Spirit Deer 10

Tim was completely familiar with the outdoors, but he had never realized before how much technology was tied up in a backpacker’s gear. A down sleeping bag seems so little to carry, but it represents the work of hundreds of people. Take the nylon shell alone; from the geologist, to the oil rigger, to the trucker, to the workers who run the refineries and factories that turn oil into nylon, to the workers who cut and sew the cloth into the final bag, it represents a chain of effort stretching through dozens of links.

Tim had taken his gear for granted before, taking care of it because it was expensive and because his father demanded care, but not really thinking about what it meant. He would never take it for granted again.

As he limped downward, the slope of the ground increased. Within a hundred yards, he could see better. He could look across a tree studded valley to another broken slope beyond. He worked his way gingerly downhill, holding his injured ankle above the ground and leaning heavily on the crutch. He knew that he would eventually come to a stream if he kept to the lowest ground.

The rain came again in scattered droplets, but luck was with him and it did not rain hard. He had to reach a source of drinking water and construct a shelter before the rain started again in earnest.

Now he was among low, twisted trees. The ground was very uneven underfoot. A gully some twenty feet across cut across his path and he was forced to detour along it. Eventually that gully widened into a miniature valley. Tim found a slide and worked his way down to the valley floor thirty feet below. On the way down, he fell and slid, stopping himself by digging his crutch into the talus like an ice axe. He lay panting for a while, until the pain in his ankle eased enough to let him go on.

The stream that had cut the valley was dry now. Once Tim found a pool, scarcely a foot across and drank there, saving the water in his canteen. There were a few wild flowers still growing so late in the season. Tim could not remember their names, but he chewed on them as he walked, and tried not to think of how hungry he was. There were probably many edible plants around him, but there were also poisonous ones, and he didn’t know which was which.

The sky had gone dark, although it was far from evening, when he came to the pool. A ponderosa pine growing close to the stream bed had been undermined some previous season and had fallen across the stream. Gravel and sand had shored it up, forming a natural dam. The pool was eight feet wide and stretched for thirty feet upstream, becoming more narrow and shallow toward its upper end. At most, it was no more than eighteen inches deep.  Last night’s rain had filled it with muddy water and there were tracks of small animals at the water’s edge.

Tim stopped short and did not approach the pool so that he would not leave his scent there. Then he searched about for a place to make his shelter. Another ponderosa pine grew a few dozen feet upstream. Like the tree that had dammed the creekbed, this pine had roots denuded by erosion and a mound of driftwood had gathered at its base. There were several willow saplings, shade killed and still dry beneath the ponderosa.

Tim chose his campsite with care, near the driftwood pile but above the flood line. First he cleared a small area of debris and built a ring of rocks. He cut tinder and fuzz sticks from the dead saplings and soon had a fire going. more tomorrow


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