Reuben Moon (Excerpt From Journey) November 18, 1833 Mescalero Apache Territory
Tonight’s storm, with its cannonade of cosmic fireballs, took Reuben Moon back to one similar, from sixteen years past, when he happened upon a creature that clung to him forever. That night, Wild Horse Canyon had funneled a fury of water down from Trapper Peak and sent it raging through the canyon like a battering ram. The night before had been so crisp and clean that the stars seemed near enough to grab. Then, when dawn came and the sky should have lightened, it darkened instead as if a blanket were dropped over the morning sun. Reuben rode with his back hunched to the storm and let the paint horse pick its way. It was a good mountain pony and had seen worse, as had its rider, but this storm featured a stabbing rain that chilled to the bones.
Reuben could have searched out an overhang or hollow in the rocks where he might build a fire and wait out the storm, but he was certain the baby would die if he stopped. It was only a few hours old, a little girl no bigger than a puppy that Reuben cupped in his hand inside his buckskin shirt, and kept warm by the heat of his bare chest. With his other hand he clutched a buffalo robe closely around them. The horse didn’t need any guidance from him. The baby’s lips searched his chest until she found his nipple, but Reuben did not like that, and of course there was nothing to be found there, anyway. Instead, he held a strip of buffalo jerky to her lips and let her suck on that. She was hungry, but it appeared to soothe her. Reuben had held foals and calves and lambs in his arms, even a cougar kitten and a bear cub, but never a human this small, and rarely a human at all. Women and children had not been part of his life, but he was strange only insofar as it was his need for solitude that kept him away from others. He disliked few people; nonetheless, he entertained few of them and courted none. Reuben Moon had lived through more than two hundred seasons and knew things you couldn’t know otherwise. If you came to see him he was pleased enough to see you, but was also glad when you left. Then the silence settled in, and when it did he could put his ear to the ground and hear larvae under the earth and worms burrow through the soil. He would put his face to the wind and search for scents that interested him. He might fly with the birds and look down upon the tops of trees. He was not a shaman and never pretended to be, but still people came with their dreams and asked for mixtures that cured things, and listened when he told them to plant with the waxing moon.