Peter studied the icy river beyond his mule’s twitching ears. “I should’ve started back yesterday,” he muttered. The mule stirred restlessly and he reached to soothe her. The Cimarron was almost frozen over; the canyon sides above it were white with snow. Man and mule turned to look west, where the canyon climbed up into the Moreno Valley, toward home. The wind gusted straight toward them, carrying snowflakes heavy with moisture out of a lead-gray sky.
The snow was more wet than cold, which would make it heavy. And it was coming down fast. They’d have a rough time getting through to the valley. The marsh where the river formed up would be half frozen and nasty. The mule snorted irritably and Peter nodded. “Yeah, I guess we’re gonna wait this one out,” he said.
He dismounted and led the animal out of the wind, into the shelter of an upthrust sandstone boulder. “Hope Patricia’s all settled in,” he muttered. He looked upward and shook his head. “Shoulda started back yesterday.”
from Valley of the Eagles
It’s a mere mule track, the man thought, eying the rocky ground on the hillside ahead. A fine silt hovered in the air behind him, marking the path he and the packhorse had followed from Rayado and the Santa Fe Trail at the base of the mountains.
They’d been climbing steadily and the vinegar-scented blue-green junipers had given way to taller, straighter, deeper-green trees: fir and pine. The man looked at them appreciatively, glad it was June and not mid-winter, when the snow that provided these trees with the moisture to live would have made the trail difficult.
He clucked at the packhorse and headed up the rocky slope. At Rayado yesterday, Jesús Abreu had told him there’d be a series of small mountain valleys before he reached the larger one. Then he was to move north, to where the Cimarron River began in a marsh on the east side of the Valley. The Indians met there to trade. The traveler shook his head. It was a long way to go on the chance that they’d be there—and able to pay for the goods he had with him. He hoped this worked.
Copyright © 2016 Loretta Miles Tollefson
“It’s June now,” Suzanna said. “These are the Sangre de Christo mountains. It’ll be cold up here, come winter.”
“Come January,” Gerald conceded. “Though snow will make for green summer cattle pastures.”
“Grass will bring game and cougars. Cougars prefer cattle to game.”
“No more than anywhere else.”
“And the Utes will want to know why we’re in their hunting grounds.”
“There’s enough for everyone.” He gestured. “And plenty of trees. You won’t have to live in adobe anymore. Besides, Taos is only a day or so away.”
“Taos is two days through a Pass that’s impassable in winter.”
Gerald studied the valley at their feet. “At the foot of this hill and a little north,” he decided. “A cabin between those two outcroppings would be well sheltered. And your garden won’t get too windblown.”
Clearly, there was no use arguing. Suzanna’s mouth tightened. “I want glass windows,” she said.
from Moreno Valley Sketches
They climbed a small hill near the headwaters of the Cimarron River to get a better view. The long narrow valley spread out below them. It was a couple miles wide and probably twelve long. The land slanting toward them was mostly grass. Small creeks meandered across it, creating dark indentations. Pine and fir hugged the banks, spreading out occasionally to absorb moisture from a sloughy spot. The streams met in a marshy area just below where Gerald and Suzanna stood, then drained into the small river that flowed eastward through the rocky canyon.
Suzanna studied the valley warily as Gerald plucked a piece of grass from the hillside. He examined it, then bit into the fleshy end and chewed carefully.
He spit it out. “Sweet,” he said approvingly. He gestured at the view below. “It has everything we could want,” he told his wife. “Water, feed, game, timber.”
from Moreno Valley Sketches
Alma turned at the top of the hill, sat down on the golden-brown grass, and pulled her knees to her chest. She hugged her skirts against her legs and gazed across the valley. How she loved this place. Each mountain peak was an old friend. Each narrow stream snaking through the long grasses toward the marsh below held memories. She smiled and watched a coyote loiter around the clutch of elk browsing on the ridge to her left. A swarm of geese came honking in and settled at the edge of the marsh.
It would be only her and old José in the cabin now. She hadn’t asked Andrew to stay–she knew his heart wasn’t in it, that he needed a broader scope. José would remain as long as she did, out of loyalty to her long-dead father. But was it fair to ask that of him? She frowned and watched the sun edge westward, toward the other side of the valley.
The grass behind her rustled and Alma turned her head. José nodded to her, pushed his hat away from his thin, weathered face, and gazed at the elk beyond. “Might wanta bring in another one,” he said. “So we’ll have plenty for winter.”
“Winter will be cold,” she observed.
“It’s a good cold,” he said. “Best cold in the Territory.”
Alma smiled up at him, then turned back to watch the valley below.
Moreno Valley Sketches II
The girl lifted her skirts away from her feet and eased toward the small brown-mottled duck on the creek bank. It was busily investigating a small marshy area where water had seeped past the bank. Alma wished she’d brought her bow and arrows, but she’d been sent out to collect greens, not meat.
The duck had its back to her. Alma eased forward and crouched, getting into position. Her right foot pressed her skirt into the mud, but she didn’t notice.
The duck turned slightly. Alma lunged forward. As her hands touched the bird’s smooth feathers, her foot ground into her skirt, yanking her off balance. The duck flew off with a panicked series of quacks and Alma pitched foward into the mud.
“Hell and damnation!” she said angrily. “I hate dresses!”
She got to her feet and looked down ruefully. Her mother was not going to be happy.
Copyright © 2015 Loretta Miles Tollefson
from Moreno Valley Sketches
The men in Seligman’s Mercantile watched silently as the young woman in the trailing pale blue silk skirts swept out of the store.
“She’s a lardy dardy little thing, isn’t she now?” Charles Idle, the expatriate Englishman, asked. He shook his head and stretched his feet closer to the wood stove. “That dress and hat.”
Joseph Kinsinger spat a stream of tobacco toward the empty lard can by the stove. “Those silks ain’t gonna last long in this mud. And the wind’l take that hat.”
His brother Peter grinned. “You’re just worried Desi’s gonna see her and want a getup just like it,” he said.
“I wonder where’s she’s staying,” Idle said thoughtfully. “Hey Jim, where’d she say to deliver that sterling brush and comb set?”
The clerk hesitated, then shrugged. It would be all over town soon enough anyway. “The Moreno Hotel,” he said.
There was a short silence, then Idle said, “Well, I guess I’d better go see how my mine’s doing this morning,” and rose from his chair.
“I’ll bet,” Peter said sardonically, but Idle only smiled and went out.
from Moreno Valley Sketches, II