Vine '06: America The Beautiful

They'd been on the trail less than four days, and while they had no commitments and nowhere to be, Buck was starting to act as if he hadn't got release for a year. Which Chris knew was a lie because he'd woken in the dark last night to the slight jostling of Buck behind him, and put two and two together.

"I just-is there some reason we ain't takin' a trail that 'll lead us to a nice little town?" Buck grumbled, not for the first time.

Chris had already learned in their short acquaintance that Buck Wilmington was long on many things, but patience wasn't one of them. "Relax, Buck. Waitin' will make you appreciate it even more when you get it."

Buck hrmphed at the very idea, but quieted down for the moment and they rode peacefully on, just the sound of insects, birds in the wild, and their horses' hooves breaking the silence.

Chris had little use for towns at the moment, still stinging from that crazy woman and still soothed by his new friend. He actually preferred the two of them out here, away from distractions like liquor and women and the bustle of communities, at least until their coffee ran out. Talkative as Buck was, he actually said things as often as not. Useful things. Personal things even, lighting up an urge in Chris to do the same. More haltingly for sure, but he reckoned he hadn't talked so much about himself since long before he'd left home. He'd told Buck about his folks, and the farm that would go to his younger brother. They'd exchanged stories of their first times-first time hunting, first time bringing down a deer, first time with a woman (Buck had lingered on that tale, and it was a tall one indeed), first time away from home.

He'd even told Buck about Ella, though the idea that she had so completely wrapped him around her little finger still stung.

Buck shifted in the saddle, his sorrel whuffing annoyance. The sigh followed next, and any second there'd be more complaining and more pained stories about the absence of women. Buck was predictable, and Chris liked that too. "You know, Buck, there's some native people who think that abstinence is good for the spirit."

"Good thing I ain't native then, ain't it," Buck said with a sigh, "'cause I'd be bound for hell for certain, if that was a requirement."

"Well, I don't reckon you're doin' much better with God, neither," he said, laughing.

Buck stood in his stirrups and leaned forward, resting his weight on the pommel of his saddle. Chris turned his head. He was about to say something profound-or something he thought was profound, Chris decided with a private snicker.

"I'll tell you somthin', Chris," Buck said. "This out here, land that just steals the breath right out of you it's so pretty, this and beautiful women are the only gods I know."

Chris looked ahead at the wide-open desert, the buttes rising all majestic to the north, like candles, or sentinels pointing to heaven, barren but still full of life-jackrabbits and mule deer, coyotes, wolves, prairie dogs and javalina... he shook his head. He could see how a man would worship land like this. "It's pretty all right, but nature gods are a defilement. So my daddy said," he added quietly. Privately, he wasn't sure he disagreed with Buck.

"Well, I didn't mean that exactly," Buck muttered, almost as if he was thinking out loud. "All that beauty, you find it everywhere. You always find it in a woman-big heart, generous, soft and kind. But out here, you've got big old prairies, mountains, oceans with islands far off enough you can barely see 'em, been far north in these parts?" he asked suddenly. Chris shook his head "There's a canyon up north, it boggles the mind. So big it looks like God just stuck his thumb deep down into the earth to make it, and a big ol' river runs through it, wide and fast at the bottom. That canyon must be a thousand feet deep and more'n a mile wide where I saw it, and looked like it went on for a hundred miles in both directions." Chris wasn't sure if Buck was just spinning tales or not; he'd never heard of such a thing.

He'd seen his share of wonders, having traveled all the way to San Francisco at one time, seen trees with trunks the size of houses, so high that with his head craned so far back he was like to fall over, he could still barely see the tops of them. He'd seen rivers and green valleys, the kind of land families should settle in-or the kind of land the Indians already called home-peaceful, fish jumping in clear waters, wildlife minding its own business but making for good hunting... cook fires throwing up clean white plumes of smoke.

"You serious?" he finally asked, when Buck had lapsed into silence.

"Hell yeah. It's way up north of Phoenix-little hole in the wall stage stop, it don't really merit a name. But you start there and then just head north," Buck explained. "Middle of nowhere. But it's worth the trip."

Worth the trip? It wasn't like they had any place to go. No work waiting for them, and no women on the near horizon to satisfy Buck's urges. "Want to ride up there?" he asked. They weren't more than a day or two from Phoenix-he'd been through there a couple of years ago.

"Hell yeah!" Buck agreed, excited now. "It's things like that canyon, Chris. God... God's in a woman's smile, and in friends you trust, and in a body all tight and achy with pleasure, and in that sound somebody makes when they reach the peak-"

"Good lord, Buck," Chris said, mock-aghast. "No wonder you're missin' town. You must see God every day back there."

Buck laughed, that full-throated laugh he had that just said the world was a joy to live in. "God's out here, too," he assured. "Places like that canyon, land so purty it takes your breath away. Come on," he said, getting a bead on the sun and turning his horse northwest. "You'll love it."

And probably, Chris thought, given Buck's track record to date, he would.

* * *

Ten days later they stood on the lip of a canyon that Chris hadn't really believed existed. He'd never seen the like.

"Didn't I tell you?" Buck asked, voice hushed with awe.

Chris couldn't even speak, too awed by the sight before him. They'd left the horses tied to a pine tree many yards back, so they wouldn't spook at the lip of this canyon. Chris wasn't so sure he wasn't spooking himself. The sun still high in the sky, he could see across to the canyon wall on the other side and Buck hadn't been exaggerating, it was a mile away at least. Colors decorated it from top to bottom like his mama's layer cake, but in yellow and gold, reds, dark browns. He could see no end to it in either direction. "Good Lord."

"Yeah," Buck breathed out a happy sigh. "I felt the same way, first time I come across it. Mind you," he said, laughter in his voice, "I wanted to get to the other side, but I gave up on that soon enough and just picked another direction to go in. Took me a couple-three days, if I remember right, to go far enough north and east to find a place to cross that river."

"Damn," Chris said, and he realized his own voice was hushed.

"Want to make camp around here somewhere?"

This early in the day they had plenty of time to move on, but Chris had no desire to. He felt like he could sit here on the lip of this canyon and learn things, things he didn't know he was lacking. Its majesty soothed parts of him he didn't even know were rattled. "Yeah. Let's do that."

"All righty then!" Buck said, all good humor that Chris appreciated this place as much as he did.

Chris looked over at Buck, feeling the same familiar wash of affection he had on first meeting the man: a good friend to have at your side, or at your back, affable and easy-going, not full of himself for all that he talked like he was. He knocked his elbow against Buck's, grinning, touched more by this place than he would have guessed he could be.

"Thanks, Buck."

"Weren't nothin'," Buck replied, grin spreading wide across his face.

Chris supposed it wasn't. Except that looking across this expanse, seeing a natural wonder he could easily have missed in his travels but hadn't because of Buck, it was a lot. "You ever been to San Francisco?" he asked idly.

"Nope," Buck said, pulling down his saddle bags.

"I'll take you there next."

--the end--