Authors: Scott O'dell
Tags: #Southwest; New, #Indians of North America - Southwest; New, #Social Science, #Indians of North America, #Native American Studies, #Juvenile Fiction, #Navajo Indians, #Slavery, #Fiction, #United States, #Other, #Historical, #General, #Ethnic Studies, #People & Places, #Classics, #Native American, #History
Copyright Â© 1970 by Scott O'Dell
Copyright Â© renewed 1998 by Elizabeth Hall
All rights reserved. For information about permission
to reproduce selections from this book, write to
Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Company, 215 Park Avenue
South, New York, New York 10003.
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOG CARD NUMBER
PRINTED IN THE U.S.A.
HAD 30 29 28 27 26 25
Island of the Blue Dolphins
The King's Fifth
The Black Pearl
The Dark Canoe
Journey to Jericho
Sing Down the Moon
N THE HIGH MESAS
above our canyon spring came early that year. The piÃ±Ã³n trees shook off their coverings of snow in the month of the deer. Warm winds melted the snow and blue water gathered under the trees and ran through the meadows and down the steep barrancas. Far to the north, where the stone walls of the canyon stand so close together that you can touch them with your outstretched hands, the waters met and flowed toward the south, past Spider Rock and Lost Sheep Mountain, at last in a big loop past our village.
The day the waters came was a wonderful day.
I heard the first sounds of their coming while I lay awake in the night. At first it was a whisper, like a wind among the dry stalks of our cornfield. After a while it was a sound like the feet of warriors dancing. Then it was a roar that shook the earth. I could hardly wait until the sun rose.
When the first light showed in the east, I hurried out to see the river running. My father and mother and my sister, Lapana, had seen early springs many times before, so they were sleeping.
I stood alone in the orchard, where the peaches grow. It was a miracle. Yesterday there was nothing to see save bare trees and wide stretches of yellow sand. In one night everything had changed. The trees had begun to bud and the sand lay deep under blue, rushing water.
I felt like singing. I wanted to leap and dance with joy, yet I stood quietly and watched the river running between the greening Cottonwood trees, for I knew that it is bad luck to be so happy. The gods do not like anyone to show happiness in this way and they punish those who do not obey them. They punished my brother. They let the lightning strike him when he was coming home from a hunt. My brother had shot
a six-pronged deer and was singing because it was the first deer with six prongs that anyone had shot that summer. The lightning struck him and he died.
Thinking of my brother, I stood quiet. No one could tell how I felt. Yet it was hard for me to do. It was very hard because now that spring had come I would have another chance to take our sheep up the long trail to the mesa.
I had driven them there once before, last year on the day the waters began to run. But it was a bad time for me. I thought of that spring now. It was not so hard any longer to stand quiet and think about it.
I was happy going up the trail that day last spring, with sheep bells ringing and the sheep white in their winter coats, hungry to reach spring pasture. When we left the trail it was fun to see them scatter out over the meadow to crop the first young grass, as though they had never eaten in their lives.
It was fun all morning and some of the afternoon. Then white clouds came up, but after a while they turned black. It was then that I should have left the meadow and driven the flock down the trail to home. This I should have done, as any good shepherd knows. What I did was wrong. I waited, thinking that the black clouds would go away or that if a storm came it would be a small one.
The storm was not small. At first it only rained
and I herded the flock into an aspen grove for shelter against the wind that had grown cold. Then it began to snow.
I had never been afraid before, or only once. That was when I saw my grandfather, who had been dead for a long time, walking around. It was night just like the one last spring, with snow and a cold wind blowing. He came right out of the trees and the falling snow and walked toward me and called my name.
That happened when I was ten years old. Now that I was fourteen, I should not have been afraid, but I was. I thought about how warm it would be in our house that has thick mud walls and a door so small you have to crawl on your hands and knees to go through it. The sheep were safe under the shelter of the aspen trees. They would not freeze in their thick wool coats and in the morning I would come back.
I left them and went down the trail. At the bottom of the canyon the snow was not falling. I crawled through the door. My father and mother and my sister, who were sitting around the fire, looked at meâat my muddy feet and wet clothes and my long hair that was covered with snow. They knew something was wrong.
Lapana, my sister, said, "We could see the storm gathering on the mesa."
Lapana was only two years older than I, but she talked as though she were ten years older.
"We thought you would come home before the storm," my father said.
"Where are the sheep?" my mother said.
She thought of the sheep because they were hers. In the tribe I belong to, the Navahos, sheep are mostly owned by the women. It was right, therefore, that she should think of the sheep first.
"They are safe," I said.
"Where?" Lapana said.
"I am listening," my mother said, "but I hear no sheep bells."
All of them knew that I had left the sheep on the mesa, though they did not know why.
"The sheep are in the aspen grove," I said.
"You left them because you got scared," Lapana said. "The storm scared you."
My mother said nothing. She rose from the fire and found two blankets and put one around her shoulders and gave the other to me. She went outside and I followed her. We crossed the stream and climbed the trail. Snow was still falling on the mesa, but the sheep were safe, deep in the aspen grove. We cleared a place and sat down near them and wrapped ourselves in the blankets. It was a long night because my mother did not speak to me.
Nor did she speak when morning came and we drove the flock down the trail and across the river, into the brush corral. Nor did she ever speak of that night, but all the rest of the spring and during the summer and fall she would not let me take the flock to the mesa.
Now a new spring had come. I could not wait until my mother was awake and I could ask her about the sheep.
DID NOT HAVE
to wait long and I had no need to tell my mother that another spring had come and I wanted to take the sheep to the mesa. Nor say that I had learned in the days between the two springs that a herder of sheep does not leave the flock to fend for itself, whether from fear of storms or wild animals or for any reason. She was waiting at the gate of the corral when I came back from the river.
"The grass is better to the south, beyond the aspen grove," she said. "It is still watery and thin, but the sheep will find it good after a winter of mesquite."
She gave me a strip of dried deer to eat at noon and waited while I drove the sheep out of the corral and across the river. As I reached the trail, she waved tome.
The trail to the mesa is steep and follows a wooded draw and then cuts back and forth for a long time. It is the only trail out of the canyon for a distance of two leagues. Our men use it when they go scouting or go to hunt. Because the trail is steep, it is easy to defend if warriors from the west come to raid our canyon.
We reached the mesa when the sun was lance high in the east, long before the other girls from our village came, which pleased me. The sheep were cropping the short grass and my dog sat watching when White Deer came up the trail with her flock. I smiled and welcomed her, which was my right because I had been the first to reach the mesa. We both smiled and greeted Running Bird, who did not come until most of the grass had been cropped from the south meadow.
But at noon the three of us ate together, while our flocks grazed.
"Have you heard," said Running Bird, "that the twins are ill?"
"They are always ill," White Deer said.
"Neither of them has any strength," Running Bird said. "It would be wiser if there was only one of the twins instead of two. There is not enough strength to divide between them."
"Would you like to have twin babies when you are married?" White Deer said to me.
"I have never thought of this," I said, not telling the truth.
"She thinks of it all the time," Running Bird said.
"She is too thin to have twins," White Deer said.
"She is thin because she eats nothing," said Running Bird.
They were joking with me. I am not thin and I eat a lot. My sister says that I eat like a man. But this joking is our custom. Only yesterday my father got a new horse. When he jumped on its back and rode proudly back and forth to show off, my uncle laughed.
"Your feet touch the ground," he said. "Either the legs of your new horse are too short or your legs, dear brother, are too long."
We like to joke with each other in this way, so I was not displeased at what my two friends said about me. I thought of something to pay them back, but before I could say it Running Bird spoke.
"It is possible that our friend will never be married," she said. "Who wants a girl who has arms that look like sticks?"
"Oh," White Deer said, "some poor man may marry her. He will see that she eats little and think it will not matter whether he is poor or not."
"More likely he will see that her mother owns many sheep," Running Bird said.
"Yes, most young men dream of mothers-in-law with many sheep," White Deer said.
"But I do not think that Tall Boy is one of these dreamers," Running Bird said. "Do you?"
I was a healthy girl and good at weaving, but I was not pretty like my two friends. Many people thought that the only reason Tall Boy's parents wanted him to marry me was because my mother owned many sheep.
"It does not matter what others think," White Deer said. "Tall Boy will marry her only because she is pretty and obedient."
"And eats so little," Running Bird said.
My sheep were grazing nearby. I listened to the sound of their teeth as they sheared the long grass. I looked up at the sky which was blue and listened to the far-off sound of moving water. My friends waited for me to answer them. They wanted me to talk about Tall Boy, who in the morning would be riding west with our warriors.
White Deer grew impatient at my silence. "Tall Boy is very brave," she said.
"Sometimes he is too brave," Running Bird said.
They were goading me to speak, but still I kept silent. I got up and caught one of my sheep that was straying and chased it back into the flock. When I sat down again my friends were whispering to each other. They acted as though I was not there.
"In the land of the Utes, the girls are beautiful," White Deer said. "I have heard this from my father and brothers who have traveled there."
"It is true," said Running Bird. "Once I saw a girl from that land. I was a child then, yet I have never forgotten."
"Perhaps Tall Boy will bring one home," White Deer said.
"It is possible," said Running Bird.
I raised my knees under my chin and rested my chin on them and watched the flocks grazing. After a while I said to White Deer, "Three of your sheep have strayed." To Running Bird I said, "One of yours is eating poison weed." Then I felt better.
ARLY THE NEXT MORNING
our young warriors left for the west country. They gathered in the night, riding from their homes nearby. All night they danced and sang and beat on drums. It was a big wonder that they had enough strength left to climb into their saddles when daylight came. But as I went out to build the breakfast fire, they sat astride their horses, ready to leave.
There were twelve warriors. They wore red paint
and in their hair gray eagle feathers. Tall Boy, the leader, rode among them, making certain that everything was in order. I glanced up at him as I stirred the supper ashes alive and set fresh wood. Cedar smoke rose and drifted across the meadow. He must have smelled it, but he did not glance in my direction. He looked very tall in the dim light.
I thought what a good name he had taken for himself. It was better than his first name, River Boy, which his father had given him. He had carried it now for two springs and a summer, since the day he killed the brown bear beyond Rainbow Mountain. He had brought the skin home and said Tall Boy had taken it, pointing to himself. After that, everybody called him by this name.