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WEST-CENTRAL COLORADO—THE COLUMBINE RANCH
In this grassy, glacier-sculpted valley sheltered by the shining mountains, one man celebrates Thanksgiving every day of the year. Around about midnight, when he pulls the covers up to his chin, Charlie Moon is reminded of the multitude of blessings that enrich his life. Mulling over a few favorites helps him smile his way to sleep. Consider this evening’s excellent selection.
Crisp, high-country air that fairly crackles with energy.
Soaring granite peaks that drip with dawn’s golden honey, blush rose and crimson at twilight.
Hardly a stone’s throw from his bedroom window, the rushing, murmuring, sing-me- to- sleep river—rolling along on its journey to the salty sea.
Ah—the lullaby has accomplished its soporific task.
He’ll sleep like a log all night, wake up with a lumberjack’s appetite, jump on whatever job needs doing, and get it done right now. Before the sun sets on another day, he will shoe a fractious quarter horse, arc-weld a fractured windmill axle, install a new starting motor on a John Deere tractor. In addition to these workaday skills, the resourceful man has a few other talents that come in handy from time to time. Not entirely clear? Okay, let’s put it this way: On those occasions when business gets deadly serious, Mr. Moon knows how to tend to it—and he does. By doing whatever is necessary.
You’d expect a man like this to have plenty of friends, and you’d be right. There’s no shortage of "Howdy Charlie!" backslappers and fair-weather sweet-talkers. But really good friends? You never know for sure till you hit bottom, but Moon reckons he can count the ones he can count on—on the fingers of one hand. His best buddy, Scott Parris (the thumb!), is right up there at Number One. Numbers Two and Three—on account of something bad that happened here last year—are an enigmatic hound dog and a man- killing horse.
As far as close family goes, they’re all gone. Well, except Aunt Daisy—his "favorite living relative."
All things considered (even Daisy), Charlie Moon is an uncommonly fortunate man.
So, is he completely satisfied in his little slice of paradise? Afraid not. Close to his heart, there is an empty spot. What the lonely man hankers for is a special someone. Sad to say, the ardent angler’s attempts at courting the ladies mirrors his experience at pursuing the wily trout. One way or another, the best one, the keeper—the catch of the day— she always gets away. But Moon has neither the time nor the inclination to dwell upon unhappy thoughts. So he doesn’t. Flat-out refuses to.
Awakened by a pale silver glow in his window, Charlie Moon rolls out of bed, soaps up under a hot shower, slips into a lined canvas shirt, pulls on heavy over-the-calf woolen socks, faded jeans, comfortable old cowboy boots—and stomps down the stairs to get some meat frying in the iron skillet, a batch of fresh-ground coffee perking in the pot. Doesn’t that smell good? And listen to the radio—the announcer on the Farm and Ranch Show is predicting an upturn in beef prices. Encouraged by the hope of turning a good profit, the stockman fortifies himself with a thick slab of sugar-cured ham, three eggs scrambled in genuine butter, a half-dozen hot-from-the-oven biscuits and two mugs of sweet black coffee. Good news, stick-to-your-ribs grub, and a double shot of caffeine—his day is off to a dandy start.
Moon steps out onto the east porch to greet the rising sun. The Indian gives each dawn a name. He stands in awed silence. Calls this one Glorious.
Slipping across the river, a breeze approaches to whisper a tale of snow in his ear. Not a surprise, especially during a deceptive late-winter thaw that is luring vast pastures of wildflowers into early bloom. Here in the highlands between the Misery and Buckhorn Ranges, snow is never far away. Even on the Fourth of July there’s generally a dab of frosting left on the top of Sugarloaf Mountain, and foreman Pete Bushman likes to tell about a mid- June blizzard in ’82 that buried his pickup right up to the windshield. While considering the chilling rumor, Moon hears a startled cloud mumble about something that’s amiss. He blinks at the sun. What is this—the amber orb is caught fast on the jagged teeth of Wolf-Jaw Peak! Not to worry; it is a stellar jest. From a distance of one astronomical unit (93 million miles), the heavenly body smiles warmly upon the mortal’s face.
Moon returns the smile. Thank you, God—for everything.
From somewhere up yonder booms a thunderously joyful response.
He hears this as a hearty "You’re welcome, Charlie."
No, he is not superstitious. Far from it. Charlie Moon is a practical, down-to-earth, well-educated man who understands that the thunder was produced by those white-hot lightning legs tap-dancing across the Buckhorn Ballroom. Even so, over the years he has become aware of a deeper Reality, of which this flint-hard world is but a fleeting shadow—an infinitely magnificent thought in the mind of the I Am.
But talking thunder?
Certainly. The Ute has come to expect such courtesies from the Father.
TWO OF THE WOMEN IN CHARLIE MOON’S LIFE
Some miles to the south of the Columbine—on the Southern Ute reservation—the wind also huffs and puffs, but the breath exhaled from the mouth of Cañón del Espíritu is not so chilly, which is a good thing, because Daisy Perika (who has buried three husbands) is older than most of the towering, pink-barked ponderosas atop Three Sisters Mesa. In addition to those ailments common to the geriatric set, the damp cold makes every joint in her body ache. Plus her toenails. An exaggeration? Perhaps. But this is what the lady claims and so it must be reported.
Sarah Frank (who has a crush on Charlie Moon) cannot imagine Aunt Daisy as anything but what she sees—an ever-shrinking, bent- backed, black- eyed, wrinkled old husk of a woman with a tongue sharp as a sliver of obsidian. But what does this mere slip of a girl know? Not so many winters ago, Daisy was a cheerful, slender, pretty lass who danced to thrumming guitars, sang wistful love songs, and rode her black pony bareback, thrilling to the tug of the wind in her long, dark locks. Now she spends most of her time indoors, crouched close to the warm hearth, where during the entire circle of a year a piñon fire crackles and pops. And there, just on the other side of the Ute shaman’s window pane, the harsh wilderness remains—ready to freeze the flesh, bleach the bone. There is much more to tell about this cantankerous old soul, involving cunning, conniving, self-serving schemes that cause no end of trouble for her amiable nephew, the brewing of overpriced, often dangerous potions from flora gathered near her home, plus an unwholesome liaison with the pitukupf, that dwarf spirit who (allegedly) lives in an abandoned badger hole in Cañón del Espíritu. If all this were not enough, there is also the tribal elder’s alarming tendency to—No. For the moment, enough said. When Daisy is "of a mind to," she will make herself heard. Count on it.
THE THREE SISTERS
Towering up from the eternal twilight of Cañón del Espíritu to dominate the austere skyline above Daisy Perika’s remote home is a miles- long mesa whose summit (unlike those tabletop structures depicted in glossy picture postcards) is not flat. It is, due to a peculiar geologic history, quite the opposite of that. Residing on its crest is a trio of humpity bumps, the smallest dwarfing the largest man-made structure in La Plata County and Archuleta Co. to boot. According to a tale told by older Utes, the origin of these sandstone formations is rooted in violence. Once upon a time, only a few hundreds of years ago, there was a thriving Anasazi community in the vicinity. This is a fact, verifiable by remnants of venerable cliff-clinging ruins and thousands of distinctive black- on- white potsherds scattered along the canyon floor. It is also true that Old Ones’ village was destroyed by a marauding band of thieves and murderers, but these were not necessarily Apaches—that is a lurid tale cooked up by the Utes. The Apaches assert that the crime was committed by a roving gang of Navajo, who in turn blame a rowdy band of West Texas Comanche, who point accusing fingers at the haughty Arapahos, who attribute the atrocity to those shifty-eyed Shoshone, who claim the thing was done by the Utes, and so the venomous slander-snake swallows its tail. The truth is—none of these tribes was involved.
But back to those bumps on the mesa. Not surprisingly, the few facts have become thoroughly mixed with myth, and Daisy Perika will tell you that the only members of the Anasazi village who escaped (if escape is an appropriate term) were a trio of young sisters who climbed a precipitous path to the top of the mesa, which in those olden days was smooth and level enough to shoot pool on. The terrified women hoped to hide among the piñon and scrub-oak thickets until the brutal foreigners had departed, but before reaching the summit they were detected by a keen- eyed warrior who alerted his comrades. While the bloodthirsty enemy with flled-to-a-point teeth and hideously tattooed faces ascended the mesa with exultant whoops and terrifying war cries, the sisters prayed to Man-in-the-Sky to protect them. He did. They were (so Daisy’s story goes) instantly turned into stone by the merciful deity. Hence, we have Three Sisters Mesa.
It is hoped that this technical information on instantaneous petrification is appreciated—in spite of the fact that Three Sisters Mesa has nothing whatever to do with those particular Three Sisters with whom the following account is concerned. This being the case, let us leave the ancient stone women atop their mesa.
We now return to the twenty-first century, where we shall (in due course) encounter the relevant trio of female siblings—Astrid, Beatrice, and Cassandra Spencer.
But first we must pay a call on Daisy Perika.
Excerpted from Three Sisters by James D. Doss
Copyright © 2007/8 by James D. Doss
Published in October 2008 by St. Martin’s Press
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.