Stone Boat

The Mexican Steers were shades of orange and blue, even green, color like rock moss over their tight, shorthaired hides. Twelve hundred and seventy-four came down from the Northern Pacific railroad cars, quick animals with horns like opalescent hooks, gathered off the Sonoran deserts. They had been nine weeks in New Mexico because of the wartime shortage of railroad cars, before being shipped north to Oregon, then been in the cars a week, only unloaded twice, watered in Fresno and Redding.

Sonora lay south of Arizona on the boy’s creased, heavy-paper National Geographic map, an area colored pale yellow and almost empty. Damon Booth, who owned the steers, said yellow was the color for Mexico. Orange blossoms had smelled yellow at twilight. Children played between thick-walled adobe houses. At the Booth Acreage, an unpainted shiplap building on the Klamath Marsh, on an alkali knoll beside a horse corral, timbered mountains blue off in the distance, Damon would squat on salt grass in the midday silence, a few flies moving, and talk of Mexico. The summer was dry as the worst years of the thirties, the creek empty but for the holes where frogs survived. The peat cracked in rifts wider than a horse could leap. Summer Mallards circled and flew on.

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