always said ‘work the plan’. Even when you didn’t have a plan,
you acted like you did. That’s where I’m at, trying to convince
myself there’s a plan.
do the math. I was driving for the better part of a day when I
realized the route was off. The road to that station comes in from
the opposite side of the valley to Chloe. Following the road in any
other direction… That’s days of travel on foot, especially in
didn’t see a single car on the road, and there’s nothing up here
but the Station; and Chloe’s cabin. The odds of seeing someone I
can flag down are slim to nothing. My survival gear was all in the
vehicle is burned; and with the snow; even the ashes are cold. It
looks like it could have been there for months. I can’t believe
it’s all gone. I had canned goods, but they all boiled in the can
and burst open… Oh, of course. The supplies themselves were pure
kindling. All the flour and sugar. I remember, Chloe. You once showed
me how to light a fire in a hurry. Flour and sugar is so fine the
flame catches instantly; and packed into a bag like that, the flame
spreads to all the other specks of flour and sugar. Forget flammable,
it’d be downright explosive, even in the rain.
Work the plan. And that plan is The Station. I saw the Firewatch
Station during my climb. It’s halfway along the valley. That’s my
best bet for rescue. Even if Ewan’s not there, I can call for help.
followed the road as best I can, given the obstructions. The fallen
tree was just the start. The road wasn’t exactly easy to follow,
but I’m past the end of it now. It just sort of… faded into
brambles and pine needles past the Depot. With no path to follow, I’m
moving downhill a bit, to be closer to the water sources. My water
bottle melted with everything else in the Jeep. Stupid plastic. I
have to collect water, and can’t carry any with me.
Station. Get to the Firewatch station; and you can call for help.
step, a Shelter. I have to rest. I have no food, and I’m exhausted.
I’ve been walking for hours, and my strength is nearly gone. I have
to ration enough energy to make camp for the night.
at the library. In a town like Fairbanks, it’s small enough. At
this time of day, there’s almost nobody there.
there’s a computer, with internet access. Chloe sits next to me,
interested, as I set up an account for her. “I don’t know how you
don’t have an email address.”
I know is close enough to talk to. When I don’t visit my uncle, I
use a Ham Radio.” She excuses. “I told you, I travel light. That
includes the people.”
offense, Chloe; but it seems… wasteful.”
That’s a four letter word in my world.” She scoffs. “You better
be ready to back that up.”
take the bookshop for instance. What you said, about how a book you
don’t like goes in the fireplace? That bookshop is secondhand.
They’ll give you store credit for a trade-in. Two books you don’t
like for one you love? Seems wasteful to burn it instead.”
get back to civilization once a month.” She counters. “Longer, if
I can stretch it. I choose my luggage carefully.”
you’d think that keeping communications-”
this is only the fourth time we’ve met; so let me jump to the end
of the page, here.” She says kindly. “You have no idea what my
world is like. I was probably the last person in the world to find
out about 9/11.
Out there, the rules are different. Civilization? The only thing
about it I really can’t bear to part with is that bookstore. Hot
showers are a luxury, so are the groceries. But I can heat water, and
I can find food. The valley has everything I need… And I’m
possibly the only person in the state that isn’t worried about rent
payments, identity theft, credit card debt, and about a thousand
other things. Believe me, my way of life makes more sense to me than
you’re not wrong.” I admit ruefully. “Once the radio tower is
repaired, I have no idea where I get sent next. And that won’t be
more than three or four days.”
Chloe seems genuinely saddened. “This is goodbye, then?”
guess it must be.”
bites her lip and turns back to the screen. “Well, I don’t know
if you heard, but I have an email address now. If you like, I could
see if it works. Though, I should warn you, I only get to a computer
with Internet once a month.”
have to think of something important to say, then.”
made a new shelter, and fashioned myself a spear/walking stick. Still
no luck with fire; which is getting aggravating. I sharpened the
stick with a flat stone that I spent hours every night grinding to a
sharp edge. I’m starting to line up with daylight. Sleep when it
gets dark, wake up with the dawn.
on the last third of my last battery. I’ve dialled all the settings
down to minimum to save power. I’ve been staring at this map of the
valley for so long I can see it when my eyes close, but the map means
nothing. Lines on a relief map will tell you how steep an area is,
but it says nothing about how thick the snow is above the incline, or
how likely you are to fall and break an ankle pushing through it.
Station is closer to my end of the valley. The Lake is further than
halfway. Your cabin isn’t on the map at all; but I know it’s
closer to the far side of the lake than the Station. So the Station
is easier to find, and closer.
stone edge I have is nothing. Not much of a tool, even less of a
weapon. Last night, I heard a wolf howling. There are Predators in
these woods beyond the Demon Cat.
Cougar has been on my mind. I found pawprints in the snow that look
like the sort he’d leave. El Diablo is still in the area, and
unlike me, he’s got a fur coat and snowshoes.
tired enough that the sounds of wolves eating something savagely
didn’t even keep me awake last night. Huh. There’s a sentence I
never thought I’d say.
need food and water. I’ve already dropped two belt loops; and I
think my body has realized there’s no food coming in, so it’s
shifted to a ‘starvation’ mode. Despite being in ‘energy saver
mode’, I’m walking for hours, and the cold… I’m burning up my
calories; and I haven’t eaten in too long. Running on empty.
like my new shelter. It’s a snow cave. Well, I say the word ‘cave’,
but really it has about a foot of clearance around me. Some pine
boughs underneath, and I’m warm enough to live. I built the snow
back up into the entrance, leaving just enough for ventilation.
by the way, Chloe? I’ve got that M&M bag wedged upright against
the wall of my shelter between sticks. I cut one end of it open and
filled it with snow last night. It’s liquid now, so my shelter is
officially above freezing point. It’s the only liquid water I have.
Eating snow without melting it is going to speed my inevitable death
damn cans. I must have searched through the burned out Jeep a hundred
times. The fire burst all the tins when their contents boiled. To top
it off, I don’t have a can opener anyway. Even a can with a hole in
only one side would have been enough to boil water… But only if I
could get a damn fire going!
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dummy. You’ve had a nice long tantrum and used up a good chunk of
your energy… to say nothing of telling every predator for a hundred
miles where to find you. You ready to get up and do something now?
going to die here.
but I’ve never really thought seriously on the subject. It happens
to everyone eventually, but I never really dwelled on it, even after
in the city, there are people who don't know where their next meal is
coming from, have no place to sleep... But those people rarely have
to dread hunger and thirst the way I do now. If I was homeless, back
in the city, I'd know where all the drinking fountains were, I'd know
the warmer spots, out of the wind. I could hide out from rain in a
library, or a gazebo in a public park... This far into the
wilderness, I don't have any of that.
day, and eating out of a McDonalds garbage can will seem like gourmet
food. It always seemed so…
used to say that survival in the wilderness isn’t a sprint, it’s
a long walk. I didn’t realize how literally she meant that until I
saw wolf-tracks this morning, and I saw drops of blood in the snow
alongside them. I can’t really tell you why I followed the tracks
back the way they came, but I did… and I came across their last
wolves have moved on, but it looks like they tore into this elk
mid-run. At least I think it’s an Elk. I was never clear on the
difference between an Elk and a Moose. Anyway, there’s lots of snow
tossed around, lots of blood… His insides extend for several feet
back that way, so he fought like hell to escape the pack. But aside
from the hindquarters and belly, the carcass is mostly intact…
There’s so much meat left on this thing, and I’m an inch away
from tearing into it with my teeth right now.
meat is going to make me a target for scavengers and predators. Not
that I’m not already. I’m slicing into the carcass with my edge.
It’s not much, and my fingers are numb all the time now, even
without getting them covered in frozen meat and blood. I don’t
exactly have any tupperware with me, so I’m putting frozen solid
hunks of meat into my pockets. I can fold my shirt up to make a
pouch, but that would leave me open to the wind, until I get this
meat back to my last shelter. The wind is only getting colder. It
slices into me so hard and so unrelentingly that I actually check to
see if it’s left me bleeding. Forget the hike for today. Food’s
more important at this point.
need fire, dammit!
I must have watched you make a hundred campfires. You had a flint and
steel most of the time. I had matches for other times…
You had a cat-tail. I remember, you got one from the edge of the
lake, and tore the head of it apart. I remember, it sort of erupted
open like cotton candy!
was your tinder. It was super-fine. That’s the key. Tree bark was
too sturdy to give in to sparks. Dry grass? Hasn’t worked yet…
I’ve gotta go finer than that. If I can tear up the grass to be
I can make a fire stick now. Carving the elk bones into sharp points
is way easier than grinding stone. I’ve been doing this for almost
two hours, filing the elk bones on rock. It’s given me a knife. A
thin edge with a sharp point on the end. I remember, Chloe. You
called it ‘knapping’, creating a serrated edge in a bone or stone
I can carve a notch into a stick, and I can create a bow-string out
of my shoelaces... Like the old boy-scout fires. Wind a stick with a
piece of string and spin it back and forth fast in a notch… The
friction gives me an ember, the ember gives tinder a spark…
this time. This time for sure…
on. Come on… I can’t keep this up without eating something…
Okay! Okay! Now, the notch is full of black char… turn the stick
over, put the char in my tinder… Come on… Breathe a little bit…
Come on, catch! Smoke! Smoking…. Smoky… Blow a little more…
Flame! Come on, catch the stick! Don’t go out!
HA! Haha! HAHAHAHAHA! FIRE!
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last! I have finally graduated from neanderthal to cro-magnon!
Snow-Shelter, bone tools, and fire!
gotta get this meat cooking! And firewood! I need that.
remember when I was up here last Summer, you used to carry around an
old coffee can full of kindling, and kept a small fire going in it.
The smoke from that can was like a miracle shield keeping the
mosquitoes away. Remember them? They were like a bloodthirsty blanket
on everything; and you banished them with a coffee can full of
embers, swaying on your walking stick. It was a magic trick. To say
nothing of never needing matches whenever we made camp.
thinks I fell in love with you last summer. I’m not so sure she’s
wrong, but I don’t think I will ever love anything or anybody as
much as I love my campfire.
and yes, my true love the campfire is a she; has already given me so
much. My spear, for starters, is blackened and pointed. Burning away
the surface has hardened the spear-point. I’m even looking into
putting something sharper on the tip, if I can get that elk bone
sharp enough to make a spearhead.
campfire has made drying out tinder and firewood immensely easier, so
after a while I had less smoke. She’s been great company, too. I
never really appreciated the character of a campfire sound; but it’s
been a great conversation. There’s the subtle shivery hiss when a
bit of sap boils out against the flame. There’s the playful pop of
some bit of liquid expanding enough to snap a bit of wood open.
There’s the hungry growl that never stops as the fire devours her
fuel. If you huddle close, there’s the constant sound of something
breathing in, as the air is drawn into the heat. It keeps breathing
in, but never out.
the flower spark that floats up to the night sky like a prayer;
there’s the smell of smoke and powder ash. There’s the dance of
shadows on the trees and snow. The shadows move constantly, with each
and every flicker of the firelight. She gives me territory. I’ve
been trying to figure out the way all these animals live with each
other; and I’ve decided that they’re all neighbors; respecting
each other’s territory. The circle of light cast from my fire is my
feeds me. I’ve taken as much meat as I could from the wolves’
leavings. I don’t know much about harvesting; and there was wolf
slobber all over the thing anyway. I dread to think what a diet of
raw meat means for anyone sharing a plate with them. I’ve had slips
of meat on sticks, hovering over the flame.
not to say our relationship has always been easy. We have our share
of ups and downs. For one thing, she’s incredibly needy. The spark
goes out without constant attention, and I have to keep… I’ve
taken this metaphor way too far; haven't I, Chloe?
though: It’s a hassle, trying to keep it alive. The wood is still
damp from the snow, and I’m limited to what I can break off by hand
or haul out of the snowdrifts. I have to dig out space in the snow or
it’ll melt its way into being put out. The cold does a good job of
snuffing out a flame if it gets too low, so I have to maintain it…
Tell you the truth, I’m afraid to leave it alone.
if I’m honest, I’m having trouble cooking. I know, I’m new at
this; but I didn’t want the smell of meat in the air, given that
there’s at least one wolfpack nearby. So I kept the meat I
harvested hidden in the snow. I figure it’s as good as a freezer…
And it is; which is why I’m having trouble cooking it. It’s going
to char on the outside, and still be frozen inside. Not that it’ll
stop me. I’m hungry enough to eat it charred and frozen. So far, my
best solution is to cook in small bits. You know how I used to snack
constantly. You’d laugh yourself sick if you saw me now.
the truth, I’m not that worried about the quality of my cooking
skill. I’m worried about the meat. I remember reading this article
once that said meat lost nourishment value after it was cooked.
Something about the juices cooking away. The way to maximize the
‘health’ value was to stew it, so that the juices made it into
the gravy. But without a pot or pan, I’m reduced to cooking it like
a marshmallow over a campfire.
Chloe. You used to make those great clay pots, remember? I’d be
fishing, and you’d be working clay that you mixed from the
riverside. I’ve actually been experimenting with the dirt and
melted snow. My heavy weather gear went with the Jeep, so I’m
limited in how many hours I can be out of the shelter. I’ve been
looking for ways to pass the time. I actually toyed with the idea of
making a small fireplace in my shelter out of mud. I haven’t found
the knack yet, but I can make a ‘wall’ out of dirt and mud. I
remember seeing a video about that on YouTube once. Instead of the
heat escaping out in every direction, you build a wall behind the
fire, ‘reflecting’ the heat in one direction, towards the
entrance to my little snow cavern. Closest thing to a fireplace I can
make for an emergency shelter.
it worked. The fire has also kept my shelter a lot warmer, of course;
and that’s good, since I’m going to have to make more than one of
them as I travel. I figure I’m still a day or two away from the
Station; given that I can only travel with the weather on my side. If
I ration the meat, that might be enough.
saw the Station again. I figure I’ll get there in another day.
Maybe two, if the weather changes overnight. I can’t see anyone
inside it, though I’m not sure I would. I’ve never actually been
anywhere near that station before. I remember it being on the far
side of the lake from Chloe’s cabin, and the lake takes up almost
the width of the valley, if only a quarter the length.
God. Let the Station be enough to save my life.
today’s the day. I can see the Firewatch Station. It’s been
snowing during my walk, but I don’t care; because I’ve got a
secret weapon against the cold.
I heard a sound like a cannon going off in the distance. I finally
figured out what that was. A tree exploded. I found it earlier, and
collected plenty of kindling. I remember the first time I saw a
post-popping tree. I meant to ask you about it, but never did. Now
that I’m seeing it myself, I understand. The tree sap freezes
inside the tree. Liquid expands when it freezes, and thus the tree
pops. Which means I found tree sap. I was just able to stuff enough
bits of it into a pine cone, and then I split a branch open enough to
shove the pine cone into one end. I tested it this morning; and it
worked! I made a torch and can carry my fire with me. It’ll keep me
warm and give me an extra hour or two of walking time.
amazing the difference that food and fire makes. I suddenly feel
civilized. Behold the primitive man, with his spear and his fire!
of Primitive Man, I’ve been getting battery warnings on this thing
all day. With luck, I’ll be able to call home, and your cabin from
the Station. I have no idea what I’ll say, though I’ve been
rehearsing for a while...
I never told yo-ohno. Not now!
away from me, Diablo! I’m armed this time! I mean it, Demon Cat!
A Note From The Author: I hope you're all enjoying 'Dear Chloe' in its serialised format. If you'd like to read the whole thing at once, and take it with you, you can buy the whole book here in eBook and Paperback Format.