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.”