Replenishing his fire, he brushed great masses of snow from his clothing and sat huddled miserably. After a time, he became warmer again. The heat trapped within the shelter dried his clothing. Snow had built up on the roof of his shelter and had drifted against the walls, making what seemed to Tim a snug hideaway. The actual temperature in the shelter was only ten degrees above freezing, but Tim had grown used to hardship.
Outside, the snow fell ceaselessly, filling up the spaces between the trees and building long drifts in the meadows.
* * *
The black bear lay beneath a stunted hemlock. His various wounds ached and the festering shot beneath his eye had now robbed it of sight in one eye. He had eaten well of the deer carcass, but he needed more, much more, if he was to survive his winter hibernation.
* * *
Outside, the temperature had dropped to zero. Within the shelter, Tim huddled close to the fire. He slept little during the night, and his skin crawled at the thought of going out into the cold to search for more firewood. Throughout the mountains, this would be a time of withdrawal, when every creature stayed close to his den and dozed the storm away.
If the temperature stayed this low, he could not travel even when the storm broke. He would either freeze quickly, or starve slowly by the fire. It was not a matter of giving up – he would fight to the last – but now he realized that he had used up all his options. If he could kill a deer, he might make some rough clothing from its hide and live on its meat until he could fashion snowshoes and walk out. But how could he kill a deer when the cold had nailed him to his fire?
* * *
The black bear slept, wrapped in layers of fat and fur. The wind howled in the brush around him. From the Olympics in northern Washington to the Tehachapies east of Bakersfield, the western mountains were being buried by the first major storm of what would be an exceptionally harsh winter.
* * *
The storm was like a giant beast, crushing the land beneath it. When Tim stepped out of his shelter into the night, the wind whipsawed him and nearly drove him back inside. He forced himself to go out and burrow through the drifts for wood. Then he collapsed by the fire, almost crying out from the cold.
It would not be enough to get him through the night.
Again and again during the night, Tim had to go out to burrow through the drifts for down wood. Each time it was harder to force himself out, and each time it took longer to warm himself again. He got no sleep, just a few moments of dozing, and the strength the porcupine’s meat had given him drained steadily away.
Tim was wakened by the sun. For a long time he lay in a stupor, unable to comprehend the meaning of that fact, then he leaped up and staggered out. He had to climb up out of his shelter onto the drift snow to see the world around him. Every tree and bush shone with a diamond light that hurt his eyes, and the sun hung suspended beyond a hole in the clouds.
The clouds had lifted during the night and the snow had stopped falling, but even as he watched the sun was obscured again. He could see for miles now, and for the first time he could make out familiar landmarks. more tomorrow