An excerpt from the first full draft of his new novel, “Stolen Horses”.
The sun was touching the horizon as Leo and Carl topped the ridge on the way back to the house. Purples and reds shot over their heads and fanned out toward the east. The air was dead calm and the world was as quiet as it can be. Carl was thinking back on the afternoon, engrossed in the detail of memory, when a trio of grouse winged overhead. He wouldn’t have known the grouse were anywhere near if Leo wouldn’t have heard them and looked up. When Carl followed his dog’s stare he saw the birds flying high above just as the intermittent chuckles and the whir of their wings reached his ears. They cut the watercolor sky like tiny turbo-powered footballs and it was clear that they had a destination in mind. Leo perked his ear and twisted his head, first at them, then at Carl. He wanted Carl to shoot but Carl had no intention of shooting. Their day was done and instead of focusing his attention for a shot Carl let his mind wonder at where the grouse might be going.
He fantasized that the locus of their flight might not be linear but temporal. “What if they are flying backward in time?” Leo’s lip puffed out with exasperation. They continued to walk to the ridgeline but Carl’s thoughts stayed with the departed grouse and the idea that they could fly back through the decades. It was impossible to say what the grouse were seeing once they topped the next hill. Perhaps they were now looking down on the original line-shack that great-grandfather Butler built when he left McDermitt, with the little herd of thin long-horns he took as his last pay-check. Maybe they watched Arlo Abrahamson, the poor Swedish emigrant who tried to farm the bench above the river, as he sank his new plow into the native sod. Carl imagines the next fall and the grouse searching that field less desperately than Arlo for the grain that never grew. Did they witness the tearful aftermath of the daughter, Anglea, sneaking away in search of opportunity on the night of for seventeenth birthday? The grouse must have flown over the desolate pastures of the thirties when almost none of their kind had habitat enough to survive. They saw the rest of the Abrahamsons leave in the battered pickup. And the Hansons and the O’Learys, and the Gialotties.
Maybe, Carl thought as he and Leo continued toward home, at that very moment the grouse were seeing floods and devastating winter storms. Migrating swans and buffalo. Perhaps they were flying to the eternal mating ground that was now paved under the new highway north of the town named after McDermitt. The bird book said that grouse did not usually fly far. But who really knew? Perhaps some grouse, like the family group that had careened over their heads, never came to Earth. Perhaps they had been flying over the Pawnee River Valley forever and knew the ephemeral nature of it all.