Will have a chapter ready for tomorrow.
I want to wish each of you a happy and productive New Year!
28 December, 2013
Though Einar seemed quite ready to be done with the conversation that had begun outside, Liz did not want to let the subject drop, not now that they’d begun discussing it and he seemed, for once, not only willing to consider the possibility that some major changes needed to be made, but ready to recognize that he could not indefinitely continue on the way he’d been going. She wanted to seize the moment, make something of it. But would have to keep him awake, if she really wanted to get anywhere. Already he appeared to be nearly dozing in the warmth of the fire, arms wrapped hard around his knees and head bent, eyes half closed.
Einar, in fact, was not anywhere near dozing off, the absentness Liz had taken for near-sleep resulting instead from a fierce struggle with a sudden sense of unreality that had begun creeping in around the edges of his mind, jungle trying to pull him in, sights and smells already beginning to drown out the world around him so that he felt trapped by the cozy confines of the parachute shelter, desperate for air, space, the freedom of the wide, windswept woods beyond this little world of family and firelight. For some reason—dimly remembered promise, perhaps, to wait until the storm had passed—he made no move to leave, pressing himself instead into the fir boughs that made up the floor of the shelter, eyes closed and teeth clenched as he fought to remain at least somewhat in the present, failing, swamp-stench rising around him and the feeling of the bamboo beneath his body, hard ridges against raw-injured skin, bone, ropes on his arms cutting off all feeling as they raised him, all hope of escape, all life, pretty nearly, so that soon he was struggling for air, gasping and twisting in an attempt to relieve some of the pressure, allow his lungs to expand. Wasn’t working.
Liz was watching, crouched beside him and spoke his name, and when he looked up at her she could see the trouble, a certain vacancy in his wide, white eyes, a distance. He clearly did not know her, perhaps did not even see her, and she reached out to place a hand on his knee, but pulled it back, bad idea, best stick to words.
Her words, though spoken softly and insistently, did not seem to be having much effect, Einar glancing frantically at the walls, up at the parachute above his head and leaving her little doubt that he would do whatever necessary to secure his “escape,” should he see something that looked like a way out. Right overtop the sleeping Will, should it come to that, out into the storm where he’d surely be lost and where she might not find him again before it was too late, if things continued for him as they presently were. Without hesitation Liz grabbed the pot of half melted snow-water from beside the fire and in one smooth motion splashed its entire contents over his head where it ran in wet, slushy globules over his face and slipped icily down the back of his neck and along his spine.
Spluttering and shivering Einar was on his feet, ropes somehow mysteriously and entirely removed as he discovered that he was able to unbend his body, to rise, fir boughs beneath his feet and—strangely, no explaining—Liz there with him in the cage, reaching for him, blotting the icy water from face and neck. He reeled backwards, trying to get away, not right that she should be in here with him, not possible, but there was nowhere to go, solid mass of the back wall bringing him up short so that he stumbled, fell heavily to his knees and crouched there staring at her, at the fire and the top of little Will’s head where he lay nestled in the sleeping bag. Sight of the child finishing the job the cold water had started, and he looked away from her, knew what he had done.
Liz was beside him, leading him back to the fire and trying to help him off with his wet, icy clothes. “I’m sorry about the water. You were…somewhere else.”
“Water’s good. Thanks.”
“It may have been good, but these clothes are going to start freezing on you if we don’t get you into something dry.”
“Don’t mind if they do. Might help remind me where I am.”
“You’ll remember, now. Here, give me those and I’ll hang them to dry by the fire. They’ll be ready for morning.” Einar complied, reluctantly gave her the freezing clothes and got into the dry set which thankfully had remained in the items Bud and Susan had sent along, but refused to wear the extra layer Liz was trying to give him. It would, she insisted, help him save energy, keep him from being so very cold all the time, but he did not want to do it, insisted that such measures were only for days when it was well below zero, which—despite the ice in his bones—that day did not seem to be. She stopped insisting, but would not give up on the original conversation.
“Do you remember what we were talking about? Before the jungle got in the way, I mean…”
Einar remembered. “Yeah.”
“What do you think? Willing to give it a try? Eat more, start stepping back a little from that ledge you’re always teetering along, and see how it goes for you?”
Feeling trapped. Wished she would have saved the discussion—which he knew was inevitable—for another time, because to be quite honest, all he wanted to do right then was to head out into the snowy timber and stand for a week without protection or sustenance of any kind, simply to refute the cage. To refute what he had been, in there. Instead, he kept silent for a long moment, watching the soft rise and fall of the sleeping bag where Will dozed, gurgling and laughing in his sleep.
“Yeah, I’m willing.”
“Thought you might be. How about some more soup, as a start.”
“That’s part of the trouble, though. If I’m really going to do this, have to do it kind of slowly at first or I’ll run into a lot of trouble. Probably already in trouble after the two bowls I had earlier. You remember how it was before, person gets real sick, loses all the strength in their muscles—including the ones for swallowing and breathing. Not a good situation. Can mostly avoid it, if I go slow.”
“Ok, we’ll go slow. And go easy on the starchy things, because that’s where the trouble comes from, isn’t it? From your body re-adjusting to burning starches for energy, after being without for a long time.”
“But this time…well, you’ve been eating some. I was hoping that might not be so much of a problem this time, so you could eat more sooner, and start doing better. What do you think?”
“Think I’ve been losing some more weight lately, so had better go slow.”
She didn’t want to believe that, but knew he was probably right. “Well, you were at 66 that time we checked at Susan’s, when we first got there. I don’t think you’ve gained any since then, have you?”
Einar shrugged. Didn’t really think so, not the way things had been going, and Liz continued. “Oh, what am I saying? I know you’ve lost some since then, I can see it. Several pounds, at least. That’s a really scary number, you know?”
“Aw, doesn’t bother me much.”
“That’s the scariest part…”
“You want me to be bothered?” He was starting to laugh then, saw the look on her face and stopped.
“No, I just want you to eat more soup. Here you go. Have this, and I’ll start some more.”
27 December, 2013
24 December, 2013
While Einar remained anxious to get out and work on the shelter roof, he found himself so full and sleepy after two mugs of Liz’s soup that any such movement would have been a real struggle, even had he not promised to wait for the storm’s ending. Fighting to keep his eyes open, he propped himself against the logs of the shelter wall and watched in a dreamy haze as Will studied and dismantled yet another spruce cone, an unaccustomed warmth creeping through him as his body began putting to use the abundance of soup.
Seemed that he hadn’t been warm—or anything approaching it—for many days, not a situation which normally would have troubled him in the least, but this time, now that the frantic pace of the past several days had slowed and he had a bit of time to catch his breath, something seemed different. Wasn’t the fact that the cold—which had always been his friend and whose company he had all his life enjoyed in ways that few others seemed to understand—now hurt him, ached in his bones, knifed between his ribs and gripped his body in the iron jaws of inertia until sometimes it felt as though he would barely be able to go on moving. This was a change, alright, but not one which disturbed him terribly, and sometimes he even saw it as a welcome thing in that it provided him yet another challenge with which to busy his mind and body.
Trouble was that there seemed no way to shake this chill that had settled in his bones and seemed now to come as much from inside him as from out, even when he tried. And he did try from time to time, because it was something a person ought to be able to do, might urgently need to do, living out as they did, his efforts meeting with less and less success. Even the warmth of the meal was already fading as he sat there, leaving him once more all but immobile with cold. A sure sign, as if he’d needed another one, that he had better be putting some serious effort into getting his body back in line, stronger, perhaps working to add just a bit of padding if he wanted to be of much use around the place. He stretched, shivered, hurried outside to clean his soup mug.
Or, he told himself, could just as well be a sign that you’d better be making more of an effort to get yourself to adapt. You’ve always been able to adapt. Maybe you’ve just gone all soft and lazy and aren’t putting out enough effort, here lately. Eating too much soup. A good long night out in the snow without your parka has always solved that for you in the past, given you some of your endurance and determination back, and ought to cure you of this nonsense, once and for all. Past time to do it. Well. He knew what Liz would say to that, knew he’d have to be awfully insistent if he was to get his night out in the snow anytime soon, but he knew how to be insistent, so it shouldn’t be a problem.
Right. Not a problem. You’ll find a way to make it happen, and most times, it would be exactly what you need, too. Give your mind and body a little challenge, get them to respond, live up to the demands of the moment, and you’ll be on track again. But not now. You know why this is happening, why you seem to be losing ground so fast all of a sudden, and ought to recognize that it can’t be fixed by a night or two out in the snow. It’s not about adaptation anymore. There is no adapting to this. Body can adjust to a huge range of different environmental conditions and situations if a person will give it a chance, push themselves a little and show some persistence, and you’ve had a lot of experience with that, know how well it works. But you might as well face it. There’s just no adapting to being severely emaciated and chronically under-nourished month after month while attempting to live a very active life out in the cold at high altitude. Doesn’t happen. You’re not adapting, you’re dying.
Liz came then, Will fast asleep in the sleeping bag after his own meal, knelt beside him in the snow where he crouched with half-cleaned mug forgotten in one hand, spruce-needle scrubber in the other. She took them from him, finished the washing. “What’s on your mind, Einar? What’s got you so quiet today?”
Tell her? He couldn’t. Not in so many words, not as he’d just gone over it in his mind. “Oh, kind of feeling like I need to go out and sit in the snow for two or three days, without any soup or...anything.”
Her voice was low, quiet. “That’s not going to fix it, you know.”
“Yes. Can’t keep doing this, Liz. Can’t make it work anymore.”
“Don’t keep doing it. Let it go. You’ve got to let it go, this getting-along-on-nothing-but-air. I know you’ve been eating some, but you always go back to that when things start to get difficult. Always. I’ve seen. You can live without it.”
“Don’t know if I can. Don’t really have any other way to…”
“Yes, you can. You have us, and you have your work. A roof to build, traplines to set up and run, life to live. You just need to keep eating. Get back in the habit. It will get better.”
“Feels like…surrender if I try that. Giving up. Giving in. Just because things got too difficult.”
“Just like in the jungle, in that cage, when your captors kept offering you food and water, if only you’d talk to them? That kind of surrender?”
Bowed his head, eyes on the snow at his feet as the tears came, frustration, shame, miserable, feeling trapped, exposed, hating that she’d brought it up. Nodded.
“I know. But it’s not. You never did surrender when you were in that cage, didn’t give an inch. I think you forget that, sometimes. Just like you forget that you’re not in there anymore. Don’t have to be, anyway. You can come out now, if only you’d let yourself. Eating is not surrender. It’s just meeting basic needs that have to be met in order to go on living. And believe me, things will still be plenty difficult, if it’s difficulty you need.”
“Wouldn’t be the same.”
“This is killing you. It’s going to take you away from us. That’s surrender, if you willingly continue down that path. Giving up. Taking the easy way out.”
“Nothing easy about it.”
“No. There isn’t. It’s about the most difficult existence I could imagine, and I’m constantly amazed at how you keep going and make a life for yourself, and for us, despite the difficulty. But in some way, it’s got to be easier for you than the alternative. Than facing life, and all of your memories, without it.”
Couldn’t argue with that one. She had him. “Yeah.” He was really shivering by then, starting to have trouble with words, despite his best efforts. She took him inside, added a few sticks to the fire and set some snow to melt for tea, hopeful, sensing the change in Einar, a willingness which had not been there before, time, perhaps, to start coming home…
23 December, 2013
20 December, 2013
While winter still reigned in the mountains, spring was on its way to the valleys below, and this meant the busy time had arrived for Susan and her greenhouse business. Already she had started rosemary, chives, winter squashes and twelve varieties of Siberian tomatoes for later sale to the public as garden sets, Bud given the task of keeping them warm and thriving by managing the wood stoves that heated the place. Following their visit from the feds the day of Einar and Liz’s departure, things had gone along reasonably quietly for the couple, both of them spending several weeks at Bud’s house in Arizona during the winter while he attended two separate primitive skills gatherings at which he had made a yearly habit of appearing.
Here, he caught up with old friends, taught tracking and trapping courses and introduced everyone to his new wife, who showed up wearing a beautifully fringed white buckskin dress he’d specially commissioned from a friend for the event, and a muskrat hide vest he’d made for her, himself. Here, also, she brain tanned her first fox hide, learned to dig clay from the creekbank and fire her own pottery in an improvised kiln of stacked rocks, became a fairly decent shot with an atlatl and made began several friendships which would last a lifetime.
Back at Bud and Susan’s mountainside home above Culver Falls, Muninn had even settled in to some degree, though clearly still mourning the loss of his people and often, even after all that time, taking off now and then on days-long flights, presumably searching for them. Between these times he spent his days roosting on the front deck railing where he was afforded a good view of the surrounding country, flapping or hopping into the house whenever offered the opportunity and perching on the back of Bud’s kitchen chair to give his long-winded opinion about the world and all its inhabitants in the raspy raven’s voice which Einar had come to know so well. Bud, who had been annoyed at first by the brooding black presence hanging over him whenever he ate and glaring at him as if plotting how best to dart in and peck out his eyes, had to admit that he was starting to get used to the bird. Raven didn’t mean any harm. Just missed the crazy human to whom he had for some unknown reason chosen to attach himself.
Susan, too, missed the little family, kept them constantly in her prayers and wondered every day how they were getting on in their new home, what new things Will had learned or accomplished, and whether they had found a place where they could really settle and get down to the business of life. The most difficult thing, and one which she simply had to accept, was that she would probably never know…
* * * *
Einar staying for the moment, sipping his soup and planning construction on the roof so he could begin as soon as the snow slacked off, Liz emptied the drop bag, lining up the food that remained. Einar scooted over nearer, began helping her. Peanut butter, split peas, almonds, raisins, good, dense stuff, but it wouldn’t last them forever.
“Guess we’d better take an inventory of what we have left from Bud and Susan, huh? See how urgent it is we go back after some of that moose. Don’t like the idea of being in that canyon again with whatever was going on with the guys on the rim, but it’s an awful lot of food to just walk away from. Once we get set up here, I could go back for some if I have to.”
“We could go back, if you decide it’s a good idea. But not unless you’re pretty sure it’s a safe thing to do. It’s not like you to want to retrace your steps like that…”
“Not seeing an awful lot of trapping prospects up here, to be honest. Not in the sort of weather we’ve been having. Nothing much out and stirring, and you’ve got to have plenty to eat for you and Will.”
“Oh, we’re alright for now I think, between this stuff and the moose we brought. It will hold us for quite a while. For all of us though, for you, too!”
“Right. I’ll get out trapping just as soon as this snow slows down some. Rabbits and such are bound to be out and moving at the first opportunity. Will be hungry after the storm. That’ll help us stretch what we’ve got until we can either get back for some moose, or I get a more regular trapline established.”
“We’ll be fine. I just need you to eat your share right now, so you’ll have the energy to do that trapline…”
“I’m eating my share!
“Not of this split pea-grouse bone soup, you’re not. You’re just sipping at it. No way you’ll even keep up with the energy you’re expending going at it like that, never mind getting enough to let yourself start putting on some weight again.”
Einar hurried to gulp down a portion of his soup, unable to deny that she had a point. While split peas were a good, nutritious food and he was happy they were now no longer on the run and had time to cook such things, he knew they were starchy enough to cause him some muscle and breathing trouble, potentially, if he should eat too many at once after such a long time of consuming nearly nothing. Didn’t want any of that sort of trouble, which he’d experienced several times in the past, but was at the same time reluctant to explain the situation to Liz, since she seemed not to realize just how far behind he had once allowed himself to fall, nutrition-wise. Well. Best just eat the soup, hope he could keep any unfortunate effects from showing. Definitely time to start remedying the situation, and perhaps the soup could be a good first step.
Because of the high level of activity demanded of him by the life they lead, he had managed to retain as much muscle as was possible under the circumstances, but with his body having fed almost exclusively on itself for so long, this was not nearly as much as he might have wished. Increasingly, he found himself frustrated at the hesitancy of body to meet the demands of will, legs giving out unexpectedly under the weight of a wind-felled aspen which his mind told him ought not have been any problem at all. Though he did derive a certain satisfaction from the struggle of keeping himself going despite this challenge and accomplishing all the things demanded of him by their rugged life along the canyon, he knew he needed to be better able to provide for and defend his family than his current condition allowed. Liz saw that he had finished his soup, poured him another mug full.
17 December, 2013
It took Einar, sitting beside the fire and breathing steam from his cup of broth, a good while before he began warming adequately to do much besides shiver and stare, a fact not lost on Liz but one which she saw no need to bring to his attention just then. He would, in all likelihood, simply explain—soon as he was able to speak coherently—that had she not insisted in his coming out of the storm he would be in no such predicament, fire being at the root of his entire difficulty. And he would mean it, too. She just smiled and shook her head, left him to warm and turned her attention to Will, and to the simmering soup. When finally Einar was through the most intense portion of the warming and able to make himself understood again, he began eagerly explaining to Liz his ideas for the roof.
“Got most of those aspens down to similar lengths now, and figured we could lean them at an angle against this back wall we already have. Not quite as big or nice as the old cabin, but I’ll build us something better, if we decide to stay. Lots of trees around for the purpose. Figured we could…” paused for a minute as the shivering seized hold again, head bowed and arms pressed tightly at his sides in an effort to control it. “Could heap the roof up with spruce needles to help keep out the wind and moisture, conceal the place until it gets all covered with snow, use branches and a few more aspens to build up the sides…”
“That ought to provide pretty good shelter, as wind-free as this place already is because of the terrain.”
“Yes. For the wind, figured we could use the parachute inside the shelter, kind like a tapestry in an old castle. Hang it from the ceiling and let it come down along the walls, secure it in place here and there so it doesn’t sag too much, and it’ll help with insulating, trap air between its fabric and the roof, keep out any drafts and snow that might try to find their way through.”
“That ought to reflect a lot of light, too, being white. Make the place nice and bright inside, when we’ve got any kind of a fire.”
“Thought you might like that.”
“Yes! A lot easier to do projects when it’s bright inside the shelter. If the parachute is to be like a tapestry in an old castle, though, I’ll have to embroider scenes on it, battles, wolverines, your first successful wooly mammoth hunt…”
“Wooly mammoths haven’t lived here since…”
“I’m kidding! I know they’ve been extinct for quite a long time, but wouldn’t it look entirely appropriate to see one come ambling up through the timber out there, back all matted with snow and you wrapped in that wolverine hide and challenging it with a spear?”
Einar laughed. “Yep, that’s me. Wolverine slayer, mammoth hunter and all-around caveman. Sounds about right. Hey, can you imagine how warm a mammoth hide would be? Too heavy to wear, I expect. Heavier than a buffalo hide, even. But surely the best bed quilt that ever existed. Too bad the critters are gone.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that. Sure would be neat to see one, and you’ve got a point about the hide, but if they were still around, you’d probably insist on challenging one hand-to-hand without any sort of weapons, just to see if you could survive being stomped. Wouldn’t you?”
Laughing, getting to his feet and standing over the fire, Einar drained his cup of broth. “Well, there’s really no other way to know for sure, is there?”
“See? That’s why I don’t mind so much that wooly mammoths, sabre tooth tigers, pterodactyls and some of the other larger former inhabitants of these mountains are now extinct! Because you’d just have to challenge them, if they were here…”
“Pterodactyls are not extinct. I’ve shot one down with my bow.”
“Right. Large, flying predators with armor. Guess I’d just never realized that pterodactyls were rotary-winged creatures!”
“Sure! Sure they were. Can hear ‘em coming from miles away.”
“You know, I was just thinking last night that it’s been quite a long time since we’ve heard a pterodactyl, even in the distance. The quiet sure has been nice.”
Einar glanced anxiously at the sky, sinking a bit lower in his stance as if certain he was about to start hearing that distant rumble even then. “Yeah. The quiet is good. Have to wonder how long it will last. Hopefully until Will is big enough to use a crossbow, so he can go hunting with me!”
“For the pterodactyls. Crossbows made with leaf springs from abandoned trucks. Or from pieces of other downed pterodactyls. Works pretty well either way.”
“Oh! Yes, I guess it does. Hopefully you and Will won’t ever have to hunt those particular flying creatures again, but if you do, I’m sure you’ll be ready, both of you. I have no doubt that he’ll be learning to build and operate a crossbow by the time he loses his first tooth—if not even sooner!”
“Never too soon to start learning. Is it, Snorri? Come here. I’ll tell you how it works.”
Will just laughed and went on precisely and methodically picking apart the spruce cone with which he had been entertaining himself, delighted at his father’s addressing him but not entirely understanding. Not yet. That would surely come, with time.
Having described to Liz his vision for the roof and found it to be to her approval, Einar was anxious to get started on the project, leaning the angled logs and pinning up the parachute-tapestry on walls and ceiling, but Liz caught his arm, insisted he stay.
“Not now. Not yet. You haven’t had any soup, and besides, if you move the parachute while it’s storming like this, all our things are going to get snow blown onto them. It can wait. Maybe tomorrow the storm will finally be over, and then I’ll help you move the logs, stack them up, hold fabric while you tack it in place—everything!”
16 December, 2013
Folks, I intended to have a chapter ready for today, and must apologize for not doing that.
Things finally thawed a bit here after a couple weeks of below zero temperatures, and this resulted in a fair-sized rockslide coming down onto the road, so much of today was spent clearing that.
Thanks to all of you who are reading and participating in the discussion, and I appreciate your patience!
Things finally thawed a bit here after a couple weeks of below zero temperatures, and this resulted in a fair-sized rockslide coming down onto the road, so much of today was spent clearing that.
Thanks to all of you who are reading and participating in the discussion, and I appreciate your patience!
13 December, 2013
While most of the small, dead aspens Einar wanted for the new shelter roof could simply be freed from the ground with a few hard shoves, others were a bit larger and, despite having been dead for enough years that their bark was hanging off in black shreds, they still had a firm hold on the ground. These Einar felled with the ax, struggling, after a few strokes, to keep firm enough hold of the thing with numbed, cramping hands to get the job done effectively and without taking a slice out of his shin, but he managed, triumphant when the first began swaying, tipping, crashing to the ground when he gave it a light push.
Grinning at Liz as he struggled to keep his footing in the steep, slippery powder he plunged down after the fallen tree, sliding it up towards her in steps until she could reach and grab on. He would have liked to simply crouch beside the tree, hoist it up onto his shoulder and climb up out of the shallow gully from which they had been taking the trees, but he’d tried similar things a few times when he gathered trees for the back wall of the shelter, and knew the results would only waste their time. Might have gone on trying anyway, had he been by himself, but with Liz waiting and Will anxious to be out of her coat and exploring the camp once more, he figured he’d better stick to more efficient means of moving the trees, even if they were a bit clumsier than he would have preferred. Reaching the top of the gully Einar pulled himself up over its rim and helped Liz drag the tree up the rest of the way, each of them taking an end as they worked it back down into the protected spot which held the shelter.
Twelve trees in all they harvested this way, Einar balancing a fair number on his shoulder and carrying them himself after they were pulled up and out of the gully, leaving Liz free to use the trip for carrying her own, smaller tree. With Will in the parka-hood she dared not balance a larger aspen on one shoulder as the load might well shift and knock the child in the head. Einar knew all too well the danger of such loads shifting, for he had several times experienced it himself while building the windbreak, and bore the bruises to shoulder, backbone and neck to prove it. Not something which bothered him too much—bruises seemed to be just about the only thing reminding him he was alive, half the time—he hated to think of little Will ending up with a concussion from one of those logs. Liz, thankfully, saw the sense in this and, after several failed attempts to convince him to wear her parka and carry Will so she could do more of the heavy work, contented herself with the smaller trees, with helping Einar haul the large ones up out of the gully, and with occasionally taking one end of an aspen he could not lift and carry, by himself.
In this way they managed to get twelve of the trees brought over to the area of the shelter well before noon, and Einar, not wanting to stop—knew once he quit moving it might be a challenge to start up again—and remembering his cold and not tremendously effective sojourn after firewood the evening before, went back after another tree to chop up for the fire. Whole aspens would go a lot further than the small branches they had been breaking for firewood, allow them a break from the constant need to keep at that task and permit more time for other things—such as building the roof! Two more trees he hauled back for firewood, Liz staying behind prepare a meal and tend to Will, who was by then entirely weary of being trapped in her parka hood, however warm and cozy, and wanted out to move and explore. While she wished Einar did not have to go back out just then—he was, she could see, pretty weary, himself—she could not deny that he had a point when it came to the wisdom of a better firewood supply, especially with the wind still howling in the treetops above their sheltered little alcove, sky lowering again as if to begin a second round of snow.
Not satisfied with simply having the firewood-aspens close to hand, Einar stayed out, when finished with the task of collecting them, to chop and split the trees, stacking the results in the most protected spot he could find beneath one of the shelter-spruces. Job all finished he proceeded—singing as he worked, but Liz could not make out the words, wasn’t entirely sure she would have been able to, even without the wind—to sort through the roof-trees they had dragged in, choosing several of the longest and chopping them roughly in half to give them the right length for the project.
By the time he finished this latest task Einar was barely able to keep on his feet, stumbling, stopping and at times nearly falling asleep standing there in the lowering storm as he surveyed his work, trying to decide what should come next. Liz, that was what, for there she came blustering out of the shelter, Will under one arm and the parachute fabric brushed aside with the other, something between determination and rage showing in her eyes so that he wondered what might be wrong.
“What’s the holdup out here? I’ve called you three times to come in and have some soup, and here you are, just standing here waiting to freeze solid in the storm!”
“Would take an awful long time to…”
“Oh, I know! Would take an awful long time for a man to actually, literally freeze solid, except that in your case it probably wouldn’t take all that long, and besides, you know that wasn’t what I meant. What needs to be done out here, still? What can I do so you can go ahead and come in soon and start getting warm?”
Einar stared blankly around at the neat stack of firewood beneath the spruce, the roof timbers all trimmed to similar heights where they lay beside him, ax buried deep in the flank of the one he’d most recently split, realizing with some dismay that he did not entirely know what needed to be done next, what it was that had been keeping him out here standing in the storm. Nothing much, it appeared. Simply the prospect of finding or making more work, and knowing that explanation would not go too far with Liz under present circumstances he freed the ax, followed her into their improvised tent for a share of whatever wonderful-smelling stew she had managed to so skillfully prepare from their decent but dwindling food supplies…
That matter, too, would soon need to be addressed, and as he allowed himself to be guided over to the fire and handed a pot of steaming broth, he was already running over in his mind the terrain around their shelter-spot, mentally inspecting it for the best trapline prospects.
10 December, 2013
A deep chill descended on the place in the night, trees creaking, snapping and Einar restless, cold despite the sleeping bag and Liz pressed at his side, huddling against its force and frequently changing position in an attempt to find one where he could stay for more than a minute or two without feeling like he was bruising bone simply by lying there. Wasn’t working, seldom worked these days, but after a while—his usual solution—he grew too weary to continue the search, and passed into an exhausted sleep. Dreaming of dead aspens, finding, hauling, heavy through the snow, reminded of the way their remaining branches would catch and snag on those of snow-submerged spruces, snap you backwards, bruised shoulder where the tree had been resting and a tremendous effort to get moving again, but he did it over and over, amassing a great pile of the things in his sleep. Only to wake and find them gone.
A pale, snow-filtered hint of dawn making its way through the parachute-roof, and Einar crouched shivering over the remains of their last evening’s fire, snow still falling outside at a rate which reassured him that their smoke ought not be seen, and he broke some of the tiny, spiny spruce sticks Liz had set aside for the purpose, breathing the coals back to life. A bit of grouse broth remained from supper, and filling a second pot with snow to begin melting for tea, he put the broth near the growing flames to heat. Breakfast preparations thus under way—with Liz almost always doing the cooking of late, he figured it had to be his turn—Einar left the shelter with the intention of replenishing their rapidly-dwindling supply of firewood. This supply had consisted of no more than a few armloads of quickly-broken branches the two of them had broken from the sheltered areas beneath spruce boughs the evening before, and he knew that if they were to stay in the shelter for any length of time, he would need to be thinking about securing them a better supply.
The trees they had been dragging in for the back wall of the shelter would do quite nicely for firewood, dry and even snow-free as many of them were, and he determined to haul in a supply and prop them under the sweeping, spreading boughs of one of the nearby spruces against future need, just as soon as he’d made them a more solid roof. One which would allow them to take down the parachute or at least to use it as an inside layer only, a barrier of sorts against snow particles and wind, but prevent its glowing like an enormous white beacon every time they had a fire at night. Not such a problem in the midst of a storm, but certainly not a risk he would want to take on a clearer night.
The roof, then. Going to need a bunch of fairly stout dead aspens, and then it can be shingled with bark slabs like we did at the cabin, if the weather allows it. Otherwise can just add one of the parachutes on top to keep things from falling through, and heap spruce needles on top of that. Would do, for the remainder of the winter.
Still somewhat dark to be searching out and hauling the aspens, however, Einar tending to stumble a good bit more frequently than he would have liked in the snowy timber, even by daylight, and besides, his mission had been to gather firewood, and he’d better stick to it, for the time. He shivered, stared up at the greying sky and swung his arms in an attempt to bring a bit of warmth, stop a rather rapid trend towards losing all the feeling in hands and feet. Seemed somewhat of a losing battle a lot of times lately, but one which he knew he must continue fighting. Just had to keep moving. That was the most important thing. You quit moving, you die. Sometimes quite literally, especially in that kind of cold, and with the wind. Wind wasn’t even that strong down in the protective folds of the tiny basin, yet it seemed to knife right through him and sap his will to move, if not his ability to do so.
Well. Enough of that. He could move, and did, making his way from tree to tree and breaking off the dry-dead branches which mercifully linger on the undersides of most evergreens, secure from falling snow and awaiting the use of any who might need them. Arms full and bits of wood beginning to drop from the top of his pile whenever he moved, Einar had to call the job finished for the moment, ducking back beneath the now-glowing parachute and depositing his harvest beside the fire. Liz was up, met him with a cup of spruce needle tea.
“Soup’s still heating, but this stuff is steaming already. Sweetened with honey, a good way to start the day. Thanks for getting things warming up!”
Einar stretched, shivered, crouched over the flames, tea pressed between cold hands. “Oh, you do so much around here. Think I’d be left to munching the occasional mouthful of snow, and no more, if it wasn’t for you. Need to be helping out more than I do.”
“You do plenty. And yes, I know you’d probably be living on snow, but that’s going to change now, isn’t it? So you’ll have the energy to build us a roof…”
“Changed a good while ago! Remember? I’ve been eating everything you fix.”
“Little tastes of it. You can’t build a roof on little tastes! Now is the time to settle in for a while and get you all strong like you used to be. Will be some work, but you know it’s going to be worthwhile.”
“Plenty strong now…”
“Where’s my rabbit stick?”
“Don’t worry, I’ll find it if I need to! Now. The soup looks ready. What do you say we split it?”
“Is that really a question?”
“Didn’t figure. Yeah, I’d like some. Please. And then we can go haul in the aspens for the roof. Still figuring this place is as good as any we’re likely to find in the area, better than most, and I’d like to get something solid over our heads before the next big wind comes through here.”
07 December, 2013
Improvised roof secured in place and the space beneath it beginning to warm with Liz’s little fire, the two of them worked together to cut fir boughs for a sort of floor, shaking from them the freshly fallen snow and using others to sweep and scrape the ground beneath the parachute until it, too, was nearly free of snow, before spreading boughs on which to sit and sleep. The result was a reasonably dry, comfortable shelter in which, once the sleeping bags and their foam pads were unrolled, even little Will could freely crawl about without ending up all wet or snowy.
While recognizing the still-temporary nature of the place and its need for many further modifications if it was to serve successfully as a longer-term shelter, the absence of wind and snow and the warming air within the place did go a long way towards easing the almost-frantic ferocity with which Einar had been prodded to stay on his feet and haul those dead trees, work until he had secured a place for his family, and Liz was glad to see the change in him, a willingness to sit for a while, and to get warm. Still his arms shook, entire body trembling at times though still not, he sensed, from the cold, and this might have bothered him had he not been far too weary to pay it any mind. Was, in fact, drifting off to sleep right where he sat, head sagging, snapping back upright and wanting to reverse the trend—not time for sleep yet—he rose, left the shelter and stood just outside its enclosure, listening to the storm in the trees overhead. Wind was gusty, silence reigning for a moment every now and then but followed always by a distant rush, a roar, gaining volume and momentum as it approached, and staring up into the starless blackness, he could picture the treetops bending before the wind, half-flattening, bowing before the mighty blast of its breath—but rising again, springing back to await the next onslaught.
Good way to live one’s life, he thought, feeling a kinship with the wild, ice-coated trees and nodding to them before breaking off an armload of small, brittle-dead branches from some of the nearest ones and ducking back into the shelter. Dark by that time, but well lit beneath the tent of parachute material, much of the fire’s light reflected back to them by the white cloth, and he studied it with some consternation, knowing that its glowing globe of light would show up like a beacon to anyone observing from higher ground—or flying overhead. Not a concern on a night like that one, terrain preventing observation from anywhere but the air and storm raging with too much fury for anything to be observing them from up there, but it was certainly something they would have to keep in mind for the future, a good reason to get a real, solid roof put on the place as quickly as they could, if they meant to stay very long at all.
Taking Will and sitting down cross-legged before the fire—cold now, wind seeming to have gone right through him--he watched in silence for a minute as Liz stirred something into her supper stew. The child was curious, wouldn’t sit still, and Einar finally had to release him. Toddling, tripping, he resorted to hands and knees as he quickly made his way over to his mother’s side, excitedly remarking over the fire. Which word, Einar noted, he had over a matter of mere weeks, taught himself to correctly pronounce. A good sign, he figured, when it came to the little one’s present and future intellectual abilities. Lots to teach him about the world. Starting, it appeared, with the very important lesson that one must not disturb his mother when she’s in the middle of making stew, and Einar rose, scooped him up.
“Hey now, you’ve got to wait until it’s done, just like the rest of us. What’s your big hurry, anyway? You hungry, or do you just like the smell?”
Will did not answer, displeased at being pulled away from the object of his attention, struggling to get free. Einar let him go, Will crawling a couple of feet back towards Liz, and the fire, before stopping to look back at his father as if asking, what are you going to do about it? Einar remained still, meeting Will’s eyes and shaking his head. Will stopped, looked away in defiance, but going no nearer the fire. Liz had watched the entire interaction with great interest, unsure how the two had come to their understanding, but sure that they had done so.
“Well, no need to wait too long, because supper’s almost ready! Grouse bones with a little meat left, some spruce needles for seasoning and a bunch of dried serviceberries I found clinging to bushes as we climbed up out of the canyon. Filled my pockets with them, and thought they’d go well in the stew.”
“Sure smells like it. Kind of like old times…seem to remember passing an entire winter once on stews of bear fat, wild meat and dried berries, with some spring beauty or avalanche lily roots added in, from time to time.”
“Yes, Will was grown on such stews, and he seems to have turned out quite well. Must have been just the right things for raising a bright, healthy mountain child. With more than his share of his father’s stubbornness, it looks like.”
“That comes from the wolverine meat!” And because he said it with a straight face Liz did not know whether Einar meant it seriously, or not, but either way was fine with her. Their son had certainly inherited a good deal of strength and perseverance from somewhere, and whatever the source or sources, she was glad to see it developing, as he would certainly need such qualities in the uncertain life that lay before him—and before them all. For the moment though, all uncertainty aside, they were together as a family, not under immediate threat of either capture by the enemy or destruction by the elements, and one could hardly ask more of life.
Stew was ready, and together they sat around the fire and ate their fill as overhead the wind rushed and howled through the evergreens, its force never reaching them there in the deep shelter of the tiny basin. Tomorrow, Einar thought to himself as he half-dosed over his cup of stew, it would be time to build a roof.
04 December, 2013
Storm raging on, Einar took time that day to improve their shelter situation, dragging over trees from the nearest area of deadfall and stacking them to create a windbreak on the uphill side, from which gusts seemed to come when on rare occasions they did find their way down into the depression which was sheltering them. Will riding in her parka hood, Liz helped him, the two of them kicking in unison in an effort to free frozen deadfall aspens from their places in the snow and, succeeding, each of them taking an end, hoisting the trees up and over snowdrifts and deadfall and finally skidding them down into the tiny basin for use in their shelter. It was hard work between the cold and challenges posed by the terrain, but Einar was glad to be doing it. The time had come, he’d decided, to stop moving for a while, and this place seemed better than any he’d seen since leaving Bud and Susan’s several weeks before.
Einar, stumbling slightly as he hoisted his end of yet another log over a fallen aspen—leg still hurt from his hard landing coming out of the plane--didn’t want to admit it, but he was tired, becoming increasingly unsure of his judgment if not of his ability to go on for as long as going was demanded. More than anything, he wanted a safe place where he could get Liz and little Will established even if temporarily, secure from the elements and with some provision made for their ongoing sustenance. The last few days, this need had seemed to take on an added urgency in his mind, to demand fulfillment even as circumstances seemed to be conspiring to keep them on the move, on the run, exiled from the canyon, the caves and from what had appeared a sure and long-lasting supply of meat. This odd little terrain feature, tucked away so discreetly on its all-but-impenetrable mountainside of solid timber, seemed perhaps an answer to his unspoken prayers. No time to lose. He had a shelter to build.
Sensing Einar’s urgency if not quite understanding it, Liz worked through the remainder of the day helping him move logs and stack them between the two firs which had supported the first several, their wall growing in height and its wind-stopping effect improving dramatically until even the stray gusts that occasionally found their way into the sheltered depression were almost entirely prevented from affecting those in the shelter. Pile a bit of snow against the windward side, stuff moss or usnea lichen into a few cracks between logs, and they would have the start to a nice, solid structure which might someday even become a cabin, of sorts.
Sometime near dusk, despite being greatly pleased with their progress so far and wanting very badly to continue the work, Einar found himself simply unable to lift another log, arms trembling when he tried, failing to comply with his demands. Liz saw, lowered her end of the log to the ground and went to him, taking him by the arm and urging him back towards the shelter. By the time they reached the place Einar could not stop his arms shaking no matter how hard he tried, the cold, Liz expected, but it didn’t feel like cold to him. Not that he could necessarily rely on the way things felt. He couldn’t feel much of anything, at all, and when Liz suggested he sit down and mind the fire for a minute, he did not object. Almost fell asleep there staring into the flames and trying to get his brain to cooperate so he could plan further steps which might need doing on their shelter, but returned abruptly to wakefulness when Will let out a squeal of delight at the sight of a pinecone exploding into flame.
On his feet and staring in some confusion at the child until he realized the origin of the outburst—a joyous one, he now saw—Einar shook his head, scrubbed a hand across his eyes and resolved to keep moving for a while, reserve sleep for some later time when all were tucked into their sleeping bags. For the moment work remained to be done, his first task—the idea had occurred to him during his sleepy reverie before the flames—being to stretch the parachute from the top of the stacked-log wall to the ground opposite it, thus creating for them a fairly large area in which snow would not fall. Though fairly well shielded by overhanging evergreen branches, any further reduction in snowfall would, he knew, help keep clothing, sleeping bags and other gear dry, and would be most welcome. First to find the chute, which he did, digging around in the drop bag and starting to unfold it. Though focused on this task the tremor in his arms would not leave him, a fact which he tried unsuccessfully to conceal from Liz by crossing his arms and appearing absorbed in studying the parachute every time she turned his direction. No success at all, Liz pausing in her own work—time to prepare a supper soup—to bring him a mug of hot water laced with honey and spruce needles, staying with him while he drank.
“What’s the idea with the parachute? Making us a tent?”
He nodded, hesitating to speak lest that come out all shaky, too, but she was staring at him, waiting for an answer.
“Tent, yes. Keep the snow out, some of the heat in. Have to leave an open space for the smoke. Kind of like a tipi, but different shape.” Good enough. Speech a little wobbly, perhaps, but she seemed to be understanding him. Understanding more than he’d thought, apparently.
“What’s wrong with your arms? Are you cold?”
“Maybe a little. Nothing wrong. Just worn out from carrying trees. Glad we got it done.”
“Me too! This place is almost cozy, and surely will be, before we get done. Are you thinking of staying here for a while, now that we’ve done all this work?”
“Was thinking about it. What do you say? Ready to try and settle down for a little while?”
01 December, 2013
Liz made the fire while Einar worked with numbed hands to pluck and prepare the grouse, everything still cold and uncoordinated, but success more or less his, and before long they were sitting together before the growing flames, Einar nearly as mesmerized as Will by them, and by the sight and smell of the roasting bird. The spot they had chosen after a somewhat hasty exploration of the tiny basin was proving to be a good one, nestled as it was up against the rise which concealed the place from the canyon and wider world, and nearly devoid of the blasting, scouring power of the wind which had been their lot since the arrival of the storm.
Einar, weary and cold as he had become after the long night and his two treks through the snow, might have fallen asleep while happily watching the grouse roast, had it not been for Will’s excited and almost-constant commentary on the event, and the urgent need to help Liz keep him from getting too close to the flames. Seemed the little one simply couldn’t resist the temptation of reaching for that bird, and even after stern correction by both parents, remained determined to try. Einar was still too cold and shaky to trust himself holding Will, but when he took up a position blockading the fire, body serving as a physical barrier against the child getting too close, Liz was glad, for she knew it meant he would be warming in a more timely manner than otherwise he might have allowed himself. Einar thawing and Will thoroughly captivated by the bird-roasting process, Liz took some time to put up the tarp to serve as heat-reflector and snow-barrier, her turn to do it, and she had the feeling they might be staying in that spot for some time, so best they have a bit of shelter.
Eating in earnest silence but with a tremendous appreciation for the hot meal, Einar and Liz all but finished the grouse, Will getting little nibbles here and there and very much enjoying the crispy, greasy piece of skin Liz gave him to gnaw upon, squealing with delight at its varied textures and delectable taste.
A bit steadier with some warm food in him and the wind blocked by surrounding terrain, Einar studied the place with a critical eye, inspecting the contours of surrounding timber and terrain for any advantage they might be expected to give either resident or invader, and finding the place to be good. Certainly a safe spot to pass a stormy day or two, and perhaps to settle or a longer period of time, as well. No need to decide just then. For the moment the storm was raging, snow and wind erasing all sign of their passage through the canyon, sweeping away the smoke from the little fire by which they warmed themselves, and everyone had a belly full of grouse. All things considered, a very good day. Not over yet, however, Einar remembering with a start that daylight had barely been creeping in when first he had left their old camp to go in search of a better place, day barely half spent, at most. Which left time to do more exploration before dark, and given energy by the infusion of protein, Einar found himself anxious to be up and moving. His mind, at least, was anxious, body slightly less so, as it informed him just as soon as he made an attempt at rising, limbs heavy and a weariness in him which would have lent itself far better to sleep than to exploration.
Well. Sleep could come later, and he rose, taking his leave of the fire and wandering first up one side of the steep slope that guarded their new shelter and then around the back, onto the slope of the mountain itself. No immediate sign of game animals, nothing out and stirring in the storm aside from a single scrawny mountain man, hair and beard already plastered white with blowing snow now that he was out of the deep shelter of the basin, and he stopped under a spruce, facing the wind as he shook snow from his hair and pulled up his hood. Cold. Wind seemed to be going right through him, chattering his teeth and knifing between his ribs despite the energy given him by the recent meal, but he did not much mind. Was used to it. Grouse. Let’s try and pay attention, here. You’re looking for more grouse. Almost always more when you find one, and even if we don’t need him today, would be nice to know if he’s available for the future. Too much snow to see droppings, though, and if the second bird was in the area, he wasn’t showing himself. Was probably all huddled down against the storm, like all the other sensible creatures. He laughed, gritted his teeth as a particularly forceful gust blew hard-edged snow crystals into his face, started off up the slope again.
Climbing and traversing until he’d gone all the way around the rim of the little basin Einar kept up his search for game, seeing, in a particularly sheltered spot beneath some timber, a half-drifted rabbit trail and a few trees that appeared to have been mangled by elk scraping velvet from their antlers, he decided to call it a day, return to camp and do more scouting when the storm had passed and creatures had once more begun moving about. Liz was glad of his decision, having stayed reluctantly behind to tend the fire and counting every minute that he was away, praying that he would not choose that day as a good one to go wandering and lose himself in the storm, again. Catching his breath after the constant blast and fury of the wind, Einar crouched silent beside the fire for a full minute before finally grinning up at Liz where she stood offering him a mug of warm broth from the pot of grouse bones she had been boiling down.
“Real unique place, this little dip in the ground where we’ve settled. Nothing else like it around here, just timbered slopes and a lot of deadfall. Didn’t see many tracks or anything, but figure we will after the storm. If we stay.”
“Do you want to stay?”
Einar shrugged. “Has its advantages, I guess. Real hard to travel through this stuff, as we found out yesterday and again this morning! So not too likely we’d ever be getting company of the two-legged variety, if we were to settle here for a while. Don’t know about water. Probably a seep or little spring of some sort up in the timber around here, but couldn’t really know that until we stumbled on it. Plenty of snow to melt for now, though.”
“It does feel pretty safe and secure here, compared to some of the places we’ve stayed lately. Maybe we could try it out. At least until the storm’s over, for sure…”
“Sure. I’ll go for that.”
“Great! Now will you please go for some of this broth, too, before you just sit there and freeze solid?”