Sleepy and something close to satisfied after their meal of squirrel stew, Einar and Liz sat near the warmth of the coals as darkness became complete outside and the cold of the night closed in, Will dozing on Liz’s lap after enjoying his own supper and Einar leaning back against the wall, eyes half closed. He had, before Liz began working on the stew, heated a small quantity of water and broken into it two dried yellow Oregon grape roots they had previously dug and stashed aside for such purposes, carefully washing Will’s scraped nose and cheek with the resulting antiseptic solution. The scrape would heal up just fine, he had no doubt. Still didn’t understand Liz’s concern, supposed it must simply come with the territory of being a mother. Which he was not, so perhaps he was not entirely equipped to understand. No matter. The little one would be fine. Drowsy, dozy as he stared into the embers of their supper fire, Einar startled back to wakefulness when Liz spoke.
“Feels like it’s getting colder. Do you think the snow will be more solid in the morning?”
Einar nodded, flexed stiff fingers over what remained of the fire. Had thought he might well have been alone in feeling an increased bite in the night air as it crept in under the door, stiffening muscles and unsteadying his voice just a bit. “Yeah, ought to help for sure. Rotten as that snow was today, we’ll need a number of hours well below freezing before it will hold our weight, but looking like we may get that tonight. Morning may be the time to run that trapline.”
“I hope so. Another squirrel or two would be a good thing to help tide us over until things start melting out a little better and we can be more mobile.”
“I’ll give it a try, first thing in the morning before things have a chance to start softening up.”
“Oh, let me do it. I know you’ve got to be tired from your trip still, and that way Will could spend some time with you here at the shelter, while I’m gone. He missed his daddy while you were away.”
Einar smiled at the sleeping boy. “Sure, I’ll spend some time with him tomorrow. But how about if it’s after I do the snares? That snow isn’t going to be any too certain, as far as allowing one of us to pass without collapsing here and there, and I think I may weight just a little less.”
“A little! You certainly do underestimate things, don’t you? Ok, guess it makes sense for you to go, so long as you’ll eat plenty of whatever you may find in those snares, so you can start working your way back up to weighing a more reasonable amount. Is it a deal?”
“Oh, I intend to eat. Got to keep going.”
Satisfied about the sincerity of Einar’s intentions, Liz began preparing for bed.
Awakened in the night by the need to reposition knees, elbows and ribs in such a way as to ease the painful pressing of bone on bone which seemed with increasing frequency to disturbed his sleep those days, Einar lay listening to the night. Still, silent, only the faintest whisper of a
Breeze through the spruce-tops, and reassured by the quiet, he might have tried for a few more hours’ sleep, but instead lay wide awake testing the air with his nose and attempting thus to roughly determine the outdoor temperature. Somewhere below freezing, he was pretty sure, though how far below he was finding difficult to determine from inside the shelter. Far enough, he hoped, to have caused the rotten snow to form a hard crust which would support his weight, allow him to travel a little more easily without sinking in up to his hips with every step. In addition to being dreadfully inefficient, energy-wise, such movement left a great deal of highly visible sign should anyone fly over before either the next big snow had come along to conceal it, or all the snow had finished melting out.
Unable to relax again into sleep at the thought that he would be wasting his opportunity to get out on some more stable snow—was still not comfortable; seemed to be no position in which he could lie where some part of him was not digging into another and hurting rather insistently after a few minutes, and he didn’t know how Liz could stand to be near him when they slept, for surely he must make her uncomfortable, also—Einar after some minutes eased out of the sleeping bags, doing his best not to disturb Liz and grabbing his boots before slipping out the door. Definitely below freezing out there, Einar somewhat surprised at the efficiency of their shelter in maintaining a temperature significantly higher than that of the outdoors, even though the fire had been cold for hours. Overhead the stars arced brilliant and unblinking above a softly swaying curtain of spruce boughs, looking almost close enough to touch and shedding enough light, once Einar moved out from beneath the trees, for him to travel without stumbling. A good thing, for the snow, though cold-crusted and solid underfoot, was riddled with pitfalls and uneven spots where the actions of sun and nearby stones or fallen trees had accelerated the melting process, and even with the starlight, it was all Einar could do to stay on his feet.
Picking his way over the crusty snow and striving to avoid spots which would have been shaded by evergreens most days and not sun-softened so they could later form a crust in the cold, Einar headed up the ridge on which lay the snares, hoping to be able to bring home a squirrel or rabbit for breakfast.