Lee Barnes. University of Nevada Press , - Fiction - pages. Lee Barnes' new book, Minimal Damage, contains seven stories and a novella that depict veterans of several wars in search of dignity and purpose in a civilian life that has no need for men who were soldiers. Psychically scarred, in emotional crisis, pushed to the fringes of society, or in relentless battle with their memories, many of these men find themselves living "like warts on America's ass.
K, who runs a brutally violent reality television show and once led an escape from a Korean POW camp, to the doomed Billy Debecki, who regains his dignity in the last minutes of his life by remembering that he once willingly risked his life to save an enemy soldier. In one story, a man who was never a soldier finds a path toward reconciliation with his brother, a former Marine. In another, a man recalls becoming a soldier by watching the humanity of a fellow recruit disintegrate in basic training. In the novella "Snake Boy," a homeless Vietnam vet is kidnapped by a snake-handling evangelist.
The depth of damage is never immediately apparent in these men, whether they are living proper, upstanding lives or lost, drifting ones. In war, chance, luck, and arbitrary timing conspire to determine a soldier's fate. In civilian life, the same uncontrollable forces influence who finds a place in society and who is doomed to continue searching. From inside the book. Contents Punishment. Here the roll of the valley up from the place of its lagoons is by long mesas breaking into summits and shoulders ; successive crests of them reared up by slow, ample heav- 34 THE FLOCK ings, settling into folds, with long, valleyward slopes, and blunt mountain-facing heads, flung up at last in the sharp tumult of the Sierras.
Thereward the trail of the wool wagon bears evenly and white. Over it, preceded by the smell of cigarettes, go the shearing crews of swarthy men with good manners and the air of opera pirates. When Solomon Jewett held the ranch above the ford by the river which was Rio Bravo, and is now Kern, shearings went forward in a manner suited to the large leisure of the time.
That was in the early sixties, when there were no laborers but Indians. These drove the flocks out in the shoulder-high grasses; "for in those days," said Jewett, " we never thought feed any good, less than eighteen inches high," and at the week end rounded them up at headquarters for the small allowance of whiskey that alone held them to the six days' job.
It was a condition of the weekly dole that all knives and weapons should be first surrendered, but as you can imagine, whiskey being hard to come by at that time, much water went to each man's flask ; the nearer the bottom of the cask the more water. T h e ration at Rio Bravo was chiefly atole or tole " of flour and water, coffee made thick with sugar, and raw mutton which every man cut off and toasted for himself ; and a shearing then was a very jewel of the comfortable issue of labor. Of the day's allotment each man chose to shear what pleased him, and withdrawing, slept in the shade and the dust of the chaparral while his women struggled, with laughter and no bitterness of spirit, with the stubborn and overwrinkled sheep.
But even Indians, it seems, are amenable to the time, and I have it on the authority of Little Pete and the Manxman that Indians to-day make the best shearers, being crafty hand-workers and possessed of the communal instinct, liking to work and to loaf in company. Under the social stimulus they turn out an astonishing number of wellclipped muttons. Round the half moon of the lower S a n Joaquin the Mexicans are almost the only shearers to be had, and even the men 36 THE FLOCK who employ them credit them with the greatest fertility in excuses for quitting work.
All the lost weathers of romance collect between the ranges of the San Joaquin, like old galleons adrift in purple, open spaces of Sargasso. Shearing weather is a derelict fro the time of Admetus; gladness comes out of the earth and exhales light. It has its note, too, in pipings of the Dauphinoises, seated on the ground with gilias coming up between their knees while the flutes remember France.
Under the low, false firmament of cloud, pools of luminosity collect in interlacing shallows of the hills.
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Here in one of those gentle swales where sheep were always meant to be, a ewe covers her belated lamb, or has stolen out from the wardship of the dogs to linger until the decaying clot of bones and hide, which was once her young, dissolves into its essences. The flock from which she strayed feeds toward the flutter of a white rag on the hilltop that signals a shearing going on in the clear space of a cafion below.
Plain on the skyline with his sharp-eared dogs the herder leans upon his staff. At Noriega's this year there were t wen ty-eight thousand head. Noriega's camp and corrals lie in the cafion of Poso Creek where there is a well of one burro power, for at this season the rains have not unlocked the sources of the stream. Hills march around it, shrubless, treeless ; scarps of the Sierras stand up behind.
Tents there are for stores, but all the operations of the camp are carried on out of doors. Confessedly or not, the several sorts of men who have to do with sheep mutually despise one another. Therefore the shearing crew has its own outfit, distinct from the camp of the hired herders. Expect the best cooking and the worst smells at the camp of the French shepherds.
It smells of mutton and old cheese, of onions and claret and garlic and tobacco, sustained and pervaded by the smell of sheep. This is the acceptable holiday smell, for when the farcalled flocks come in to the shearing then is the only playtime the herder knows. Then if ever he gets a blink at a pretty girl, claret, 38 THE FLOCK and h i e at Vivian's, or a game of hand-ball at Noriega's, played with the great shovelshaped gloves that are stamped with the name of Pamplona to remind him of home.
But by the smell chiefly you should know something of the man whose camp you have come on unawares. When you can detect cheese at a dozen yards presume a Frenchman, but a leather wine bottle proves him a Basque, garlic and onions without cheese, a Mexican, and the absence of all these one of the variable types that calls itself American.
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T h e shearing sheds face one side of the corrals and runways by which the sheep are passed through a chute to the shearers. The sheds, of which there may be a dozen, accommodate five or six shearers, and are, according to the notion of the owner, roofed and hung with canvas or lightly built of brush and blanket rags. One of them stands at every shed with his tie-box and a hank of tiecord wound about his body.
This tie-box is merely a wooden frame of the capacity of one fleece, notched to hold the cord, which, once adjusted, can be tightened with a jerk and a hitch or two, making the fleece into a neat, square bundle weighing six to ten pounds as the clip runs light or heavy. Besides these, there must go to a full shearing crew two men to handle the wool sacks and one to sit on the packed fleeces and keep tally as the shearer cries his own number and the number of his sheep, betraying his country by his tongue. The day's work begins stiffly, little laughter, and the leisurely whet of shears. Afternoon sees the sweat dripping and a freer accompaniment of talk, drowned again in the rising fever of work at the turn of the day, after which the smell of cooking begins to climb above the smells of the corrals.
A man wipes his shears on his overalls and hangs them u p when he has clipped the forty or fifty sheep that his wage, necessity, or his reputation demands of him. Two men can sack the wool of a thousand sheep in a day, though their contrivances are the simplest,-a frame tall enough to be taller than a wool sack, which is once and a half as tall as Little Pete, an iron ring over which the wetted mouth of the A SHEARING 41 sack is turned and so held fast to the top of the frame, a pole to support the weight of the sack while the packer sews it up.
Once the sack is adjusted, with ears tied in the bottom corners over a handful of wool, the bundled fleeces are tossed up into it and trampled close by the packer as the sack fills and fills. The pole works under the frame like an ancient wellsweep, hoisting the three hundred pound weight of wool while the packer closes the top. For the reason why wool shears are ground dull at the point, and for knowing about the yolk of the wool, I commend you to Noriega or Little Pete ; this much of a shearing is their business; the rest of it is romance and my province.
The far-called flocks come in ; Raymfindo has climbed to the top of the wool sack tower and spies for the dust of their coming; dust in the east against the roan-colored hills; dust in the misty, blue ring of the west; high dust under Breckenridge floating across the banked poppy fires; flocks moving on the cactus-grown mesa. Northward the sagebrush melts and stirs in a stream of moving shadow. Now he shall pay me for that crook he had of me last year.
I passed him Tuesday. He has a cougar's skin, the largest ever. Four nights it came, and on the fourth it stayed. A t night, like kinsmen met in hostelries, they talk between spread pallets by the dying fires. When I came by Oak Creek I lost twoscore of my lambs to the forest ranger.
Twoscore fat and well grown. We fed along the line of the Reserve, and the flock scattered. Ah, how should I know, there being no monuments at that place! They went but a flock length over, that I swear to you, and the ranger came riding on us from the oaks and charged the sheep; he was a new man and a fool not to know that a broken flock travels up.
The more he ran after them the farther they went in the Reserve. Twoscore lambs were lost in the steep rocks, or died from the running, and of the ewes that lost their lambs seven broke back in the night, and I could not go in to the Reserve to hunt them. And how is that for ill fortune? You with your halfscore of scabby wethers! Jules upbraids his collie tenderly :" So you would run away to the town, eh, 44 THE FLOCK and get a beating for your pains; you are well served, you misbegotten son of a thief!
Know you not there is none but old Jules can abide the sight of you? I, being a fool, had left my gun at Tres Pinos on account of the rangers. Eh, I would not have cared for a sheep more or less, but Duroc! Well I know the ways of bears, that they can run faster than a man up a hill or down; but around and around, that is where the great weight of Monsieur le Bear has him at fault. So long as you run with the side of the hill the bear comes out below you. Now this Red Hill where I am camped is small, that a man might run around it in half an hour.
Then I run around and around, and this second time -Sacre! Echenique lifts up his staff and whistles to his dogs; like enough the flock will move out in the night to feed and the herder with him. Not until they meet again by chance, in the summer meadows, will each and several hear the end of the bear story. S o they recount the year's work by the shearing fires, and if they be hirelings of different owners, lie to each other about the feed.
Dogs snuggle to their masters; for my part I believe they would take part in the conversation if they could, and suffer in the deprivation. At shearings flocks are reorganized for the Long Trail. Wethers and non-productive ewes are cut out for market, yearlings change hands, lambs are marked, herders outfitted. The shearing crew which has begun in the extreme southern end of the valley passes 46 THE FLOCK north on the trail of vanishing snows even as far as Montana, and picks up the fall shearings, rounding toward home.
This is a recent procedure. Once there was time enough for a j e s t 0 lasting two or three days, or at the least a shearing dnile. I remember very well when a t Adobe, before the wind had cleared the litter of fleeces, they would be riding at the ring and clinking the shearing wage over cockfights and monte. Toward nightfall from somewhere in the blue-and-white desertness, music of guitars floated in the prettiest girls in the company of limber vaqueros, clinking their spurs and shaking from their hair the shining crease where the heavy sombrero had rested.
Middleaged senoras wound their fat arms in their rebosas and sat against the wall ; blue smoke of cigarettes began to sway with the strum of the plucked guitar; cascarones would fly about, breaking in bright tinsel showers. Wiint is it in the Castilian strain that makes it possible for a girl to stick a rose behind her ear and cause you to forget the smell of garlic and the reek of unwashed walls?
The teamsters, who have pushed their fagged animals miles beyond their daily stunt to this end, drop the reins to the swamper and whirl with undaunted freshness to the dance. As late as seven o'clock in the morning you could still see their ruddy or freckled faces glowing above the soft, dark heads. Though if you had sheep in charge you could hardly have stayed so long. Outside so far that the light that. Pete had been showing me the use of a shepherd's crook, not nearly so interesting as it sounds.
W e drove them to the Alps in summer, I remember very well. W e went between the fenced pastures, feeding every other day and driving at night. In the dark we heard the bells ahead and slept upon our feet. Myself and another herd boy, we tied ourselves together not to wander from the road. W e slept upon our feet but lcept moving to the bells. This is truth that I tell you.
Whenever shepherds from the Rhone are met about camps in the Sierras they will be talking of how they slept upon their feet and followed after the bells. I remembered what the Indians had told me in this sandy waste, that where the mallow grew they digged and found, if no more, at least a handful of plastic clay for making pots. Meadows of the Sierras are green, but not so green as the little fields of France when we went between them with the flocks. W e fed for three months in the high pastures, and for idleness wove garters in curious patterns of woolen thread, red and green and blue.
Yes ; for our sweethearts, they wore them on holidays. But here it seems a garter is not to be mentioned. Every man has two or three head in his stable, and there will be one herd boy to the village; he leads them out to feed, and home at night. Every sheep knows its own fold. They are like dogs returning to the doorstep when they come in at night, and in the morning they bleat at the voice of the herd boy. But here we run two and three thousand to the flock. And if he would keep out of the business, he must keep strictly away from the smell of the dust they beat up on the trail and the familiar blether of the flock.
Narcisse Duplin, who used regularly to damn the business in October and sell out, and as regularly buy again in February, told me this, and told at the same time of a certain banker in an inland town who had made his money in sheep and was now ashamed of it, who kept a cosset ewe in his back yard. There used to be at Tres Pinos a man who had sold two thousand wethers and a thousand ewes, to buy a little shop where he could sell lentils and claret and copper-riveted overalls to the herders going by on the Long Trail.
But he never came to any good in it, for the reason that when trade should be busiest at the semiannual passage of the flocks, he would be out walking after the sheep in the smell and the bitter dust. That most sheep-herders are foreigners accounts largely for the abomination in which 56 THE FLOCK they are held and the prejudice that attaches to the term.
American owners prefer to be called wool growers, but it is well to be exactly informed. The Frenchmen call themselves bergers, the Mexicans doregeros,the Basques arfininas, of all which shepherd is the exact equivalent. Sheep-herder is a pure colloquialism of the man outside and should not be made to stand for more than it includes. The best terms of a trade are to be found among the men who live by it, and these are their proper distinctions : The owner or wool grower sits at home, and seldom seeing his flocks sends them out under a head shepherd or major-dorno; a shepherd is an owner who travels with the flock, with or without herders, overseeing and directing ; the sheep-herder is merely a hireling who works the flock in its year-long passage from shearing to shearing.
This is the first estate of most sheepmen. T h e herder runs a flock for a year or two for a daily wage of tobacco and food and a dollar, and if he has no family, fifty dollars is as much as he finds occasion to spend upon himself. With the year's increase he unites with some other small owner, and puts his knowledge of pastures to the proof.
After this his affairs are in the hands of the Little Gods of Rain. Three or four successive dry years return him " broke " to the estate of herding ; the same number of years of abundant wetness make him a wool grower.
They improve the breeds, conserve the natural range, multiply contrivances. A t Rag Gulch there is a cemented. As it rises on the trail one perceives through its pale luminosity the social order struggling into shape. Sanger, when he drove his sheep to Montana in '70, went up like a patriarch with his family in wagocs, his dogs and his herders, his milch cows, his saddle horses, and his sheep 58 THE FLOCK in bands.
When they came by living springs, there they pitched the camp ; when they found fresh pastures, there they halted. But on the Long Trail the herders go out with a little burro to pack, with a lump of salt pork and a bag of lentils, a bunch of garlic, a frying pan, and a pot, with two or three dogs and a cat to ride on top of the cayaques and clear the camp of mice.
After them comes the head shepherd in a stout-built wagon. Met on the county roads, he is to be distinguished from the farmers by the sharp noses of the dogs thrust out between his feet, and by the appearance of having on too many clothes and the clothes not belonging to him. Nothing sets so ill on the man from outdoors as the ready-made suit. On the range in a blouse loose at the throat, belted with a wisp of sheepskin or a bright handkerchief, these shepherd folk show to be admirably built, the bodies columnar, the chests T H E HIRELING SHEPHERD 59 brawny, the reach of the arms extraordinary, the hands not calloused but broadened at the knuckles by the constant grip of the staff.
Of the other sorts of men having to do with sheep there are not many who merit much attention. These are the buyers who seek out the flocks on the range, and fortified by a secret knowledge of the market fluctuations, bargain for the mutton and the fleeces. Having paid to the shepherd, as earnest of their intention, the cost of driving the flock at a given time to the point of transportation, they melt away by the main traveled roads, and the herder knows them no more.
The real focus of the sheep business in any district is to be found in some such friendly concern as the house of Olcese and Ardizzi, who make good in the terms of tnodernity the very old rule that one Frenchman is always worth being trusted by another. Hardly any who go up across my country but have been lifted by them through their bad years by credits and supplies, and the inestimable advantage that comes to a man in knowing his word is esteemed good. You may call a Frenchman a Gascon, which is to say a liar, and escape punishment ; but you really must not confound him with a Basque.
Understand that all the Pyreneeans of my acquaintance are straight folk and likable, but if you lay all the evils of shepherding at the doors of those I do not know, you will have some notion of how they are esteemed of the French. When on the mesa or about the edges of a gentian-spattered meadow you come upon a still camp with " Consuelo," the " Fables of La Fontaine," or Michelet's " Histoire de France" lying about among the cooking pots, it is well to wait until the herder comes home.
In seventeen years I have found nobody better worth than Little Pete to discuss French literature. This is that Pierre Geraud who has the meadow of Coyote Valley and the ranch at Tinnemaha; a man who gives the impression that he has made himself a little less than large for convenience in getting about, of such abundant vitality and elasticity that he gives back largely to the lightest touch.
Once you get speech with them, of all outdoor folk the minders of flocks are the most fruitful talkers ; better at it than cowboys, next best after forest rangers. The constant flux from the estate of owner to hireling makes them philosophers ; all outdoors contrives to nourish the imagination, and they have in full what we oftenest barely brush wings with, elemental human experiences.
Once in the Temblors, a wild bulk of hills westward from San Emigdio, I knew a herder who had called a woman from one of the wattled huts sprawled in a brown cafion; she answering freely to the call as the quail to the piping of its mate. She was slim and brown, and points of amber flame swam in her quiet eyes. They went up unweariedly by faint old trails and felt the earth-pulse under them. They shook the unregarded rain from their eyes, and sat together in a wordless sweet companions hip through endless idle noons.
Well - but what is marriage exactly? Understand that the actual management of a flock on the range is never a "white man's job. Of the twoscore shepherds who pass and repass between Naboth's field and the foot of Kearsarge, most are French, then Basque, Mexican, and a Portuguese or two. There was an Indian who worked for Joe Espelier, - but in general the Indian loves society too much to make a notable herder, and the Mexican has a difficulty in remembering that the claims of his employer are superior to the obligations of hospitality.
Gervaise told me that when he ran thirty thousand merinos in New Mexico he. It is said of the Devil that he spent seven years in learning the Basque language and acquired but three words of it, and offered in corroboration that the people of the Pyrenees called themselves Enscaldunac, " the people with a speech. This sort of opprobrium is always cast upon unfamiliar manners by the sorts of peo- 64 THE FLOCK ple who meet oftenest with shepherd folk, cowboys, homesteaders, provincials with little imagination and no social experience.
Whenever it is possible to bridge the prejudice which isolates the herder from the servants of other affairs, what first appears is that the grazing ground is the prize of a little war that requires for its successful issue as much foresightedness and knowledge of technique as goes proportionately to other business, so that a man might much more easily go insane under its perplexities than for the want of employment that is oftenest imputed.
Nor does shepherding lack a sustaining morale in the occasions it affords for devotion to the interests of the employer. And this presents itself in any knowledgeable report of their relations that, in a business carried on so far from the owner's eye, nothing could be possible without an extraordinary degree of dependableness in the hireling. Not that the leash of reason does not occasionally slip in the big wilderness ; there was Jean Lambert, who in a succession of dry years found himself so harassed by settlers and cattle- THE HIRELING SHEPHERD 65 men occupying his accustomed ground and defending them with guns and strategies, that he conceived the very earth and sky in league against him, and was found at last roaring about a dry meadow, holding close his starved flock and defying the Powers of the Air.
Once there was a Portuguese herder misled by false monuments in the Coso country, without water for three days, discovered witless and happy, bathing nakedly in the waters of mirage. But there were also miners in that county and teamsters whom the land made mad; indeed, what occupation fends us from thirst and desertness? I hand you up these things as they were told to me, for such as these always occur in some other place, like Arizona or New Mexico where almost anything might happen. With all my seeking into desert places there are three things that of my own knowledge I have not seen, -a man who has rediscovered a lost mine, the heirs of one who died of the bite of a sidewinder, and a shepherd who is insane.
The loneliness imputed by the town-bred is not so in fact. Almost invariably two men are put to a flock, and these are seldom three days 66 THE FLOCK together out of touch with the owner or head shepherd who, traveling with supplies, directs several bands at once, baking bread, replenishing the outfit, spying ahead for fresh pastures, and purveying news. This necessity for renewing contact at given places and occasions points the labor of the herder and supplies a companionable touch.
Herders of different owners meet on the range and exchange misinformation about the feed ; lately also they defame the forest rangers. Returning in the fall, before undertaking the desert drive, they turn into the alfalfa fields about Oak Creek and below Williamson and Lone Pine. Here while the flock fattens they make camps of ten or a dozen ; here in long twilights they sing and romp boyishly with the dogs, and here the wineskin goes about.
These goatskin bottles with the hair inside come from Basqueland and are held by the possessors to give an unrivaled flavor to the weak claret drunk in camp. When a company of Basque herders are met about the fire, in the whole of a long evening the wineskin does not touch the ground. After sundown in the stillness of high valleys the sound of an accordion carries far.
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When it croons wheezily over a love song of the seventeenth century, it is worth following to its point of issue beside the low flare of the brushwood fire with the shepherds seated round it on the ground. There you will hear roundels and old ballades, perhaps a new one beginning, "A shepherd there was of Gascony, A glutton, a drunkard, a liar was he, A rascal, a thief, and a Blasphemer, T h e worst in the whole round world I aver ; Who, seeing the master had left him alone, H e gave the coyotes the lambs for their own, He left the poor dogs to watch over the sheep And down by the wine cask he laid him asleep.
A t that hour when the earth turns as if from the red eye of the sun, all the effort of nature seems to withdraw attention from its adumbration to direct it toward the ineffably pure vault of blueness on which the clear obscurity that shores the rim of the world encroaches late or not at all. In the San Joa- 72 THE FLOCK quin there will be nights of early summer when the live color of heaven is to be seen at all hours beyond the earth's penumbra, darkling between the orderly perspectives of the stars.
A t such seasons there will be winking in the pellucid gloom, in the vicinity of shearing stations, a hundred camp fires of men who have not lost the sense of the earth being good to lie down upon. They have moved out from Famoso, from Delano, Poso, and Caliente, bound as the mind of the head shepherd runs for summer pastures as far north as may be conveniently accomplished between shearing and lambing; and all the ways of their going and coming make that most notable of sheepwalks, the Long Trail.
The great trunk of the trail lies along theeast slope of the Sierra Nevadas, looping through them by way of the passes around Yosemite, or even as far north as Tahoe, shaped and defined by the occasions that in little record the progress from nomadism to the commonwealth. Conceive the cimeter blade of the Sierra curving to the slow oval of the valley, dividing the rains, clouds herding about its summits and THE LONG TRAIL 73 flocks along its flanks, their approaches ordered by the extension and recession of its snows.
The common necessities of the sheep business beat it into a kind of rhythm as early even as the time when every foot of this country was open range. Recurrently as the hills clothed themselves with white wonder the shepherds turned south for lambing, and as surely as bent heather recovers from the drifts, they sought the summer pastures. T h e down plunge of the Sierras to the San Joaquin is prolonged by round-backed droves of hills, and the westerly trail is as wide as a week of flock journeys ; but here on the east you have the long, sharp scar where Padahoon, the little hawk who made it, tore the range from its foundations when he stole that territory from the little duck who brought up the stuff for its building from the bottom of the primordial sea.
Here the trail hugs the foot of the great Sierra fault for a hundred miles through the knife-cut valleys, trending no farther desertward than the scant fling of winter rains, and even here it began soon enough to be man-crowded. Not without a struggle though. Between the herders and the ranchers the impalpable fence of the law had first to externalize itself in miles upon miles of barbed wire to accomplish for the patented lands what the hair rope is supposed to do for the teamster's bed, for in the early eighties there was no vermin so pestiferous to the isolated rancher as the sheep.
Finally the trail was mapped by the viewless line of the Forest Reserve, drawn about the best of the watershed and so narrowed that where it passes between Kearsarge and Naboth's field, where my house is, it is no more than a threemile strip of close-grazed, social shrubs. Flocks pour into it by way of Tehachapi, and in very dry years from as far south as San Gabriel and San Bernardino, crowded up with limping, starkribbed cattle.
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The place where it had been was mapped in the upper air by the wide, tilted wings of scavengers and the crawling dustheaps below them on the sand, formless blurs for the sheep and long snaking lines of steers ; for horned cattle have come so much nearer the man-mind that they love a beaten path. Weeks on end the black guidons flapped and halted in the high currents of the furnace-heated air. Rolling northward on the Mojave stage, from the high seat beside the driver, I saw the sick hearts of cattlemen and herders watch through swollen eyelids the third and then the half of their possessions wasting from them as sand slips through the fingers.
By the dry wash where 76 THE FLOCK they buried the Chinaman who tried to walk in from Borax Marsh without water, we saw Baptiste the Portuguese, sitting with his eyes upon the ground, all his flock cast up along the bank, and his hopes with them like the waste of rotting leaves among the bleached boulders of a vanished stream, dying upon their feet. All trails run together through Red Rock, the gorge by which the stage road climbs to the mesa. There is a water hole halfway of its wind-sculptured walls; often had I seen it glimmering palely like a dead eye between lashless, ruined lids.
Crowded into the defile at noon, for at that time we made the first stage of the journey by day, a band of black faces added the rank smell of their fleeces to the choked atmosphere. The light above the smitten sands shuddered everywhere with heat. T h e sheep had come from Antelope Valley with insufficient feed and no water since Mojave, and had waited four hours in the breathless gully for the watering of a band of cattle at the flat, turgid well. They and the sheep answered heavily, being greatly spent; dumbly they shuffled from the road and closed huddling behind, as clods. For an interval we halted in the middle of the band until one of the horses snorted back upon his haunches and occasioned one of those incidents that, whether among sheep or men, turn us sickeningly from the social use of the flock-mind.
The band began to turn upon itself ; those scrambling from the horses piled up upon their fellows as viewless shapes of thirst and fear herded them inward to the suffocating heap that sunk and shuddered and piled again. My eyes were shut, but I heard the driver swear whispering and helplessly for the brief interval that we could not hear the gride of the moving wheels upon the sand. Afterward when I came to my own place I watched the trail long for the passing of that herder and that band, to inquire how they had come through, - bzlt they never passed!
It is the breeding place of little dust devils that choose the moment when your pot lid is off, or you cool your broth with your breath, to whisk up surprisingly out of stillness with rubbish and bitter dust to disorder the camp. Footsoreness, loco-weed, deadly waters, and starvation establish its borders ; and withal no possibility of imputing malignity. It is not that the desert would destroy men and flocks, it merely neglects them. When they fail through its sheer inattention, because of the preoccupation of its own beauty, it has not time even to kill quickly.
Plainly the lord of its luminous great spaces has a more tremendous notion, not to be disturbed for starveling ewe, not though the bloomy violet glow of its twilight closes so many times on the vulture dropped above it, swinging as from some invisible pendulum under the sky. Lungren showed me a picture once, of a man and a horse dead upon the desert, painted as it would be with the light breaking upon the distended bodies, nebulously rainbow-hued and tender, which he said hardly anybody liked. How should they? But if ever spring comes to the Mojave, and the passage of spring beyond the Sierra wall is a matter of place and occasion rather than season, there is no more tolerable land for a flock to be abroad in.
This year it came and stayed along three hundred miles, and the sheep grew fat and improved their fleeces. But for the insufficience of watering places a hundred thousand might have thriven on the great variety of grazing, - atriplexes, dahlia, tender young lupines, and " marrow-fat" weed.
As many shepherds as think the grudging permission to cross the Forest Reserve not too dearly paid for by the vexations of it, bring their sheep up by way of Havilah and Greenhorn through Walker's Pass. As many as think it worth while feed out toward Panamint and Coso, where once in seven years there is a chance of abundant grazing; but about Owen's Lake they are drawn together by the narrowing of the trail and the tax collector. If ever you come along the south shore of that dwindling, tideless water about the place where Manuel 80 THE FLOCK de Borba killed Mariana, his master, and sold the flock to his own profit, look across it to the wall-sided hulks of the Sierras ; best if you can see them in the pure, shadowless light of early evening when the lake shines in the wet grey color of Irish eyes.
They line up as braves for the ancient play, immortally young, shining nakedly above, girt with pines, their strong cliffs leaning to the noble poises of the game. Hereabouts they refresh the trail-weary flocks in the hired pastures and outfit them for the Sierra meadows. A s the annual passage is often twice across three or four counties, the license becomes, in the minds of some herders, a thing worth avoiding. Narcisse Duplin, red Narcisse, who went over this trail once too often, told me how, in a certain county where the land permitted it, he would hide away the half of his flock in the hills, then go boldly with the remnant to pay his assessment, smuggling forth the others at night out of the collector's range.
But here where the trail spindles out past Kearsarge there is no convenience and, I may add, hardly any intention of avoiding it. A flock on the trail moves out by earliest light to feed. For an hour it may be safely left to the dogs while the herder starts the fire under his coffee pot and prepares his bowl of goat's milk and large lumps of bread.
T h e flock spreads fanwise, feeding from the sun. Good herding must not be close; where the sheep are held in too narrow a compass the middlers and tailers crop only stubble, and 82 THE FLOCK coming empty to the bedding ground, break in the night and stray in search of pasture. A n anxious herder makes a lean flock. Properly the band comes to rest about mid-morning, drinking when there is water to be had, but if no water, ruminating contentedly on the open fronts of hills while the herder cooks a meal. Myself, I like the dinner that comes out of the herder's black pot, mixing its savory smells with the acrid smoke of burning sage.
You sit on the ground under a little pent of brush and are served in a tin basin with mutton, lentils, and garlic cooked together with potatoes and peppers " red pottage of lentils " , with thick wedges of sour-dough bread to sop up the gravy, good coffee in a tin cup ; and after the plate is cleared, a helping of wild honey or tinned sweet stuff.
Occasionally there will be wild salad, miner's lettuce, pepper grass or cress from springy meadows. If the herder has been much about Indians, you may have little green pods of milkweed cooked like string beans, summers in westward-fronting cafions, thimbleberries which the herder gathers in his hat. When in the fall the Basques forgather at a place on Oak Creek called by the Indians " Sagaharawite, Place - of-the - Mush - that - was Afraid," you get the greatest delicacy of a sheep camp, a haunch of mutton stuck full of garlic corns and roasted in a Dutch oven under ground. Even buried a foot in red-hot coals the smell of this delectation is so persuasive that Julien told me once on Kern River, when he had left his mutton a lnoment to look after the sheep, a bear came out of the hills and carried off the roast in the pot.
There is no doubt whatever of the truth of this incident. Bread for the camp is baked by the head shepherd, and when it is ready for the pans he THE FLOCK 84 pulls off a lump and drops it back in the flour sack. There it ferments until it is used to start the next baking. Yes, when I am come from France. Madame-who-writes-the -book could not have supposed that I brought it with me.
The acceptable vegetables are lentils and onions, and the test of a good employer is the quantity of onions that can be gotten out of him after the price goes higher than a dollar and a quarter a sack. L THE LONG TRAIL 85 The mess which the herder puts over the fire every day at mid-morning is packed in the pot in the cayaca when the flock moves out in the afternoon, and warmed at his twilight-cheering fire, serves as supper for himself and the dogs alike, and not infrequently in the same dish.
I have said you should hear what the tariff revision accomplished for the sheep. Just this : before that, men raised sheep for wool or mutton expressly, but chiefly for wool. Then as the scale of prices hung wavering, doubtful if wool or mutton was to run highest, they began to cross the wool and mutton breeds to produce a sheep that matures rapidly and shears nine or ten pounds of wool, directing the management of the flock always towards the turn of the highest prices.
Every sheepman will have his preferences among Merinos, Shropshires, and Cotswolds; but in general the Merinos are most tractable, and blackfaces the best for fenced pastures, for though they are marketable early they scatter too much, not liking to feed in the middle of the band, grow footsore too easily, 86 THE FLOCK and despise the herder.
It is the ultimate disposition of the flocks, whether for mutton or wool, that determines the distribution of them along the upper country contiguous to the trail, as the various sorts of forage, in the estimation of the shepherd, favor one or another end. H e is a poor shepherd whose mind cannot outrun the flock by a season's length when by eight and nine mile journeyings they pass northward in the spring.
Little Pete drops out at Coyote Valley where by owning the best meadow he controls the neighboring feed. Joe Eyraud, White Mountain Joe, turns off toward the upswelling of his name peak to the perennial pastures of its snows. One goes by Deep Springs and Lida to the far-between grazinggrounds of Nevada, another to the burnt desert of Mono. Time was before the Forest Reserve cut them off from the high Sierras, the shepherds worked clean through them, returning to the lambing stations by way of North Fork, Kaweah, and the Four Creek country, and such as came up the west slope went back through Mono and Inyo.
But now they return as they went, complaining greatly of depleted pastures. Passage toward the high valleys is deterred by late tneltingof the snows and urged forward by the consideration that along the most trawled stages of the way there will be no new feed between the flowering of wild almonds and the time of Bigelovia bloom. Close spring feeding makes a bitter passage of the fall returning.
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In bad years the flocks turn in to the barleystubble, they take the last crop of alfalfa standing; in a vineyard country they are put to stripping the leaves from the vines. What the shepherd prays for when in the fall the tall dust columns begin to rise from the Black Rock is a promise of rain in the dun clouds stretched across the valley, low and fleecy soft, touching the mountains on either side; grey air moving on the dusky mesas, wide fans of light cutting through the cafions to illume the clear blue above the Passes ; soft thunder treading tiptoe above the floor of cloud, moving about this business of the rain.
All the cliffs of that country have fresh edges, and the light that cuts between them froin the 92 THE FLOCK westering sun lies yellowly along the sod. All the winds of its open places smell of sage, and all its young rivers are swift. They begin thin and crystalline from under the forty-foot drifts, grow thick and brown in the hot leaps of early summer, run clear with full throaty laughter in midseason,f roth and cloud to quick, far-off rains, fall off to low and golden-mottled rills before the first of the snows. By their changes the herder camped a hundred miles from his summer pastures knows what goes forward in them.
Let me tell you this, - every sort of life has its own zest for those who are bred to it. No more delighted sense of competency and power goes to the man who from his wire web controls the movement of money and wheat, than to the shepherd who by the passage of birds, by the stream tones, by the drift of pine pollen on the eddies of slack water, keeps tally of the pastures.
Do you read the notes of mountain color as they draw into dusk? There is a sense that wakes in the nightwith a warning to keep the flock close, and another sense of the shortest direction. The smell of the sheep is to the herder as the smack and savor of any man's work. Also it is possible to felicitate one's self on rounding a feeding flock and bringing it to a standstill within a flock-length.
The whole of that great country northward is so open and well-ordered that it affords the freest exercise of shepherd craft, every man going about to seek the preferred pastures for which use has bred a liking. Miles and miles of that district are dusky white with sage, falling off to cienAgas, -grassy hollows of seeping springs, -cooled by the windy flood that sets from the mountain about an hour before noon.
The voice of that country is an open whisper, pointed at intervals by the deep whir-r-r-r of the sage hens rising from some place of hidden waters. Times when there is moonlight, watery and cold, a long thin howl detaches itself from any throat and welters on the wind. Here the lift of the sky through the palpitant, pale noons exalts the sense, and the ruffle of the sage 94 THE FLOCK under it turning silverly to the wind stirs at the heart as the slow smile of one well-loved of whom you are yet a little afraid.
Such hours, merely at finding in the bent tops of the brush the wattling by which the herder keeps his head from the sun, passes the flash and color of the time when the man-seed was young and the Power moved toward the Parthenon from a plat of interlacing twigs. T h e sagebrush grows up to an elevation of eight or nine thousand feet and the wind has not quite lapped up the long-backed drifts from its hollows when the sheep come in.
A month later there will begin to be excellent browse along the lower pine borders, meadow sweet, buckthorns, and sulphur flower. T h e yellow pines, beaten by the wind, or at the mere stir of pine warblers and grosbeaks in their branches, give out clouds of pollen dust. T h e suffusion of light over the Sierra highlands is singular.
Broad bands of atmosphere infiltrating the minareted crests seem not to be penetrated by it, but the sage, the rounded backs of the sheep, the clicking needles of the pines give it back in luminous particles in- THE OPEN RANGE 95 finitely divided. Airy floods of it pour about the plats of white and purple heather and deepen vaporously blue at the bases of the headlands.
Long shafts of it at evening fall so obliquely as to strike far under the ragged bellies of the sheep. Wind approaches from the high places; even at the highest it drops down from unimagined steeps of air. When it moves in a cafion, before ever the near torches of the castilleia are stirred by it, far up you hear the crescendo tone of the fretted waters, first as it were the foam of sound blown toward you, and under it the pounding of the falls. Then it runs with a patter in the quaking asp ; now it takes a fir and wrestles with it; it wakes the brushwood with a whistle; in the soft dark of night it tugs at the corners of the bed.
Weather warnings in a hill country are short but unmistakable; it is not well anywhere about the Sierras to leave the camp uncovered if one must move out of reach of it. And if the herder tires of precautions let him go eastward of the granite ranges where there is no weather.
Let him go by the Hot Creek country, by Dead Man's Gulch and the Suck- 96 THE FLOCK ing Sands, by the lava Flats and the pink and roan-colored hills where the lost mines are, by the black hills of pellucid glass where the sage gives place to the bitter brush, the wheno-nabe, where the carrion crows catch grasshoppers and the coyotes eat juniper berries, where, during the months man finds it possible to stay in them, there is no weather. Let him go, if he can stand it, where the land is naked and not ashamed, where it is always shut night or wide-open day with no interval but the pinkish violet hour of the alpen glow.
There is forage enough in good years and water if you know where to look for it. Indians resorted there once to gather winter stores from the grey nut-pines that head out roundly on the eight thousand foot levels each in its clear wide space. The sand between them is strewn evenly with charred flakes of roasted cones and the stone circles about the pits are powdered still with ashes, for, as I have said, there is no weather there. There are some pleasant places in this district, nice and trivial as the childhood reminiscences of senility, but the great laps and THE OPEN RANGE 97 folds of the caiions are like the corrugations in the faces of the indecently aged.
There is a look about men who come from sojourning in that country as if the sheer nakedness of the land had somehow driven the soul back on its elemental impulses. You can imagine that one type of man exposed to it would become a mystic and another incredibly brutalized. The devotion of the herder to the necessities of the flock is become a proverb. In a matter of urgent grazing these hairy little Bascos would feed their flocks to the rim of the world and a little over it, but I think they like best to stay where the days and nights are not all of one piece, where after the flare of the storm-trumpeting sunsets, they can snuggle to the blankets and hear the rail1 begin to drum on the canvas covers, and mornings see the shudder of the flock under the lift of the cloud-mist like the yellowing droves of breakers in a fog backing away from the ferries in the bay.
Pleasant it is also in the high valleys where the pines begin, to happen on friendly camps of Indians come up in clans and fami- 98 THE FLOCK lies to gather larva3 of pine borers, chia, ground cherries, and sunflower seed. One could well leave the flock with the dogs for an hour to see the firelight redden on carefree faces and hear the soft laughter of the women, bubbling as hidden water in the dark. It was not until most of the things I have been writing to you about had happened; after Narcisse Duplin had died because of Suzon Moynier, and Suzon had died; after the two Lausannes had found each other and Finot had won a fortune in a lottery and gone back to France to spend it ; but not long after the wavering of the tariff and its final adjustment had brought the sheep business to its present status, that the flocks began to be tabooed of the natural forest lands.
One must think of the coniferous belt of the Sierra Nevadas as it appears from the top of the tremendous uplift about the head of Kern and Kings rivers, as a dark mantle laid over the range, rent sharply by the dove-grey sierra, conforming to the large contours of the mountains and fraying raggedly along the cafions; THE OPEN RANGE 99 a sombre cloak to the mysteries by which the drainage of this watershed is made into live rivers. Above the pines rears a choppy and disordered surf of stone, lakes in its hollows of the clear jade that welters below the shoreward lift of waves. From the troughs of the upflung peaks the shining drifts sag back.
By the time they have shortened so much that the honey flutes of the wild columbine call the bees to the upper limit of trees, the flocks have melted into the wood. They feed on the chaparral up from the stream borders and in the hanging meadows that are freed first from the flood of snow-water ; the raking hoofs sink deeply in the damp, loosened soil. As the waste of the drifts gathers into runnels they follow it into filled lake basins and cut off the hope of a thousand blossomy things.
Then they begin to seek out the hidden meadows, deep wells of pleasantness that the pines avoid because of wetness, soddy and good and laced by bright waters, Manache meadows girdling the red hills, Kearsarge meadows above the white-barked pines, Big meadows where the creek goes THE FLOCK smoothly on the glacier slips, Short-Hair meadows, Tehippeti meadows under the dome where the haunted water has a sound of bells, meadows of the Twin Lakes and Middle-Fork, meadows of Yosemite, of Stinking Water, and A ngustora. Chains of meadows there are that lie along creek borders, new meadows at the foot of steep snow-shedding cliffs, shut pastures flock-journeys apart, where no streams run out and no trails lead in, and between them over the connecting moraines, over the dividing knife-blade ridges, go the pines in open order with the young hope of the forest coming up under them.