Category Archives: Serial

Spirit Deer 12

When he woke, the dream of his father would not leave him. He clung to it as he lay burrowed in the pile of pine needles that lined the floor of his shelter. Finally, Tim roused himself to put more wood on the fire. It was pitch black beyond the small circle of firelight. He had no idea whether it was early or late in the night.

He very carefully drew his splinted foot up and crossed it over the other so he could sit cross legged in the mouth of his shelter. He did not want to sleep again now. He nudged the remaining bark box of water and juniper berries onto the fire. Soon the smell of it swirled around him, setting his stomach to growling again. He sipped it as he worked.

Tim has saved some of the wood he had dragged up, setting aside those pieces best suited to the making of a deadfall. He was very hungry, and it might be days before his foot got well enough for him to walk out, so it was time to get food. He had seen squirrels about, and there were certainly many small rodents he had not seen, so he would make traps.

As he worked, he searched through his memory for other ways to find food. If he had been at a lower elevation, it would have been relatively easy. There he could have lived on the bounty of acorns and digger pine nuts, as his Miwuk ancestors had done.

Miwuks had not lived this high in the mountains. They had stayed down where the oaks were, since acorns were their major source of food. Tim would have to adapt his knowledge.

Tim caught his head nodding and realized that his thoughts had trailed off into a half dream. He laid the deadfall aside, and burrowed back into his pine needle bed.

* * *

Tim awoke confused. It took him a long time to sort out where he was. It was full daylight outside and his fire was down to embers. He sat up, then had to brace his hands against the ground until a wave of dizziness passed.

He dragged himself upright on his crutch and counted up the days. The total shocked him. Four days had passed since he had ridden away from home to spend the day with his grandfather, and he had not eaten in all that time.

The deadfall would have to wait. Tim needed food now!

Tim limped down to the ponderosa pine with the driftwood pile at its base, and found nothing but old, open, empty cones on the ground. There were a dozen pines in the immediate area, all ponderosas and Jefferies. He circled each one without finding anything edible. Above him he could see the cones, but they were mature and their scales were all flared open. Most of the seeds would have fallen out or have been harvested by squirrels.

One Jeffrey pine had been lightning struck. It had regrown twisted and dwarfed compared to its tall, slender mates. The remaining cones hung lower, but still well out of reach. Tim found a piece of down wood the right size for a throwing stick and tossed it up toward the cones. It was hard to be accurate while balancing against his crutch, but he managed to knock down five cones in about twenty throws. By that time, he was exhausted, so he gathered his cones and sat down against the bole of the tree to search them for nuts. more next week

Spirit Deer 11

He had placed his fire near a wrist thick manzanita with a convenient crotch. Now he searched through the pile for a twenty foot chunk of driftwood and dragged it back to his campsite. Working with one hand and hobbling along on his crutch made the job harder, but he managed to jam the heavy end of the log into the manzanita crotch. This would form the main beam of his survival shelter.

It took many more exhausting trips to the driftwood pile to find the four to eight foot pieces of driftwood that he piled against the main beam to form the walls of his tent shaped shelter. Then he spent an hour carrying dirt, moss, bark, and pine needles to mound over it, saving the best armloads of needles to make his bed inside.

Tim had built survival shelters a few years earlier during outdoor education week, but then there had been a dozen kids working together. Working alone, hobbled by his crutch, and weakened by hunger and exposure, it took Tim most of the afternoon to make his shelter. By the time he had finished, he put more wood on his fire, then simply crawled inside and fell asleep.

Hunger and cold woke him. Outside, it was growing dark, but he could still see well enough to make his way through the brush. He went to an aspen he had spotted earlier and cut two squares of bark. He folded these into boxes and laced the rims with bark strips. He filled them at the pool and stopped on the way back to his shelter to strip off some juniper berries. He put one of the bark boxes at the edge of the fire, knowing that it would not burn as long as it was filled with water.

It was raining again now, and Tim was glad that he had dragged wood up from the driftwood pile to keep his fire going through the night. He sat in the mouth of his shelter, hunched over because of its low roof, and sipped his juniper tea. It was very bitter, and it did nothing to ease the hunger he felt, but the warmth of the heated water went all through him and brought his body back to life.

He was lost and hungry, and he was trying really hard not to think about how his mother must be worrying. But the darkness held no terrors for him, and the fire was friendly. He loved the hiss of the rain falling into it, and the moist smell of fungus that came from his wood and dirt shelter. Surrounded by the familiar smell of the fire and the sound of the rain, he felt at home.

He burrowed into his pine needle bed and fell asleep.

Chapter 4

Tim dreamed of his father. Once again he was at the outdoor center learning how to make survival shelters, but this time his father was the instructor, and working side by side with the rest of the kids to bank the shelter with dirt and leaves.

Then Tim was hunting with his father and, in the manner of dreams, he did not feel strange that he had slid from one time and place to another. He smelled again the vivid smells of campfire and damp forest earth, and felt the warmth of his father’s presence. more tomorrow

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

Spirit Deer 9

He stood again, propping himself with the juniper, and measured it against his body. Then he sat to cut his makeshift crutch to length. The narrow tip that he cut off would make a crosspiece later, but now he just jammed the base into his armpit and started out looking for firewood. It cut him painfully, but Tim couldn’t worry about that.

Everything was soaked from the rain. All of the down wood he dragged up had to be dried by the fire before it would burn. As he nursed the fire, he lashed a crosspiece onto his crutch with another strip cut from his shirt sleeve.

Rain soaked him through and turned the granite shiny in the firelight as the last light of day faded. Nearby, a nest of boulders caught the runoff and made a finger sized waterfall. Tim set his empty canteen under it, and had his first drink of water that day. It made him feel better.

Out there, a quarter of a mile away, were trees which would give him shelter. But he could not move his fire, and he could not be sure of starting another one with wet wood.

His second night on the slope was even more miserable than his first one.

* * *

Tim awakened when the wind began. The rain had stopped, but the wind was even more dangerous. It cut through him with a deadly chill. His campfire was nearly out, and so was the fire of life within his body. He knew that if he did not get warm soon, he would die.

He added new fuel to the fires and started a third one.  Within that triangle of fire, he stripped. Off came his left boot. His jeans would not go over his splinted right boot, so he split his jeans from waistband to cuff and pulled them off.

Off came his wool shirt and he sat nearly naked, shivering as he dried his shirt over the fire. When it caught fire, he squeezed the flames out with his fingers. The wind tore at his bare skin and carried away the heat from the fires, but he would not let himself take half measures. He held the shirt to the flames until it was dry, and when he put it on again the warmth was unbelievable.

Drying his jeans took even longer. By the time he had them on, and had laced up the split leg with strips cut from his handkerchief, the sky was beginning to turn light. He used his makeshift crutch to stand and turn around, but the clouds were so thick that he could not tell which section of the sky was lightest.

Tim knew that he had to get off the bald side of the mountain and into shelter before it rained again.

He could not put his fire out properly, but on this bare, wet rock it would do no harm. He scattered the wood with his crutch, and took stock. At his belt he had his knife, canteen, and the precious firestone in its canvas case. Since he had laced his pants leg with handkerchief strips, his pockets were empty.

Or were they? He suddenly realized that he had dried his jeans over the fire with the three remaining rifle cartridges in the pocket!

He swallowed hard and started down the slope. It was rough going with the crutch, but at least he could move. The crosspiece cut into his armpit, but he didn’t want to sacrifice any more clothing to pad it. When he got to cover, he would find something to use as a cushion. more tomorrow

Spirit Deer 8

Then he dragged himself back. Halfway there, a terrible weakness came over him. Whether it was from pain, poor sleep, or hunger, he could not say, but it frightened him.

In the back of his mind, Tim had been thinking about his mother, and how she would worry about his absence. Now he set those thoughts aside and began to seriously worry about himself.

The clouds rolled above him, gray and heavy with the promise of rain.

Pulling himself to a sitting position, he began to trim branches for a splint. He studied the situation, and decided to replace his boot, then splint over it. That might not be the best or most comfortable way, but at least it would let him walk.

Whatever else happened, he had to get off this bald knob and into shelter.

He cut the splints, but the cord he could have used to bind them had gone with his other survival supplies. He considered his clothing. He wore ten inch boots and socks, jeans, a wool shirt, and underwear. He had a belt, but he needed it to support his knife and firestone case. He had a handkerchief, but that would be too flimsy.

Nothing could be spared, yet something had to be spared. Finally, he decided to sacrifice his shirt sleeves from the elbow down. He cut strips from them until he had enough to bind the splints into place.

He fed the fire and took stock. It was nearing noon, yet a chill hung in the air.

Food? Impossible for now.

Fire? Secured, but not portable. He needed to cut and dry some kindling before he let this fire die out, or he might not be able to start another one later.

Shelter? He had to have shelter by nightfall, or before it rained. And there was no way to make a shelter until he got to lower ground. The edge of the forest was a quarter of a mile away, and that would be a long way to limp on one foot.

He stood to get a better look at the treeline, and to pick the easiest path. He balanced on his left foot, and slowly let some weight down on his right. The pain in his ankle was intense. He lost his balance and sprawled headlong.

* * *

When consciousness returned, the sun was nearly down, and his face was caked with blood from where his head had hit the granite bedrock of the bald.

He was freezing. Again!

He dragged himself to the fire. It was down to a few embers. He chose the driest wood at hand and cut new fuzz sticks – six inch twigs from which twenty or thirty chips are lifted, but allowed to remain attached. He placed these in the embers and blew the fire to life again.

A drop of rain struck his neck.

He gritted his teeth against the pain and crawled to the juniper stem. He would have to have a crutch, so he started working away at its base. It was six feet high and four inches through at the base. Working with only a knife was heartbreakingly slow, but Tim stuck to the task. As he worried away at the base of the tree, the rain began to fall more heavily.

Half an hour later, the juniper fell. Tim crawled back to the fire, dragging it behind him. He was soaked and shivering as he fed the fire and tried to warm himself. His supply of firewood was getting low, and he couldn’t crawl around on the rocks to get more. more next week

Spirit Deer 7

At some point he must have gotten free of the current and come ashore. Obviously – since he remembered none of it – he had only been half conscious. What could have happened then?

As the light increased, Tim realized that this was nowhere he had ever been before. There was no familiar landmark anywhere. He was in high, broken country surrounded by manzanita and scattered junipers. The low hanging clouds kept him from seeing any landmarks he might have recognized, and those clouds seemed to be getting thicker. Without his compass or a view of the sun, he didn’t even know east from west.

He let his campfire burn down. It was time to leave, but he had no idea which direction to go.

How long had he wandered in his dazed condition? More important, how far had he wandered, and in which direction? He might be within a mile of some familiar place, but if he set off in the wrong direction he would only make matters worse.

Tim looked up at the low hanging clouds and began to worry. If it should snow or rain he would be in serious trouble. His poncho – two ounces of flimsy plastic – would have been enough to protect him, but it was gone.

STOP. Stop, think, observe, plan. Tim had learned that phrase in outdoor school as a sixth grader, he had never really thought he would be in a position to use it.

He had certainly stopped and thought. He had observed that this bald knob was no place to find food, water, or shelter. His immediate plan was clear. He would move off downhill. Since he was on the California side of the Sierra Nevadas, any downhill movement would take him westward, which was the direction he wanted to go. If he did not find a familiar landmark, he would at least find a better place to build a survival shelter.

He rose to leave

His right ankle turned beneath him

He cried out as he fell. He took the force of the fall on his shoulder to spare his ankle, but the pain did not go away.

Chapter 3

The pain did not go away. It burned on like a hot knife deep into the joint and Tim knew he had not caused all this by a simple misstep. It had to be something he had done in his fall or his semi-conscious wanderings.

He carefully removed his boot and sock. The flesh was pink and swollen, but not sensitive to his touch. The injury, whatever it was, lay deep. Setting his foot down, he bumped it and the pain almost made him faint.

If he had not been in trouble before, he was certainly in trouble now!

His ankle did not seem to be broken, but how could he be sure? Strained, sprained, twisted, or broken – it made little difference, really.

He needed wood for a splint, and for his fire. Now that he could no longer just walk away, that fire had become a matter of life or death once again. Sliding on his back, with his left leg drawn up to hold his right ankle above the ground, he made his way to a nearby dead juniper. Taking his knife, he cut off the stiff lower limbs until he could reach no more, then balanced on his good foot and continued. Every time he made an unguarded move, the pain in his ankle shot through him.

He stripped the tree of branches, then threw them one by one back toward the fire. Then he dragged himself back. Halfway there, a terrible weakness came over him. more tomorrow

Spirit Deer 6

He arranged this tender on a flat rock and worried the bullet out of a cartridge with his teeth. He spread the powder over his kindling, buried the mouth of the casing in the pile, and held it down with a rock.  Taking his knife, he tapped the primer.


He tapped it harder, and still nothing happened. Shivering and desperate, Tim dropped his knife and struck the casing with a rock. There was a sharp crack and the kindling scattered, but nothing took fire.

A spasm of shivering moved through him and he whimpered in the cold. Flint and steel. It was the only thing left to him, but he had no flint. He grabbed a broken off piece of granite and beat it viciously with his knife. It made no sparks. He tossed it aside and tried another. His breath was coming in sobs now. No sparks. 

He fell to his knees and rummaged among the pebbles and broken rocks, searching for something that was not granite. For a moment, the moon broke through, and he grabbed a rock that was shinier than the rest. He struck it with his knife.

A spark appeared. Tim struck it again and again until a shower of sparks fell on the damp tender. The gunpowder ignited, fizzling and snapping. Tim dropped the rock and knife and fell on his belly.

Blowing gently, he nursed the flame. A shred of bark shriveled and flared, then another. He held a fuzz stick above the tiny flame until it was fully burning, being careful not to smother it. Now he had a handful of flame and be began to feed it larger pieces of wood.

When finger thick pieces of wood were burning, Tim began to relax. He stretched his hands over the flame. Returning circulation almost made him cry out.

Tim gathered more wood and started another fire six feet from the first, then built a woodpile between them. He settled down there, warming himself and feeding them both. It was over an hour before the shivering stopped.

* * *

In the predawn light, Tim examined the rock he had used to start the fire. It glinted with metallic, golden flakes.  Pyrites – fool’s gold. The miners who had dug California’s hills for real gold had despised it, but to Tim it was a treasure.

The canvas case that had carried his emergency gear was basically undamaged. Only the snap had torn out. Tim bored holes in it and tied it shut with strings cut from his shirt cuff to make a secure case for his firestone.

He did not know how long it had been since he started his fire. He had watched the moon cross about a third of the sky before sunrise, peeking from time to time through the overcast. It was a glorious sunrise, but Tim hardly noticed.

Tim could not remember what had happened to him. He could only reason it out. He must have fallen into the stream, and it must have carried him downstream. Had he hit his head against one of those fang shaped rocks?

He explored his head with his fingers. There was a gash above and behind his left ear which had formed its own poultice of matted blood, dirt, and hair. Tim decided to leave it alone, since he could not see to tend it. It explained why he did not remember how he got where he was. It also explained his throbbing headache. more tomorrow