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Booklist: "... entertaining, vivid portrait of frontier America as seen through the eyes of an impressionable youth." Pennsylvania farm boy Sam Morgan learns the mountain man's perilous trade when, in 1822, he joins a fur brigade headed by keelboat to the trackless country of the Upper Missouri River. Sam is youthful and inexperienced but also strong, daring, and a quick study. These are all requirements for surviving a battle with Arikiras, killing a man, falling in love with a Crow girl, and making a grueling 700-mile trek, alone, from the Sweetwater River in Wyoming to Fort Atkinson on the Missouri, testing his mettle in his debut year in the Western wilderness.
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
Win Blevins is an authority on the Plains Indians and the fur-trade era of the West. His rollicking tribute to the mountain man, Give Your Heart to the Hawks, remains in print thirty years after its first publication; his novel of Crazy Horse, Stone Song, earned several prestigious literary prizes; and such novels as Charbonneau, The Rock Child, and RavenShadow have established him as among the best of writers of the West. He lives in Utah's Canyonlands with his wife, Meredith, also a novelist.
Sam always took a long time looking down into it first, and listening. His eyes would sweep up every detail, his ears soak up every breath of sound and silence. The sounds would be songbirds, this early in the morning chickadees and blue jays, when the sun was higher, cardinals and song sparrows. Silence would mean something out of order, an intruder. Perhaps himself, if he was careless. Perhaps a bear or other danger. He stood still and let himself taste Eden's climate before he eased off the trail, onto the slope below the ridge and down to the creek, where limestone outcroppings offered a lookout. He slipped down, like descending into another world, an enchanted place.
This was a childish fantasy, he knew. Eden, where the human race was born, where the first man saw all the things of the earth--the fliers, bird or bee or wild turkey or screech owl; the four-legged, squirrel, coon, deer, bear; the crawlers, snake, worm, snail; the rooted grasses, wild roses, beeches, poplars, the great oaks, the rambling vines; the swimming fish, and myriads more, beyond knowing and again and again beyond. The perfect place, Eden, and at the same time the home of the snake. Sam was deathly afraid of snakes.
Now he stepped softly into the little hollow, putting his foot gently on the winter-dry leaves to lessen the noise of his passing. He padded softly down the long slope. When he got to the limestone, he climbed the jutting he knew would give him the best view up and down the stream. He set down the long rifle he inherited from his father and stretched out on the rock. In a few minutes the forest would accept him, and again would breathe normally.
Sam came here to remember and to balm his loneliness.
Two years ago on Christmas Eve, an afternoon nearly as warm as this one, his father came to Eden to die. Last year and this year Sam came down here the day before Christmas, his own seventeenth and eighteenth birthdays, to be alone with his father on the day of his death, as near as could be.
Lewis Morgan, who liked to call himself the Celt, didn't say anything about dying that pleasant winter afternoon, said he was feeling better and wanted to get out of the house for a while, walk around his own place, smell the air and feel the fragile sunshine. No one suspected, though they should have, since the stomach trouble had been eating at him so many months. Lew's wife pooh-poohed the idea--you need your rest. The Celt's other son and his daughters shook their heads at such foolishness. But the Celt asked Sam to walk down to Eden with him. It was their favorite place, their father-son place. Nothing much really, a dip between two hills with some limestone outcroppings and a creek. But it was graced with a kind of beauty, and it felt like theirs.
The Celt had spent hours and hours, days and days here, teaching Sam to see a forest, how life circled through it in a thousand ways and back again. Owen, the Celt's eldest, had no interest in such things. To him the forests of young America were a blackboard left blank by the Creator for men to write on. Owen was eager to get on with that job. The Celt had founded a mill. Owen was bringing in a blacksmith, a tinsmith, a cooper, and a store for the far-flung farmers. Lew Morgan's little clearing was now a town. The twenty-mile track to Pittsburgh was becoming a road. Soon all things would be decent, and civilized.
Other times the Celt would tell Sam stories about his Welsh ancestors. Sam liked those stories, but he liked even more the tales of Daniel Boone, and especially Simon Kenton. Kenton fought with Boone in Kentucky, and fought the Shawnees across the river in Ohio. Kenton came to be the kind of man people looked up to and told tales about, even tales that couldn't be exactly accurate but in some way said some truth about the man. Or Lew Morgan told stories about the boatmen who first floated down the Ohio River from where it started at Pittsburgh, down to the little settlements as they grew along the river, Cincinnati and Louisville and the others, all the way to New Orleans. The way the Celt told it, those alligator horses were real men.
On this day, their last afternoon together, Lew Morgan didn't expand on his usual talk about the ways of the grasses, the bushes, how these made small leaves that fed the grazing and browsing animals, and these fed the flesh-eating animals, and all gave their bodies back to the earth, which gave root to the mosses and grasses and bushes and produced once more the small leaves. Nor did he speak of these limestone outcroppings, and other rocks, how they rose from the earth here and there, great and small. They covered themselves with soil in places and gave birth to grasses. In other places they took the warmth of the afternoon sun and held it into the evening. Slowly, ever so slowly through the wind and rain, they changed back to soil and sand and returned to the earth they came from. He didn't mention how human beings rise and return to earth in a short time, how the stones rise, spend centuries wearing away, and then rise again.
Instead the Celt looked and listened and held his face up into the sun. After about an hour of talking, he said he was going to take a little nap and stretched out on the limestone in the sun there in Eden. He never woke up.
So Sam came back to this little place two years later to remember. He didn't think about Eden's snake. Instead he recalled when he was little, the Celt let the boy give names to the citizens of the forest, childish names Sam no longer remembered. Then, slowly, he learned their real names, and began to learn their ways. Where the mosses grew. What time of evening the moon rose in its fullness, and what time of night in its crescent newness. How long a day was in summer, in autumn, in winter, in spring. When the creatures moved about and when they didn't. When berries were ripe. Where wild onions could be found, and chestnuts, hickory nuts, and walnuts. When the deer came to the creek, and the hunter might take one, so that his children might grow...
* * *
Sam jumped, whirled, and grabbed his rifle.
Katherine giggled. "You don't need The Celt for me." That was the name he used for his rifle, after his dad.
He flinched. He could hardly believe he'd let anyone, especially a white girl, sneak up on him in the woods. He could hardly believe Katherine had come down here. Wanted to come down here. Was with him alone.
"You were daydreaming, towhead!"
He wished for the thousandth time his white hair would turn dark.
She sat down. What the devil was she doing here?
"We all know it's the day your dad died." She waited, but he didn't know what to say. The Turleys lived a few steps down the road from the Morgans, but Sam had never been alone with Katherine. He'd wanted to. He'd looked at her whenever she passed. When her family visited, he couldn't keep his eyes off her. She knew it. He couldn't guess whether she had similar feelings.
Her mother wouldn't like them being alone together. His brother, if he judged right, would like it even less.
"Happy birthday!" she cried.
"Thanks." A good feeling began to warm his belly.
"What kind of day is it for you? Happy because it's your birthday? Good because it's Christmas Eve? Or sad because it's the day your dad died?"
"I remember, mostly."
She gave him a look he couldn't read.
"I brought us some lunch."
She stepped back along the rock, dropped to the ground, and returned with a basket and a big blanket for a tablecloth. Napkins were folded on top of the blanket. She set out a loaf of pumpernickel bread, some headcheese, a wedge of cheddar, and a small flask. "Applejack," she announced. There was one package wrapped in napkins that she didn't open.
She handed him the flask and said gaily, "Happy birthday, Sam Morgan!"
He swigged. She swigged and handed him back the flask. "You are not," she announced, "going to be sad on your birthday."
* * *
They talked the sweet nothings of the courting young. A day later, even an hour later, neither would remember a word of it. They touched each other in small ways. They held hands. They looked into each other's eyes, searching for answers that could never be there. Yet Sam thought he saw all--the future, set out not as a progression of human strivings, but a delightful bubble of colors, and a melody that made his heart dance.
The first moment of importance, the first Sam remembered clearly later, came when something arose deep in Katherine's eyes, dark, still, unfathomable, something he didn't understand, didn't expect, and couldn't account for. Afterwards he put it down as his first experience of the mystery of woman.
Suddenly, she announced that she had a present for him. She handed him a cloth bag filled with pieces of brown waxy paper that held...taffy!
Sam laughed and popped one into his mouth. He loved taffy. He clamped his teeth on the sticky pull, grinning, and mouthed "Thanks!" through the goo.
They jumped in like kids. When it was gone, Katherine brought up the second matter Sam would remember afterwards. "What are you going to do now that you're eighteen?" She hesitated and then blurted, "You're going away, aren't you?"
He felt all a-mumble. "Owen wants me to help in the mill, take it
over really, and I think Ma needs me...."
She gave him a look. "Seems to me you want to be a, what do you call it, alligator horse."
He puffed up. "Whoo-oop! Lookee here! I'm an alligator horse--I'm a snapping turtle--I can whip ten times my own weight in panthers. I use up Injuns by the cord, and swallow 'em entire, either raw or cooked. I can out-run, out-dance, out-jump, out-fight, and out-drink any white man that's ever took breath within two thousand miles of the Ohio River. Whoo-oop!"
He grinned at her, but noticed that her eyes didn't smile as big as her mouth.
"Pretty tempting, life on the river, free, rambling. Wild nights in port."
Sam chastened himself. "Could be a hard, lonely way to live."
He kept his eyes down a long time and looked up only when he felt he...
"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.
Book Description Forge Books, 2004. Mass Market Paperback. Condition: New. Seller Inventory # DADAX0765344815
Book Description Forge Books, 2004. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M0765344815
Book Description Forge Books, 2004. Mass Market Paperback. Condition: New. Brand New!. Seller Inventory # VIB0765344815
Book Description Forge Books, 2004. Mass Market Paperback. Condition: New. Never used!. Seller Inventory # P110765344815
Book Description Condition: New. New. Seller Inventory # STRM-0765344815