The tracks led to a cut where some shift in the landscape was starting a new stream. It was dry now, but Tim could see that water had come rushing in a muddy torrent down the bank of the ravine, cutting and gouging among the rocks, uprooting one stunted juniper and carving a channel. Everything was knife edged in its newness. Obviously this waterfall had only seen one or two major rains. The deer’s tracks stood out clearly where it had gone up.
Tim gave a low whistle of admiration. Despite his injury, the deer still had stamina. And guts, for it had certainly fallen at least twice during the ascent. Tim tossed both spears over the lip of the bank above, then tossed up his unstrung bow the same way. Bracing his feet, he grasped his crutch-club by its tip and spun it up over the lip. The atlatl went into his quiver. It was a rough climb with only one good leg, but there were handholds.
A recent slide had dammed a small stream, shoving the waters sideways to spill over the bank of the ravine. Some water from the recent rain remained trapped there. The deer had apparently smelled it. Restraining his distaste, Tim drank from the muddy pool. The tracks led up slope away from the ravine.
Tim squatted in the dimness and checked the tracks again. They continued toward the top of the hill, and Tim was sure that the deer was bedded down somewhere above him.
The deer had been browsing through this tiny, high valley. Tim could read this from his tracks, though he had not seen him. His father had taught him a lot about mule deer and their habits, and his grandfather had taught him Miwuk tales about them. Tim was sure that this deer would be up there somewhere watching the valley and trying the air for a foreign scent. In just a few minutes there would be no more light and Tim had to decide what to do. He could not make it back to his shelter now, even if he wanted to abandon the hunt. If he stayed where he was, he would be no better off in the morning than he was now. But if he could work to the ridge above under the cover of darkness, he would be in position when the muley came out from his cover tomorrow morning.
The wind decided matters for him. He simply could not stand the cold any longer.
He settled in against a cutbank, beneath a screen of firs and built a fire against a downed log. There were no aspens nearby to form a bark basket, so he skewered the squirrel he had shot that afternoon and roasted it whole. The dry, stringy meat was not nearly as satisfying as the squirrel and pine nut stew had been.
He drank from a trickle of water in the stream bed and wished for a bark basket and juniper berries to make tea. Even a pint of unflavored hot water in his stomach would have warmed him. He stretched out in the narrow space between the fire and the bank and thought of the down jacket tied to the back of his bike, hidden all too well at the campsite where he had started this hunt.
Tim did not sleep at once. He lay awake for a long time staring into the fire before the warmth finally began to soak into him, and thought about all the times he had sat beside his father or grandfather staring into other campfires. His father hunted only once a year to get a deer for the freezer, but they had spent many nights camping out for the pleasure of being outdoors. Sometimes he had gone with his father alone; other times his grandfather had come along. more tomorrow