Despite a laconic style that helps temper some of the more disturbing content, Preston's tale of a woman struggling to stay afloat on a contemporary Oklahoma ranch is too distancing to be truly affecting. Marik Youngblood lives alone on Killdeer Ridge Ranch, haunted by regrets. Her ranch is debt-ridden, but rather than ask her wealthy sister for relief, Marik leases part of her acreage to a power company for wind towers, angering her neighbor, Burt Gurdman. After Marik and Jace Rainwater, who's applying to become Killdeer's foreman, discover a dead bald eagle under one of the wind towers, they learn that Burt poisoned the bird in a failed attempt to prove the towers unsafe. Burt's hostility grows and Marik is forced to turn to Devon, a powerful man from her past. Preston (Trudy's Promise) ably frames Marik's story with the legend of Silk Mountain, the story of an 1890s frontier woman who committed suicide rather than face life in the harsh Oklahoma territory. But even the cast of multidimensional characters, especially Jace and his autistic son, cannot entirely shore up this novel. (Apr.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
The Wind Comes Sweepingby Marcia Preston
Marik Youngblood left her father's Oklahoma ranchand the child she gave up for adoptionintent on becoming an artist instead of a rancher. Her father's death brings her back to a failing cattle operation, a pile of debt and a haunting need to find the child she left behind. Leasing out the land for wind towers solves one problem but creates
Marik Youngblood left her father's Oklahoma ranchand the child she gave up for adoptionintent on becoming an artist instead of a rancher. Her father's death brings her back to a failing cattle operation, a pile of debt and a haunting need to find the child she left behind. Leasing out the land for wind towers solves one problem but creates anotherthe hostility of her neighbors, Burt and Lena Gurdman.
Lena Gurdman may be poor and uneducated, with a husband who's quick to blame her for any perceived wrong, but she knows she and Marik have more in common than the property line between them. When the bones of an infant are uncovered on Killdeer Ridge Ranch, both Marik and Lena are left with questions about secrets they thought were buried long ago.
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Killdeer Ridge Ranch
Before sunrise, Marik drove her father's old truck along the white gravel service road that wound up the ridge to the giant windmills. Dust funneled up behind the pickup's tires, and a chilly wind gusted through the passenger window, stuck permanently halfway open. The pickup's heater poured warm air on her boots. A preseason thunderstorm had blown through the night before, with plenty of bluster but only a spattering of rain. Spring was weeks away.
She took it slow over a patch of graded ruts, coffee sloshing against the lid of its thermal mug in the console, the arthritic joints of the pickup creaking. Her dad had named the truck Red Ryder, after an old-time hero of cowboy comics. Every time she climbed into the cab to make her morning rounds on the ranch, she caught her father's scent, though he'd been gone nearly two years.
She was nearing the apex of the ridge where she stopped every morning to watch the sun rise over the ranch and the river valley. Against a blue-gray sky, forty-five giant wind turbines towered above the horizon, catching the first rays of sun in their long white arms. Below them the earth waited in shadow.
The first time she'd seen windmills like these at the White Deer facility in West Texas, their stark beauty and clean design had stopped her breath. Their slow, rhythmic turning sounded like a heartbeat, the mystical pulse of the earth itself. Regardless of storms or heat, the white giants stood inscrutable, heads turned to the wind. These forty-five turbines produced enough electricity to power nearly a million homes, and this was only phase one of the wind farm.
Marik parked Red Ryder at her usual spot on the highest point of the ridge. That's when she saw ita dark mass on the rocky ground, something that didn't belong. It lay at the foot of Windmill 17, where the service road wound back on itself before disappearing behind the low hill.
She leaned forward against the steering wheel and squinted into the predawn light. The blackish mound was about the size of a newborn calf, nearly hidden by last season's sagebrush and dried yucca. But it couldn't be a calf; the cattle were in the lower fields now, on winter-wheat pasture. Maybe a runaway trash bag that blew up here in the night? But it looked too solid for a trash bag, and heavy.
It wasn't moving with the wind. She had the sinking impression that whatever it was, it had once been a living thing.
She searched the dusty floorboard for the binocular case. The binocs, too, had been her dad's. She could see his calloused hands on the metal when she removed the beat-up glasses and got out of the truck. Wind whipped her ponytail and the loose ends stung her eyes. Should have brought a stocking cap. It was always cooler up here than in the ranch yard, where the ground was flat and trees sheltered the buildings. She zipped her jacket and stood on the running board with the door open, steadying her elbows on top of the cab.
The sun had breached the horizon now, and the slim rotors of the windmills cast moving shadows across the land. Next month wild verbena and prairie daisies would thrust up from the rocky soil. But in February the ridge was a tonal study in pale gold and shades of russet brown. She liked to paint it that way, but those paintings were hard to sell. Buyers wanted more color.
She held the binoculars to her eyes and searched the landscape for the alien object. Low brush and shadows obstructed her view, and the lenses of the old binocs were fogged with scratches. She tossed the field glasses on the truck seat and walked down the service road toward number 17.
Gravel crunched beneath her boots. The only other sound was the unhurried soughing of the windmills.
An immense canopy of sky arched cloudless from horizon to horizon. Severe clear, her pilot father would have said. It was the kind of day her grandmother had written about in diaries, a diamond of hope after a long, cold winter. Soon when she walked here she'd have to watch for killdeer eggs at the edge of the road, the speckled eggs perfectly camouflaged among the rocks.
When she drew closer to the dark object lying in the scrub growth, she saw the wind ruffle its edgeslike feathers. Her chest closed up. Please, not an eagle. But no other bird would be that large. She left the roadbed and crossed open ground, stepping over clumps of dried timothy and prickly-pear cactus. Another few feet and she stood over the fallen bird. Damn.
Her artist's eye cataloged the mottled colorsburnt umber, sienna, Payne's grey. Highlights of gold oak. A golden eagle, she thought, though she'd never seen one this close. She crouched beside it.
The head was bent beneath its body. One wing lay unfurled and obviously broken. Even inert, the hooked talons looked macabre. Those claws could seize a slippery fish right out of the water, or rip apart a small animal to feed the eagle's young. She touched the bird with the toe of her boot, hoping for movement and a chance for rescue. There was none. The body felt stiff.
From a distant pasture a bull claimed his territory with a wheezy bellow. Above her head, the windmill blades kept up their leisurely whough, whough, whough, whough. She looked up at the turning rotors. The carcass lay right below them, no more than twenty-five feet from the tower base, as if the eagle had simply dropped from the sky. The fiberglass rotors appeared to turn slowly, but that was an optical illusion. Each hollow blade was more than a hundred feet long. The tips of the blades could reach 156 miles per hour and still look slow to the human eye.
Was it possible the eagle had flown into one? She couldn't imagine that. Eagles' eyesight was legendary; they spotted prey on the ground or in the water from hundreds of feet above. Nevertheless, if her neighbors found out about the dead eagle, that's exactly what they'd claimthat the bird had been killed by the blades. Burt and Lena Gurdman had objected to the wind farm from the beginning and had delayed construction of the first phase with their complaints. Folks around here were stoutly protective of the migratory birds that wintered along the river, and Marik had no doubt Burt Gurdman would use the eagle's death as ammunition for another battle.
The dark feathers glistened in angled sunlight. The bird's wingspan must be seven feet, at least. Even dead it looked beautiful and strong and utterly wild. Carefully, she rolled it over. Thank God it didn't have a white head. She was fairly sure bald eagles were still on the endangered-species list, though the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had recommended delisting several years ago.
She ran her fingers over the satiny breast feathers. "What happened to you, big brother? I wish you could tell me."
The coming furor rose in her imagination like a bad movie. It was illegal to be in possession of an eagle feather, let alone an entire animal. If he could, Gurdman would use this new argument to stop construction of the last twenty-five wind towers.
Don't borrow the jack before the tire's flat. It was her father's voice, clear as ever in her head. His easygoing ways had endeared him to everyone but had also led the ranch into deep debt. She'd had no idea how deep until his sudden death.
Marik laid an arm across her forehead, shading her eyes from a brilliant sunrise. Her gaze traveled down the slope and across the wide fields near the river.
She saw three choices. She could turn the bird over to a county official or wildlife ranger and meet the consequences head-on. Or she could haul the eagle to the river, let it be found in its usual habitatbut on the opposite bank that was part of the state wildlife preserve. Not on her ranch.
Or she could bury the creature where it lay and keep quiet.
All three options stunk. But when she thought of the impending brouhaha over the eagle's death, it was damn tempting to go home and get her shovel.
Her battle of conscience dissolved with the growl of tires on gravel. Somebody was coming. The sound drifted to her across the ridge before she spotted the vehicle winding through the switchbacks and up the rise.
Marik straightened her spine and stood beneath the giant turbines, facing into the wind. Waiting for trouble.
A white pickup tacked toward her at a leisurely pace. She had not closed the gate at the main road and, despite the No Trespassing signs, the driver apparently took the open gate as an invitation. The men who tended the windmills drove white pickups, but she could already see this one was a stretch cab and the power company's gold logo wasn't painted on the door. None of the neighboring ranchers drove a truck like that, either.
She lost sight of the vehicle behind a rise and then it emerged again on the high ridge. The truck stopped beside Red Ryder and a tall, lean man got out. He wore jeans and low-heeled boots with a quilted vest over his long-sleeved shirt. She didn't know him. He clamped a wide-brimmed hat on his head and started down the slope toward her with a rolling stride.
His face looked friendly enough until he saw the mound of feathers at her feet. When his eyes fixed on the eagle, all hints of a smile faded away. He didn't speak as he approached but knelt immediately and put his hands on the bird, turning it over, spreading out the feathers on the underside of the tail.
"Bad news," he said. "It's a bald eagle."
He looked up at her with gold-ochre eyes. She frowned. "There's no white head."
"It's a young one. They don't get the distinctive white feathers on the head and tip of the tail until they're at least four years old."
"How do you know it's not a golden?" she said, still hoping.
"The feet, for one thing. Golden eagles have feathers all the way to the claws. This one doesn't. And see that grayish color of the feathers on the underside of the tail? That's distinctive to a young bald eagle. A golden would have white on the tail, up next to the body."
"It's sure big to be immature."
"Probably a female. They get larger than males. I'd guess it's two or three years old."
Perfect. Not just an eagle; it's the freaking national symbol.
The stranger looked younger than she was, early twenties maybe, except for those case-hardened eyes. "You talk like a biologist," she said.
"Not exactly. But I majored in it, along with land management. I'mJace Rainwater, your nine o'clock appointment."
He brushed his hands off on his jeans and stood. Six-four, she guessed, even without the big hat. He paused as if waiting for her to introduce herself or offer a handshake. She did neither. She was supposed to interview him about the foreman's jobtwo hours from now. Nowadays people called it ranch manager, but she figured if foreman was a good enough title for Monte, her dad's old friend, it was good enough for whomever she hired.
"Sorry to be so early," he said. "I drove from Amarillo and made better time than I expected."
"You must have left in the dead of night to get here by sunrise."
He offered no explanation. Maybe he awoke hours before daylight the way she did, worming over the things she could change and the ones she couldn't.
"There was nobody around down there," he said, gesturing toward the cluster of ranch buildings at the foot of the ridge, "so when I saw the truck up here I figured it must be you."
She glanced at the eagle again. "Early would be a good trait for a ranch hand, any morning but this one."
"At least the eagle's a young one, probably not half of a breeding pair," he offered.
She blew out a breath, looking across the fields to the west where the Gurdmans' farm abutted her land. "My neighbors won't care how old the bird is when they try to block construction on the other windmills."
"Your neighbors object to the wind farm?"
" Those do."
He followed her gaze toward a distant clump of trees where the glint of a white farmhouse reflected the early sun. "What for? It's pollution-free energy and it's quiet. Cattle can graze right under the turbines."
"Exactly. But the windmills might emit harmful rays that cause cancer and birth defects."
"Not to mention that the Gurdmans missed out on the lease money from Great Plains Power & Light. The company wanted only this high ground that's not sheltered from the wind."
"Ah," he said. "So it's about money."
"That's what I think, but they won't admit it. All the farms and ranches out here are struggling financially. The wind farm bailed me out, and the Gurdmans resent me for it. And now, of course, they can say the windmills kill eagles."
Meet the Author
Marcia Preston grew up on a wheat farm in central Oklahoma, and her first two books were mysteries in an Oklahoma setting. She was awarded the 2004 Mary Higgins Clark Award for suspense fiction, and the 2004 Oklahoma Book Award. Her most recent books are general fiction. Before writing novels full time, Marcia taught high school English and was a freelance writer for a long list of national magazines. She also published and edited a specialty magazine for writers.
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Marik Youngblood fled Oklahoma after her family forced her to give up her baby for adoption. When her father died, Marik returns home saddled with a failed cattle ranch and a debt that in her mind rivals the Feds. She would prefer to get rid of the financial elephant but made a death bed promise to her dad. Desperate to bring in income, she leases part of the Killdeer Ridge Ranch to a firm building windmills in order to use wind turbines to create energy. Marik's action angers Burt and Lena Gurdman, who own the neighboring ranch. However, Marik is unconcerned with the Gurdman ire as she has bills to pay until a dead bald eagle is found by a windmill; she believes Burt is trying to use the endangered species act to force her to shut down. However, the excavation is actually halted when the remains of an infant is dug up. Marik fears the unmarked grave contained her child whom she was told was living a happy life. Needing to know the truth Marik begins to investigate further upsetting the Gurdman couple especially an outraged Burt. Although the pace starts slow, once Marik begins her amateur sleuthing, the story line accelerates into a fast-paced suspense with romance in the air. Marik is terrific as she tries to save her heritage, learn who the remains are, and praying it is not her daughter whom she hopes to one day meet. Marcia Preston writes an interesting Oklahoma character driven contemporary tale with an intriguing subplot re windmills on the plains that oilman T-Boone Pickens would appreciate. Harriet Klausner