22 October, 2014

22 October 2014

Frozen in the moment with the instinct of a wild creature long accustomed to avoiding detection, motionless beneath his mat of evergreen, Einar met the man’s eye.  No doubt about it, binoculars lingering on his shadowy shelter before moving on, but even more certain than the directional probability was an unmistakable sense of contact on Einar’s part, something passing between the two distant figures before the man went on, scanning past him along the rim.  Too casual, it was, to deliberate the unconcern with which his gaze moved on, actions further confirming to Einar that he had been seen, had been recognized, if not necessarily as himself—the man, after all, could be there for any of a dozen reasons which had nothing to do with hunting him—as an object of interest, and one which must not be made to feel suspicion, and to flee.    Einar did not flee, greatly as his instincts were urging him to do so, did not so much as move an elbow or lower his head from the position in which they had sat been when he believed he’d been spotted.  If the other man was going to adopt a casual, caution-allaying attitude, well, so could he.  Neither would acknowledge having seen, or been seen by, the other.

A good fifteen minutes later, and Einar’s ribs hurt where they dug into the rock on one side, right hip and leg numb from prolonged contact with the unyielding limestone and his shivers becoming progressively more difficult to control.  The sun was gone from his legs, dipping below the solid phalanx of black-limbed spruce on the low hill behind him, his body heat seeping away into the vast expanse of stone below, and he was growing very cold.  Still, he must not move, for the man had not yet completed his study of the canyon rim and begun tracing his way back towards the spot where Einar lay concealed.  He certainly was making a thorough job of the inspection, and once more Einar began growing heavy-eyed with waiting, only this time it was exhaustion and the cold which pushed him towards sleep, rather than the good, restful feeling that comes of having the sun on one’s back.

Well.  You didn’t go to sleep then, and you’re certainly not doing it now.  Way things feel though, you’d better think of fixing it so you can’t, just in case.  Though assailed by the brief thought that perhaps a hot drink and a good meal would be by far the best way to ward off the sort of weariness that was stalking him so closely that afternoon, he soon consigned all such considerations to the realm of the unattainable, and positioned his previously-injured leg in such a way as to render sleep, even the beyond-weary, cold-induced kind, quite an impossibility.

Wide awake once more, Einar scanned the canyon floor, quickly spotting the three intruders.  The first two remained beside the creek, for all appearances attempting to obtain fish for their supper, while the third…had changed position, and Einar could no longer find him!  Searching somewhat frantically lest the man already be partway up the canyon wall somewhere on his way to the rim, and to reaching his own position, Einar at last locate the man, who appeared to have moved only because the shadows had shifted, and sunlight was now falling on the spot from which he had previously scrutinized the rim.  Made sense.  The sun would have interfered with his search.  Speaking of which, the man’s glasses appeared to be once more trained directly upon him, Einar using every ounce of restraint available to prevent himself shimmying backwards and disappearing into the brush, out of sight.  Must not move.  Must not let the picture change, from down below.  He kept still.  Looked away.  Didn’t want to let the man know he’d been seen, though by now he must assume as much.

It seemed a long time that the stranger’s eyes were on Einar before they continued their search of the rim, far too long, and when finally the man lowered his binoculars and joined the pair at the creek, Einar let his head rest on the ground in a brief moment of relief before stiffly pulling himself backwards away from the rim, fully concealed, finally, beneath his evergreen mat.  Good to change position, to move, after so very long a time of stillness on the cold limestone, but movement did not come easily, legs cramping up and refusing, at first, to support him when he attempted to stand.  Persisting, he got himself at last to his feet, glanced over towards the rim and was glad to discover that he could not see beyond the timber. 

Now that he was entirely out of sight of the group in the canyon and well concealed, Einar was beginning to doubt the veracity of the rather firmly-held belief that he had, indeed, been spotted.  Though the man had certainly appeared to focus on him, on his precise location, he knew from long experience how difficult it could be to catch sight of on object as small and well-camouflaged as he would have presented, flattened as he had been beneath the evergreen mat and entirely in shadow.  Would have been nearly impossible, really, for the man to spot him, even had he been slowly and deliberately scanning the rim with the intention of discovering some hidden presence.  Was probably just his weary mind playing tricks on him, this notion that he had been seen.  Thus it was, afternoon shadows lengthening into evening and he finding it almost impossible to begin warming up after his time in contact with the limestone, that Einar nearly convinced himself to ignore his misgivings, turn his back on the canyon, and head for home. 

Trying too hard.  You know you’re trying too hard, here.  Something isn’t right with this whole situation.  Folks camping up here this time of year with snowmelt really under way and the ground all mucky and slushy, that real odd choice of campsites down on the boggy ground near the creek, and then this fellow with the glasses.  You know what that was, not just what you saw, but what you felt.  His eyes were on you.  He made contact.  You’d be a fool to ignore that.

Which left the question, now what?  If he left now and returned home he would have to wonder if the man had allayed his curiosity by finding a way up out of the canyon and inspecting the rim in person, perhaps discovering the spot where he had lain and from there, possibly picking up and following his trail…but should he stay and watch until the little party broke camp and move on, there was a near certainty that Liz would at some point come out looking for him, putting her, and little Will, in danger should they find their way to the steep, rocky couloir through which he had descended and possibly even getting them spotted, should they reach the rim before he could intercept them.  Einar shifted from one foot to the other, wrapped stiff arms around his middle and clamped his jaw to stop his teeth beginning to chatter.  Wished the answer might be clearer.

One thing did seem clear, which was that he must not let these intruders out of his sight, at least until they’d broken camp and begun heading—hopefully—back down the canyon, again.  Much as he might have liked to return home and tell Liz what was happening, prevent her needlessly wandering about in search of him, this seemed too great a risk.  The task would take a long time, and the probability that he would knock loose additional rocks in navigating the couloir—twice—and alerting the trio to his presence, seemed awfully high.  He would have to stay, to watch and wait, to hope that if she came, her path would cross his before she too nearly approached the rim, and danger, herself.

Evening settling in, last of the sunlight disappearing from the distant fir-tops, and a thin, sharp breeze was blowing, and he had nothing but the clothes on his back, and the few items he always carried on his belt, around his neck and in pockets.  Had better start looking for some dry leaves or evergreen needles to stuff in between layers of clothing, to provide a bit of insulation.  It was going to be a long night.

11 October, 2014

11 October 2014

Working his way out carefully to the edge of the water-roughened limestone Einar kept low to the ground, creeping on his belly lest he risk skylining himself and perhaps being seen from below.  Not much vegetation right there on the edge where the earth dropped away into the canyon some four hundred feet below—canyon was not as deep here at its head as out along the rim in other places—but he did find a small growth of matted fir shrubs, ground-hugging, wind, dwarfed, excellent home for pikas or chipmunks, but hardly shelter or concealment for a full-sized human.  Well, good thing I’m kind of flat at the moment, kind of short on physical substance, because looks like I can worm my way in under these things and still get a view down over the wall, without leaving myself so exposed. 

Slow going, Einar having to be very cautious not to knock loose limestone pebbles down over the edge, containing them with one arm and carefully sweeping them aside while using his other elbow to inch himself forward.  There.  Could get a look over the cliff, finally, world dropping away beneath him as he realized he had worked his way out onto a bit of an overhang, nothing but air beneath.  The smoke was coming from down there, alright, though he saw no immediate and obvious point of origin, dispersed as it was by the boughs of numerous evergreens whose pointy green-black tops jutted up at him like braced lances.  Watching, studying, something caught his eye, a little flash of movement some distance from what appeared to be the greatest concentration of smoke, something light-colored down there amongst the somber tones of the timber.  The movement did not come again, but it gave Einar a starting point and from this he scanned outwards, looking for any further anomalies which might provide clues as to the nature of the person or people who were camped down on the canyon floor

Some ten minutes later, Einar had located the camp.  Camouflaged tent tucked under the trees, well-concealed enough that it might have escaped his notice entirely, had it not been for the sleeping bag spread to air out in the sun on a boulder not far from the little camp.  Pretty well camouflaged itself, it was a single patch of yellow cloth near the foot of the bag which betrayed to Einar its presence.  Seeing the bag, recognizing its shape and once more scanning outwards Einar did make out the shape of the tent, seeing not the object itself but its shadow in the slanting spring light.  So.  He had identified the source of the smoke, but now what?  Wished he’d brought the binoculars so he could have a better look, but that was not an option.  Best stay right where he was, well concealed beneath his evergreen mat, and watch for a while.  Perhaps even with his distant view, something would become obvious as time went on, some series of clues from which he might piece together the intentions of these intruders. 

Stillness down below, sun falling in patches on Einar’s back where it found its way through the prickly fir mat, shining on his legs where they stuck out behind the vegetation, and in its warmth he began growing sleepy, muscles relaxing and the shivering which was almost always with him now slacking off and finally disappearing.  No good.   Mustn’t sleep.  Wasn’t going to be able to manage a lot of watching if he was fast asleep under the tree-mats, and besides, should he wake and start moving about before he remembered exactly where he was, the results could be disastrous, a shower of little limestone pebbles raining down the canyon wall and alerting the camp to his presence—or worse.  Might take the tumble, himself, and then there he would be, critically injured and at the mercy of whoever might be down there, having brought down a bunch of rocks with him and almost inevitably alerted them to his presence.  He shuddered, momentarily clamped his eyes shut as if to banish the vision.  Not the way he wanted things to end.  These thoughts going a long way to banish the sleep that wanted to creep over him, Einar kept his field of view wide, eyes searching more for movement than for detail so he could cover a broader area, and after nearly half an hour of waiting, his patience was finally rewarded.

Attention drawn by a little flash of movement Einar focused his gaze on the creek where it emerged ice-edged and trickling from the timber, almost out of sight against the canyon wall down to his right.  As he watched, two figures emerged from the trees, followed the creek for a time before stopping and appearing to crouch beside it.  For quite some time they did not appear to move at all, Einar blinking heavily in the afternoon sun and again drifting dangerously close to sleep.  Focus, Einar.  No time for this nonsense.   Shifting position slightly so that his hipbones came into contact with the limestone he hoped to be able to count on the discomfort to keep him awake.  Doggone things were always bruised up anyway just from living and moving through the woods, all of his bones bruised and sore most of the time from being so near the surface, so what were a few more bruises, if they helped him stay awake?  A worthwhile trade, for sure. 

Still no movement from the pair beside the creek, strange, he thought, that they would crouch there for so long with no movement, and he tilted his head, squinted in an attempt to get a clearer picture and perhaps make some sense of what he was seeing.  Ah.  There.  One of the figures, he was pretty sure, held a fishing rod, and in the next moment he was certain, for he saw the man (woman?  Too far away to begin guessing on that one) rise from his crouch and make a motion as if to cast a line.  Fishing, then.  Not a very likely-seeming spot, what with the sluggishness of the icy creek, its waters not yet having begun to really wake for spring.  In a few weeks it would, he knew, be a roaring torrent both there in the canyon and where it tumbled down the rough cut in the wall, making its way in a series of waterfalls and steep cascades down from the high lake above. 

That lake, he expected, was probably stocked by fish in the summer by the Forest Service; he hadn’t ever ventured close enough to determine this for sure, but had caught glimpses of the body of water from a distance on his previous reconnaissance of the canyon rim.  So, not entirely unreasonable that this pair should be fishing, but what had brought them to the canyon in the first place?  Nothing too nefarious, surely, if they were willing to expose themselves thus along the creek bank.  Probably just a couple of outdoorsmen exploring the early spring backcountry, and likely not a threat to himself or his family, so long as they took reasonable precautions with smoke and noise, for a few days.  Not ready to leave yet, though. Wanted to watch for at least a few more minutes, see what might come up.

Cold now that he was no longer insulated from the ground by the branches which had been under him Einar soon found himself shivering again despite the patchy sunlight, fighting hard to hold himself still enough to get a good view of the canyon floor, wanted to edge backwards so that the sun might fall on him slightly more fully, but what he saw the next moment was enough to banish both this notion and any sleepiness that might have remained.

*   *   * 
Down on the canyon floor a third joined the pair by the creek, camouflaged jacket unzipped in the warmth of the still air and binoculars around his neck, raising them, scanning the rim.