Snow, Ashes: A Novel


Adams breathed through the thick weave of his pulse. Hobbs.
Again. His return likely meant trouble. Care and trouble.

The uneasy friendship between Fremont Adams and C. D. Hobbs worked best when both men had a job to do, when they could fall into the rhythm of hard labor. Neglected by his mother at an early age, Hobbs found his way into the Adams family. But everyone could tell he was always a bit off. Fremont resigned himself to watching out ...

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Snow, Ashes: A Novel

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Adams breathed through the thick weave of his pulse. Hobbs.
Again. His return likely meant trouble. Care and trouble.

The uneasy friendship between Fremont Adams and C. D. Hobbs worked best when both men had a job to do, when they could fall into the rhythm of hard labor. Neglected by his mother at an early age, Hobbs found his way into the Adams family. But everyone could tell he was always a bit off. Fremont resigned himself to watching out for Hobbs, who had the innocence and optimism that can come only from ignorance. After a grueling tour of duty in Korea, however, Adams and Hobbs return to the ranch marked in dangerous ways.

In four parts--alternating between the Wyoming ranch and Korea--Alyson Hagy reveals the intricacies of a profound friendship between two very different men. Snow, Ashes is a suspenseful, engaging exploration of survival and failure and of how the most vulnerable among us can have a wisdom beyond measure.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Hagy's writing and characters are worth getting to know." --The New York Times Book Review

"[Hagy creates] a work of rough-edged beauty." --Austin Chronicle

Publishers Weekly

Childhood friends return from the Korean War differently damaged in Hagy's moving and stark fifth work of fiction (Keeneland; Graveyard of the Atlantic). John Fremont Adams, 64, lives on the 36,000-acre sheep ranch in Baggs, Wyo., where he grew up, though he retired his hook and sheep dogs four years ago and has since been living a marginally pointless bachelor existence. But Adams finds purpose when childhood friend C.D. Hobbs, who served with Adams in Korea and has wandered into and out of Adams's life ever since, shows up at the ranch one night in 1995. Both men barely survived combat at the Chosin Reservoir: Adams lost his toes to frostbite, and C.D., who had been weird before enlisting, emerged very weird and badly wounded. Adams, C.D.'s protector since childhood, makes a desperate and ill-advised attempt to restart the sheep business, sparking battles with Adams's retired lawyer brother, Buren, and impetuous younger sister, Charlotte. Hagy crafts first-rate prose—unsparingly raw and visceral with flashes of high lyricism—that carries the reader from the napalmed mountains of Korea to the vast pastures of the west. The inevitable but surprising conclusion will yank tears from hard hearts. (May)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781555974688
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press
  • Publication date: 5/1/2007
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 5.82 (w) x 9.24 (h) x 0.63 (d)

Meet the Author

Alyson Hagy

ALYSON HAGY was raised on a farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. She is the author of three collections of short fiction and a novel, Keeneland. She lives and teaches in Laramie, Wyoming.

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Read an Excerpt


By Alyson Hagy

Graywolf Press

Copyright © 2007 Alyson Hagy
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-55597-468-8

Chapter One

Trumpet Bell Land & Sheep Company Baggs, Wyoming 1942

On the last afternoon of docking and branding, Uncle Gene Laury told John Fremont Adams it was time for him to cut a lamb. The men laughed and nodded. They paused to wipe their bloody, shitty fingers on the tails of their wet neckerchiefs. The men believed Adams was big enough now, tall enough to reach the barrabilak with his teeth. And he was ready. He felt like he'd been ready for a long time. He had a good Baker knife with a four-inch blade. He'd used the knife to notch the ears of some older ewes the year before. He pulled the Baker from his pocket, and Uncle Gene checked the blade but didn't bother to slide it across his oiled whetstone. It was sharp.

Shaggy-haired Francisco lifted a thrashing buck lamb onto the flat-topped docking rail. He pinned the lamb against his hard, smeared belly. He didn't want Adams to get kicked in the face his first time. That would happen soon enough. They'd all been kicked, all been nose-broke, by skittish lambs.

Old Etchepare, the boss herder, talked him through it. First, the step cut-down and out-on the right ear. Thenyou grabbed the lamb's flabby pink sac. You sliced the end off as fast as you could, squeezing the tiny, pale balls until they could be tugged loose with your teeth. You breathed slow through your nose, and you held the balls soft and hot and easy in your lips, the tendons dangling against your chin while you swiped the lamb's belly with antiseptic. Next came the tail. You pulled it straight and twisted, cut it half through, then twisted it completely off in one more motion. That was the best way to staunch the bleeding. Buck tails got tossed into one pile, ewe tails in another so you'd know how many you had of each. He spat the slick, gristly balls into the metal bucket at his feet. The bucket was nearly full of barrabilak. It had been filled many times that day. Later, he'd eat his share of them fried with onion and potato. They all would. He wiped his sticky mouth with his checkered sleeve as the men hi-ohed and clapped.

Another lamb. Old Etch said it was good to start with two. Adams planned how he'd learn to do it fast-under twenty seconds like the finest artzainak-as he slit and tugged and spat again. Francisco's brother, Basilio, smiled to show his soiled teeth and tossed Adams a grimy, half-filled bota. Adams uncorked the goatskin bag and rinsed his mouth until wine spilled down his neck into his collar. Uncle Gene reset his ruined felt hat on his white brow and pretended not to notice. Uncle Gene wasn't one to exaggerate a mood, but Adams knew he was pleased. Gene had no sons of his own, no children. He'd built the Trumpet Bell piece by piece, wool contract by wool contract. In just a few years, he'd made it into more than a lingering Laury homestead. But he'd made his share of money mistakes, too. The land he managed belonged primarily to his sister Portia and her husband, David Adams, though it never felt that way to Etchepare and the men, or to young Fremont.

He raised a dirty hand in the direction of his uncle. Gene flicked a thumb against his hat brim in response.

Then it was C.D. Hobbs's turn to cut a lamb. Francisco, who liked to startle the smaller boy, shouted at him to step up and take his own knife from the village of Saint Etienne and do his good work. Adams looked at his friend who was dappled with branding paint and sweat. He was sure the attention would make C.D. nervous, even though C.D. knew Francisco and all the men of the Trumpet Bell. C.D. was on the ranch nearly every weekend. He hitched rides out of Baggs with other ranchers, and his mother, who had no husband and was known for her bad habits, didn't seem to care one way or the other. Adams liked C.D.'s company. They were the same age, and they got along fine. But C.D. didn't have a horse of his own, or even a saddle. He had to borrow gear. He helped with the chores as well as he could. Adams's mother said C.D. Hobbs would always find his way in the world because he worked so hard at it. That was easy enough for Adams to believe. As far as he knew, the lives of boys were meant to strike an honest balance. His own brother, Buren, was up at the house right now with his nose in some book from a correspondence course. Buren sure as hell had never docked a lamb. It wasn't something a person had to do.

Francisco planted a lamb on the rail. Old Etchepare urged C.D. forward, muttering slowly above his tobacco-streaked beard just as he had when he showed the boy how to approach the collie, Nina, and her newborn pups. C.D. got through the step cut all right, but when he went for the lamb's sac, the animal's struggle was fierce and seemed to put the falter in him. He stopped. His head wagged as if it were going loose on his neck. Old Etch stepped closer and spoke briefly into his ear. C.D. jerked his knife hand upward from where it hung by his pant leg and finished the job with an awkward, tearing ferocity. The lamb made a strangled, gummy sound, but Francisco held it fast. C.D. Hobbs made no sound at all.

The men hesitated a moment, then cheered when C.D. unclenched his left hand and dropped the nubbin buck tail onto the pile. Francisco laughed his gallant, victorious laugh. But no one gave C.D. the bota. They waited for Adams to do that. C.D. sloshed the sour red wine over his sunburned lips, coughed, then pretended to hiccup. The men laughed again as they broke away to their assigned tasks as smoothly as mallards breaking away from a flock in flight. The day was passing. There were lambs and ewes left to muster.

C.D. stood close to Adams, his eyes crinkled shut below his flushed forehead. His chin glistened with mucus and blood. "You see that, Fremont? Cisco picked me a big one. I damn near had to tear his tail off. It ain't easy like it looks."

"No, it's not. Old Etch and Gene's the only ones I ever seen good at it." Adams wiped his hands for about the twelfth time on his denims. The two big swallows of wine he'd taken had only made him thirstier.

"So how'd you like the taste, them raw balls?"

Adams spit into the dirt to keep from smiling. C.D. Hobbs never knew when to hold back. He always got so excited, so talky. Hobbs wasn't tall or strong, and he sometimes went rabbit when you least expected it, but he generally headed toward the things he liked at a full tilt gallop. "They ain't in the mouth to taste," Adams reminded him. "It's work."

"I was just thinking they'd have to taste like some flavor. They's from lamb, and I know how lamb is flavored. I've eat it enough. Your mother cooks it good."

"So does Basilio."

"Well, yeah, I've eat his, too." C.D. stopped to look at his loose bootlaces. Even those seemed worthy of pride. Behind him, the newly docked lambs cried so hard their ribs flexed. The young animals were stunned by the heat and the grappling. It sometimes took them hours to find their frantic mothers in the packed corrals. "Balls must taste of something," C.D. said.

"But they don't."

C.D. gave another false hiccup. "I'm ready to do it exact right next time."

"Me, too." Adams hadn't realized until then that Hobbs had cut only one buck lamb. Maybe Old Etch and Uncle Gene thought one was enough since it had so flustered the boy. Etch and Gene had a good understanding of people. Uncle Gene was the one who had suggested it was sometimes best to let C.D. Hobbs go on for a while until he got himself unwound into a place where he could stay put.

"We get in on the grub, right?"

"Yeah," said Adams, thinking of the lamb fries and Basilio's peppery mutton stew and fresh sourdough bread. "I'm dead hungry now."

"I can't wait to try again. That'll be all right, won't it, Fremont? Your uncle will let me try again?"

Adams swatted at the fat horse fly chevroned on his thigh. He didn't like it much when C.D. came at him with a plea. It made him tight. "Sure he will. Gene likes cheap help, especially if it don't drink."

"You'll ask him for me? I ... I don't know if I can say what.... Please?"

Adams saw the bright and bottomless worry at the center of C.D.'s eyes. The boy looked like he was about to cry. Adams knew his mother would tell him to pay attention to C.D.'s feelings because good friends didn't add to one another's troubles. His mother would remind him he needed to go easy on the people he liked. "Yeah, sure, I'll take care of it." He tried to ignore the irritation that bit at the back of his neck. "It won't be no problem."

They heard a loud squawk then, a familiar stubborn shriek. Adams's little sister, Charlotte, had apparently put her baby fingers in the hot branding paint again. Adams pulled his hands over his denims, drying them, while C.D. hustled around the chute to where Fred Cosgriff was painting the ranch's on the lambs, and Charlotte was supposed to be staying out of trouble. Fred Cosgriff doted on Charlotte, but he couldn't always keep a close eye on her. C.D., who didn't have any little ones hanging onto his britches' legs day and night, had a lot of patience with the younger girl. Adams watched C.D. bend down and swing Charlotte up into his skinny arms. His two-year-old sister's golden hair flew above the fence line, tangling around the meadowlark feathers she'd woven into a flapping crown. He heard C.D. say something that made Charlotte laugh. C.D. was also good at that, getting Charlotte to laugh. He would be able to convince Charlotte that her job was to keep Nina's new pups away from the camp stove while the older dogs, Nina and Pat and Nola and Bill, leaped in and out of the corrals, adding their scolding barks to the gruff shouts of the men.

Adams studied the shadows that had begun to fold into the veils of hoof-stirred dust that hung over the corrals. If there was moisture in the air, he couldn't taste it. He tasted only the iron of his fatigue and the stirred breeze that was flavored with the vinegars of vitriol and piss. Hundreds of lambs and ewes surged into the rough fence boards of the corrals, bucking and scraping their bodies against confinement. Again and again, they wheeled and broke like cream-finned fish in search of open water. He felt the quick way they moved in the quickness of his blood. In a few days, two thousand of them, bleating and bankrolled and shit-crusted, would make their way toward summer pasture in the Sierra Madres. He wouldn't be going with them.

Although he was ten, Adams wasn't considered old enough to tend herd in the mountains. He'd been put in charge of the bucks and dry ewes that would pasture close to home instead, and he would divide those duties with Blue Pete Tosh, the aging Scot who'd lost his night vision and could no longer sight a coyote's rib cage with his rifle. Adams was disappointed, but Uncle Gene said he should be proud. Caring for bucks was the start, a step up the staircase. Old Etchepare said it was his first chance to be gizona, and that word meant something to him. Old Etch was Basque and had spent thirty years herding sheep in the basin. He was chief of them all.

But there would be slashing rainstorms in the mountains. And prowling coyotes. Maybe even rustlers. There would be more trouble than Tito and Albert and Etch and Francisco could handle, he just knew it. They would need him.

He took his straw hat from his head and looked at the bold red uplift of Bell Butte, the way its western face splintered against the setting sun. He didn't hear Old Etchepare until the boss herder placed a hard, square hand upon his shoulder.

"Berhala, young one. You and the boy do good today. Mendiak will wait for you one more year. All thing come soon enough."

Adams nodded. He knew he should keep Old Etch's advice as close to his chest as a medicine pouch. But he wasn't going to hide his disappointment. "I know what to do in the mountains. I could help out."

The herder squeezed the lean muscle of Adams's shoulder until Adams flinched, then he grinned around his gapped, yellow teeth. His breath, as always, was sweet with the dark syrups he mixed into his tobacco. "You have bihotza, big heart for to protect the herd. I know this. I see it with your friend, who have a different heart from you, more like what beats in the chest of San Juan del Desierto. You watch over that boy. He watch what cannot be seen with a tall man's eye. You take care of him."

"C.D. and me get along all right. But he don't need to go into the Madres like I want to." Adams rubbed at a bug bite on his face. He knew better than to stare too hard at Old Etchepare. "I know how to take care of the sheep."

The old man did not laugh at him, or soften his declaration in any way. "You have bihotza, which is good. I admire the heart. But sometime more is needed to make the best of life. This what we tell people of my land-strong or not so strong, rich men or penitentes, whoever hear the words. Maybe you listen, also. You must take care. The true gizona, we say, does not pray for his testing until he knows he is ready."

Trumpet Bell Land & Sheep Company Baggs, Wyoming 1995

C.D. Hobbs returned to the unheated room in the machine shed sometime in January. It was long after dark, wind blowing in from the north and west, so his old friend Fremont Adams didn't hear him arrive. The dogs yipped their high-ground warnings, however. That commotion nudged Adams to rise from his chair by the stove, put on his sheepskin coat, his hat, grab at his shotgun. The gun was a boastful habit, and he knew it. He lived too far from good water to worry about lions. He no longer kept enough stock to interest serious coyotes. Few creatures cared to visit his place.

He checked the barn and the horses. The two younger dogs joined him from their rag pallets under the porch, both of them more interested in the beef-stew scent of his pant legs than whatever intrusion or fantasy had set them off. But when he circled behind the barn to patrol the locked fuel tanks, he realized what he was up against. The third dog, a hip-worn collie-cross he called Rain, was standing near the corner of the machine shed, tail stiff, ears up. It was a thing he did only for Hobbs, this naked hope for an invitation. Adams looked over each shoulder into the black aisles of his ranch yard for the blunt, stalled nose of a truck, though he didn't expect to see one. C.D. Hobbs never came with a truck or anything that could be called a possession. He came with the clothes on his back.

Adams breathed through the thick weave of his pulse. Hobbs. Again. His return likely meant trouble. Care and trouble.

The shotgun hung from his hand as he crossed toward the shed. He should greet the man and make sure he had blankets. Invite him to breakfast. He tried to remember what was stored in the small, cold room that was located behind the tractors and the ditcher and the swather. A canvas cot, he was nearly sure about that. And maybe some buckets of sealer compound. He found he couldn't bring the exact litter of the room to mind.

When he got to where Rain had set up his silent courtship, Adams slowed his deliberate march. He prodded himself to approach the skewed yellow door that had once hung in his parents' bedroom, but he couldn't make himself knock on it. He tightened the knuckles of his left hand as he imagined smiling into C.D.'s face. What would he say this time? Hello, C.D. What the hell brings you here? No matter how welcoming he might pretend to be, he knew he'd end up scanning for empty bottles or the sloe-eyed stare that came with Hobbs's kind of pills. He told himself it would be better for him and Hobbs to do what they had always done before-see what they saw when they saw it. Acknowledgment wasn't part of the debt they managed between them.


Excerpted from SNOW, ASHES by Alyson Hagy Copyright © 2007 by Alyson Hagy. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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