she had found at the base of one of the boulders, stashing them in her pack for future use.  These she now added to the near-boiling water, waiting for it to begin yellowing, adding some snow from outside to bring it down to drinking temperature, and handing Einar the bitter brew.

“Drink.  It should help.”

Einar drained the pot, shuddering at the acridity of the liquid but managing to get it down, even having a few sips of broth when he was done, and though too soon for the powerful yellow berberine compounds in the preparation to have begun taking any effect, Einar did benefit from the simple hydrating effect of consuming so much liquid, and was able to sleep fairly peacefully for a time when at last he joined Liz in the sleeping bag.

Einar left the bed in the night, restless with the return of fever, prowling the cave for a time and then—not wanting to needlessly wear down the headlamp battery—when no one seemed to be waking and he could not himself endure the thought of trying once more for sleep, slipping out of the entrance to take a look at the canyon.   Fog having moved out early in the night, Einar caught his breath at the scene which stretched away below him in moonlight-flooded relief, stark with a sort of wild beauty that brought a fierce joy to his heart as he sat beholding its vast sweep.  Far below lay the creek with its willow-bog banks, a silver ribbon snaking into visibility here and there between the blacker bulk of the vegetation, and he knew that somewhere down there in the impenetrable shadow of the timber up against the canyon wall an entire moose hung waiting for them from the high, stout branches of half a dozen spruces, safe, fresh-frozen in the cold, a tremendous bounty, but one which they must work to secure.  Had to get that meat up to the caves and concealed, sliced, smoked, some saved for leaner times, for the coming of storms…or of aircraft, and the search.

Windy out there, the cool breeze felt good on his fevered face, and still pondering the moose—ponderous creature, indeed, and he laughed silently at the thought of pondering so ponderous a beast—he shrugged out of his coat to better enjoy it, elbows on knees, arms outstretched and face lifted to the heaves so he could watch Orion the hunter slowly tread his starry course, night air flowing over him as he sat.

Dozing, drowsing, dreaming after a while—moose in the meadow, willows whispering at dawn, and he smiled, searching, seeing her there by the tarn, child on her hip as she hurried to meet him—time passed unnoticed for Einar and when next he became aware of his immediate surroundings the breeze was no longer cool and friendly but a clawing, icy thing that halted his breath and seized him in teeth of iron, shaking, savaging, paralyzing limbs and dulling will.   So powerful was the effect of the cold that he might have gone on just as he was, staring at the frozen light of the stars until after a time his body’s struggle ceased altogether and he joined them, had it not been for another light near the canyon’s far rim, this one strange, too low for a star, and he knew it did not belong.

20 October, 2013

20 October 2013

When they reached the first of the caves, it came as a surprise to Einar, who had himself convinced that they’d still a good bit of climbing to do.  There is was, though, mineral-streaked limestone wall looming up unmistakably before them out of the fog and at its base, concealed by a cluster of stunted limber pines and sub-alpine firs, yawned the entrance to the first cave.  This one they had not seen from the opposite side of the canyon, its opening entirely hidden by the timber, and Einar had to admit that it didn’t look like much, this low, jagged crack in the rock.  Looked as though it might not go anywhere at all, but he knew better than to make any such assumptions simply based upon the appearance of the outside of a cave, and when he crouched down and put his face to the opening, he could feel warm air gently moving up from inside.  He rose, searching for Liz’s hand in the still-dense fog.

“Think we found one.”


“Have to go in and take a look, but it’s hopeful.  I used to find new caves this way, you know.”

“Stumbling around in the fog until you hit a rock wall?”

He laughed.  “No.  Though seems I’ve done my fair share of that, too.  Noticing differences in air temperature, I meant.  I’d go out in winter--the colder the morning the better, and some humidity was helpful, too—and look for places where frost or ice had built up on the vegetation in canyons where I knew the terrain was right for caves, but hadn’t spotted any yet.  Every now and again it would pay off, and I’d discover something new.”

“I don’t see any ice around this one, but there is a temperature difference, for sure.  I can feel it all the way from here.  Let’s go inside!”

“Let me take the light and go first, see what we’ve got here.  Could be a sheer drop inside there, water, any number of things.”


He looked at her a bit strangely.  “Probably not dragons.  Air would be a lot warmer coming out of there, if there were dragons.”

“Hey, I was kidding about the…are you ok?  You weren’t serious about the dragons, were you?”

“Weren’t you?”  And he laughed again, shedding his pack and disappearing into the foot-high crack of jagged darkness that waited at the base of the wall.

A long while passed before Liz, squinting into the darkness, again caught a glimmer from Einar’s light, and then she heard him as he shouted the “all clear,” beckoning for her to join him.  Inside the air was noticeably warmer, walls a grey, pitted limestone and lacking, at least there at the entrance, the spectacular color and vibrancy of those in the tunnel which had sheltered them over on the other side of the canyon, but Liz did not mind at all.  It was so good simply to be out of the wind and persistent damp cold of the foggy day that the looks of the place hardly concerned her as she caught her breath and slipped Will from her hood, sliding him around to the front for a quick meal.  Einar had gone silent, crouched unmoving against one wall of the cave and staring off into space for so long that she wondered if he’d managed to go to sleep with his eyes closed.

“Well, is this the one?  What do you think?”

The question puzzled Einar some at first, brain struggling to make sense of her words and leaving him unsure how to reply, fever again creeping in and doing its best to muddle his thoughts.  Oh, well.  At least he wasn’t shivering anymore, had, for the moment, the dexterity to remove his pack and search out the candle he’d earlier stashed in one of the pockets.  Needed to save the headlamp batteries for explorations deeper into that and other caves.  Fumbling a bit with the candle he at last got it lighted, setting it close to a wall where the light-colored limestone would reflect some light.

“The one?”

“For us to settle in.  Spend the rest of the winter.”

“Oh.  Don’t know yet.  Need to do some more looking at the area.  Nothing wrong with this cave, that I can see.  Good shelter, entrance real well hidden, but need to know how close it is to the others, the ones we could see from the other side.  Would hate to settle in one that’s too near where other people might come, cavers…”

“A couple of these are on the map, yes.”

“Hoping…hoping this one is…”  never finished the thought, eyes drooping, drifting shut and the rest of his body following until he lay in a jumbled heap in the dust of the cave floor, and instead of waking him Liz let him be for a few minutes, knowing how badly he must need the rest.  After a time Einar woke on his own, heat ebbing and the chill of the floor seeping up through his clothing to set him shivering again, sitting up slowly and attempting to rub a bit of the stiffness from arms and legs.

Liz had met his confused glance with a smile.  “You were just telling me what you hoped, about this cave.  And no, I don’t think it had anything to do with dragons…”

“Dragons?  I should think not!   Just going to say that I’m hoping this cave is one you can’t easily get to from above, not without some serious rappelling, because in that case it may very well be that we’re some of the only ones to know about it, and will be safe here.  And alone.”

“Ah.  That would be a very good thing.  It’s going to be quite a job getting that moose up here though, even piece-by-piece, like we’ve got it now.”

“Well, we don’t really want the meat in this cave, anyway.  Too warm in here.  Need to keep that stuff frozen just as long as we can, hopefully long enough to let us turn most of it into jerky.  Would be great if we could find some sort of a little grotto that’s not entirely enclosed, has a lot of air circulating and stays close to the outside temperature.  Could hang the meat in there to give it some protection, then if we still have any left when things start getting too warm out there, bring those in deeper.  Kind of like to go and see if we can find a place like that.  We know this isn’t the only cave over here.”

“That sounds like a good idea, but how about we stay here for the night, kind of try the place out, and go do some scouting of the area in the morning.  How does that sound?”

No answer, Einar having fallen asleep again, and taking his silence as agreement, Liz headed outside to collect a few sticks for a small fire.  Though she knew they would have to be careful about smoking themselves out of the place, the behavior of the candle flame—flickering and dancing towards the entrance, instead of away from it—told her that there must be a fairly powerful if subtle air current breathing through the cave, which ought to carry the smoke outside and allow them to cook, be warm and have a bit of light without too much concern.  It was looking like a decent place—at least for the night, if not for the remainder of the winter.

17 October, 2013

17 October 2013

Double checking to make sure everything had been secured high up in trees out of the reach of scavengers, Einar and Liz each prepared a small pack containing a few essentials, hoisted the moose head up into a spruce for later roasting and use, and set off up the draw which Einar had previously identified as leading to the caves.  Weird and wild was the steep timber that morning, wreathed in fog, visibility still so low that Einar found himself unable to check their position by looking back at the canyon floor from which they had started out, let alone over to the opposite wall where they had sheltered during the storm, and, climbing with Liz close behind so as not to lose him, he could only hope that he’d taken them up the correct draw.  

The fog, he had expected, would begin to clear as they climbed, allowing them to get a look at landmarks from time to time, prevent their wasting too much time and effort in a draw which might end in cliffs, rather than caves, but it was beginning to look like the stuff was there to stay, no sun showing to burn it away.  They would have to go by memory, by feel, and though Einar normally would have been fairly comfortable with such an arrangement, having reasonable confidence both in his keen visual memory for landscapes and his innate sense of direction, that particular morning he found himself blundering along with mind as sightless and befogged as his eyes.

Had to be the fever, he knew, and with hands full of snow and an unzipped coat he sought to halt its advance, but this only left him shivering and nearly immobile with cold during the times when it would ease off.  Well.  Should all average out, right?  He shrugged, filled his hat with fresh snow and resumed climbing.  At least with the fog so dense and concealing, he didn’t have to worry about Liz seeing his struggle and asking questions which would have required too much energy to answer.  All her focus was of necessity devoted to simply keeping him in sight and preventing their being separated. 

Will, who had no such concerns, was thoroughly delighted with the entire situation and especially with the new sensation of moving through air so thick one could brush it aside with an outstretched hand, and he sang and chortled happily on Liz’s back as they climbed, making noises like an owl and shrieking in delight when Einar answered him in kind.  For several minutes the two carried on conversing in the language of owls, Will’s imitation becoming more precise and Liz simply shaking her head and smiling at the two strange human-creatures between whom she found herself traveling.

She wasn’t smiling several minutes later when, Einar having gone silent and stopped moving, she caught up and took a closer look at him.  Though indistinct through the fog and no doubt made a bit stranger by its effect, Einar’s wild eyes, sweat-matted hair and hollow-pinched face were enough to convince Liz he needed a break before they climbed any higher, and failing to convince him of the fact she simply sat down in the snow, and waited.

With no intention of leaving his family behind in the fog, it didn’t take Einar long to return and crouch beside Liz, eyes closed as he worked to catch his breath, hoping it wouldn’t take long, whatever she had stopped to do.  He needed to keep moving.  She wasn’t moving, and finally he looked up.


“Let’s have some water, and then I’ll be ready.”

He nodded, waiting, but she neither drank nor rose to go, and after a time he realized that she was holding the bottle in front of his face, waiting for him to take a drink.  He didn’t think he needed it—had been eating snow in an effort to cool his brain whenever things started getting especially weird—but she was insistent so at last he had a swallow, the water feeling like life itself as it moistened his parched throat.  He’d had no idea.  Took another gulp, clumsily replaced the lid and stowed the water in his pack.

“Long climb.  Water is good.”

“How far do you suppose we are from those caves?”

He peered up through the fog, but to no avail.  “Thousand feet still to climb, maybe.  Real hard to tell in this whiteness, but doesn’t seem we’ve come more than a thousand, and map says it’s about twenty-three hundred from floor to rim.  But the caves are below the rim by a bit.  Guess we’ve come more than half.”

“Do you still think it’s a good idea to go on?  We could come back another day, when…well, when the fog is gone.”

Quiet for a moment he met her eyes, held them, something she had seldom seen him do.  “Fog is good.  Covers us if there are any exposed sections.  This is something we’ve got to do.  Got to find that cave.”

She did not try anymore to persuade him to turn back, seeing his determination and sensing that behind it lay some greater reason which he had not yet mentioned, some urgent need to find and explore those caves without delay.

Climbing again, and the fog seemed to close in more densely than ever, draw growing steeper so that their pace was slowed dramatically and Einar no longer had to struggle so hard to find the energy to maintain a greater speed.  A good thing, for all the strength and focus he could muster were being demanded of him simply in choosing their route, now, picking their way between limestone outcroppings that loomed up out of the fog and threatened to halt progress before they should reach the level of the caves.  

This in turn caused him to begin doubting just a bit his judgment in choosing the draw up which he had led them that morning.  Had been reasonably sure, studying it from the far side of the canyon, that the middle draw of the three which climbed steeply up through the timber ought to go all the way to the level of the caves, which sat just above the trees and immediately below a sheer wall of limestone some two or three hundred feet high.  In his mind, he could picture precisely its striped, streaked surface, hundred-foot vertical orange smears running down in several spots where centuries of iron-rich minerals had been deposited from the rock and soil above… 

But, had he indeed taken them up that draw, and not one of the two which lay to either side of it, and which, to his memory, would likely leave them cliffed-out and stuck before they ever neared those caves?  Only one good way to find out at that point, and stuffing a bit more snow under his hat by way of combatting a rising wave of heat, he led on between the steep outcroppings, upwards.

15 October, 2013

15 October 2013

The sun was not out for long that morning, disappearing soon after showing its face behind a low wall of heavy grey, clouds descending and an icy fog creeping up through the canyon, willows standing silver-frosted and mysterious, visibility reduced to mere feet.  Though shivering in its damp chill as he stood over the lifeless coals of the past evening’s fire Einar was happy to see the fog, for its closeness made him feel a bit safer, provided some of the cover that had been distinctly lacking out there away from the timber, where the dense mats of willow could conceal a moose standing not ten feet from a man, but would have done little to protect either from aerial detection.

Einar knew as soon as he moved that the day was to be a bit strange for him, neck stiff, body alternately hot and very cold and he not especially liking it, feverish times making his head swim and vision go a bit uncertain and the cold seeming alternately to sink its teeth so deeply into his bones that movement of any sort became a difficult and somewhat painful endeavor, but he did his best to ignore the difficulty and keep going with the day, breaking sticks of dry-dead willow and bringing the fire back to life.

The coyotes, driven to caution by his assault and Liz’s sudden appearance with the torch in the night, had been emboldened again by the fog, and he could hear them snarling and feeding at the gut pile as he crouched over the fire, adding sticks and basking in the delightfully sweet smell of willow smoke, a taste, he could not help but think, of paradise.  Musings interrupted by Liz’s arrival at the fire Einar scrambled to his feet, determined not to let her see the strangeness that was stalking him that morning, greeting her with a weary but genuine grin.

“How do you like this aircraft shield that I’ve had installed?  Pretty thorough, isn’t it?”

“Had it installed, did you?  Did it come in a box, or a bag?  Yep, I’d have to say it looks pretty thorough.  I can barely see you, let alone the canyon walls!”

“Lets us have a fire without worrying, anyway.  Want me to go get some more of that fresh liver from the creek, to add to the leftover stew for breakfast?”

“If the coyotes haven’t got it.  And if you’ll promise not to let them get you, again, like last night!”

“They did nothing of the sort.   And no, don’t expect they will have bothered the stuff we had weighted down under the water.  I’ll go check.  Can find my way by the sound of the creek.”
Einar gone to fetch breakfast Liz worked busily around the fire, Will babbling happily on her back as he played with a bit of moose skin and hair she had given him, staring in wide-eyed wonder at the way the firelight glowed through the fog and surprising Liz when he leaned out as far from her back as the parka hood would allow, reaching for the flames and exclaiming, “Fire!  See fire!”  

“Yes, I do see the fire!  Look at that fire.  Really shows up on a day like this, doesn’t it?  Where did you learn to put words together like that, Will?  That’s pretty good!  Einar, did you hear?”

“Sure I did,” replied a disembodied voice from out of the fog.  “About time he started putting words together.  Hears you do it all the time.”

“I know, I know, but it’s the first time I ever heard him do it, on his own!”

“Bright little critter.  Better watch out.  Soon he’ll start asking all kinds of questions…”

“Right.  And learning how to say ‘no.’  Then we’ll really be in trouble.”


Entirely unworried about any smoke they might be producing that morning Einar joined Liz and Will at the fire where they all sat for a time warming themselves and picking bits of liver from the stewpot with a pair of willow sticks Einar had sharpened for just that purpose, Will excitedly grabbing for the bits Liz offered him and eating them with great enjoyment.  Einar was quiet, not eating much and looking a bit strange, Liz thought.

“What’s going on with you?  You’re sweating.  Are you ok this morning?”

Einar shook his head, scrubbed the back of his neck with a handful of snow and left some of it to melt in the hollows behind his collarbone, unzipping his coat, wanting to shrug out of the thing and sprawl flat on his back in the snow, refraining, knowing it would likely cause Liz some alarm.  “Nothing wrong, just…” he shrugged, not really sure what he had been going to say.  “Fire’s good and hot, that’s all.”

She did not think that was all, but let it go—until the next minute, when the fever subsided and he found himself suddenly chilled to the bone and shaking too hard to speak.  Liz moved closer then, dried the melting snow from his shoulders and tucked her scarf around his neck.  No hiding it, now.

“How’s your arm doing this morning, where the coyote bit you?  Let me see it.”

“Ok.  Think it’s…ok.”

“Let me see.”

The arm did not look too bad, wound a bit inflamed but nothing that ought, Liz thought, to be causing him the sort of trouble she was seeing; she knew though that combined with his exhaustion and continued lack of enough energy, it wouldn’t take much to really drag him down.  By the time she had done inspecting the arm and applying some fresh antiseptic the cold spell had passed and his eyes were beginning once more to look glazed with fever, but Einar didn’t much notice, glad to be able to move freely once more and simply unzipping his coat and moving farther from the fire in an attempt to regulate his temperature.  Taking advantage of the time between too cold to speak and too hot to make any sense, Einar hurried to make a proposal which he hoped would get the day going in the right direction.

“Think we’d better head up the draw pretty soon here and look for the caves, don’t you thing?  Spent enough time down here where people might have heard the gunshot, and all these critters…well, they could draw attention, eventually.”

“Yes, it would be good to find a place where we can settle.  But what about the meat?”

“Safe where we’ve got it, for now.  Never meat a tree-climbing coyote!  Figure we can move it, piece by piece, when we do find a cave we like…”

“It’ll be a long climb with some of those pieces as big as they are, but yes, I think we can do it.  Maybe tomorrow.  How would tomorrow be, for scouting?”

“Too late.”

“Too late?  Why?”

Silence for a minute, Einar’s eyes nearly closed while he gathered energy for his response.  “Fog gives us good cover.  Better if we can go today.”

13 October, 2013

13 October 2013

Einar had not expected the night to be quiet, and indeed, it was not.  Seemed every four-legged meat-eater in and around the canyon had, by dark, got a whiff of that moose and begun converging on the spot where they’d done the butchering.  After stopping, at Liz’s insistence, to eat, change clothes and get warm for a while by the fire, Einar had returned that past evening to the remaining gut pile and set a number of snares, hoping to cut down on the local population of scavengers who he knew would be troubling them until the meat was all finally dried and stored somewhere safe.  Kilgore had included the wire—as well as several pre-made snares—in the drop bag, and using stout, springy willows he rigged a couple of them to kill.  Shortly after the first snarling, tumbling coyote fight of the night, Einar heard a yelp which told him one of the snares had been effective.  This, unfortunately, did not in the least deter the remaining coyotes, who only seemed encouraged by the fact that they now had fewer mouths with which to share the bounty.

Finally tiring of the constant noise and not liking the fact that it might be masking other, more important things that he could need to hear Einar took a stout branch that had fallen from one of the spruces in which they had earlier been hanging the meat, stared into the darkness until his eyes had become as accustomed as they were capable of being, and waded into the yipping, snarling mass of furry bodies.  Striking and swinging until he began making contact, he worked to disperse the hungry animals, his shouting added to the yip and wail of the canine melee until Liz, back at camp, could not help but think he must have fallen and been set upon by the beasts.  Not a thing one might normally expect of coyotes—she, herself, had certainly never felt threatened in the least by the timid, fleeting creatures—but if he had fallen and they’d managed to sense somehow that he couldn’t easily rise and fend them off…well, coyotes were the ultimate opportunists.

Stowing Will securely in her hood, tucking her pistol into a coat pocket and taking a flaming stick from the fire she went after him, guided by the sound of man and beast engaged in their dispute over territory and food, stumbling over willows in her haste and seeing, when finally she reached the gut pile, Einar with eyes wild and his left side bloodied—whether from some fresh injury or simply from falling in the mess left from butchering the moose, it was not immediately obvious—with a coyote hanging from one arm as he did his best to fend off another that was going for his neck.  Succeeding, he jammed his fingers into the eyes of the other, causing it to turn him loose of his arm and run yelping after the others, who were by then fleeing from Liz’s flaming torch.  She’d never even had time to use the pistol.

Einar was on his feet when she reached him, breath rasping in his throat and hands braced on knees as he tried to steady himself, searching the dark ground for the stick, which he’d lost in the struggle—but he stood up straight and grinned when she put a hand on his arm, trying to see the extent of his injury.

“What were you thinking?  Why didn’t you take the pistol?  Are you ok?”

“I’m…hey, settle down now.  They were just…just a bunch of scraggly old coyotes.  No problem.  Had it under control.  Have the pistol right here,” and he showed her, “but didn’t want to risk a shot.  The noise.  I had ‘em on the run.”

“That’s now what it looked like to me!  Come on, let’s get back to the fire.  I know those critters aren’t likely to have gone far, not the way this place must smell to them.  What about the two in the snares?”

“Took care of them.  Better get them skinned out and hanging in trees, or we’ll lose the meat to their cousins, here.”

“Is the meat really worth keeping?”

“Sure.  You’ve eaten coyote before, remember?”

“Well yes, when we were starving…”

“I am starving!  Let me at them, and I’ll tear right in with my teeth!”

“Yes you are, but you don’t need to be, not with an entire moose hanging in the trees over there.  Let’s take the furs, and leave the meat.  Just this time.  We’ve got all the meat we can handle.”

“You do have a point.  Right.  I’ll skin one, you do the other, and we can get out of here.  Just didn’t like the idea of having that entire chorus going all night right next to camp.  Keeps us from hearing anything else, and that can be real dangerous, out here.”

“So can barreling into the middle of a pack of hungry coyotes, rolling in moose gore and then lying there like a half-dead deer, just waiting to see what will happen!”

“I did not such thing!”  He was laughing now, gutting the snared coyote and struggling a bit with the skinning, knife not nearly so sharp as it had been before all the work on the moose.  They’d stopped frequently to sharpen them as they worked—it had been essential, if they’d wanted to get anywhere with the job—but the blades needed some more detailed attention, a job Einar resolved to do as soon as he had a few spare minutes in camp. 

Liz did not see much humor in the situation, working silently over her coyote and finishing the task ahead of Einar, standing, stretching the hide and letting it hang down to the ground.  Fur was not nearly as nice as it would have been in the fall or early winter, wouldn’t have been any good for selling and was not much to look at, even in the uncertain light of the by-then smoldering torch, but it was adequately warm to be of some good to them.  Einar finished several minutes later, rising stiffly and following her back to camp.

If the coyotes returned that night it was singly and in silence, shadows stealing in to grab bits of food and streak off again into the darkness, and the sun was close to peeking over the canyon wall before either Einar or Liz stirred in their sleep.

10 October, 2013

10 October 2013

Chopping up the moose proved no simple task with the limited tools available to Einar and Liz, Einar pausing frequently to sharpen the hatchet after going at bones and joints and repeatedly telling himself that it was “just like an elk, just the biggest elk you’ve ever dealt with…”  But by the time they’d freed and roped up the two hind quarters, dragged them over to the timber and lifted them—wrapping the ropes around the smooth trunk of a nearby aspen for leverage and pulling for all they worth—up out of reach of passing scavengers,  the sun was already climbing high into the sky. 

Out of breath, Einar paused, wiping bloody hands on already-caked and blackened pants and leaning heavily on the cool flank of a nearby boulder.  Somewhere in the distance he heard the sound of water trickling over rocks, and beside the water was Liz, speaking to Will in a voice that sounded happy if inevitably a bit weary, telling him about the moose and how it used to eat the willows, about rocks and water and how snow melts in the spring.

Einar never meant to doze there in the sunny shelter of that boulder, never meant to go on listening—smile on his face and eyes drifting closed—to Liz’s education of Will while the little one was allowed some time out  the parka, but he did both, and before he knew what was happening Liz was no longer at the creek but was beside him, his own knees buckling as he sagged towards the ground in sleep and the surface of grey limestone on which he had been leaning all streaked red with blood.

Somewhat alarmed, Liz helped him to a seat against the boulder, started looking him over.  “Is that your blood, or the moose’s?”

He looked down, shrugged.  “Little of each, I guess.”

She looked away, bit her tongue to keep from tearing into him as she wanted to do, going on about the risk of infection, of dying, if he went on that way in his current state.  “I wish you could find some way not to do that…”

“It’s not really intentional, the bleeding.   Not what I set out to do when I visit with the ropes...  Not the intended outcome.”

“But you don’t mind it, do you?”

He looked at her strangely.  “Most times, no.  It can be…useful.  Guess I don’t mind much.”

I mind much, though, when you can’t catch your breath walking up a little hill, let alone manhandling this moose like we both have to do, you’re freezing all the time and can never get warm because there’s just not enough iron in your blood, and it’s all more or less preventable...  I mind!   “Getting this moose up a tree before the coyotes, lynx and bobcats start swarming around it would be ‘useful,’ too!”

“At least the bears aren’t awake…”


“Right.  The cold buys us some time, lets us freeze these quarters and keep them while we work on making more jerky than we’ve ever made in our lives…but that’s all it does.  Buys us time.  Got to keep on top of it, or we lose everything when the thaw starts and the flies come out.”

Together they worked, then, to hack the ribcage down to manageable portions and get these carried over to the timber, as well, Liz wanting to pause and make some attempt at fixing the bandages on Einar’s arms, but he insisting this would be all but pointless, until they had finished with the moose.  Things wouldn’t stay in place, not while they were doing that sort of work, and Einar insisted he would head over to the creek when they were done, and give everything a good scrubbing, after which the bandages could be fixed.  While not particularly happy with this arrangement, Liz could not see much way around it.

After spending the entire day simply getting the moose down to chunks whose size and weight they could struggle up into trees and away from scavengers, Einar and Liz were at last left with nothing but the gut pile—mostly frozen, thankfully, before it could begin to stink too badly, and a good deal smaller than it had been at first, as everything reasonably useable had been salvaged and stored either in the creek or a nearby snowbank—the hide and the creature’s massive head, which they knew ought to be dealt with promptly, if they were going to use it.  The difficulty which presented itself in making use of the head came primarily as a result of its enormous size; while Susan had thoughtfully included two cooking pots for them in the drop bag, she certainly had not packed one large enough to hold that entire moose head!  Hacking the thing into smaller pieces seemed an option—until Einar tried to do it. 

Skull was too tough, at least for the tools currently available to him, the strength left after such a hard day’s work—or perhaps both.  He didn’t know for sure, but was beginning to wonder if they would have to abandon the head.  Didn’t want to do it, needed the brain for eventually tanning the hide, hated to waste the meat remaining on the head and began carving away at this, adding the pieces to the stewpot Liz already had sitting on a flat rock near the fire.  Liz, returning from the creek where she’d been washing her work-soiled clothes, sat down beside him, weary but triumphant at all they had managed to accomplish that day.

“What are you going to do with it?  Mount it and put it over the fireplace, someday when we build a fireplace?”

Einar laughed, set down his knife and briefly rested his chin on his knees, quickly shifting to a less comfortable position when his eyes began drifting immediately shut.  Not time for sleep, not yet.  “Yeah, stuff and mount it, hang it over the fireplace.  Only problem is that this thing would probably take up most of the house, when we get around to building a house.  Or finding a cave.  Would crowd us right out.  No, was thinking I’d take off as much meat as possible, then maybe roast the whole thing over the fire and see if we can’t get a little more when it cooks and shrinks up, some.  Already cut out the tongue and put it in with the stew.  Good stuff, nice and tender if you cook it a while.  Intend to get the brain out of there and save it, but maybe that can wait for tomorrow.  Which means the roasting of the head ought to wait, too, because cooked brains probably wouldn’t work so well for tanning this hide…”

“Sure, we can wait.  Let’s go hang the head in one of those trees like we’ve done with everything else, and I’ll help you deal with it tomorrow.  Almost dark now.  How about we call it a day?”

“Still got too much stuff on the ground.  Coyotes and such are bound to find this place pretty soon, and I’d hate to have them tear up the hide, or something.  Had that happen with an elk hide once, that first winter.  Awful thing to have happen.  Had dropped the thing down a steep embankment while I was climbing, couldn’t go after it because a chopper was really checking out the area, so I just had to sit there all night under some rocks and listen to the coyotes quarrel over that hide and tear it up.  Was the only thing I really had to keep warm just then, too.”

He shivered, held out work-wearied hands to the flames, starting to doze again, getting lost in the memories.  Hard times, for sure, but not necessarily bad ones.  Liz brought him back to wakefulness.

“Well, let’s go see if we can find a way to protect this hide, and then we’d better get you into some fresh clothes so I can wash these, and tend to your arms.  How does that sound?  And then supper ought to be ready.”

07 October, 2013

7 October 2013

The better part of two hours had passed before they got the moose gutted, skinned and cooling inside, longer than Einar would have liked, but with gravity not working in their favor for the gutting and no way to raise or suspend the creature, it seemed the best they could do.  Liz had kept Will on her back the entire time—nowhere else for him to be, really, as they had no safe, contained shelter at that place and it was too cold to simply turn him loose to crawl about in the willows—so it had been Einar who crawled partway up inside the carcass to finish freeing and removing the internal organs of the great beast—the pile now lay where it had oozed and slid upon removal, deep, thick and slimy with blood, already beginning to smell, and Einar breathed a silent prayer of thanks that it was, of yet, still too cold for flies to be about—and he, also, who had done a good bit of the heavy work of freeing the hide. 

At least the creature had not yet entirely cooled down, or the latter task might have proven all but impossible in his current state of physical weariness; as it was, the hide separated fairly easily from the layers of membrane and muscle beneath, Liz helping to pull and provide some tension, and, when Einar did not need assistance, working on other areas with her knife.  Twice they had to roll the creature, Einar taking a bottom leg and Liz, who could as the heavier of the pair at the moment provide more leverage, grabbing a top one, the two of them struggling until they’d got the moose flipped over to its other side to allow them access to the rest of the hide.

Einar was exhausted at the end of it when finally they worked together to roll the moose off of its finally-free hide, roughly folded the thing and set it aside, not wanting Liz to know—their work, after all, was really just beginning—but hard-pressed to conceal the fact when every move was now threatening to bring an inky blackness welling up around him, breath coming with a struggle and an insidious dizziness unsteadying his steps.  Cold, too, as the warmth of the hard work began to fade; he’d never warmed properly from the hunt that morning, had spent all his energy and more in the gutting and skinning, and when Liz suggested they take a break and have something to eat, he made no protest. 

Using dry-dead willows Liz kindled a little fire, almost smokeless, over which they could warm themselves and cook up a bit of the bounty, and though Einar wanted nothing more than to curl up beside it and sleep for a week, he instead dragged himself to his feet and began sorting through the gut pile, finding the kidneys and setting them, large, still fresh and surrounded by some of the only fat they could hope to find on the creature that time of year, beside the liver, which he had earlier cleaned and stashed in a shady snowbank.  To this pile he added globby, slimy bits of fat which he carefully cut from around the intestines, not terribly appetizing, perhaps, to one who is used to plenty, but he knew they would be needing it, and in fact found himself struggling to keep from gobbling a share of the stuff as he worked.

Liz wouldn’t have minded if he had started eating right then and there like a hungry wolf, would have counted it progress, but Einar kept himself determinedly focused on his work, stopping only long enough to let Liz cut a portion from the liver—had to have something to cook over her fire, and that seemed the perfect choice—before wrapping it, along with the fat and other organs they were saving, in a piece of plastic cut from a groundcloth left them by Bud and Susan.  Slinging this heavy bundle over a shoulder Einar made his way to the creek and used a length of parachute cord to tie the whole thing up and lower it into the ice-skimmed water where it would hopefully stay not only fresh, but protected, at least for a time, from the scavengers who would surely be soon arriving. 

While at the creek Einar did his best to scrub from hands and arms some of the accumulated grime and gore of his task, layers of the stuff all dried and cemented in place so that he had to take fists-full of sand from the creek’s bottom and scour himself with that before he could make much headway, kept at it until hands and arms had gone entirely numb and white with the icy water,  Liz joining him and doing the same until both were more or less clean, if rather chilled for their efforts.  Clothes were another matter, caked with drying blood, hair and bits of membrane from the skinning, and would have to be dealt with when the job was all finished.  

Liz's little fire was still burning when they returned to the moose, Einar wanting to return immediately to work but Liz reminding him that they had been intending to take a break and, when he did not respond, taking him by the arm and guiding him over to a seat by the fire.  Einar remained where he had been seated, watching as Liz cut slices of liver and set them to cook over the fire, odor of frying liver soon blending with the sweet scent of burning willow and leaving Einar to startle upright from what had been an entirely unintentional sleep, stomach cramping up with hunger at the smell of the cooking liver.  

Einar ate his portion half-raw, chewing slowly where he sat sprawled out by the fire, elbows on his knees, head bowed in exhaustion and face looking oddly more gaunt and hollow than usual where the snow-reflected sunlight cast shadows on a blood-smeared cheek that had been neglected when he’d scrubbed his hands and arms.  Liz had to wake him twice so he could finish his liver, wished there was some way they could delay the rest of the work on the moose, let him spend the day resting, eating and gaining a little strength, but there was no way, and no one knew that better than Einar, who was now on his feet and scrubbing his face with a double handful of snow in an attempt to keep himself from dozing off again.

“Time we get this thing quartered, I guess.  Nice and cold out, so not too much risk of spoilage now that we’ve got air circulating in there in the cavity, but if it’s still lying on the ground at dark we’re gonna have one heck of a fight keeping the scavengers off of it.  Surprised we’re not seeing ravens and jays, already.  I’m sure they’ll be coming.”

“Too bad Muninn isn’t here.  He’d let those other ravens know not to mess with his territory or eat his moose!  And he’d warn us about the larger critters too, when they come…”

“Yeah, I kinda miss that old vulture.  Not so easy following a plane, so I guess we’re not going to be seeing him out here.  He’s probably got a good home at Bud and Susan’s, though.”

“Yes.  He’ll be there waiting for you, no doubt, hoping you’ll come back some day.”

“Not likely.”

“I know.”

“Well.  Figure if we can just get this critter quartered or otherwise chopped up and the pieces hung in the timber we should be ok for the night, and then we can figure out where we’re going from here.  Got to get it up off the ground, that’s the main thing.”

05 October, 2013

5 October 2013

Though equipped with a good knife and sharpener each, and the hatchet sent along by Bud and Susan in the drop bag, Einar knew the task before them was to prove somewhat monumental, not a quick thing, and he wished there might be some way to speed their progress away from the place where he’d taken the shot.  Though immeasurably grateful for the meat, the situation had him worried, entire canyon feeling compromised, contaminated by his action, no longer safe.  If it ever had been.  Gathering hatchet and sharpening stone, pausing briefly to help Liz slide a still-sleepy Will into the hood of her parka, he returned to the moose, staring up at the sky as if he half expected to hear the approaching rumble of helicopters and crouching for a long half minute at the edge of the timber before venturing out into the more exposed maze of willow and red osier dogwood in which lay the fallen moose.

The creature had gone to its knees and then, in its final, brief struggle, rolled to one side, and had the ground there on the canyon floor been somewhat more angled, this might have proven a distinct advantage when it came to gutting the moose.  As it was, terrain all but flat where centuries of spring runoff had deposited its sandy detritus, it looked like they were going to have to do things the hard way, gravity not helping them as much with the gutting process as it might have done on a more noticeable slope. 

Then there was the matter of skinning the great beast, a job, Einar knew, not quite comparable in difficulty to that of the Plains women who had come in after a successful buffalo hunt and worked together to skin out one of the great, hulking animals minutes rather than hours—but it would be close.  And with just the two of them, he and Liz, even this first step was looking a bit daunting.  No problem.  They’d get it done.  Just wished that queasy feeling would leave the pit of his stomach, that sense of alertness which made the world stand out in crackling-sharp relief around him and left him expecting at every moment to see some enemy stepping out of the next clump of willows or swooping down from the sky.  Probably no reason for such anticipation, really, he told himself, for the chances of anyone not only having heard that single shot but traced down its origin and gone to the trouble of seeking out its source must be minescule, indeed…   

Those facts aside, he knew better than to ignore such foreshadowings, and he kept the rifle near him as he worked, making a careful first cut on the belly of the moose and using all his strength to try and roll it into a slightly better position, Liz helping from the other side and neither of them meeting with too much success.  Any movement of the animal while still whole was going to be, he could see already, a job for parachute cord—webbing would have been better, but they didn’t have any—and some clever rigging.  Too bad the creature had fallen so far from any large trees, out where the willows were insubstantial little things, lithe and springy, but not very big around.  Well.  They’d just have to manage things with the beast in its present position, if at all possible.

Standing, wiping sweat from his face and stopping to stretch stiff arms, shoulders and flex his wrists as well as he was able, Einar wished everything was a bit more mobile and useful that morning.  The pain he could tolerate—helped keep him awake, that’s what it did—but the incredible stiffness and lack of strength which seemed to have set in overnight were decidedly hampering the speed and agility with which he was able to go at the task.  Not unusual to feel such effects after a visit with the ropes, but it seemed lately they grew more noticeable each time, took him longer to get back to his version of “normal.”  Ought to be grateful, right?  Means maybe you won’t have to do it as often, which would be a good thing, because sure aren’t going to have time for anything like that, for the forseeable future!  Neither time nor the resources to spend on it.  This thing’s gonna take all you’ve got, and more. 

He grinned, nodded at Liz and got back to work.

04 October, 2013

4 October 2013

Will have a chapter ready for tomorrow.  In the meantime, here are a couple of pictures of the snow that fell last night--and is now falling again, after a short time of sunshine.

02 October, 2013

2 October 2013

For what seemed a very long time Einar waited as the moose stood with head raised, placidly chewing a mouthful of willows and seeming in no hurry to be moving along, no hurry to change position as he wanted it to do, needing a better shot.  Though pressed down into the snow and nearly surrounded by it, stomach, arms, elbows already insensible where not covered with Liz’s bandages from the previous night, Einar was hardly aware of the cold, hands steadying as he waited, tremors stilled in anticipation of the shot, hoping, praying that his chance would come before the animal spooked and took off at a gangly-legged run through the willow thickets.  Too much meat to give up that easily, too much potential security for his family; Einar knew he must take that moose, even if he had to wait all morning.

At long last and after many minutes of casual, unconcerned chewing and gazing, the great beast was ready for another bite, bowing head to the ground and cropping at that summer’s more tender shoots; Einar made his move—certain, swift, more instinct than deliberation—and it was stumbling, going to its knees, he quickly rolling to the side to avoid being trapped beneath the creature’s collapsing bulk.

Before the moose had even stopped twitching Liz came running, alarmed at the sound of the shot, ducking from one cluster of vegetation to the next and taking in the scene in a single glance, moose concealed from her sight by the clump of willow into which it had fallen.  No ongoing danger spotted she began searching for Einar, not seeing him, trying to follow tracks but finding those indistinct and difficult on the hard surface of the snow, his weight having been so distributed in crawling that hardly a trace remained for her hasty glance to catch.  Found his trail after several frantic moments of searching, saw, ran to Einar—looking angry and terrified all at once, and he figured she must have thought the place was being raided; should have found a way to warn her, but I couldn’t risk scaring away the moose—where he lay sprawled out on his back in the snow with the pistol in one hand, took him in her arms and, once assured he was still breathing, began inspecting him for injuries.  Einar dodged, rolled over and pushed himself up to hands and knees, fixing Liz with a big grin as he shook snow from his hair and did his best to begin warming cold-numbed hands.

“Got you breakfast!”

Only then, following his gaze, did she see the great bulk of the fallen moose, eyes going wide and a quick smile replacing the worried lines around her mouth.  “I would say so!  When it comes to breakfast, you sure don’t mess around!  This is months’ worth of breakfasts.  I guess we don’t have to worry so much now about eating up the food Bud and Susan sent with us.  How did you find the moose?”

“Moose found me.  Woke me up this morning, right in camp.  Right on top of us.  Had to wait a little, follow it out here just to keep it from falling right on us in the sleeping bags.  Was standing right on top of us.  Kind of wish I’d had my spear.  Now we’re going to have to wonder who may have heard that gunshot…”

“You would have been killed if you’d tried to take it with a spear!  Look at those hooves!  What do you think you are, a mammoth hunter?”

“Sure!  Seen any mammoths?”

“No!  And I’m glad you had the pistol.  No one at all heard it, hopefully.  Wouldn’t these canyon walls do a lot to mask the sound of the shot, even if anyone did happen to be around?”

Einar looked worried, studying the surrounding terrain and not immediately answering.  “Yeah.  Should.   That, or magnify it, depending on where people might be.  If they were up near the rim…”

“Chances are no one was around, and wouldn’t know where the sound came from, even if they were.  You know how this sort of terrain distorts sounds.”

Einar nodded slowly, not looking entirely convinced, shrugged into the coat Liz was insistently pressing upon him—her own, sleeves way too short, but it was warm, and he shuddered violently at the contrast, adrenalin starting to fade and the cold of the morning really hitting him for the first time—and went over to inspect the fallen moose.

The creature was huge, first moose Einar had ever taken, their re-introduction into the area only in recent years having proven successful enough that they began to be a more common sight, and he crouched marveling for a minute over the volume of meat they had just obtained.   Liz, though also somewhat in awe at the sight of so much food all in one place, had already moved on to practical considerations, portioning out in her mind the various parts of the moose, planning their uses.  Meat could be frozen for the time being and slowly turned into jerky, hide turned, with time, into many pairs of sturdy boots, moccasins and other essentials which would see them not only through the remaining cold months but through the following winter, as well, and liver and other internal organs—she glanced at Einar, pale, cold and starting to sway a little where he knelt beside the great beast—well, she knew exactly what must be done with those.

“Hey.  You’re really anemic, aren’t you?  You’ve got to be.  Seems it would be a very good idea if there was some way you could stop losing blood on such a regular basis, at least until your body’s a little better equipped to replace what you’re shedding.  For now, how about having some of this fresh liver?  It really ought to help bring up your iron.  Let’s get this critter gutted and skinned, and I’ll cook some of it up for our breakfast.”

Einar looked up as if startled from a near-sleep, nodded slowly and got to his feet, heading for camp and the gear they would need to complete the job.  The challenge now, he knew, was to get the creature butchered and the meat transported and stored somewhere a sufficient distance from where the shot had been fired that he would not have to be constantly looking over his shoulder wondering if someone had heard and was finally coming to investigate, and to do it in as timely a manner as they were able.