26 February, 2014

26 February 2013

Even Will got a tiny taste of the roast grouse that served as supper for the little family that evening, Einar slipping him a bit of the crunchy, crispy skin and watching in delight as the chomped and chewed and tried to figure out what to do with it.  Not enough teeth to do any serious eating yet, and Einar refrained from giving him any more, settling in with Liz to enjoy his own portion of the perfectly-roasted bird.  A comfortable silence settled over the shelter as they ate, sound of the wind in the spruces overhead punctuated by an occasional crackle from the fire and the light of its flames—low now, mostly down to coals—dancing in mesmerizing patterns on the white inner walls of parachute cloth.  A good evening, and the sort of thing which made Einar stop and remember that life really was a fine thing, a very fine thing indeed, and all of them more than blessed to be living it.

Always just a little behind on their eating since making the climb out of the canyon and working to build the shelter, Einar and Liz kept working on the grouse until practically nothing remained, bones all stacked neatly in the cooking pot where they would form the basis of the next day’s soup.  Though full, content and beginning to grow rather sleepy, Liz did stir herself after a while to scoop up half a pot full of fresh snow and set it near the coals to begin melting, knowing they might be without daytime fire again come morning, and wanting to get a head start on stewing the bones.   A good deal more nutrition, she knew, could be extracted from those bones by slowly simmering them for many hours, and she hoped to be able to keep the process going through the night by covering the pot, heaping some ashes around it and making a ring of coals atop those, a concept similar to the one employed in Dutch oven cooking.

Will had fallen asleep across his father’s legs, Einar looking pretty drowsy himself as he leaned back against the shelter wall with his eyes half closed and one grouse wing bone still grasped in both hands, picked entirely clean of anything even remotely edible but apparently still too valuable to set down.  Liz put a hand on his shoulder so as not to startle him, gently freed the wing and added it to the pot.

“How about we contribute that to tomorrow’s soup?  Looks like you’ve got a lot of good out of it already…”

A weary grin from Einar as he stretched, repositioned legs that had gone quite numb with little Will’s sleeping weight and wiped still-greasy hands on the small towel they had been using for such purposes.  “Sure, guess you can have it now.  You certainly are a fine roaster of grouse, Liz.  That had to be about the best I’ve ever tasted.”

“Oh, you were just hungry.”

“Not hungry now.  So full I can hardly keep my eyes open.”

“Feels good, doesn’t it?”

“Sure, every now and then.  Guess it might as well be bedtime though, wouldn’t you say?”

Liz thought that a fine idea, easing Will from Einar’s lap and into the sleeping bag for the night after changing his diaper.  She then added more snow to the stew pot before joining Einar, who had hurried through his outdoor duties and was already half asleep with his back to the coals and their remaining glow.

Full of good, satisfying food and something approaching warm for the first time in quite a while with the energy it provided his under-nourished body, Einar ought to have slept well and soundly that night, but he did not.  Kept waking to what he thought was the sound of a small plane close overhead, only to lie rigid and unmoving for long enough each time to realize that he must have imagined the aircraft’s presence.  After the third such incident sleep proved elusive and he lay staring at the barely-glowing remains of the fire and going through the various possibilities in his mind, trying once more to puzzle out what could have been the purpose of the plane’s repeated visits to the area in past days. 

Got no farther with such speculations than he had done previously, some sort of wildlife survey still remaining top on his list of possibilities—the ones, at least, which did not involve some sort of renewed search.  Knew he had to consider those, as well.  Really had to get over there and have a look for himself, see what sign the intruders had left on the expanse of open ground above the rim and, if people had remained, track, follow and find them so he could ascertain their purpose. 

Einar knew there would be no rest for him until he had solved the riddle, but questioned himself as he lay there wide awake, wondering if this need actually had anything to do with the potential danger posed by the presence of others in their little piece of the high country, or if he might simply be seeking another challenge, as he seemed always to be doing.  If that was the case, he knew he might do well to heed Liz’s pleading and give it a few more days, sit tight and see if any further cause was given for suspicion.  Could well be that he’d just be putting them in more potential danger by going to scout about for the landing site.  And—as Liz had been all too ready to point out of late—he might never make it back, should he undertake such a journey just then.  Which wouldn’t have bothered him too much at all had he been alone, but with that little boy depending on him not only to help provide as he grew, but to teach him the ways of timber and mountain, it was a possibility which he knew he must not take as lightly as he might have preferred.

More time, then.  Give it another day or two, as Liz had been suggesting, and see how things were going.  Would not be an easy wait, but there were plenty of things with which to keep himself busy, managing the trapline, hauling firewood, making improvements to the shelter and searching for other sources of food.  Domestic duties which might grate on the soul of a would-be wanderer, but so long as he kept himself busy enough, and tired enough—not a terribly difficult proposition, those days—the wait ought to be tolerable.  Well.  Time for sleep, then, some real, solid sleep so his body could make best use of the wonderfully nourishing meal with which he had that evening been so blessed, and if the dreams—or planes, or dreams of planes—wanted to come, let them come.  The door was always nearby in such a small shelter as theirs, should it come to that.

With that Einar finally let go and allowed himself to drift off into an exhausted slumber, not knowing that the coming of morning would render his anticipated wait not only unnecessary, but entirely untenable. 

22 February, 2014

22 February 2013

Supper was taken with a heavy branch, accurately thrown and hitting its mark, Einar neither wanting to waste a bullet when other options existed or to risk the noise, should it turn out that the plane had indeed left men on the canyon rim.  Hefting the bird in his hand—not nice and plump as it would have been in the late summer and fall; winter takes its toll on all creatures—he was pleased to see that it had been doing reasonably well despite the harsh conditions, solid and sound and a good meal for all of them.  Hurrying ahead of darkness, he returned to the shelter, not liking the fact that his snares had not, as yet, produced, not liking the potential implications, but glad at least to be able to provide some fresh food for their supper.

Liz was no less than delighted at the appearance of the grouse.  It had been a long time since they’d enjoyed such a meal, and variety was always welcome.  Especially when it came in the form of a large, soon-to-be sizzling grouse.  Before Einar had finished plucking the bird she had a fire going and a pot of snow melting in anticipation of the feast, and when he handed her the prepared grouse she was ready, but did not drop it immediately into the warming water.

“I guess we’d really better boil it, hadn’t we?  Instead of roasting over the fire.  I know it’s more efficient that way…”

“Thought you were intending to boil it, from the looks of that pot there.”

“Well, I was, but then I got to thinking how nice it would be to have some roast bird, you know, with the skin all sizzling and crispy…”

“Like a Thanksgiving turkey, huh?”

“Something like that!  What do you think?”

Einar was very nearly too cold and weary to think at all, and this talk of food was making his empty stomach hurt and cramp, but Liz’s sincere outpouring of delight and excitement at their upcoming supper made him smile and do his best to remain part of the conversation.  “Well, it’s true that you get the most nutrition out of a critter when you stew it, since nothing is lost that way and you end up with broth.  But I don’t see what the harm would be in roasting a grouse, for once.  We can always make broth with the carcass, afterwards.”

“Oh, good!  Let’s do that!  It’s going to be such a treat.  I’ll just need to rig up some way to prop it over the fire, and…oh, no!  Will!”

Glancing behind him Einar soon saw the trouble, little one having galloped over to the waiting grouse and promptly begun chewing on one of the wings.  A rather comical sight, grouse wing sticking out of both ends of his mouth and a most sincere and awestruck look in his eyes as he chomped away, spit dribbling from his chin.  Einar, being closer, snatched him up and freed—with no little difficulty, the boy having rather strong jaws—the hapless bird, handing it to Liz.  “Why, you little wolverine!  Thought you were going to get away with that, didn’t you?  Thought you’d found quite a prize!  A little young for devouring whole birds yet, don’t you think?  Seeing as you don’t even have any teeth…”

“Oh, I meant to tell you!”  Liz took the child, doing her best to clean his face and remove from it any trace of raw grouse.  “He is getting his first tooth!  Has been for about a week now.  That’s why he’s drooling so much.  I guess he thought it was time to try it out!  Or just thought that grouse wing looked like something that would feel good on his gums.  They chew on almost everything, at this stage.”

“Guess we’d better get him something to chew on.  Maybe I can carve something out of aspen wood, polish it real good so he doesn’t risk getting any splinters.  I’m guessing he’s too young to be eating a whole grouse!”

“Oh, yes.  Way too soon for that.  You don’t think he’ll get sick, do you?  From chewing on that raw meat?  I tried to clean his mouth and face, but couldn’t get all of it.”

“Nah, I doubt it.  Little guy surely has a pretty strong immune system, living out here like he does and getting plenty of his mama’s milk.  Besides, the bird was real fresh, and it’s not exactly warm in here.  No time for anything dangerous to grow on it.  Probably do him good.”

“I don’t know about that, but hopefully it won’t do any harm, at least.  And this grouse is going to do us all a lot of good, as soon as we can get it cooked up!  This whole place will be smelling like Thanksgiving dinner, before long!”  With which Liz quit talking and got down to business, leaving Einar to keep an eye on Will while she skewered the grouse on a long aspen stick and propped it at an angle under a rock where the healthy bed of coals could begin cooking it.

The shelter was, indeed, soon filled with a most wonderful aroma as the bird began warming, crisping up just a bit on the outside, and as the flames died down a bit Liz moved it closer to the coals, keeping an almost-constant vigil and tuning the bird frequently to prevent overcooking or drying any part of it.  Will watched the entire process with the same intensity and fascination with which he met most things in life, following Liz’s every movement while chewing insistently at a fold in Einar’s parka sleeve.  Tiring of the constant assault and figuring that sleeve couldn’t be amongst the cleanest of things on which the little one to do his teething, Einar finally freed his sleeve and set the child aside.

“You stay right there and don’t move, Snorri.  Understand?   Have to get something from outside.”

Liz’s eyes looked big as she watched him go—what is it she thinks I’m headed out there to get, anyway?—but she said nothing.  Searching in the snow, Einar wandered up the ridge in the dusky evening light, kicking at shapes beneath the snow until he unearthed an object which appeared likely to meet his purpose.  Brushing and shaking as much snow as he could from the small, dense aspen burl, he headed for the narrow slit of light that was shining most welcomingly from beneath the shelter door, smelling roasting grouse before he was halfway back down.  

He lingered for a few minutes outside the door, reluctant, somehow, to enter and spoil the delightful sense of anticipation that came with smelling such wonderfully enticing odors and knowing that he would soon find himself partaking of the feast.  Finally though, hearing Liz moving about inside and knowing she might be having a difficult time both corralling the incredibly active Will and tending to the roasting bird, he chipped a last fragment of ice from the aspen burl, and went inside

19 February, 2014

19 February 2014

Einar’s continued presence at the shelter secured for the time being, Liz hurried back inside to finish doing what she could to turn the previous night’s half-frozen stew into a good, filling breakfast, Einar remaining outside just long enough to run up the ridge as he had been his initial intent, needing to restore some circulation to stillness-numbed limbs.  This task accomplished with some minor success he rejoined Liz in the shelter, partaking of a most welcome if somewhat slushy breakfast feast of moose stew.  Will, allowed by Liz only small tastes of the stew when he seemed curious, was curious about something else, too. 

Cozy in his woolen undergarments and the insulated suit provided him by Susan before their flight and jump he romped about the interior of the shelter, pausing in each of his rounds to stare at the flickering candle flame and then at the cold remains of the previous night’s fire, a quizzical look on his face.  After being corrected several times by both Einar and Liz for too closely approaching the  firepit while it was lit, he knew the boundaries, knew where he was supposed to stop, but could barely restrain himself from creeping closer in his quest for information.  A pointed glance from Einar, who the child was watching nearly as closely as he was the cold firepit, stopped his forward progress, Will rocking back and forth on hands and knees as he stared into the ashes and sang a little song about “fi-fi-ur, fi-fi…UR?” voice going higher at the end as he all but demanded to know the fate of the flames whose movements he so loved to watch.

“Fire’s out, little guy,” Einar explained, scooping him up before he could venture too much further into the restricted area and get himself into trouble.  “You don’t know about planes yet, but you will, and when those things are around, we can’t risk making smoke.  Smoke.  See?  Like this…”  and he took a sprig of spruce needles from the supply Liz had brought in for tea, held it above the candle flame until it began smoking.  “That’s smoke.  That’s what we don’t want, today.  Smoke.”


“Yeah, smoke.  That’s right.  Real good for keeping the flies off of meat and for tanning buckskins, but not so good when you’ve got planes in the air.  Don’t worry.  You’ll learn all that as time goes by.  And hopefully at some point…”  Einar was quiet for a minute, eyes distant, suddenly appearing very weary, and when he continued his voice was low, a little rough.  “At some point hopefully you won’t have to worry about it anymore, at all.  Would really like that for you, Snorri.  For you and your mother.”

“And for you,” Liz was quick to put in, not liking the sound of future planning that did not expressly involve all three of them.  “For all of us.”

“Yeah.  But if they had me, they wouldn’t keep looking.  It would be over, and you guys…”

“Don’t even suggest that!  Will has a right to know his father, to grow up with him.  Would you deprive him of that?”

Einar shrugged, picked up his parka and finished stitching the tear in its sleeve, going at the work with a silent fury which both seemed to preclude further discussion and to indicate that the matter was weighing on Einar’s mind, and Liz let it drop.  Did not like to hear him talk that way, thought it really did not sound like him at all.  She wondered how long he had been entertaining such thoughts, and how seriously he had meant what might have been dismissed as a passing notion, a simple frustrated outburst, from anyone slightly less literal and precise than Einar tended to be.  Well.  She supposed it was only natural that certain things would come up as he really began to contemplate Will’s future as an individual, as a person, and these were conversations in which they would have to engage.  At least he was thinking ahead.  Always good to think ahead.  Sometimes best not to go too far with it, though.

When Einar went out that evening—after a day of no more planes, but no fire, either—to check his snares, it was to find the empty.  He did, though, see one set of tracks where a rabbit had passed just outside the little corridor in which he’d chosen to set that particular snare, a sign of life, at least, and a promise of more to come.  The weather, too, held promise of change, extreme cold that had prevailed for the morning and maintained its grip through most of the afternoon at last lessening, waning ahead of a wind as soft and strange as it was persistent.  Einar would have almost called it warm.  Most days.  That evening it only seemed to add to the ice in his bones, chattering teeth and leaving him to hunch his shoulders against what seemed to be a perceptible and alarmingly rapid stripping away of what little warmth remained precariously preserved in the core of his sinewy frame.  Shivering but not caring too much, he headed for home, stopping several times to test the wind with his nose, scenting a change, a softening, even if his body could not yet feel it.  Smells were carried on that wind, strange, live smells that promised some faraway but approaching change not only of immediate weather conditions, but of the season itself. 

All of which was interesting, but of far less immediate concern than the fact that he’d failed to find game, and they were out of moose stew.  Out of moose altogether, actually, and though they still had a fair quantity of the food sent along with them by Bud and Susan in the drop bag, both he and Liz had been hoping very much to be able to save the vast majority of those provisions, stashing them away against a time of need.  Well, they had need.  A need he was not meeting, and would not meet, so long as he stood there semi-dazed and staring beneath the little cluster of leafless aspens which were currently doing nothing to shield him from the warm-freezing tentacles of the wind.  Visibly shaking himself in hope of shattering some of the creeping apathy which had begun wrapping itself unannounced and unwelcomed around both mind and body he set off, eyes darting from one cluster of vegetation to the next and ears sharp for any indication that potential game might be present.

When Einar’s sought-after indication came, it arrived in a burst of feathery energy that sent his heart into his throat and nearly left him to make a dive for the ground, so nearly did it resemble the sudden materialization of a hovering helicopter.  Initial alarm passed and no aircraft in sight Einar grinned a bit sheepishly, biting his lip to avoid laughing aloud and further alarming the grouse he’d scared up out of a small knot of chokecherry scrub.  The bird, true to the nature of its species, had not gone far, and saw gawking unconcernedly at him from a low fir branch not ten yards distant.  Supper, if he’d ever seen it…

15 February, 2014

15 February 2014

Another long, cold day awaited the little family in the shelter, Liz wishing for spring, for a softening of the snow, for the almost-inaudible seeping sounds that come as the ground began accepting a winter’s worth of moisture, waking, living, giving birth to green.  Einar harbored no such thoughts as he sat silently in the light of their single candle—second candle, as they’d burned up the first—mending a tear in the sleeve of his parka and waiting for daylight to strengthen sufficiently that the little shelter could be lighted without flame, by the sliding aside of the lashed aspen-log door.  While the parachute material which would then cover the opening would only do so much to keep out the cold, he knew that the light thus provided the interior of their dark den would be more than worth the exchange. 

On his mind as he took one neat stitch after another—making a knot after each for added strength, sewing the elk skin much as he would have sutured a wound, and with an exacting precision which all but guaranteed the repair lasting as long as the garment, itself—was the puzzle of the plane, its comings and goings and the men who might have ventured forth on the snow from the spot where last it had landed.  Even as he sat there, hidden and by all appearances safe under the timber, he could in his mind see them drawing nearer, making slow but steady progress on snowshoes or skis as they studied the canyon rim, scoured it for human sign and made their way towards the vast upward-sweeping evergreen slope which, they would surely conclude, would more likely shelter the fugitive family they sought.

Einar rose, smoothed out the parka and held its sleeve near the candle to inspect his work, shaking his head.  Not likely.  Not likely at all that any men dropped off by that plane, should they exist at all, had anything to do with his family or their hiding place in the tiny basin.  No reason anyone should suspect them to be in the area.  Was there?  Could surely convince himself either way, if he tried.  Could propose the possibility that Keisl the pilot had talked, had somehow, either inadvertently or intentionally under some unknown pressure revealed his part in their escape, which would have given searchers a starting point, if not one terribly near their present location…  Then there was the possibility that someone—the men on that snowmobile who had been patrolling the far rim of the canyon, for instance—had stumbled upon the tree-cached remains of their elk kill and had taken the giant leap of imagination and logic which would have been required to connect them to the poached animal.  Unlikely, but sometimes the only safety is in considering the unlikely, taking it to its reasonable if somewhat far-fetched conclusion and seeing where that leaves a person…

Left him uncertain, anxious, and he didn’t like it, sat motionless for several minutes, thinking, planning, working it all out in his mind until he thought he had something that might work, might let him find out what they were up to.  Needed to know.  Needed to finish mending the parka, too, for without it, and without the fire which they’d let die out before dawn as a precaution, the place was chilly enough to render him all but immobile after a stretch of relative stillness.  This fact had escaped his notice while he’d been busy with the project and engaged in pondering the purpose of that plane, but now made itself manifest in a rather aggravating inability to grasp the needle with which he had been doing his repair.  Oh, well.  Could wait a little while. What he needed was some movement to get the blood flowing, an a trip outside to have a look at the day, now that it had brightened some, would be just the thing.  Liz, to his surprise, set aside the breakfast fixings over which she had been working, bundled Will into her parka hood, and went with him.

“Did you see much activity out there where you were setting the snares?  Many rabbits or anything around?”

“They had been.  Not too many this morning yet, in the cold.  But they had been, so will be again.  The snares should produce.  I’m thinking of a plan, though.”

Her eyes looked a bit large, he thought, a bit white around the edges.  “What sort of plan?  A rabbit-snaring plan?”

She had known he meant something more.  “Scouting and moose retrieval plan, actually.”

“You want to check on the place where that plane was landing, and go after some of the moose?”

“Yes, and I think I’ve worked out a good way to do it.  See, I don’t really want to have to work my way down through all that fallen timber, and then still have the canyon itself to traverse…all before climbing the wall and going to look for the place where the plane landed.”

“That really would be quite the endeavor, especially with your leg still…”

“Leg’s fine.  Just that I don’t want to take all that time.  So here’s my idea.  Want to climb up above this place and work my way over to the rim.  We’re way back on a slope that rises above the head of the canyon, best as I can figure from the map and from what I saw as we were making the climb up to this place, so by climbing a little and then traversing over towards the rim, I eventually ought to be able to reach it, you see?  Then scout out their landing strip, see what’s going on and—unless it’s something that demands immediate attention—make a side trip down into the canyon for sixty or seventy pounds of moose from our stash, before heading up again.”

Liz was quite, couldn’t help but thinking that what Einar so casually described as a “side trip” would actually prove to be a two or three day ordeal involving at least two thousand feet of elevation loss and the same in gain, all over some very rough country and while carrying on his back—for the uphill, near-vertical portion of it, at least—a proposed quantity of moose meat which almost certainly would exceed his current body weight.  It all sounded to her like a rather fine—and final—way to do one’s self in, and the kind of thing Einar was bound to relish.  Just to prove to himself that he could do it.  Only this time, he did have rather practical stated reasons for wishing to embark on the challenge, too.

“Don’t you worry about leaving sign while you’re scouting on the rim, and possibly leading them back to us?  If anyone is out there, I mean…”

“Plan to keep to the timber, and only travel at night and in the morning when there’s kind of a crust on the snow and it’ll support me without leaving too many tracks.  Avoid moving too much in the afternoons when things start softening up and I might break through the crust.  If things ever do soften up.  Won’t do it, in this cold.”

“What crust?  There’s no crust up here.  It’s all powder!”

“There’ll be crust over there on the rim.  Gets a lot more hours of sunlight than we do, and late in the winter as it is, there will have been some warmer days down there, for sure.  I’ll move along the edge of the timber so I can duck into it if I see anything, but a out where there’s crust most of the time while I’m moving.  It’s the only way I know for us to really be sure, and besides, we could use the meat.  Gonna take a lot of rabbits to see us through until spring really gets here…”

“Will you give it a couple of days, at least?  Wait for this really cold spell to pass, eat some more stew and think about it?”

He shrugged, crossed his arms, which were beginning to stiffen up pretty badly in the absence of his parka, and shifted uneasily from one foot to the other.  Didn’t want to lose momentum, now that he’d come up with something that made sense.  Wanted to go and get it done, before anything could get in the way.  Like the weather.  Or his family.  Or good sense. 

“Yeah, I’ll give it a couple days.  Got to watch that trapline for a couple days anyway, see how it’s going to do.”

12 February, 2014

12 February 2014

The plane did not return that day, and when evening approached and the sun took its early leave of the basin, sinking behind the ridge-trees and carrying with it the slight warming its rays had brought to the frigid day, Liz began arranging wood for a fire.  Einar, who had kept just busy enough through the day to prevent himself losing ground to the inertia which always stalked him so closely those days, now sat all hollow-eyed and staring with exhaustion, knees pressed to his chest and sleep, despite his best efforts, not far off.  Liz’s intentions plain, Einar was soon quite wide awake and on his feet, going to her, crouching stiffly beside the small firepit and helping her break up sticks for kindling.  Already she had the candle lit, Einar’s breath making great clouds in its dim, flickering light as he worked to steady his respirations and be ready for speech.  Liz beat him to it.

“Since the plane hasn’t been back, and you said it didn’t have infrared…I was hoping it might be ok for us to have a fire”

Einar shivered, tucked numbed hands beneath his arms before he could do any more damage to Liz’s kindling pyramid, which he had nearly managed to knock to pieces in his attempts to help.  “Think we’re pretty safe in that regard.  Won’t be any light even if the plane does come back over, and it’s not equipped to see the heat this shelter will leak.  My concern would be the smoke, though.  If that plane dropped folks off on the canyon rim where we’re thinking it landed…well, they could smell our smoke.  And get curious.  Wish I knew if anyone really was over there.  Half tempted to start out tonight and see what I can see.”

“Well I’m glad you’re only half tempted!  It’s going to be an awfully cold night, and with all that downed timber to cross before you can really get anywhere, it would be pretty slow going.  Too slow to really keep a person very warm at all, don’t you think?”

“Don’t know about ‘a person,’ but I’m never warm anyway, so it wouldn’t much matter.  I’m used to it.  We really need to know.”

“We’re pretty secure here though, aren’t we?  Think what it would take for someone to make their way through all that deadfall and get anywhere close to us.  Think what it took for us to do it!  Two days of what I remember as very, very difficult travel…”

“Got a point there.  I don’t guess anyone’s likely to casually wander through all that just because they got a whiff of smoke and are curious about its origin.  Only trouble would be if they’re up here looking for us, and saw that as a clue.”

“I know the smell of smoke can travel a very long way.  But isn’t the wind tending to travel up the slope in the nights, lately?  That’s sure what it feels like when I’m out in the evening and on the ridge where I can feel the wind.  I think it would take any smoke smell right up and away from the canyon rim, and we’d be ok.”

“Yeah, that does seem to be a pretty regular pattern lately.  Ok.  We can have a fire tonight.  You’ve got me convinced.”

“And you don’t have to go scour the canyon rim?”

“Not tonight.”

She smiled, struck sparks and blew the nest of dry, shredded aspen inner bark to life, adding a few spruce cones to lend the newly kindled flames some liveliness until they could climb up and catch in the larger sticks.  “We’re running low on the moose that we brought, but there’s enough for one more big batch of stew, so that’s what I plan to make us tonight.  Ought to last several days.”

“I’ll work on the trapline tomorrow, try to set some more snares in places where I’ve seen rabbit sign, and see if we can’t add to the meat supply, here.  Not gonna be many critters out in this cold, but it’s bound to break, sooner or later.  And then everything will be hungry, and will be out.  Might be a little tight up here until things start melting, if we don’t go back for the moose, but we’ll make it.  Sure would like to have that moose up here, though.  Or at least a couple hundred pounds of it.”

“How about you just keep eating, getting stronger, and then in a while we’ll make pack frames and go get a bunch of it?  We can live off of the trapline in the meantime, with all that moose meat to look forward to.”

“Sounds like you’ve got a plan, for sure.  I like that plan.  Like the smell of that stew, too.  That stuff sure is coming along.”

“Well, I’m trying to make best use of the fire, because I’m guessing we can’t have one during daylight hours right now.”

“Nope.  Not until we settle the matter of what that plane’s been doing, and who it’s been leaving behind.”

True to his word Einar was up early the next morning, parka drawn tight against the searing cold which continued unabated beneath star-spiked skies and moving quickly as he climbed up out of the tiny basin and to the low ridge above, knowing he must get the blood moving well enough to allow himself some dexterity when he reached the place where he hoped to set his rabbit snares. 

Few tracks marred the layer of wind-blown snow that covered everything there atop the ridge, but once he dropped down its far side into the semi-protected and heavily timbered draw beyond, his efforts were rewarded with the sight of several major-looking trails, complete with droppings and a good bit of sign on some of the lower-growing vegetation, where twigs had been nibbled back to their live, white interiors.  Hopeful signs, and here he set up four snares, choosing spots along what appeared to be a well-established rabbit path beneath the low-sweeping, sheltering branches of a grove of little firs, and helping increase the likelihood of the rabbits’ ending up in the stew pot by placing sticks to prevent their easily loping off the trail and around his traps.  

Satisfied, he rose, brushed the snow from knees and elbows and swung his arms to generate some heat so Liz would be less likely to ask him why he appeared to have been lying in the snow, instead of setting traps…  And headed home.

09 February, 2014

9 February 2014

Huddled close together in their parkas Einar ad Liz ate a cold breakfast, even the candle being too great a risk, Einar had decided, if planes were going to be buzzing so low overhead and without warning.  Silent, listening, Einar glowered at the dimly-lit outline of the improvised door through its covering of white parachute, an anger growing within him at the repeated intrusion of the plane, the uncertainty it brought to their lives in this new place, and when nearly an hour later it came back again, this time rising up out of the canyon and making an arc over their mountainside before departing, he was ready. 

Not willing to risk being seen but determined to get a good look at the as-yet unseen adversary, Einar dived at the door when first he heard the droning whine of that plane climbing up out of the canyon, pressing himself down under it and wriggling head and shoulders out into the snow, under the its surface where he would be concealed.  There he lay, snow over and on him but with a reasonably clear line of sight up through the fractured chunks of boot-packed whiteness, through the gently swaying tops of the spruces and up into a narrow strip of grey sky through which he greatly hoped the small aircraft might make its way.

Einar’s efforts were soon rewarded with a glimpse of yellow right on the edge of vision, small moving object soon materializing, taking on the unmistakable shape of a Piper Cub, filling the space into which he could see and leaving him shaken and a little surprised, both for what he did see, and what he did not. 

Waiting, unconsciously holding his breath until the plane had passed, he wriggled quickly back into the shelter, blinking and brushing snow from his eyes.  Not that there was much to see inside.  Not in that darkness, without the candle.  But this could now be remedied, and searching, seeking, he found the small object, brought it to flame and waited until its flickering light filled the place, adding a nearly infinite degree of cheer, if not immediately changing the frigid temperature of the place.  Liz looked at him with some measure of surprise, silently glancing at the candle and then apprehensively up at the ceiling, as if expecting the aircraft to double back at any time, and spot the heat from that tiny flame.

Einar smiled.  “It’s ok.  Got a good look, and they’re not carrying an infrared pod.  Not equipped to sense heat.  So looks like we’re in the clear, as far as that goes.  Wouldn’t want to risk the smoke of a fire, at least not by daylight, but the candle is fine, and we just might get to have a fire tonight, if nothing else shows up in the sky.”

“Whew!  I sure am glad of that!  We need a fire, when it’s this cold.  And if they don’t have infrared, then they’re probably not up there looking for us, are they?  I mean, that’s not their purpose in being here…”


“But that’s not all, is it?  What’s the rest of it?  What did you see?”

Einar was quiet for a minute, looked troubled.  “Plane’s equipped with skis.”


He nodded.  “Means it can land almost anywhere up here where terrain and conditions are right.  Means it must intend to, actually.  Don’t need skis to get in and out of any airport around here, not even the small ones.  So either these folk have some sort of private airstrip up high where no one maintains it, or…well, they may have intentions to be coming and going from one of the big meadows on either side of the canyon.  That’s what I suspect they’ve been doing yesterday and today.”

Liz’s eyes were large in the candlelight.  “Why?”

He shrugged.  “Wildlife officials, maybe?  Shouldn’t be any hunting season right now, except maybe small game, goose and…cat.  So not likely to be hunters.  Who knows?  But I do know we’ve got to be awfully careful what we do, and where we do it, until we haven’t heard from them for a week or two.  And even then, what’s to say they didn’t drop people off over there?  Might be setting up a camp over there, going out for a day or two at a time to do whatever it is they’re up here doing.  We’re gonna have to lie awfully low for a while.”

“At least we’re here in the middle of all this tangled deadfall and brush, where nobody is likely to come, even if they are hunters or wildlife people.  Don’t you think?”

“Hope so.  Hard to say, not knowing exactly why they’re up here.  I’m thinking we really do need to know.”

“But how can we?”

“I can go scope things out.”

“Go where?  We don’t even know where they are, or if they are!”

“Oh, I’ve got a pretty good idea of where they’ve been taking off and landing from, now that I’m pretty sure that’s what they’ve been about.  It all fits together now, makes a pattern.  You know the cave we spent a night in, before we found the moose and then came here?”

“Of course.”

“Well, near as I can estimate, that plane has been landing and taking off from a spot somewhere above the canyon rim, not too far from that cave.  I mean, within a mile or two.  Can’t be any more exact than that, not from here.  Which is why I need to go have a look.”

“That has often not gone well.  What if you run into them out there?  Or leave tracks for them to follow, back to us?”

“Hey, don’t be doubting my ability to be stealthy.  I may not be what I once was, in all ways, but I’m still alive, here, and some instincts an experiences are with a person until they quit breathing.  They’d never see me.  And I have a plan for tracks, too.  To avoid making tracks that could lead them back here.  All has to do with the time of day when I travel..”

“How about giving it a few days before you travel, at all?  Wait and see if the plane comes back.  Maybe they’re done here, doing whatever it is they came to do.  Maybe they were just counting elk.  Or looking for a moose with a radio collar.  It would be a shame to waste all that energy hiking over there—and maybe risk leaving sign in the process—if they really were gone.  Will you give it two days?”

He looked skeptical.  Several reasons why he did not want to give it two days, not least amongst them the possibility that someone had been dropped off by that plane and was even then snowshoeing towards their location, closing the distance, reporting back to some person or agency with resources to launch once again a full-scale search, should sufficient cause be detected…  Yet, Liz did have a point.

“I’ll think about it.  We can think about it.”

06 February, 2014

6 February 2014

So well had Einar and Liz insulated the little shelter that its walls had prevented Einar from realizing just what the weather had done in the night, hints and whispers of frigid air finding their way through small cracks here and there by way of clues, but the full force of the thing hitting him only when he pushed aside the improvised door and rolled out into the snow. 

Quickly pushing the door shut behind him and taking in a cautious breath of air which froze the hairs in his nose and caught in his throat, he scrambled to his feet and stood inspecting the surrounding country, everything standing out in sharp relief and the snow squeaking like Styrofoam beneath his feet.  Took another breath, this one slower, more measured, and he managed to avoid choking and coughing on it.  Above him stretched the huge, arcing vault of the sky, looking somehow different that morning in a way he had only seen it a few times before, edges purple behind the pines and the cloud of his breath rising wide and white into the vast pale white-blue overhead, leaving ice on his eyelashes as it passed.  Einar shivered, hurried off into the trees to do his business so he could return to the shelter before he started losing the feeling in his toes. 

Cold morning, colder, perhaps, than almost any they had seen that past winter, or at least so it seemed to him, and he could tell that it would take only minutes of standing still in its iron grasp, lightly clad and raw-boned as he was, before the unshakable grasp of inertia would begin to set in.  An interesting experiment, perhaps, and one on which he might have been greatly tempted to embark, had he been alone—stand there unmoving until he felt its hand heavy upon him, see how far he could go, and still bring himself out of it; does a man good to stretch his limits—but inside his family awaited him and he had no such intention that morning. 

Almost found himself unintentionally engaged in the experiment, anyway, long as he had stood there pondering and observing, for when he tried to turn and head back for the shelter his legs would hardly respond, leaving him to stomp and jump somewhat frantically for a few seconds as he strove to beat some life and feeling back into them.  A mad scramble for the shelter, then, teeth rattling all the way and his breath seeming to come tightly and with some difficulty, and when finally he rolled laughing and gasping back into the shelter, it was to a look of concern and consternation from Liz as she pressed his white-cold hands between her own.

“What happened to you out there?  Have you been lying in the snow or something?”

“No, nothing...just…kinda chilly out there today.”

“I would say so!  You need breakfast, and some hot tea.  It looks like your blood is hardly circulating, or something, and you’re going to start losing fingers and toes if things keep on like this.”

“Yeah.  But kinda…fun to try...see how far I can push it.”

“Oh, you and your goofy ideas of ‘fun!’   You know what I think will be fun?  When you’ve gained about fifty pounds and can go out for a few minutes in the morning without nearly freezing to death.  Now that will be fun!”

“Aw, ruining it for me…”

“You’ve got that right!  And if you don’t want a dent in the side of your head, besides, you’d better get into your parka, get warm and sit here by the candle while I make us some breakfast and tea.”

Einar grinned, sat down heavily beside the candle—lot of good it would do, that single flame against all the huge, hollow expanse of the frigid-cold high altitude sky, but it was all they had—and warmed his hands before reaching for Will.

“Let me watch the little guy for a bit, while you get the breakfast going.”

“You’re not going to drop him because your hands are so cold?”

“Drop him?  Of course not!  And even if I did, he’s big enough to stand on his own…hands and knees, now.  He’d do just fine.  He’ll be running around here catching ermine with his bare hands, before you know it.”

“Yes, he probably will.  Just like his father…  Who is now going to have some breakfast!  I’m sorry it’s not going to be hot, but at least it’ll give you some energy.  You’re going to need it today, as cold as things seem to be starting out.  I’m kind of concerned with the way the weather seems to be going, especially since we’re not really able to have heat in here…

“Yeah, me too.  I’m mainly concerned about that plane.  If it comes back and does happen to be looking for us, or even for wildlife and using any kind of heat sensor…well, any amount of heat we’re putting out is going to show up pretty clearly against the great icy whiteness outside, even if we don’t have a fire.  Big contrast, with the temperature being so low.  Lot bigger than usual.”

As if in answer to Einar’s concerns—perhaps, he told himself, I shouldn’t have spoken them, but he knew it was irrelevant—a sudden hum grew swiftly and steadily louder, plane cresting the ridge and dropping down the side of the mountain almost before they were aware they were hearing it, dropping down into the canyon and droning away between its walls until no longer audible.  Einar glanced over at Liz, her face strained and white in the candlelight.

“Well.  Just have to hope they’re not looking, won’t we?”

“Yes.  But how will we know?”

Strange, he thought, for her to be asking that.  It was usually his place to do so, he who was by this time contemplating the mad dash up the mountainside, the abandonment of all material possessions and hope of good, solid shelter in deference to the protection of a liberty which might or might not actually be in clear and present danger…   “That is the dilemma, for sure.”

03 February, 2014

3 February 2013

Morning, and it was not the sound of a plane that awakened Einar, but the much more nearby scuffling and scurrying of some small creature on the timbers that made up the outside of the shelter.  Likely not large enough—he realized after a tense moment during which his hand closed around the pistol and he was about to bolt from the bed in challenge—to pose much threat to his still-sleeping family, and he relaxed, shivering in the morning chill as he slipped back down into the warmth of the sleeping bag.  The intruder, he guessed by is sound, was something on the order of an ermine or possibly even a marten, though he doubted it would prove to be so large.  Listening, drifting, Einar almost went back to sleep picturing the sleek white coat and bright, beady eyes of the ermine he believed he was hearing, but this near-repose was brought to a sudden end when the creature made its way inside and dashed most unceremoniously across his face. 

Though out of the sleeping bag in a fraction of second and scrambling about the floor in search of the furry invader, Einar could only be thankful that the little beast had waited until he was awake to come calling.  Would not have been a good way to be awakened, at least not in such a confined space as the shelter.  Liz was very much awake, herself, by that time, struggling to find the candle and light it so some sense could be made of the commotion in the place.  When finally she succeeded, it was to the sight of Einar crouched against the shelter wall with wild eyes and a very startled-looking ermine clasped firmly in one hand.  Liz could not help but burst out laughing.

“You’ve certainly got an interesting way of coming up with breakfast!  Where’d you find that little guy?”

“He ran across my face, that’s where!  Heard him scratching around on the roof, and then there he was, leaving tracks on my forehead.”

She moved the candle closer, inspecting the ermine’s sparkly white coat, which had not yet begun to drop in anticipation of the summer months.  “How’d you see to get him in the dark?

Einar shrugged, loosed his grip slightly so as not to risk suffocating the little weasel.  “Didn’t need to see.  Just…heard, and grabbed.”

“Like a bat.  No need to see.  Your father is a bat, Will!  Did you know that?”

“Huh.  Not the first time I’ve been called ‘batty,’ but never knew it was meant as a compliment…”

“Compliment?  Ha!  Well, what are you going to do with it?”

“With what?”

“With the weasel, of course!  Is he going to be our breakfast?”

“Oh.”  He inspected the ermine, its eyes still round and black and scared, but not so panicked as they had been at first.  “Well, protein in protein, but he’s awfully small, isn’t he?  And would eat mice that might get into our other food, if we end up staying here for a while…”

“Maybe a good idea to let him go and be mouse control, then.  Not much fur on him, anyway.  I guess it takes quite a few of those little critters to make any kind of warm clothing, doesn’t it?”

“Quite a few, unless you’re just looking for ruffs on mittens or hats.  There will be chances to get ahold of other ermines.”

Weasel’s life thus spared, Einar held onto the wriggling creature for another minute so Will, who had been very curious from the start, could have a close look.  Something about the way the creature’s pure white fur glinted in the candlelight really captured Will’s attention, the contrast between light fur and jet-black eyes enthralling him perhaps even more, and as Liz watched he leaned forward in a very slow, measured attempt to touch his nose to the ermine’s own tiny pink one.  Liz stopped him before he could quite make it, concerned lest the creature feel threatened and decide to take a bite out of her son, but the ermine appeared nearly as curious as Will, himself, and more relaxed than it had been at any time since its capture.

“Think they kind of take to one another,” Einar observed.  “Maybe the critter will keep coming around from time to time, and they can get to know each other better.”

“It looks like Will would really like that.  Maybe he’s going to be like you.  More quick to get along with and understand animals than humans…

“Huh.  You saying I’m only fit company for the wolverines and grizzlies?  Tried to tell you that before, when it wasn’t too late to do something about it, but would you listen?  No, you would not.  And now here you are, stuck out here with a wild man and a wild child and the ermines and wolverines and bears, living in an aspen hut on the side of a mountain.”

“Civilization is highly over-rated.  And much too crowded.  I like it here.”

“It is rather nice, isn’t it?  Aside from that doggone plane, and any company it may be planning to bring today.”

“We can hope for quiet.”

“I do hope for quiet.”

Speaking of quiet, Will was far from it, howling his protest loudly enough to be heard on the far side of the ridge as Einar closed his hands around the ermine and moved to release it out the door.  Einar stopped, gritting his teeth against the sound.  “Hey, little guy.  Any chance you could say that a different way?  One that uses fewer decibels, for instance?  What’s the trouble?  You weren’t done studying this critter?  I understand, but look.  He’s squirming.  Won’t hold still.  Seems he’s getting pretty tired of being held onto, so how about we let him have some time outside, and finish looking him over next time he comes back?  He will come back, I’m almost certain.  But only if we kind of let it be on his own terms.  Wild critters are like that, you know.  Need to do things on their own terms, just like us humans do.  Ok.  That’s right.  Gonna let him go now, let him slip out the door.  You watching?”

Will was watching, howling stilled as he stared intently at his father’s mouth, studying the words as intently as he had moments prior been studying the ermine.  How much he understood there was no way for his parents to be certain—Einar believed he understood a good deal more than most people might have given him credit for, at his age, and always treated him that way—but in any event he did seem willing to let the creature go.