Rob Harrison is a Montana native living in Anacortes, Washington. He writes about his Rocky Mountains in a his cross-genre Eavesdropper series, almost equal parts romance,
mystery and historic fiction.
by Rob Harrison
The breeze that fluttered the lace curtains brought the smell of salt water, not the clean scent of the ocean, but the warm, fetid odor of the brine marshes. The woman in the bed was frail and very old, eyes closed in sleep, hair steel gray and thin, pulled back in a tight bun, a few escaped strands moving with the air. Her finely wrinkled face was twisted, a permanent frown on the left side, the result of a stroke.
The woman in the chair was younger, the same face minus the paralysis. Her hair still showed the black of youth along with the gray of middle age. Her leathery face told the story of frontier life. She sat still, her hands folded over a handbag, seeming ill at ease in her fitted dress and buttoned shoes. As she looked back from the light of the window into the dusk of the room, she found the old woman’s eyes open now, fastened on her.
"Maria, how are you, daughter?" She didn't try to smile; it made her face even more crooked; she smiled with her eyes.
"It's terribly hot in here, mother."
"Willard talked about taking me to Bear Lake. I would so love to feel the cool air."
Persis had been of fragile health all her life, but had steadfastly refused to allow that to slow her down. Several years ago, she had stayed with Maria’s family in southern Utah, but when they were called to move to the cattle station in Arizona, Maria was concerned it would be too hard for Persis and had insisted she return to Salt Lake. Now she feared that her mother had changed for the worse; she was not used to seeing her in bed, “Have you not been well?”
“I’m as well as can be expected, dear. I walk with a cane; but I don't move about too much now. I get so tired in this weather and I sleep to help the time pass."
“You know Guernsey and I are back in Kanab now. He bought us a big red brick house. It has a big cellar with a dirt floor that I can wet down to keep it cool. I’m going to can and store food down there. Do you think you will visit?”
Maria already knew the answer, “No dear, I won’t travel that far again. I shouldn’t even go to Bear Lake, but the heat is so hard on me here. You didn’t come to talk about that.”
“No, Mother; this is a happy occasion. I came to Salt Lake especially to visit you, but also to tell you that your granddaughter, Jennie, will be married to Brother John Riley’s son Lyman Eugene. They met while we were living at Pipe Springs. Gene was herding cattle for his father. He’s a bright and rather bookish young man. They are very much in love – and they want your blessing.”
”Of course they will have my blessing. I remember Eugene as a boy. Oh my, has it been so long? When?”
“Next fall, after the cattle come off the Kaibab.”
“I’ll not come, but think of me." Persis thought sadly of her own wedding in New York more than fifty years ago, so far away in time and distance. Unlike her family, Maria's would stay together. "How is your husband? How are your sister-wives?”
“Guernsey is such a good man. The years in Pipe Springs were hard on him and he is happy to be home. You probably didn't know, Esther died a few years ago, but Sister Lovina still lives in Kanab. Now that we’re in the same town again, Guernsey keeps up his visits with her and she spends time with me. I do love her. Her children are grown now, but she is quite attached to her little old house and won't move in with us.”
“Will he marry again? I know it’s not allowed now, but I heard it’s being done.”
“Some men still take plural wives down in Arizona. Guernsey says he can barely manage the two of us, although I would dispute that. Speaking of which, have you seen father?”
The old woman’s head turned to a framed photo on the wall, a sepia of a seated man with a full Old Dutch beard and a stern expression. For a minute, only the dull ticking of the Regulator clock on the mantel could be heard. “No . . . no, Lorenzo is old now too. I hear Sister Ellen takes good care of him. I can wait. I was first wife, sealed by the Prophet. I would like to be buried near him though.”
“I’m amazed you can be so forgiving; you suffered horribly.”
“He did what the Prophet asked. Your family and others like the Stewarts suffered much more, for less reason.”
“What do you mean?”
"Back in the seventies, it was said the Lion scattered the Danites. I think it was too dangerous for the church to have men living that close to Salt Lake who might know anything about that unfortunate business at Mountain Meadows. Some, like your husband, had successful businesses and farms here and had to leave them. What a shame! It seemed to me like they were cursed.”
"I understand scattered, but cursed?"
"Certainly a curse followed Brother Levi Stewart; remember the fire in the fort that took Sister Margery and five of his sons?"
“Yes, I remember. Was Brother Levi a Danite?”
“I don't think so, but his best friend, John D. Lee, was no doubt one of them.”
“Do you know if the two kept up their friendship?”
“Brother Levi secretly took supplies to him down at the ferry, but the risk of it troubled him."
Maria beheld her mother with awe. She lay sunken into the feather mattress in the brass bedstead, so small, she barely raised the lace-edged coverlet. Propped up on pillows, her eyes, soft and gray moments before, now shone as hard obsidian, pinned on Maria. How many dark secrets in that deep well? "How do you know these things, Mother?"
"I cannot tell you that . . . I've said too much already."
"I heard gold was found in Brother Lee's cabin after he was executed. People are still searching for his mine down in the Grand River Canyon.”
“They will look a long time. I know where that cursed mine is . . . and it will die with me."
Friday, December 30, 2011
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Sunday, December 25, 2011
The Perfect Tree
I follow my dad’s trek through the woods,
his black work boots trampling
fallen leaves and snapping twigs
on our mission to find the perfect tree.
His hand-saw, with the orange handle,
rests on his shoulder and I look around
to see the birds and squirrels scatter
in his wake, chattering in annoyance
over the removal of yet another dwelling
in their paradise we call the acreage by the creek.
The selected tree seems small standing alone
and I peer between its branches
checking for nests and worm holes
and other signs of life.
my dad kindly reminds me
that it is the wrong time of year for
building nests and raising young;
the birds have gone elsewhere for the winter.
Yet, I can’t help but wonder about their
return home in the spring only to find
a stump where once stood their perfect tree.
But Christmas traditions hold strong and
aluminum trees are something for city folks.
We have our acreage by the creek and like my
grandparents who brought the land,
we keep the tradition steadfast and certain.
Now I live in the city and have a small pine tree
in a pot of soil that came from the grocery store.
My dad is gone, his boots resting in his workshop.
But I still make the annual hike to the family farm,
carrying with me an object much smaller than a saw
And when I find the tree, I hang on its branch,
a tiny red ball with a bird painted on the side,
a welcome home gift for the field sparrows
when they return in the spring.