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.