31 January, 2015

31 January 2015

Sun coming up over the ridge as Einar, Liz and their guests worked to slice mostly frozen elk meat for jerky, pile of prepared slices quickly growing on the slab of clean granite Liz had provided for the purpose.  Will, not yet quite old enough to be handed a knife of his own so he could participate in the work but clearly wishing to help, balanced his way from one person to the next, occasionally taking an unsupported step when the next knee or shoulder was a bit too far away.  This greatly delighted Susan, who set aside her work and encouraged the little one to let go and walk to her.  Four wobbly steps, but he did it, changing course at the last minute to pursue Muninn, who sat watching the jerky-slicing with great interest from his perch on Einar’s shoulder.  Will could not quite reach the bird, stood on tiptoe against his father’s side and made a well-controlled lunge for a handful of tail feathers, but missed when the raven saw what was happening and took a timely hop to the side.  Tumbling to the floor beside Einar, Will squealed in delight as the raven hopped down beside him and gently twisted a bit of hair in his beak.

Susan laughed. “It looks like the raven remembers his job here.  You know, he never would approach either of us after you folks left.  Just sat in the spruce outside by the deck and watched through the windows late in the afternoon and in the evenings, trying to catch a glimpse of you.  During the day he would be gone.  I’d always see him flying off in the same direction about daylight, and returning from a different one, so I think he had a big circuit he was making, probably up to the mine and over the ridge.  Bud and I thought as springtime really got started down there some kind of instinct might kick in and he’d go off in search of other ravens, start a family, but he never did deviate from that routine of his.  You folks are his family now, it seems, and he sure is glad to be home.”

Einar held out an arm, and the bird hopped up onto it, settling on his shoulder.  “Kinda glad to have the old buzzard back here with us.  Thanks.”

“Yeah,” Bud chimed in, “but as you said, no way we’d come up here just to bring back the bird.  Come to take you folks out of here, Asmundson.  If you’ll go.  Take you down the hill.”

Eyes going dark at the suggestion, Einar focused intently for a time on the meat he was slicing, cold-tremors disappearing from his hands as he added several neat, precise strips to the pile before answering with a shake of his head.  “You know we can’t do that.  Search may have tapered off, feds moved their focus to other matters, but the minute we put ourselves down there where random contacts with other people are more likely…well, you know that’s how this sort of thing ends.  No.  Got a lot to teach our little boy, up here.  Lot of life for him to live.”

“Hey, I know it.  Not suggesting you folks move on into town and start parading around in the streets with your buckskins and atlatls and all and wait for the feds to notice, or anything like that.  Simply suggesting a little drop in elevation, maybe a place with a few more resources so you’re not having to fight so hard to get by, all the time.  Which would have the added advantage of confusing the heck out of anybody who’s still lookin’ for you, because it would be such a break in the pattern!”

“It’d be the end, Kilgore.”

“Yeah, end of you always having to look over your shoulder, keep watch at night and scramble inside to put out the fire whenever you hear a plane in the distance.  Wouldn’t have to be the end of anything else.  Could be a new start.”

Einar just shook his head, kept slicing jerky, and the tracker let it go for the moment, silently musing as he worked.  You wouldn’t know what to do with it, would you?  With the end of the search, a chance to live what most folks would consider a more normal, settled life.  It’d probably kill ya before a year was out.  You need the running, don’t you?  The struggle.  I get it.  Don’t know about your Lizzie, though.  Seems she might appreciate a break from all this, just a year or two while the little one does some growing.  Got to be some way to make it work for everyone…

By the time the sun had reached an angle where it really began to warm the little tent—and thaw the meat they were trying to slice, rendering the work more difficult—the job was nearly finished.  As they worked, Susan had further detailed goings-on in the valley, start of the season for her greenhouse business, local politics in Culver Falls—Sheriff Watts had, because of his vocal opposition to the former federal occupation of the town, become a very popular local figure and probably could have reached state or even national office, had he been inclined to give up his post as Sheriff—and the latest news about her grandchildren. 

Liz found the conversation quite pleasant, these little scenes of a quiet, settled life as told by Susan; Einar was just glad he didn’t have to be any closer than he currently was to the crowd and bustle she was describing.  Three guests were plenty to deal with, and the more seldom they could put in their appearances, the better.   He did however, find a fair amount of intelligence value in Susan’s telling of local events down in the valley.  Seemed Kilgore must have been close to right when he described not only an end to the active search that has been based just outside the town, but a general loss of interest on the part of the feds,  This, had he allowed himself to indulge, would have brought to Einar a significant degree of relief, as it meant the various planes, choppers and ground operations they spotted from time to time more than likely bore no relation to any sort of ongoing search, and that they could, with the taking of reasonable precautions—no building of three-story split-log mansions out in the middle of forty acre meadows paving the driveway with mud-and-pine-needle bricks and putting up fences to keep a herd of seventy or eighty mountain goats, for instance, and he laughed silently at the thought—likely live out their lives in the high country not only free of actual interference, but of the constant need to be on their toes and expecting attack, all the time.  A tempting vision, but he knew better.  Down that path lay only complacency, discovery and eventual capture.  Not going that way.  Not with his family, and not had he been alone.  Not a good way for all of this to end.  Liz was staring at him, apparently waiting for him to answer something, and he realized that being lost in thought, he had failed to hear the question.  He looked at her, smiled, hoped she might repeat it.

“Don’t you think it sounds like something we can consider?  Expanding our territory, maybe moving down a little lower where we’ll have access to a wider variety of plants and critters through the summer, and a little less struggle when winter comes?  Maybe this is the time for it.”

Frustration.  Of course she hadn’t heard him, the silent words in his head, but he would have hoped there to be no need, hoped she was thinking similarly.  “We’ll talk about it.”

That, she understood.  The conversation could wait.  “Well, let’s get this jerky hung up and drying, then!”  Susan exclaimed, rising from her eat by the tent wall.  “It looks like we’ve got quite a pile of it.  What are you going to use for racks?”

A sheepish grin from Einar as he remembered his failed willow-gathering mission several days prior.  “Was going to use willows.  Started out to find some a few days ago, and instead found smoke in the canyon, and at the end of the smoke, you folks.  Never did get around to cutting the willows.  So looks like you three’ll have to stand in here and hold the jerky while it dries. Link hands maybe, and form a circle. You’ll kinda freeze at night, but will thaw out when the sun comes up.  At these temperatures, the whole process may take a few days…”

“Huh.  You can forget that!”  Bud bellowed.  “Come on, Rog.  Let’s go find the fella some willows.  On your feet, Asmundson.  If we do the finding, you got to do the carrying.  

Susan laughed and began helping Liz gather up the sliced jerky strips as the three men set off, Muninn flapping delightedly along beside Einar.

16 January, 2015

16 January 2015

A clear night up in the little basin, stars wheeling slowly overhead and no gust of wind coming to disturb the improvised tents beneath which Roger, Bud and Susan had taken shelter for the night.  Though the night air was chilly at that high elevation, cold enough, certainly, to form on the sun-softened snow the rock-hard crust which made spring travel so easy and so trackless on spring mornings in the high country.  But even through the frigid night hours rose the warm, living smells of thawing ground and awakening vegetation which heralded spring as surely as did the lengthening hours of daylight.  Susan smiled in her sleep as these living and life-giving smells rode the slightest whisper of wind as it passed down the spruce-laden slopes and through her open-sided tent, dreaming of Will, walking, exploring a meadow of Indian paintbrush rimmed with skunk cabbages while the aspens, leaves still the new, brilliant yellow-green of spring, rustled their water-song overhead.

Too tired to dream after his days out on the canyon rim and the long climb back to the basin, Einar lay enfolded in the welcome blackness of sleep, more than ready for a few hours without movement.  Despite his willingness to stay in the bed and leave further frozen wanderings for the morning, he did not seem to be getting much warmer after an hour or so in the sleeping bag, and Liz was starting to shiver, herself, after being there with him for a while.  His body seemed to be radiating the cold, and she was doubtful of her ability to produce enough heat for both of them.  

Will, at least, was warm in his own little nest of furs off to the side, and was sleeping, so she waited, hoping things would improve so she could join him in sleep.  Not happening, and not a particularly useful situation for anyone, she finally decided, though Einar himself seemed perfectly content with the arrangement.  Content, or perhaps simply too exhausted to notice, and it was the latter which had her a bit worried.  Creeping over to the smoldering coals of the previous evening’s fire she fanned them to life, choosing a few smooth granite stones and rolling them into the resulting bed of living, glowing orange.  Crouching there and warming herself over the coals Liz waited as the rocks heated, quickly wrapping several of them in bits of flannel when she decided they were ready, and hurrying back to bed.

Einar had curled up into a little ball during her absence, still not fully awake—good thing, she could only assume, or he might well have decided that his best course of action involved leaving the bed, and the shelter, and lying in the snow for the remainder of the night to increase his cold tolerance, or some such—and she had some difficulty in persuading him to change his position.  Succeeding at last, she rolled one of the hot rocks down to the foot of the sleeping bag and nestled the others in the hollow of Einar’s stomach where he lay curled up on his side.  He only shook harder at the introduction of this new heat source, but Liz was hopeful that the rocks would do the job.  Already they seemed to be countering the chill that had pervaded the place since his coming to bed, and after a time Einar stirred, seemed to be waking, stirring, trying once more to leave the bed, so that she had to hold him in place over his objections.

“I’ll keep you up all night with this.  Going to…take a while before I can…”

“It’s ok.  I’ve been up at night anyway these past few nights, wondering where you were, and at least now I know.  I’m sure we’ll both get some sleep.”  Which seemed to suit Einar just fine, he far too weary to mind the continued chill in his body, and drifting quickly back towards sleep.  Liz, though, found herself less ready.

“Einar, you have to stop this.”

“Uh…trying.  May take a while.  Said I’d…I’d go outside so I wouldn’t…be bothering you so much, but you…”

“No, you big goof, I don’t mean you’ve got to stop shivering.  Don’t stop that!  You have to finish getting warm.  I mean you’ve got to stop freezing yourself like this all the time, in the first place.  It’s spring.  No sense freezing to death in the springtime, and don’t say you can’t help it because of where we live…you could always wear more clothes.  Or eat more, or both.  It’s a choice.  Isn’t it?”


There seemed little more to say, so she did her best to go to sleep
Liz woke at daylight to the sound of conversation outside, momentarily disoriented and thinking Einar must be carrying on a lively discussion with himself, before remembering the happenings of the past day and realizing that he and Bud must be taking a look at the meat-smoking tent.

“What is this thing, Asmundson?  A sauna?  Radar dome?  Snow camouflage so planes won’t spot you folks when you’re lounging around out here in your brightly-colored Hawaiian shirts?”

Einar laughed at that, a relief to Liz after his strained silence the night before and the long, cold night, and she pulled Will into the bag with her, wanting to feed him before she got up.

“Yeah, camouflage, Einar retorted, “so we can spend some time outside without being spotted by every lost tourist that wanders by looking for a place to camp.”

“You calling us lost tourists?  We’re not lost.  Took a lot of effort to find you folks, you know.”

“How did you do it?”

“Roger had a starting point, because he knew where he’d dropped you.  We flew over that, took a look, then I spent some time with maps and tried to figure what made the most sense.  What you would do.  I’m a tracker, and you know real well that a tracker doesn’t just follow marks in the snow or dirt.  His job is to get inside the head of his quarry, strip everything away and take a good long look at his soul.  That’s the only way to know a human-critter’s intentions, or his likely path.  Came pretty doggone close this time, I’d have to say.”

“For a lost tourist…”

Bud took a playful swing at Einar with the stout spruce stick he was using that morning to alleviate the soreness of knee and hip left behind by the previous day’s climb, surprised at the speed of the man’s reaction as he dodged, dropped to one knee and seized the stick in both hands.  Kilgore could have pressed the matter, thrown the fugitive to the ground with his greater weight, but instead loosed his hold and took a step back, not liking the dead-calm, faraway look in the man’s eye. 

“Whoa, take it easy there Asmundson.  Just checking your response time, making sure you were still on top of things.”

Einar didn’t answer, right away, crouching against the trunk of a spruce and watching the tracker with wary eyes until after a space of several minutes he grinned, relaxed and handed the stick back to Bud.  “Yeah, I know it.”

Roger, Susan and Liz were up by that time, joining them beside the white canopy of the jerky-smoking tent as they waited somewhat anxiously for the sun to come up over the ridge.  Cold that morning, and Einar, still not entirely trusting that their guests had not been observed somewhere along their journey, did not want a fire just yet.  

At Susan’s suggestion they all moved beneath the canopy, taking with them sections of the remaining frozen elk to slice for jerky.