At first, the girl thought it was snowing, the tiny flakes glinting in the early morning sun. Then she saw they were miniscule ice crystals, floating from the cabin’s cedar-shake roof and the long green needles of the ponderosas looming above it: sparkling flecks of ice drifting through the air like frozen sunlight. She held her breath for a long moment, taking it in.

Then her mother opened the heavy wood-plank cabin door behind her. “It’s freezing out there!” she exclaimed. “What are you doing? You’ll catch your death!” And the girl turned reluctantly toward the house.

from Moreno Valley Sketches II

OLD BILL – 4 of 6

Well, he’d got hisself away from the Ute war party, but with only his rifle, one beaver trap, and the clothes on his back. As he headed west into the foothills, Old Bill considered his situation. He was moving into the snow, not away from it, and the cold was devilish fierce. The wind howled into his face, bringing dampness with it. No one but a fool would head into this storm, toward the peaks, ’stead of down. He hoped the Utes would think so, anyways.

He gripped his rifle, resettled the trap looped over his shoulder, and lowered his head, battered hat tilted against the wind. And he’d thought he’d been cold before he entered that valley. He began to climb steadily, careful to conserve his energy, his long legs eating the mountainside.

When he finally stopped to rest, he could see nothing below but blowing whiteness.

from Moreno Valley Sketches


OLD BILL – 1 of 6

Old Bill and the two mules had been stumbling south, half-blinded by snow, for three days. When he came over the top of the rise and looked into the valley below, he passed his hand over his face. He must be hallucinating.

He looked again. Sure enough, that was a valley below. The snow was thinner there. A herd of elk had worked large patches clear. The wolves patrolling in the snow beyond the herd were breaking through, snow almost to their hocks.

He studied the layout. Elk, snow melt for water. Bound to be Injuns. He passed his hand over his face again, warming his eyes, and looked again. Sure enough, smoke rose near the hills at the valley’s southern end.

He was coming in peace with little more than the mules and his clothes. They’d feed him, sure. Had probably already seen him. “C’mon, you mules,” he said.

from Moreno Valley Sketches