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?”
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.