Day One Hundred Three
I found myself humming bits of old songs as I worked, and after awhile Marshall looked at me from one of the stalls across the way. “You sure are cheerful this morning.”
“I guess I am.”
“Got big plans?”
“No. I’m just going to ride toward the northeast and enjoy the spring weather.”
“That sounds nice,” the boy said from a stall nearby.
“It is. It’s going to be a great day.”
After we finished the chores, the boy went home with his share of the milk, and Marshall treated me to a breakfast of hot chicory coffee and a bowl of stale biscuits mashed up with milk and honey. I had eaten something similar back home, but we always made it with old cornbread. Wheat biscuits were a luxury.
“You sure you don’t want to stay a few days?” Marshall asked after breakfast, as I strapped my gear onto my horse. “It’s always nice to have someone with a good attitude around.”
“I can be as big a grouch as the next person. It’s just. . .” I looked at the blue sky and the leaves sprouting on the trees. “The world feels like a really nice place today.”
“Hold onto that as long as you can. Life can be pretty cruel.”
“Don’t I know it.”
I shook his hand, thanked him for everything, and accepted a small jar of honey as a parting gift. Then I got back on the road. I’ll miss that round barn. If I can get a good enough job to have my own land in Kentucky, I’m going to have one built just like it. “What do you think, Flechita?” I asked, reaching down and patting her neck. “A round house for you, and maybe a round house for me too, with the chimney going up through the middle. We’ll make everything round, just like the world.”
What a silly mood I was in!
Not even the sight of beggars and sad-looking travelers on the road dampened my spirits today. I shared some of my nuts and dried fruit with a group of children, and I stopped to help an old man get his handcart out of a ditch. I kept pace for awhile with a young couple, newly married, on their way to seek their fortune with distant relatives in Missouri, and I prized a stone out of a donkey’s hoof for a grateful widow. It felt good to do nice things for people, since so many people have been nice to me along the way. On such a lovely spring day, it seemed right to spread the niceness as far as it would go.
Around noon I stopped at a funny old building in an abandoned village.
I ate some cheese and dried peaches, and looked around, wishing I knew what sorts of edible plants grew in this region. Back home, I had learned to live off the land, but there were no nopales and piñon trees here. It occurred to me that since I had given Tanner’s fortune away I might have to work for money or trade goods, if I couldn’t learn to recognize the local plants.
Today, though, food wasn’t a concern, and I liked the idea that I would never have to eat nopales again. This was as good a reason as any to let my spirits soar upward like the chittering spring birds. As I climbed back into the saddle, a warm breeze tugged at my hat and brushed my cheeks. I tipped my face up into the sunshine, closing my eyes and trusting the world to keep me safe, like I used to do as a child.
That’s when I realized this was how I used to feel in Valle Redondo, on my family’s farm. The high spirits that my grandfather had loved and my mother fretted over had somehow returned, in spite of the years, in spite of the horrible things I had seen and done.
I opened my eyes and looked around. I was so far from home! But I was on my own, coping successfully with danger and helping others along the way. When had I become competent, and why hadn’t I noticed until now? I searched my memory of the last several years and remembered always being told what to do, by my mother, by Auntie, by Will, by Unitas. . . Acting on my own had resulted in disaster, until now.
Suddenly nothing in my distant past seemed important. I was in charge of my life and enjoying it. I didn’t have to wait for my life to begin in Kentucky. It had begun long ago, and fool that I am, it had taken me this long to figure it out.
I made camp tonight near the rail line, not too far from the fires of other travelers, but far enough that I can choose how much I want of their company. I know I can’t expect to feel this happy every day, but that’s okay. I had lost my joy and confidence, but they returned, like trained pigeons. Maybe nothing is ever really lost, only misplaced.
Tonight the moon and stars are almost bright enough to read by. It seems crazy that I could travel so far, yet there they still are, unchanged. In the distance a few campfires are burning, and I can see the dimmer lights of solar and battery-powered lanterns like smaller stars that nestle in the grass and glow upon the earth. A few feet away from me, Flecha snorts, fidgets, and stamps a hoof in the dust. Tonight the whole world is my home.
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