30 January, 2014

30 January 2013

Darkness heavy over the little basin but no one ready yet for sleep, Liz worked to coax snow into its liquid form over the flame of a single candle, the upper limit, Einar supposed, of what was safe as far as light and heat inside the shelter, with the possibility of that plane’s return.  Slow and painstaking was the process, Liz frequently stirring the icy slurry with a stick in the hopes of getting a bit more liquid on the bottom of the pot, knowing this would speed the melting process.  As it was, appeared they might each enjoy the benefit of a single small swallow of water before bed, hardly enough to go with the supper of jerky and dried fruit she had planned for them, let alone to help Einar, who always appeared to her to be a bit dehydrated, to stave off the creeping encroachment of hypothermia in the night. 

It was Einar who solved the problem for them, leaving the shelter and searching about in the night until he’d found, by feel more than by sight, a rocky area just below the ridge behind which their tiny basin was tucked.  Here, where wind and steepness had kept sections of granite exposed and free of snow, he found places where on wamner days water had seeped down the rock and frozen, leaving behind weird, twisted forms of solid ice.  Using his knife to break and free several of these small ice masses, Einar wrapped them in a cloth he had brought for the purpose, slung it over his back and returned to the shelter. 

Approaching, he was glad to see that almost no light leaked out from between the wall chinking, only a faint glow emanating from beneath the improvised door they had rigged of leftover aspen lengths, lashed together.  Nothing, he was reasonably confident, that would give away their position from the air.  Brushing the snow from his clothes and ducking inside, Einar slid the door back in place, tucking the parachute down under it in order to better seal out drafts.  Crouching over the candle, he opened the cloth and showed Liz the ice chunks, taking a minute to steady his breathing and do his best to stop shaking before attempting speech.

“Brought us some ice.  Won’t melt quite as fast as the snow, but it’ll give a lot more water.  Most water for the same amount of fuel, I mean.  Was gonna take forever to get much, melting snow over that candle.”

“I know.  Just didn’t realize there was any ice around.  This will help a lot!”

“You can have the first batch here, as soon as it’s done.  You got to have plenty to drink, or Will might end up short on food.  Don’t want to let yourself get behind.”

“You either.”

“Hey, I’m not producing food for a little guy…”

“You’re procuring food for all of us, though!  Like that rabbit yesterday.  And that moose meat you’re going to go retrieve for us, as soon as the planes stop coming…  So we’re going to split this water equally, ok?  I’ll make it into spruce needle tea, and we’ll split it.  It’ll be good to have a little something warm before bed.”

“Well, as long as you get enough that way.”

“I’ll get plenty.  Maybe we can melt snow on some black plastic tomorrow too, if it’s sunny.  Just to help keep our supply up.”

“Good idea.  Bud wrapped some of the stuff in the drop bag in heavy black plastic bags, and it doesn’t even take a very warm day to melt snow on one of those, so long as you sprinkle it on there pretty thin, and find a place where there’s full sunshine.  Might get a pint or so that way during the sunny part of the day, if we really keep after it.”

“Well, that’s a start.  Too bad there aren’t any creeks around here that we can use for water.”

“I’ll walk down to the canyon floor, if you’d like!”

“I don’t like!  Don’t like it at all.  That would be an awful lot of energy expended, just to get water…”

“Was mostly joking about that one, anyway.  Don’t want to be leaving tracks down into the canyon right now, not knowing what that plane was doing.  Better give it some time, and keep melting snow for our water for a little while.”

“Show me where the ice is tomorrow, and we can take turns getting it.  Was there much, or did you already get most of it?”

“Not sure.  It was too dark to tell just now, and I wasn’t paying it a lot of attention when I saw it earlier.  Just passed it while hauling trees, and kind of took note of it.  Have to go take a look when there’s more light.”

“Yes, it’s about time to turn in for the night, don’t you think?  Before it gets any colder in here…”

“Oh, I like it cold in here!”  She heard him move in the semi-darkness of the flickering candle, but did not discern his intentions quickly enough to dodge the pair of icy hands with which he soon found her.

“Hey!”  she half squealed, rolling away and pouring the accumulated wax from the candle to brighten its flame.  “Hands off until you’ve warmed up some.  I don’t like the cold nearly so well as you do, you know!”

“Well maybe you could learn to appreciate it more if you’d just…”

“Oh, no!  No you don’t!  Do I have to get the rabbit stick, or what?”

“Sure, if you must.”  They were both laughing by that point, Liz trying to hush Einar, and herself, half afraid that they would wake Will, but the little one slept soundly as they quickly made a few bedtime preparations, blew out the candle and slipped into the sleeping bag.

Some time later Liz could feel Einar’s restlessness, drew the bag more closely around his shoulders and tucked her own face inside for warmth.  “Are you thinking about that plane?”

“Yeah.  Thinking and listening.”

“Do you think you’ll be able to get any sleep?”

“Nah, probably not.   But it’s pleasant, listening to the sound of the wind in the spruces.  Neat how most of it goes right over us here, isn’t it?  Because of that little ridge in front of the shelter.”

“Yeah, and the rest is being pretty effectively blocked out by all those spruce needles we stuffed in the cracks between logs.  And by the parachute.  Pretty cozy place you’ve built here.”  But Einar did not answer; Liz could tell from his breathing that he was asleep.

27 January, 2014

27 January 2014

The remaining daylight hours passed in a blur of activity for Einar and Liz, Will crawling excitedly about the shelter as they worked to stuff spruce needles between upright wall timbers, chinking them against the wind and adding some insulation to the place.  Einar would stop frequently as they did this work, head tilted to one side and eyes raised skyward as if to help himself hear more effectively any distant hum of a plane engine, and then he would crouch, palms against the frozen soil that lay beneath their flooring of fir branches, feeling.  No distant rumble, no vibration in the ground, and every time upon rising he breathed a tempered sigh of relief, prayed that the situation might continue thus.

Walls chinked and insulated as well as could be done with spruce needles alone—could have done a more thorough job with several large buckets full of mud, but the season was all wrong for such endeavors—Einar set about trying to hang the parachute from the inside of the structure by way of a further wind barrier.  It would, he explained to Liz, trap a layer of still air between its upper surface and the ceiling of the place, would do the same for the walls, and this would go a long way towards insulating the shelter and making their fires, when they could have fire again, far more efficient.

There was to be no fire that day, though, Einar far too concerned about the return of the aircraft of the appearance of others to want to risk smoke or heat, and though Liz and Will were doing just fine in the absence of flame, Einar began struggling a bit as the sun went down and all the meager warmth of the day dissipated into the high, clear sky.

Returning from yet another sojourn outside to listen for aircraft, Einar sat with arms crossed and knees pressed together, cold and trembling but trying not to let Liz know about it, weary but resigned, mind on the possible return of that plane and what it would mean, rather than on his current situation.  Liz, though also concerned about the plane, was more urgently worried about Einar, and how she was to get him into that sleeping bag.  Even if she couldn’t see him in the inky darkness that had eased its way into the shelter with the coming of dusk, she could certainly hear him, his lack of words and the whistling and puffing of his breaths in the cold, and she did not like it.

“Don’t you want to join me in here?  Will’s all cozy and taking a nap in the other bag so there’s plenty of room…”

He smiled.  “Later.  Don’t want to…fall asleep now and if I get all warm and…”  he shrugged, words not coming very easily, hoping she would get the idea.

“Doesn’t it hurt though, to just sit there shaking like that with everything rattling together?  I mean, with your bones so near the surface, and all.  You’re going to end up all bruised and sore, I would think.”

“Guess that could be one way to describe it.”

“How do you describe it?”


“Interesting.  Well.  I just wish there was some way for you to be warmer.”

“Oh, you know I’ve never minded being cold.  Sometimes…prefer it, really.”

“Yes, I know that’s true.  But would like you to be able to stay a little warmer than this, just because when you’re like this, your body uses so much energy trying to warm itself up, and that’s all energy it can’t put towards other things.  Like fueling your brain and muscles so you stay alive.  And starting to add a little weight, here and there.”

Einar supposed she had a point, of sorts, but knew also that the temperature inside the shelter was to be the least of their problems, as time went on.  While he had hoped to locate a spring or seep once the snow melted—should they find themselves able to stay so long—the fact remained that they presently had no water source up there in the tiny basin save the snow itself, which of course required heat in some form if they wanted it in liquid form.  Several candles that had come with the supplies in the drop bag seemed to provide the only real option short of taking bottles of snow to bed with the and hoping they might see some melting by morning—didn’t sound like such a bad idea to Einar, but he figured Liz would object—and as if hearing his thoughts, Liz began searching for them. 

“We need to be working on melting snow, don’t we?”

“Yep.  One way or another.  Gonna be without fire or a couple days at least, until we can be pretty sure the plane’s not coming back…or bringing friends…and probably not the best plan to go without water for that long.”

“No!  We’ve used a candle before.  And bearfat lamps…remember that?”

“Sure, I remember that.  Good times, those were.  Except for the doggone air search that was hounding us all the time, anyway.  That wasn’t so good.  Real glad to be out from under that.  Hope we can keep it that way.”

“There’s no reason they should suspect we’re anywhere near this area, really.  None that I can think of.  That plane was probably just some sightseers or hunters looking at the canyon, or the wildlife folks trying to find and inventory a moose or two.”

“Hope they don’t find and inventory our moose!  That’d mean trouble, for sure…”

“No way they can spot it from the air, and it sure wasn’t wearing a radio collar or anything, so I don’t think we need to worry!”

“Hope not.  Really want to go back for that meat someday.  If we get to stay in the area.  Would feed us for an awful long time, and if we leave it as things start warming up, we’re gonna lose it all to the flies, real fast.”

“That would be a terrible waste.”

“Yep.  We can talk about going back, maybe come up with a plan that makes sense, but we’ve got to wait out these planes first, make sure they’re not gonna make a regular habit of buzzing the canyon.”

23 January, 2014

23 January 2014

Einar and Will did not get far in their exploring, Einar brought up short under a cluster of closely-growing firs when a faint and indefinable sense of unease that had been growing in him since leaving the shelter finally revealed its source.  The plane was a small single engine, moving slowly and so low down between the canyon walls that it had approached much more nearly than otherwise would have been possible before being heard.   Though reason told him that the plane’s presence was most likely unrelated to their own, long habit and the instincts of a hunted man sent him to the ground at the base of one of the stoutest of the little trees, Will sheltered beneath him.

Coming straight at them now, and as Einar lay face down in the icy fir needles with Will sheltered beneath his body, he prayed that Liz’s fire would have died down sufficiently by then as to not be putting out any smoke, not too much heat, should the plane be part of some search and equipped with infrared…  Twisting, turning himself on the ground he craned his neck in an attempt to get a look back at the area of the shelter, scanning for smoke but seeing nothing.  Good, but not terribly reassuring, as the density of the timber around him was almost certain to prevent his catching a glimpse, even should a pillar of smoke stand black and betraying above the place. 

Will was squirming, wanting to be free, but Einar kept hold of him, met his eyes and was somewhat surprised when the little one responded to something in his gaze by falling still, eyes suddenly big, silent, afraid, so that for a fleeting moment Einar hated that he had to grow up this way, always running, always with something to fear.  The thought passed very quickly, swallowed up by the reality of the plane’s presence and the fact that it was even then circling back, passing no more than three hundred feet above his head before dropping down once more between the canyon walls. 

Plane gone for the moment Einar lost no time getting to his feet, Will pressed to his chest as he scrambled out from beneath the firs that had sheltered them, scanning the great, silent arc of the sky for any hint of that plane’s return, but hearing nothing.  Saw no smoke, either when after several minutes he’d worked his way up to the little rise overlooking the shelter, and found the lack of visible sign encouraging, if not entirely reassuring.  Were plenty of other signs for the to see, had they been looking, unusual track patterns left in the snow, the residual heat which would undoubtedly be emanating from the area of the shelter, even if the fire itself had been out, and he just hoped the people in that plane hadn’t seen, because they had not been looking.  Had to hope.

The thought of running, of really covering ground the way they would have to do if they had been discovered, was rather daunting to Einar just then, all that downed, snow-covered timber surrounding them and his leg still far from normal after the way he’d twisted it landing that jump.  Thing would more or less support his weight when he really gritted his teeth and ignored the pain, as he had been doing during the construction of the shelter, but its capacity for speed remained somewhat limited, to put it lightly.  Frustrated with the fact, he shifted all his weight to the injured limb by way of test, stumbling and nearly losing his hold on Will when the leg folded beneath him.  Tried again, with the same result.  

Yeah.  Looks like I’m not doing a lot of running anytime soon.  Nothing wrong with my ability to lead folks into an ambush and shoot straight and true once they fall for it, though.  So looks like that’ll be my part of this, if they end up coming.  Create one heck of a distraction while Liz and you, little one, disappear into the timber…

Through the timber, then, Einar traveled, taking longer than he strictly would have done in returning to the shelter, in the interest of leaving fewer tracks and making certain he was never far from terrain and vegetation which would offer cover should the plane return, and when finally he reached the shelter, it was to find it empty, Liz nowhere in sight.  Softly he called for her, hoping she was hiding nearby, dismissing the thought—very real in the moment—that perhaps he was misunderstanding the entire thing, missing the fact that men were already on the ground and had taken Liz, that the child’s only chance was for him to turn and seek safety in the timber, to flee…

Liz coming, he heard her—or someone with a very similar gait to hers—moving cautiously over the snow, crouched low with Will until he could get confirmation, get a good look.  There she was, stepping out of the timber—boots in some of their old tracks, and he could not help but admire her instincts her efforts to avoid leaving new sign—and heading right for him.  He went to her.

“Fire out?”

“Yes, it’s been out.  I let it go a while ago, so there shouldn’t have been any smoke.  You don’t think they were…?”

“Looking for us?  Don’t see how, really.  We’re so far from our last known location.  But if somebody let something slip, or if those towers really did have something to do with us, and they saw something interesting as we made our way up the canyon…”

“It’s probably just some hunters, you know.  Or the Division of Wildlife.  Scouting for moose.  We know there are moose down there, and they probably know, too.  Maybe they’re trying to keep track of them, ahead of calving season, something like that.”

“Well, it is about that time of year, isn’t it?  Just a month or so from now.”

The conversation ended there, plane suddenly making a reappearance over the trees, its approach masked until the last minute by the canyon walls and timber so that it was almost upon the before they had any inkling of its presence.  Together they dived beneath the nearest tree, Einar hugging its trunk as he reflexively sheltered Will with his body, Liz pressed close beside him.  The plane did not circle, banking instead against the high ridge above them and angling off away from the canyon and disappearing into the distance, this time gone, Einar was pretty sure, for good.  Or at least for the time.  He rose, handing Will to his mother and only then realizing that he was shaking, one hand on his knife and eyes scanning the surrounding timber in a repeating loop, far horizon and then closer woods, searching out anywhere an enemy could be hiding and half surprised when he spotted none.  Liz was watching him, seeming more concerned about his reaction to the plane than to the aircraft, itself.

“Think it’s gone?”

He looked startled at the question, almost as if he’d forgotten she was there with him.  “Sure.  For now.  Left pretty high, heading over the ridge.  Don’t think it’s coming back anytime real soon.”

“So we can stay here?”

Einar sighed, shook his head.  “Don’t have a real solid reason to leave.  Better just lay low for a while, keep an eye on things and hope they don’t make a regular habit of this.  Meantime, better hold off on having any more fires, just in case they should end up coming back over in the night when there’s even more contrast, temperature-wise.”

22 January, 2014

22 January 2014

Folks, once again I must apologize for not having a chapter ready.  Going to have to have a little more discipline, here, and get back to the regular posting schedule.

Thanks very much for your patience...

19 January, 2014

19 January 2014

Work on the shelter walls went fairly quickly the following morning, Einar going out before breakfast to collect a load of the timbers they would need, Liz helping him shorten and place some of them while the stew simmered.  Already the place was feeling more enclosed, warmth of the fire lingering longer than it had done while held in by the parachute alone and force of the wind—when it managed to gust or draft thinly down into the protected little mountainside basin which held the shelter—greatly reduced.  The spot was really showing some promise, and Liz was excited to see the shelter finished.  But not before breakfast, for the stew, carefully assembled from the few bits of remaining moose meat, a few dried rosehips she’d found clinging to brambles on the basin’s edge and the bones of Einar’s rabbit, cracked for their marrow, was ready.

Einar, somewhat predictably, did not want to stop work to eat, would have happily gone on placing and securing upright timbers until the job was finished, but Liz—only half-joking about resorting to the rabbit stick if he didn’t listen—insisted they take a break, and Einar sat down with her to eat.  Was feeling a bit ornery that morning, out of sorts after a night of rather vivid dreams and wanting very much to assert himself by refusing food for a day or two, but he knew he’d simply have to find some other way to get through the difficulty, that time.  Had to eat, and not just because Liz wanted him to do it.  Could feel, even after several days of better and more consistent nutrition, that his body was rather closer to the edge than it had been for some time, a deep chill in his bones and a heaviness in his limbs which left hands, feet and legs seizing up at the most inconvenient of moments and seemed at times certain to stop him in his tracks, and he knew that not only had he better keep on eating if he wanted to stay around, but had better be careful how he did it.  Could hardly afford another bout, just then, of the sort of difficulties that had in the past left him struggling even to breathe, after a while, as his body had a hard time adjusting to the availability of more food after an extended period without.  Could feel himself right on the edge of it there lately, even eating the way he had been.  But the soup—all protein and fat, just what he needed—ought to be just fine, and with Liz being quietly insistent, he dug in.

Slowly enjoying his soup, Einar stared at the ceiling, setting aside his spoon and remaining motionless for so long that Liz began wondering what could have caught his attention.  “Soon as we get the walls finished, what do you say we hang the parachute on the inside like a sort of tapestry, the way we discussed?  Sure would brighten things up for you, reflect a lot of light from the fire and make it easier to work in there after dark.”

“Sure!  It’ll be good for insulation, too, and really cut down on the drafts that come in.”

“Yep.  Nothing wrong with making things more efficient, firewood wise.  Though the occasional draft isn’t gonna do the little guy any harm, either.  Help make him tough.”

“Oh, I don’t think there’s too much danger of him coming out any way but tough, living this life!”  And I wasn’t so much thinking of Will’s benefit when it comes to preventing drafts as I was yours, anyway…though I’d better not be telling you that, had I?  Or you’ll just have to go out and sleep on a snowy boulder every night for a week or something, just to prove me wrong!

Still not done with his soup—looking for any excuse to finish, aren’t you, Liz silently speculated—Einar rose and measured with his arms the distance from one end of the ceiling to the other, figuring how best to stretch and attach the parachute for maximum coverage and working out a means by which the material could even be doubled up in some places to provide better wind stoppage and insulation where wall joined roof and drafts were most likely to originate.  Liz was impressed, but still wouldn’t go help him finish the stacking of uprights for the wall until he’d finished his soup.  So, he did.

Discovering that they did not have enough small trees, even when cut to length, to fully enclose both walls, the two of them went after more, Einar doing most of the finding and Liz helping to carry.  She would have done more of the searching and choosing, herself, had Will not decided with a seemingly unshakable certainty that he’d already spent more than enough time on her back for one morning, and absolutely must be free to crawl and totter about the ground without further delay.  She tried talking to him, singing, narrating for him every step she took and pointing out interesting objects in the timber, but none of it worked, and before long he was wailing and struggling so that she could barely keep her balance.

“Will!  What is it?  I know you can’t be hungry, because you just ate fifteen minutes ago.  Are you really in such a hurry to go somewhere?  What’s going on?”

Silent for a moment at the vehemence of her questions, the child arched his back and strained to be free of the hood-carrier, resuming his vocal protests when it became clear that his mother had no immediate plans to set him down in the snow as he wished.

Meanwhile Einar heard the ruckus and hurried her direction with two aspen poles on one shoulder and another tucked beneath his arm.  “What’s the matter with him?  Got his clothes wet, or something?”

“No, that’s not it.  He’s your son, Einar, and probably wouldn’t mind being cold and wet nearly as much as he minds being confined.  He wants down, that’s what he wants!  Wants to explore, and for some reason it’s become an emergency all of a sudden.”

“Well, why not let him out and explore?”

“Because I’m trying to help you finish brining in these wall timbers…”

“Didn’t say you needed to go explore.  Just let him do it.  You can keep working on timbers.”

“He’s eight months old!  I’m not going to leave him all by himself while we get timbers!”


“You know, it’s too bad Muninn wasn’t able to come with us.  He’s probably be a proficient baby-sitter by now, would keep an eye on Will and alert us if he started getting into any trouble.”

Einar was quiet for a minute.  “Yeah, kind of miss that bird.  Wonder what he’s up to, anyway?  Maybe watching Bud and Susan’s place for them, serving as living, breathing backup to Bud’s driveway alarm…”

“Probably.  I imagine he’s happy, but do wish he was still here with us.  He and Will seemed to get along pretty well, and I know the two of you had a special understanding.”

“Yep.  Always did tend to have more of an understanding with the less-human sorts of critters in this world…”

“Hey now, what does that make me?  Want me to get that rabbit stick, or what?”

Laughing, Einar loosened the wide buckskin strap that secured Will in his hood-pouch, lifted the child out and balanced him on his hip.  “I wasn’t talking about you, and you know it!  Now, how about Will and I go explore for a while, get it out of his system, and then we can finish that wall?”

18 January, 2014

18 January 2014

I don't have a chapter for today, but will tomorrow.

Have been processing and freezing mountain lion meat all afternoon, from a big 150lb male cat that was shot not too far above the place, here.

Here you can see the size of his paw, in relation to a human hand:

Thank you all for reading!

15 January, 2014

15 January 2014

Fueled by frequent snacks of roasted ants—little Will liked the things every bit as well as his father, and kept sneaking in to snatch a fistful from the roasting rock, until Liz realized what was happening and put them up—Einar and Liz stacked the roof timbers, creating a solid foundation for the mat of spruce duff and branches which would eventually provide insulation and waterproofing to the structure.  Einar did not want to stop there, emptying everything out of the drop bag and going from evergreen to evergreen and digging down the snow in search of the piles of dry needles with which he hoped to thatch the roof.  Some of the trees were too packed in with windblown snow to offer much in the way of needles, but beneath those with wider, denser canopies he found spots where little snow at all had accumulated, and here he worked to fill the bag with needles, hauling it out when full and dumping it at the bottom of the slanted roof timbers.

Liz prodded the pile with the toe of her boot, impressed that he had been able to retrieve so much nearly-dry material from beneath the snow.  “Want me to start stacking the stuff while you go for another load?”

“Sure!  Start at the bottom of the roof if you don’t mind, at the ground level, then when you get to the top overlap some of it onto the wall.  That’ll help shed water when things thaw, and especially later when it starts raining.”

“Raining!  It’ll be a while, but I hope we’re still here then.  It would be nice to settle down for a while.”

“Hard to say where we’ll be by the time rain comes, but might as well be ready for it.  Haven’t really been here long enough to get a good sense of what this place will be like, trapping and hunting-wise, but it sure is well concealed and off the beaten path.  Don’t mind traveling some for game, if everything else is favorable.”

“No, I don’t mind that either.  Maybe best not to be in a spot that has it all, because that might attract other people, even if just at hunting season.  The less of that we have to worry about, the better!”

With a nod of agreement Einar was off to fill the drop bag with a second load of spruce needles, Liz starting at the bottom as she began thatching the roof, working her way up and trying her best to overlap rows of needles, picturing how water would flow and aiming to get it to flow to the ground and away, instead of seeping into the shelter.  She wasn’t sure how well it would work, wished they had some aspen or cottonwood bark shingles to put over the improvised thatch, but supposed that could come later.  For the moment it was far too cold and snowy for moisture intrusion to be an immediate concern.  They just needed to get a sturdy roof over their heads, and one which would satisfy Einar as far as keeping the light and heat from their nighttime fires inside, and away from the prying eyes of anyone who might be passing in the sky.  Already she had sensed his unease at having fires in the place on non-stormy nights, and she wanted to avoid, if at all possible, a decision on his part that they would have to do without except during rough weather.  Though starting to eat more and looking like he really might keep at it, this time, she knew he would need all the energy he could consume simply to hold his ground and to hopefully begin rebuilding his body a bit.  Wouldn’t do to have him spending it without fire for any significant length of time.  The insulated roof, she hoped, would prevent any such need, and greatly reduce the amount of wood it would take to heat the little shelter, too.

Roof all thatched after four trips on Einar’s part and a good deal of work by Liz, the two of them stood inspecting their work, Einar nodding in satisfaction.  “Ought to shed some water, looks like.  Real nice job.”

“Do you think it’ll stay in place though, with nothing to hold it, or will it just slowly slide to the ground?”

“Oh, it’ll move some, especially if we get a big wind when there’s no snow on top to hold it down.  A network of branches, even some live spruce boughs set over everything would really help secure it in place.  What do you say we go cut some?”

They went, choosing trees some distance from the shelter and taking only one bough from each, not wanting to do anything to decimate the natural cover and protection afforded by the tangle of evergreens which surrounded them.  Branches in place and the sun near to setting, they retreated into the shelter to enjoy the results of their day’s work.  A good, solid roof overhead, stout wall behind them, and Liz began unpacking their things as Einar prepared the evening’s fire.

“Guess we can start putting up walls tomorrow, to fill in the sides?”  Liz speculated.

“Yep.  Will be a lot like the cabin up in the basin, when we get it done.  Can do upright aspens, just like we did there.  What do you say, should we leave a little window, this time?”

“Oh, I’d like that!  Something with a closeable shutter so we can let light in during the day, but secure it against…oh, bears and bobcats and things, at night and when we’re away.”

Einar smiled.  “Yeah, good idea.  Though no bear or bobcat in its right mind would face off against a determined mountain woman and her rabbit stick, would he?  No, sure don’t think so!”

“Hey, that reminds me…you’d better be finishing up this leftover moose stew, so I can have the pot to make some supper in.  Unless you do want to find yourself on the wrong end of my rabbit stick, that is!”

“Hey, that’s not your rabbit stick, it’s my rabbit stick!  Found it while I was out looking for that rabbit.”

“Well, looks like I’ve appropriated it for the moment!  So, which will it be?  Pre-dinner snack, or Wrath of the Rabbit Stick?”

“Oh, good as your stew is, rabbit stick sounds like more of an adventure, so guess I’ll just have to go with that…”  And he laughed, keeping quite still when Liz swung at him instead of dodging as she had anticipated, which meant that he took a rather solid hit to the shoulder before she could interrupt her swing.

Einar was still laughing as Liz helped him up, brushed the snow from his clothes and tried to make sure he was alright, shaking his head and saying something about how he never had known her to miss anything she aimed at with rabbit stick, atlatl or bow, and probably never would see the day.  “And now guess I’m going to have to help out with the stew anyway, aren’t I?  Since you’re still needing that pot emptied for supper…”

To which she answered only with a bit of an exaggerated scowl and a playful shake of the rabbit stick, as she handed him the stewpot and settled beside him with Will on her lap.

14 January, 2014

14 January 2014

No chapter for tonight, but I will have one ready for tomorrow.

Thank you all for your patience!

11 January, 2014

11 January 2014

When Liz saw the nature of the surprise Einar had waiting for her back at the shelter, she half-regretted insisting that she help him get that final tree home, thereby expediting the trip.  Large winged ants, even if roasted as he was suggesting, hardly constituted her vision of the ideal snack—at least not so long as anything else was even remotely available.  Something about the wings, the multitude of little legs and the way the things would surely crack and crunch when she bit them…well, it would not be the first time she had eaten insects, and as Einar had pointed out those other times, it was just protein.  Fairly highly concentrated protein at that, and no way was she going to act anything less than excited about any food source Einar happened to bring in, just then.  He was trying, and she could try, along with him.  Still, the half-dormant little creatures, beginning to wake and wiggle a bit in the warmth of the shelter, did not strike her as terribly appetizing, and she wished there might be some way to stick to the leftover rabbit and moose stew. 

Will possessed no such reservations, watching the winged ants in fascination and, after seeing his father snack on a few, whole-heartedly throwing himself into the hunt.  Fingers nimble and eyes not too far from the ground, Will proved a better snatcher and eater of insects than either of his parents might have anticipated, Einar finally stepping in much to Liz’s relief and pulling him away from the log before he could entirely decimate its population of large winged ants.  While she did not mind his trying one or two—the ability not only to forage but to eat and enjoy the results of said scavenging was, after all, essential to the life which lay ahead of him—it seemed wise to limit the little one’s first taste to a few insects only.  Especially seeing as he was relatively new to the consumption of solid foods, in the first place. 

Liz shook her head, corner of her mouth turning up at the sort of conversation she imagined mothers must have with one another down there in civilization, as they wheeled their too-clean, almost-sterile little children around the neighborhood in monstrous contraptions of plastic and steel which precluded the necessity—and greatly reduced the likelihood—of any actual frequent human contact between mother and child…  What was your baby’s first solid food?  They would ask.  Yogurt?  Applesauce?  Mushed up sweet potatoes out of a little jar?  And she would stop and think for a moment, maybe adjusting Will’s position in her parka hood before responding, oh, let’s see…was it a little taste of raw rabbit liver that his father gave him after a successful hunt, or some fresh moose marrow that he gnawed out of a bone we gave him to play with?  One or the other, but I can’t remember for sure which came first.  

At which time the other mothers—silly, civilized creatures—would open their eyes wide and make exaggerated gagging faces and go away before she even had time to mention that if you mean really solid stuff though, stuff that requires teeth, I guess it would be the time his father brought home an old aspen log and was going to use it as part of the roof, but changed his mind when he discovered that it was all full of tasty, crunchy winged ants, snacking ants, and Will got to pick those out of the rotting wood with his fingers and try them… 

The Civilized Ladies were running by that point, tripping over one another in a mad dash for their strollers in whose Giant Cargo Compartments lay large stocks of Hand Sanitizer, Chemical Wipes, Germ Spray and all the other barriers with which they sought to prevent the slightest contact between their pampered offspring—poor pale things with their underdeveloped immune systems and stunted senses of adventure—and anything real or dirty in the world…  Liz, laughing aloud, handed Will another ant, munched a few herself.  Surely it couldn’t be so bad as all that, even down there in civilization. Could it…?

Einar was staring at her, glint in his eye and a hint of a crooked smile as he wondered what she could be carrying on about, and what could have led to such a dramatic and sudden change in her attitude towards the waking, wriggling snack in the aspen log.

“Well, better get on with roasting those things…unless you’ve really taken a liking to them that way, and would prefer leaving them raw!”

“Oh no, no need to do that.  I’m sure they’re better roasted like you were saying.  But you know, they’re not bad at all just like this!  They taste kind of like…almonds.  With a little hint of licorice.”  She took a few more.  “I could certainly eat them just like this.”

“Almonds with licorice.  Never heard bugs described that way before, but guess I do see what you mean.  The licorice flavor would come from the formic acid that all ants have to one degree or another.  It’s ok to have some of it, but too much wouldn’t be good, so best to cook anything in the ant family if you’re really going to eat it in quantity.  Heat neutralizes the acid.”

“It neutralizes the…” laughing again, tried hard to choke it back, not wanting Einar to think she was laughing at him, but she couldn’t help herself, thinking again of her imagined conversation with the Other Mothers, and how they would react to her telling that one must boil ants to neutralize the acid, before consuming any significant quantity.  She was in tears by then, laughing too hard to stop, and Einar, somewhat confused, just shook his head, stirred up the fire and set a flat rock to heat for roasting the ants.

“If I’d known winged ants gave you such delight, I would have done my best to come up with some sooner…”

Which set her to laughing all over again.  “Oh, it’s not the ants!  It’s just…” she took him in her arms, startling him by squeezing so hard that he was pretty sure it bruised his backbone, but he didn’t care.  “We really are blessed to be out here living this life together, you know?  You, me and young Snorri, here. There’s nowhere I would rather be. Nowhere I’d rather have him grow up.”

Einar just smiled, offered her a handful of ants, by then roasted a nice golden brown.  “If you thought they tasted like almonds before, just try them now…  Gonna be pleasantly surprised.”

08 January, 2014

8 January 2014

Einar had his trees, all three of them, choosing carefully and glad to find that one of the trio had so rotted at its base as to be fairly easily pushed down, instead of chopping.  The other two he had to chop, brow furrowed in concentration—strengthen my arms, guide my hands—as he sought to send the ax true and avoid slipping, hitting a glancing blow and taking a slice out of his leg.  Succeeded, felling first on and then the other of the dry-dead trees, one already grey-bleached in the sun, bits of inner bark hanging from it in shreds, but otherwise bare.  A good, solid tree, Einar expected, for the ravages of sun and wind would have gone a long way towards preventing rot and keeping it sound inside.  Inside that last tree though, he found something a bit unusual.  Instead of the solid grey wood he had expected to find, the tree’s core was mottled with black, wood dry and seeming as sound as ever, but riddled with passages which were half filled with bits of chewed-up wood.  

Chopping a piece of the end for further inspection he found that some of the passages were filled with the fast-asleep and very sluggish members of a large family of what looked like some sort of winged ants, though Einar could not immediately identify the species.  In any case, the tree no longer seemed the best choice for a roof timber, but he did know what to do with the antlike creatures.  Shaking three or four of the half-inch insects out onto his hand he inspected them briefly—not the first time he’d eaten such things, nor the first continent on which he had done so—and popped them into his mouth, chewing with satisfaction.  Yes, definitely worth having!

Hauling the tree downed trees back to the shelter in succession, Einar last brought the one infested with what were over the following days to come to be known around camp as “snack ants,” little beasties all peacefully sleeping their winter sleep, unaware of the doom with which they were about to meet.  “Got to go back for one more tree,” he shouted over his shoulder to Liz as he turned to go.  “This one’s got extras…”

“Extra what?” she called after him, but he was already gone, anxious to finish his work before too much of the day could pass—still had to stack the things, after all, get some sort of a roof over their heads, even if the process wasn’t completed that day—or before his legs would choose to give out and stay that way, and he knew it was anyone’s guess which would come first.  Ah, best not to give it too much thought, he told himself.  Only slow you down.  Now.  One more tree.  Wasn’t there one up there in that little grove of firs that looked promising when you passed it, before?  

Seeming to remember such a tree he made the short climb, glancing amongst the dark forms of the dense, low-growing firs until he spotted the single resident aspen, long-dead, remnant, no doubt of a small group that had grown there at some time in the past.  The tree was not terribly sound at its base, as Einar could tell by pushing on an area several feet above and seeing how the tree swayed up top, restless, moving a bit too far, possible, perhaps, to push over, given enough effort.  Einar tried, slow, steady shove and then, when he could not take that far enough, tried rocking the tree, attempting to build up the momentum which would hopefully carry it a bit too far out of balance on one end of one of the swings, snap whatever rotten root still held it in place, and bring it down.  But with no success.  Well.  That’s what the axe was for, and he used it, brought the little tree down in pretty short order.  Not as short as he would have liked, but at least he hadn’t sliced off any extremities in the process.  So that was something for which to be thankful, and he was, bracing himself against the fallen tree and struggling to slow his breathing, take measure of the job before him. 

Not a terribly large tree, as aspens went, nor an especially heavy one, considering the number of years it had surely been sitting there in the harsh, high altitude sun losing moisture, but when he crouched down and attempted to lift it to one shoulder, Einar could see that none of these factors were to prove adequate when it came to his ability to carry the thing that way.  Going nowhere.  Tried again despite that knowledge, results the same, and he supposed he’d have to go about it a different way, drag the thing, chop it in half, something to slightly redistribute the load.  Dragging the tree, he knew, though possible, would prove a slow and laborious process considering all the downed evergreens he’d have to work the thing up and over.  Much as he might have liked such a challenge at times, he really just wanted to be done, get the tree home so he could start assembling that roof.  Which meant chopping it roughly in half, and he positioned himself beneath one end of the fallen trunk, prepared to lift and prop it for chopping.  But, he never got the chance.

Liz had followed him, had left him to himself for a while, sensing that he would appreciate some time alone, but was now beginning to grow concerned, as it seemed no sooner had he finished one task that he managed to set another for himself and go at it with equal enthusiasm and determination, leaving her to wonder where it would ever end.  Perhaps he had no intention of allowing himself ever to be done, meant in one way or another to make up for the “extra” he’d finally allowed himself to begin eating, and keep working until he quite literally dropped.  She wouldn’t put it past him to try some such design, even if not entirely consciously or with full intent, and she hoped somehow to be able to interrupt it, if that was indeed the course on which he found himself currently embarked.  Will on her back, she stepped out of the firs.

“Looks like you’ve found the last tree, there.”

Einar had heard them coming, wearily looked up but allowed a slow grin to creep across his face at the sight of little Will, mittened hands peeking out from beneath the fur ruff on Liz’s parka hood and grasping the supple little twig of a nearby fir with such force that it had brought his mother up short.  “Will seems to think we need that one, too.  Look!  He’s got it all picked out.”

She laughed, gently tried to free the branch from his hands and when she could not, broke it off and let him keep it.  “When he’s old enough to drag them home, he gets to start picking out trees.  I’m sure it won’t be long, the way he’s growing!  In the meantime, he’ll simply have to make do with whatever we bring home, won’t he?  And it looks like you’ve got the last one we needed to finish the leaning part of the roof.  Can I help you carry it?  Maybe if we each take one end, we won’t have to cut it in half or anything.

Einar gave a silent sigh, had wanted to do the job himself, and had just about finished forming a plan for doing so, too but now here she was and it would be slightly absurd not to let her help.  Remembering something, he flashed a sudden grin, squirmed out from beneath the tree and got as hastily as he was able to his feet.

“Sure, let’s try that.  It’s time to be getting on home, anyway.  I’ve got a surprise waiting for you there!”

07 January, 2014

7 January 2014

Nothing for tonight, but I'll be back with a chapter tomorrow.

Thanks to all of you who are reading!

04 January, 2014

4 January 2014

Between Liz’s moose stew and the hard-earned rabbit which Einar roasted over the fire with delightfully aromatic and crisp-edged results, no one was wanting for breakfast that morning.  Even little Will got to try out some of his new teeth on bits of roasted rabbit skin and meat.  This clearly met with his approval, he hoisting himself to his feet and clinging with one hand to a knot in one of the logs on the back wall while waving a bit of crispy rabbit skin in the other, babbling loudly with all the words he knew, and quite a few that he did not. 

Einar understood anyway, joining in Will’s regalement of delight as he swept the little one up in his arms to dance around the fire, the two of them carrying on in their own ways about the wonders of moose stew and roast rabbit, the joys of half-completed shelter in a new place far from the watchful eyes of their pursuers, the wonder of life itself, hopping and stomping circles around the flames until Einar was out of breath and the child was laughing aloud.

Stepping in to catch Einar before he fell, Liz took Will from his arms and watched in delight as the little one whirled himself around in a circle on hands and knees, shaking his head and babble-singing in continued delight, his half-intelligible cacophony of words and sounds finally dissolving in another peal of laughter.  Liz scooped him up, set him on the sleeping bag where he would be a bit farther from the fire, should he continue with his wild carryings-on.

“What is with you two?  The stew wasn’t that good, was it?  Or was it the rabbit?”

“Both, I guess!  But he sure was moving like a rabbit, wasn’t he?  Hopping and jumping around like that.  Ought to be on his feet and running before too long, if he can move that way.  Climbing trees, cliffs, swinging from the tops of spruces…”

“Oh, no!  I’m not in any great hurry for that time, though I know it’s coming!  It will be good to have him able to move on his own, and especially good when he doesn’t have to be carried everywhere anymore, but if he has anything like his father’s sense of adventure, I can’t imagine how I’ll be able to keep up with him!”

“Oh, I’ll help.  I’ll take him adventuring with me sometimes, get him out of your hair.”

“That’s what I was afraid of!”

“Aw, come on.  My adventures always turn out alright in the end…  I’m still here, anyhow.”

Liz sighed.  “Yes, you are.  I can’t very well dispute that.”

“Nope!  Not going to be here for long, though.  Not right here, at least, because I’m going out to work on that roof.  Want to join me?”

“Sure!  It’ll be good to have something more solid over our heads.  Will make it seem more like we’re really staying.”

“Will be good not to have that big, glowing globe of parachute material over our heads at night too, now that the storm has cleared out.  Too much risk of someone seeing that—from the air if not from land.  Think we’re pretty well hidden from land.  From the canyon and anywhere people are likely to be, at least.  But from the air…was thinking a lot about that last night, thinking we really shouldn’t have any more fires in here in clear weather, until we get that parachute covered.”

“Well, let’s get to it!  First step is to take down the parachute I guess, so it doesn’t interfere with putting up the logs?”

“Yes.  Can put it back up later, once the roof is done.  Will make things brighter in there because of how it’ll reflect the firelight, and trap a good layer of air for insulation, too.”

Working together they took down and rolled the parachute, Liz stashing it in a corner of the shelter and doing her best to put away or at least cover their other possessions in the hopes of preventing them from ending up all covered with aspen bark and snow during the building process.  Despite having increasing trouble keeping his legs under him as the morning went on—muscles just kept giving out, dumping him on the ground—Einar cheerfully launched himself into the roof-building project while Liz took care of things in the shelter, sorting the aspens they’d hauled in for that purpose, shortening a few with the ax so they would all be similar lengths and leaning them—sometimes with Liz’s help and sometimes, when she was feeding or otherwise tending to Will, on his own—against the back wall to form the beginnings of the solid roof that would replace the parachute material to cover their shelter.

It took eight of the small aspens to mostly cover the length of the shelter, good solid construction, so far as Einar was concerned, but he wanted to be able to enclose the remaining area made available to them by the back wall, knowing they would all benefit from having a bit more room to move about, especially now that Will was becoming so much more active and needing to explore.  Pausing for a long minute with both elbows hooked over the back wall for support, he glanced over their progress so far, watched the spruce tops waving and bending gently in a stray breeze that had not yet found its way down to their level and squinted at the sun where it hung low in the sky, but much higher than it had done a month or two ago.  Spring coming.  And afternoon, too.  No time to stand around taking needless breaks, not if he wanted to haul in the rest of the trees, get them trimmed up, shortened and stacked before dark.  Which would be a good thing, for its concealment would allow them to have a fire with a bit more safety, and perhaps he and Liz could even get the parachute-tapestry-insulation put up on the inside that evening, if he got the roof all finished.

Day just about half gone, Einar headed out in search of the additional trees he now saw would be needed to complete the foundation of the roof, Liz staying behind this time to give Will some much-needed time out of her parka hood.  Einar was glad for a bit of time to himself, feeling hungry, exhausted and body wanting badly to shut down and drop him in the snow right where he stood, and the presence of his family making it more difficult, somehow, to fight that feeling as the hours wore on.  Eyes wide, staring as he worked to muster a bit more energy he remained standing, he did not curl up on the ground but instead set off in search of the trees, two of which he had seen in his earlier wanderings.  They would have their roof, and would have it before sunset, if he had anything to do with it.

01 January, 2014

1 January 2014

That night, storm finally moving out and the stars burning with a cold, unblinking intensity in the clear, frigid sky, Einar slept well and soundly for several hours despite the chill, his decision made and mind more at rest than it had been in some time.  Later the dreams came, jarred him from sleep and left him half wishing he could reverse his agreement and seek solace in the harsh joys of cold and deprivation which had always seen him through such difficulties and kept his feet on the ground when they threatened to sweep him away, but instead he turned to Liz, arm around her and chin resting on the top of her head, and closed his eyes.  The dreams would pass, life would pass, all things would pass, but for the moment he was here with this woman who was his wife and the child they had together brought into the world, and he drifted off to sleep with tears in his eyes and a determination to be present with them in this life for as long and in as full a sense as he was able.  Not going to be easy, but none of his paths had been easy, and this one—quieted his own breathing, listening for little Will’s, finding it—was certainly as worthy as any upon which he had ever embarked, and far more than most of them.

Morning, chill getting to Einar despite the sleeping bag and Liz’s presence, and not wanting to disturb her he crept out to make a fire.  Plenty of wood from the night before, and soon he had a small blaze going, crouching over it, warming himself and trying to plan the day’s work.  Dizzy, head feeling all light and strange and limbs cramping up in the oddest places so that he had to keep shifting position—arches of his feet, hands as well as legs—muscles not cooperating at all, and he knew that while Liz had possessed the best of intentions in insisting so strongly that he go on eating mug after mug of her split pea soup, he’d managed to get too much of the stuff and was noticing the effects.  Too much starch.  Needed more protein and fat to help ease him back into things, into eating, and instead of raiding the food bag at that point as someone else might have done—thought didn’t even occur to him—Einar banked the fire, took a few things from his pack and set off in search of some four-footed protein.

Not much going on out there on that cold, frigid morning, most creatures still hunkered down in burrows and brushy shelters against a slight easing of the chill, but the rabbits were out.  Einar saw their tracks, trails, in fact, where already several animals had passed on the same path over the newly fallen snow, leaving behind the distinct markings of their hind feet as well as droppings and the bits of flaked-off dry vegetation—curls of grass, a brittle, shattered leaf here and there, a shred of willow or other bark—which told him the rabbits had been finding things to eat.  A good place, it appeared, to set some snares, stick a few twigs in the snow at a narrow part of the trail which formed a natural chokepoint, and check back in the morning to see if he’d had any success. 

Taking two of the ready-made locking snares—gift of Bud and Susan—from his pocket Einar did just this, feeling the spool of wire he’d also slipped in there and determining to come back to this trail later that day and make a few more snares of his own, these with triggers and branch-springs which would, upon release, quickly sweep the animal up off the ground and eliminate the need for locking to prevent its escape.  Good for the future, these snares he was setting, but he wanted a rabbit now.  Needed one.  Had a very distinct feeling that he couldn’t wait until the following morning.

Following the trail, off to one side so as not to mar it with his own tracks, Einar kept his eyes sharp for any sign of movement, for the mottled brown fur that would reveal to him a potential meal, and when he did come on the rabbit it saw him, took off but froze not six feet past the spot where he had, himself, frozen still in the snow.  Thinking itself invisible now that it had stopped moving the rabbit did not budge as Einar eased closer, careful not to direct his eyes or even his thoughts too pointedly at the animal, lest it sense his intention and take off in the zigzagging course that might have saved it from a hungry fox or coyote.  Einar wished he had a spear, or, lacking that, a bola which he might have thrown to tangle and secure his quarry.  Lacking either of these at the moment—he’d brought the pistol, but had no intention of wasting a shot on a rabbit, or of alerting potential enemies with the noise—he balanced the hefty section of pine branch that rested in his right hand.  A rabbit stick, and he smiled at the thought of what Liz might do with the thing, visually measured the distance between himself and the rabbit, and let it fly.

A solid hit, animal knocked two feet to the side where it flailed a bit, kicked twice and was still.  Hurrying in to pounce on his quarry as if half afraid it might get to its feet and take off again—might have been able to secure it even had it been able to do that, soft, deep snow greatly inhibiting rabbits’ speed and making them more vulnerable to longer-legged predators—Einar crouched there beside it in the snow, lifting, inspecting, rabbit quite thoroughly dead and a fairly large one, too, plenty of meat.  Tucking the animal into his shirt—very warm against his skin, and he shivered at the contrast—Einar retraced his steps back to the shelter, only then stopping to clean the rabbit.  Did not want to lose or leave any of the refuse from this process, intending to use everything they did not eat as bait in the pursuit of larger creatures.  Not immediately necessary, perhaps, given the abundance of supplies they’d brought with them and the several hundred pounds of moose meat frozen and awaiting their return in the canyon, but his instincts as a hunter and long experience with conditions under which obtaining the next meal was seldom a sure or a quick thing dictated that he must always think ahead.

Those last few hundred yards before the shelter were somewhat difficult ones for Einar, legs cramping up to a degree that made his progress over the numerous downed, snow-buried trees that lay crisscrossed on the ridge above their sheltered little basin quite a challenge, but he made it, wishing he might crawl those last few yards, but keeping on his feet.  Rabbit cleaned, skinned and ready for cooking he did crawl into the shelter, standing probably still possible had he really given it all his effort, but legs barely responding anymore.  Liz, fortunately, did not notice his predicament, as the parachute flap which served as door necessitated that one crouch quite low to enter, besides which she was busy doing something over the fire.  The odor left Einar little doubt.  Moose stew!  Guess this rabbit wouldn’t have been strictly necessary, would it?  Still glad I went.  Fellow has to keep making an effort, doesn’t he?

Liz glanced up, glad to see that he had returned.  “Where did you go?”

He held up the skinned rabbit.  “Went after some breakfast.  And to see about trapping possibilities, now that the storm’s over.  Set some snares.”

“Want me to add your rabbit to the stew, or should we save him for later?”

“Figure we can just roast him over the fire, this time.  Know we lose a little juice and stuff that way, as opposed to boiling, but with a rabbit being so very lean, it’s not like we’re losing a lot of fat that we would have otherwise used, or anything.  Just sounds good that way.  Then we can turn the bones and scraps into soup for another time.”

“Sure!  It won’t hurt to have both to work on, today.”  What she did not mention was the fact that she was entirely delighted to see him taking some interest in food again, and actually planning to eat more than she had intended to offer him.  Could only help.  Like the soup must have helped the previous day, if he’d had the energy to go out hunting that morning…

A misconception which was soon laid to rest when Einar attempted to stand, and fell.  She was at his side, but he waved her away, gave it another try and this time managed, but with obvious difficulty.

“What’s wrong?  Did you get hurt out there this morning?”

“No, it’s ok.  Just my legs.  Muscles giving me some trouble.  Your stew will help, and so will the rabbit.”

Just your legs…?”

“Uh…that’s the most noticeable, I guess!  Affects everything.  Not having any trouble with breathing yet, and shouldn’t, if I take it slow and kind of stick to fat and protein.  Like your soup.”

“I’ve never seen you take anything slow!”

“Sure, when I take days stalking something…or someone.  That’s slow.  And getting used to sharing a shelter with someone.  That was real slow!”

He dodged as she playfully swung the rabbitstick with which he had taken their breakfast--hadn't even realized she'd seen the thing--smiled, lowered himself heavily back to the ground beside the fire and used a stick to lift the lid from the bubbling pot, gratefully inhaling its steam and handing a pinecone to little Will, who had smelled the stew, himself, got curious and crawled out of the sleeping bag.