Softening of ice, slipping of the rock beneath, and through that afternoon Einar and Liz continued to hear occasional rumbles from the canyon, but they were by now reasonably certain of the sounds’ source, and were not overly disturbed by them. Once assured that no helicopters were involved in the racket he was hearing, Einar devoted all his attention to the construction of the smoking tent. Choosing a group of closely-growing spruces with heavy, smoke-dispersing boughs, he set to work suspending the parachute which had carried Liz and Will safely to the ground. Scrambling up into one of the spruces and bracing himself securely between it and the trunk of an adjacent tree, he tied the top of the canopy in several places so as to keep an opening at the top, a place for excess smoke to escape.
Working, he almost hated the thought of soiling that clean, white fabric with smoke residue, but they still had his chute which would remain clean, snow camouflage for future missions. Finished securing the top of the tent, Einar lowered himself down from his perch, Will watching him all the way from the spruce bough enclosure which, if not serving entirely to contain him, acted as both a visual barrier and slight roadblock should the little one choose to take off on his own. It would, at least, give Liz or Einar time to see what was happening, and, if needed, intercept the intrepid explorer.
“Well Snorri, that ought to do it, don’t you think? For the top, at least. That’s where the smoke’s going to come out. Smoked elk jerky, that’s what we’re aiming for, here. I know you don’t have enough teeth yet to appreciate anything like that, but the time is coming. Ok. Better get back to work on this thing. Still have to do the lower edges, and then put a rack of some sort in there so we’ll have something to hang the meat strips on. Should have done that first, huh? Would have been easier. But I didn’t have any willows, and kind of wanted to wait for willows, since they’re smaller, smoother and don’t leave spruce sap in the jerky. Will have to go hunting for some willows, when the tent is all done.”
Will chortled in agreement, firmly and repeatedly banging his little hand against one of the branches of his enclosure. This gesture, as Einar had noted previously, seemed to serve a catch-all attempt at communication, sometimes denoting agreement, others indicating displeasure and on occasion simply a call for attention. Einar found it fascinating to watch this growing development of his son’s communication abilities, a mystery and a delight to witness.
Stopping briefly to catch his breath after climbing down out of the trees, Einar began work on the bottom of the tent, securing the chute to adjoining trees to make a fairly wide canopy, its lower edge less than a foot from the ground. Inside, sunlight seemingly magnified as it filtered through the white cloth, the air itself appeared to glow, dancing tree-shadows playing across the canopy. Not wanting Will to miss out on this experience and knowing that the tent would be no place for him once filled with elk strips and smoke, Einar ducked out and retrieved the little one, rolling back under the billowing fabric and depositing him in the circle of dancing light.
Here Liz found them some minutes later, Einar lying on his back with the child reclining against his raised knees, father fast asleep and son staring in rapt fascination at the changing patterns of sunlight and shadow. Sun’s warmth trapped by the fabric and wind largely excluded, the air was already a good ten degrees warmer in the little tent than outside, Liz quietly slipping in beside Einar and motioning to Will to be silent, let his father sleep. She needn’t have bothered, Will so caught up in watching the shadows that he hardly noticed her arrival. For some time the three of them remained together in this little cocoon of warmth and light, Einar soon waking but finding himself in no great hurry to move, hating to disturb the peace of the moment. Perhaps, he thought to himself, they would have to make a second tent with the remaining parachute, leave it uncontaminated by smoke and visit it every sunny day for a few quiet minutes, just for the delight of doing so. A silly idea, and not one he would likely pursue, but the thought had been a pleasant one.
Shaking the sleep from his eyes and blinking in the brilliant white light, Eianr ducked out of the tent, and began searching for the best branches to which he could secure the lower ends of the smoking tent, better channeling the smoke and preventing its blowing away on a windy day. Finished constructing and securing the tent, he set off in search of the willow wands they would need in the construction of a good, lightweight rack for smoking and drying jerky. No willows grew in the immediate area of the shelter, but this did not disturb Einar, wanting as he did to clear the remaining confusion of sleep from his head with a walk. Liz and Will remained behind in the tent, enjoying the sunlight, stillness and warmth of the place and finding themselves rather reluctant to leave.
Up out of the tiny basin Einar climbed, air from the canyon almost warm against his face when he reached the summit of the small ridge which sheltered their home, rich with the odors of thawing ground and awakening vegetation. Closing his eyes for a moment and allowing the smells to drift past and through him, Einar tried to pick out the sharp, sweet tang of willows, but could not find it. No surprise, as he knew they must be some distance away, down lower where there was more water. He had no intention of going as far as the canyon floor, not a wise expenditure of energy when they had other branches at the shelter which would suffice for drying jerky, but he did want to make a thorough search of the more immediate area before giving up on the idea of willows.
Lower. He had to travel lower if he was to find his willows, and though knowing the return climb would be something of a challenge, weary as he was feeling, Einar continued to descent, enjoying the signs of spring all around him and a mellow breeze which increased in strength and sweetness as he emerged from the heavier timber surrounding their tiny basin home. Smiling, Einar enjoyed the unfamiliar sweetness, but then he caught scent of something else, and it stopped him in his tracks. Smoke. Faint but unmistakable it rose to join the other odors, and though his first thought was that perhaps Liz had decided to try out the new jerky-smoking setup, he knew this could not be so. The air that flowed past him was rising warm from the canyon, no eddy or gust of wind which could conceivably carry smoke down from the basin, and Einar, turning his head this way and that in an attempt to get a better fix on the direction from which the smoke might be coming, knew they were no longer alone.