Gardens in the Dunes A Novel

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  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2000-04-13
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster

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A sweeping, multifaceted tale of a young Native American pulled between the cherished traditions of a heritage on the brink of extinction and an encroaching white culture,Gardens in the Dunesis the powerful story of one woman's quest to reconcile two worlds that are diametrically opposed.At the center of this struggle is Indigo, who is ripped from her tribe, the Sand Lizard people, by white soldiers who destroy her home and family. Placed in a government school to learn the ways of a white child, Indigo is rescued by the kind-hearted Hattie and her worldly husband, Edward, who undertake to transform this complex, spirited girl into a "proper" young lady. Bit by bit, and through a wondrous journey that spans the European continent, traipses through the jungles of Brazil, and returns to the rich desert of Southwest America, Indigo bridges the gap between the two forces in her life and teaches her adoptive parents as much as, if not more than, she learns from them.

Author Biography

Leslie Marmon Silko, a former professor of English and fiction writing, is the author of novels, short stories, essays, poetry, articles, and screenplays. She has won numerous awards and fellowships for her work. She lives in Tucson, Arizona.


Part One

Sister Salt called her to come outside. The rain smelled heavenly. All over the sand dunes, datura blossoms round and white as moons breathed their fragrance of magic. Indigo came up from the pit house into the heat; the ground under her bare feet was still warm, but the rain in the breeze felt cool -- so cool -- and refreshing on her face. She took a deep breath and ran up the dune, where Sister Salt was naked in the rain. She pulled the ragged sack over her head and felt the rain and wind so cool, so fragrant all over her body. Off in the distance there was a faint rumble of thunder, and the wind stirred; the raindrops were larger now. She tilted back her head and opened her mouth wide the way Sister Salt did. The rain she swallowed tasted like the wind. She ran, leaped in the air, and rolled on the warm sand over and over, it was so wonderful. She took handfuls of sand and poured them over her legs and over her stomach and shoulders -- the raindrops were cold now and the warmth of the sand felt delicious. Sister Salt laughed wildly as she came rolling down from the highest point of the dune, so Indigo ran after her and leaped and rolled too, her eyes closed tight against the sand. Over and over down-down-down effortlessly, the ease of the motion and the sensation of the warm sand and the cool rain were intoxicating. Indigo squealed with laughter as she rolled into Sister Salt, who was helpless with laughter, and they laughed and laughed and rolled around, one girl on top of the other. They lay side by side with their mouths open and swallowed raindrops until the storm passed. All around them were old garden terraces in the dunes.

Sister Salt remembers everything. The morning the soldiers and the Indian police came to arrest the Messiah, Grandma Fleet told Sister Salt to run. Run! Run get your little sister! You girls go back to the old gardens! Sister Salt was big and strong. She carried Indigo piggyback whenever her little sister got tired. Indigo doesn't remember much about that morning except for the shouts and screams.

Indigo remembers they used to sell baskets at the depot in Needles while their mother washed linens in tubs of boiling water behind the hotel; Grandma Fleet searched the town dump for valuables and discarded seeds. They slept in a lean-to made of old crates and tin, near the river. They learned to talk English while selling baskets to tourists at the train station.

Now, at the old gardens, the girls live alone in Grandma Fleet's house. Grandma had returned a day after they did. Grandma saw Mama escape and run north with the other dancers ahead of the Indian police, who grabbed all the Indians they could, while the soldiers arrested the white people, mostly Mormons, who came to dance for the Messiah. The United States government was afraid of the Messiah's dance.

The deep sand held precious moisture from runoff that nurtured the plants; along the sandstone cliffs above the dunes, dampness seeped out of cracks in the cliff. Amaranth grew profusely at the foot of the dunes. When there was nothing else to eat, there was amaranth; every morning and every night Sister Salt boiled up amaranth greens just like Grandma Fleet taught her.

Later, as the amaranth went to seed, they took turns kneeling at the grinding stone, then Sister Salt made tortillas. They shared part of a honeycomb Indigo spotted in a crevice not far from the spring. Indigo cried when the bees stung her but Sister Salt only rubbed her swollen arms and legs vigorously and laughed, saying it was good medicine -- a good cure for anything that might ail you. Grandma Fleet taught Sister Salt and Indigo all about such things.

After the rains, they tended the plants that sprouted out of the deep sand; they each had plants they cared for as if the plants were babies. Grandma Fleet had taught them this too. The plants listen, she told them. Always greet each plant respectfully. Don't argue or fight around the plants -- hard feelings cause the plants to wither. The pumpkins and squash sent out bright green runners with huge round leaves to shade the ground, while their wiry green-yellow tendrils attached themselves to nearby weed stalks and tall dune grass. The big orange pumpkin blossoms were delicious right from the vine; bush beans sprang up in the shade of the big pumpkin leaves.

Grandma Fleet told them the old gardens had always been there. The old-time people found the gardens already growing, planted by the Sand Lizard, a relative of Grandfather Snake, who invited his niece to settle there and cultivate her seeds. Sand Lizard warned her children to share: Don't be greedy. The first ripe fruit of each harvest belongs to the spirits of our beloved ancestors, who come to us as rain; the second ripe fruit should go to the birds and wild animals, in gratitude for their restraint in sparing the seeds and sprouts earlier in the season. Give the third ripe fruit to the bees, ants, mantises, and others who cared for the plants. A few choice pumpkins, squash, and bean plants were simply left on the sand beneath the mother plants to shrivel dry and return to the earth. Next season, after the arrival of the rain, beans, squash, and pumpkins sprouted up between the dry stalks and leaves of the previous year. Old Sand Lizard insisted her gardens be reseeded in that way because human beings are undependable; they might forget to plant at the right time or they might not be alive next year.

For years of little rain, Sand Lizard gave them amaranth and sunflowers; for times of drought she gave them succulent little roots and stems growing deep beneath the sand. The people called themselves Sand Lizard's children; they lived there for a long time. As their numbers increased, some Sand Lizard people joined their relations who lived down along the big river, until gradually the old gardens were abandoned. From time to time, Grandma Fleet and others still visited their old houses to feed the ancestor spirits. In a time of emergency, the old gardens could be counted on for sanctuary.

The Sand Lizard people heard rumors about the aliens for years before they finally appeared. The reports were alarming, and the people had difficulty believing the bloodshed and cruelty attributed to the strangers. But the reports were true. At harvest, the aliens demanded and took everything. This happened long, long ago but the people never forgot the hunger and suffering of that first winter the invaders appeared. The invaders were dirty people who carried disease and fever. The Sand Lizard people knew it was time for them to head for the hills beyond the river, to return to the old gardens.

The Sand Lizard people fled just in time; later that year, a fever killed dozens of whites and almost all of the people who remained by the river. The people were starving as they approached the old gardens. From a distance they could see the slopes of the highest sand dunes, and they could hardly believe their eyes; the shoulders of the dunes were crisscrossed with bands of bright colors: bird green, moss green, grass green; blossom orange, blossom yellow, and blossom white. As they got closer, they walked through fields of sunflowers that surrounded the sandhills on all sides. Only a few Sand Lizard people were left, but they lived undisturbed at the old gardens for years, always ready to flee to the high mountains at the first sign of strangers.

In years when the rains were scarce, the people carried water to the wilted plants in gourd canteens, from the spring in the sandstone cliff. Each person had plants to care for, although the harvest was shared by everyone. Individual plants had pet names -- Bushy, Fatty, Skinny, Shorty, Mother, and Baby were common names.

The Sand Lizard people remained at the old gardens peacefully for hundreds of years because the invaders feared the desert beyond the river. Then a few years before Sister Salt was born, in the autumn, as the people returned from harvesting piñons in the high mountains, a gang of gold prospectors surprised them; all those who were not killed were taken prisoner. Grandma Fleet lost her young husband to a bullet; only the women and children remained, captives at Fort Yuma.

This happened before the girls were born; Grandma Fleet was not so old then. She escaped the first night by chewing the ropes off her wrists, untying her legs to crawl away through the burr sage. She headed for the high mountains, where she slept under pine needles and ate acorns, piñons, and pine nuts; the snow sent her back to the old gardens, where the red amaranth was tall and the heads of the sunflowers were heavy with seeds. She hoped to see their mother or others who might have escaped, but there was no one. On the flanks of the big sandhills squash and pumpkins, big and ripe, reflected the light of the sun. How lonely she had been, grieving for her husband, for the others, while all around her the plants they had tended, and their houses, seemed to call out their names. Grandma Fleet was confident their mother and a few of the others would show up in a week or two, but no one came.

Their mother did not escape. Because she was young, she was put to work for an army officer's wife, who taught her how to wash and iron clothes and how to scrub floors. Their mother learned English. She was a prisoner so she was not paid. After the officer's wife left, she remained, washing laundry and cleaning for the post, until a missionary arrived. The reverend took one look at the young Indian woman and requested the post commander allow him to save her soul from temptation. So Mama went to live at the Presbyterian mission, where she learned the preacher himself suffered from temptation. When her belly got big with Sister Salt, the preacher's wife sent her away. One day Grandma Fleet heard the cliff swallows' commotion and looked up to see her daughter. A few weeks later, Sister Salt was born.

The Sand Lizard people were never numerous, but now Grandma, Mama, and baby Sister were the only Sand Lizard people living at the old gardens. A few remaining Sand Lizard people married into other tribes on the reservation at Parker. Grandma Fleet said she would die before she would live on a reservation. There was nothing to eat on the reservation; the best farmland along the river was taken by the white people. Reservation Indians sat in one place and did not move; they ate white food -- white bread and white sugar and white lard. Reservation Indians had no mesquite flour for the winter because they could not leave the reservation to gather mesquite beans in August. They were not allowed to go to the sandhills in the spring to gather delicacies -- sprouts and roots. Poor people! If they couldn't travel around, here and there, they wouldn't be able to find enough to eat; if people stayed in one place too long, they soon ate up everything. The government bought sheep and cattle to feed the reservation Indians through the winter, but the Indian agent and his associates got more of the meat than the Indians did.

Sister Salt was learning to walk, and Grandma Fleet was holding her by the hand, leading her back and forth on the fine sand outside the dugout house. Mama took the big gourd canteen to fetch water from the spring above the dunes. Grandma played and played with Sister Salt, who was so pleased with herself to be walking; Grandma Fleet heard nothing unusual that morning, but Mama did not return from the spring. Later, when Grandma Fleet searched the area around the spring, she found the empty gourd canteen and the tracks of shod horses and boot prints in the sand churned up by the struggle. Four years passed, and Grandma Fleet believed her daughter must have died at the hands of her kidnappers or she would have escaped by then and found her way back to the old gardens.

One day, at about the same time of year she had disappeared, Mama returned to the old gardens. She had traveled with two women from downriver. The following day more people arrived, and the day after that, others came. The starving people began to harvest the amaranth greens and dig for roots. More people came in the weeks after Mama's return. It was as if a great storm had erupted far in the distance, unseen and unheard by them at the old gardens; then suddenly a trickle, then a stream, and finally a flood of people sought sanctuary at the old gardens. The people were fleeing the Indian police and soldiers sent by the government; the new orders stated all Indians must leave their home places to live on the reservation at Parker.

Mama returned with a sack of mesquite beans on her back and baby Indigo in her belly. Sister Salt was old enough to remember Indigo's birth. How odd it was to see the baby's head peek out from between her mother's legs.

The refugees kept arriving. Grandma Fleet watched their numbers grow each day, weary and frightened women and children. Their men were long gone -- to the high mountains or to prison. The spring provided water for everyone, but food became more and more scarce. Before the summer rains ever came, the people were starving. They ate the dried-up seed pumpkins and squash left in the garden the year before as first harvest offerings; they consumed seeds set aside for planting next season. They ate everything they could find. They cleared the wild gourd vines and boiled the roots of weeds and shrubs. They even dug deep into the sand in the old gardens to expose sprouted seeds. Grandma and Mama feared they all would starve to death before the sunflowers and red amaranth went to seed in October.

Grandma Fleet did not like the idea of town, but with a baby and a little girl to feed, they hadn't much choice: to stay at the old gardens meant starvation. The others had already gone. In the railroad town called Needles they managed to find a little to eat each day. Mama washed dirty linens for the hotel next door to the train station. Grandma Fleet carried Indigo on her back while she and Sister Salt scavenged scraps of lumber to build shelter for them on the floodplain of the river. Other women and children lived there, from places even Grandma Fleet had never heard of; they had been driven off their land by white settlers or pursued by the soldiers and Indian police. Their first years there were very difficult, but the Walapai women and the Paiute women shared the little food they had; a kind Mormon woman brought them old clothing. As long as there was no trouble, the authorities left them alone; but they knew they might be removed to the reservation at Parker at any time. Townspeople hired them to work their gardens and to clean house and wash for them.

The older women watched the children and listened for the trains; they took the children to the depot to meet the passengers, who sometimes gave them pennies after they took their pictures. The train passenger especially wanted pictures of the children they called "papooses." Sometimes train passengers, white women, made signs they wanted to hold Indigo; one woman had even shoved paper money into Grandma Fleet's hand, making signs that she wanted to take Indigo away with her. Before Grandma Fleet could throw the money to the ground, the woman snatched up Indigo into her arms. "No" was the only word of English Grandma Fleet bothered to learn, but she knew how to say it, knew how to summon the sounds from deep in her chest and sharpen the edges of the sound in her throat before she flung the word into the white woman's face. "No!" she screamed, and the white woman stumbled backward, still holding the toddler. "No! No!" Each time Grandma Fleet repeated the word, the white woman flinched, her face frozen with fear. Everyone stopped what they were doing on the depot platform and all eyes were on Grandma Fleet and the woman. The door of the depot office flew open and the stationmaster came running with a shotgun in his hand. The woman's husband and the other passengers rushed over to see, and the husband pried Indigo out of her arms and indignantly shoved the toddler back into Grandma Fleet's arms. The stationmaster waved a shotgun after Grandma Fleet and the other Indian women and children as they ran from the depot.

After that, Grandma Fleet did not go with the others to meet the trains. Some days she scavenged in the town dump; other days she sat in the lean-to and watched Indigo play while she soaked and peeled the fibrous strands from yucca leaves she and Sister Salt gathered from the dry hills above the river. She taught Sister Salt how to make little baskets in any shape she wanted simply by cutting the yucca strands in different lengths. Grandma showed Sister Salt how to gather devil's claws and soak them so the jet black fibers would peel away easily. She helped Sister Salt wrap the woven yucca with the fibrous black threads to make eyes for the dog and the frog figures. While Sister Salt made small frog-shaped and dog-shaped baskets to sell to the tourists, Grandma Fleet wove a large storage basket with a lid to keep her treasures from the dump, mostly bits of colored glass and all sorts of seeds, especially the pits of apricots and peaches.

Grandma refused to go to the train depot after the incident, but Sister Salt could not go alone; so as soon as their mother heard the train whistle off in the distance, she left her duties at the washtubs behind the hotel to fetch Sister Salt and the baskets. Sister Salt carried a dog basket in one hand and a frog basket in the other; their mother taught her to smile and say "Hello! Would you like to buy a basket?" Mama stood nearby and watched for trouble, while Sister Salt sold the baskets.

Later on, when Indigo asked Sister Salt to tell her about their mother, Sister Salt recalled how she wanted to go with the other children to get the candy and the pennies the train passengers sometimes tossed to the children from train windows, but Mama made her stay put by the baskets displayed on the depot platform. Mama was strict about that; she was angered by the grinning faces of passengers who delighted at the sight of the children begging, then scrambling for anything tossed out the train windows. Mama learned English from the soldiers' wives at Fort Yuma, but she preferred not to answer the tourists' questions about the baskets or herself. Sister Salt had to do all the talking, but Mama always took the money and quickly stuffed it down the front of her dress between her breasts. The dog and frog baskets nearly always sold; summer was always best; winters were the worst, because the passengers were reluctant to stop on the icy depot platform.

Before deep snow came, Grandma Fleet went with the others to the mountains to gather piñons, pine nuts, and acorns, but they often did not have enough to eat in the winter. The hotel did not have as many winter guests to dirty the linens, so there was not as much work for Mama. The white man who managed the hotel allowed her to take home vegetable crates and other wood scraps to burn on cold nights. As sheets or towels became badly frayed or stained, their mother showed the linens to the hotel manager; if he agreed, she was allowed to take the rags home. When someone smoking in bed burned a blanket, Mama brought home the half of the blanket that remained, and with a quilting needle made from a sharpened wire and string Grandma Fleet retrieved from the dump, Mama sewed them a family quilt with the singed blanket and the ragged towels.

On the coldest days, when the winds whipped the snow and sleet into a blizzard, the four of them huddled together under the family quilt in their lean-to. Grandma Fleet and Mama told the girls old stories about the land of perpetual summer, far to the south, where the ground actually smoldered on the hottest days. Mama recalled her captivity at Fort Yuma, where the army tents filled with white heat at midday and sometimes caught fire. Sister Salt and Indigo imagined the summer heat, and the cold winds were not so oppressive. How delicious the warmth of the fire felt, but fire was also dangerous near the dry willows and scrap lumber of the lean-to. At bedtime, the fire was damped with dry river sand, and Grandma Fleet scraped away the sand floor in the middle of their lean-to and buried hot coals under layers of sand to keep them warm as they slept together under the big quilt. The cold winters made Grandma Fleet homesick for the south, for her dugout house at the old gardens. The refugees might have eaten everything in sight at the old gardens, but her dugout house with its fine roof of layered palm fronds was much more weather-tight, much nicer than the empty packing crates they called home in Needles. The hard years passed slowly.

One day a white man and two Indian policemen walked through the lean-tos. The Indian policemen called out; if someone came to the door, the white man wrote in his black book and they moved to the next shack. Mama was still at work, but Grandma Fleet knew immediately why the men were there. She told Sister Salt and Indigo to hide, quickly, under the big quilt. Whatever happens, she told them, don't make a sound, don't move. Grandma Fleet watched the government men move from shack to shack; when only two other shacks but theirs remained, Grandma Fleet sat down on top of the quilt. She almost sat on Sister Salt's head, but she moved, and Indigo moved her foot that Grandma was sitting on. They got themselves arranged, then Grandma spread her basket-making materials and a half-woven basket around her. She pretended to be crippled when the Indian policemen called her outside. She invited them to step inside, knowing they would refuse; the white man was afraid of disease and the Indian policemen feared witchcraft. They asked to see the two children reported to live there. Grandma Fleet pretended to cry; oohhh, she moaned, she was all alone now, an old woman all alone. The Indian police were not satisfied with her answers; they whispered to each other. They wanted to know about the others. They knew the Paiute women lied, because there were complaints about Paiute children begging for money from passengers at the depot. The Paiute children belonged in school. All Indian children must go to school; that was the law. Grandma Fleet pretended she was afraid of the Paiutes and claimed to know nothing about them. The Indian policemen conferred with their boss.

"Old Sand Lizard woman, dirt digger! You're lying! We'll drag you off to prison with all the rest of them!" one of the Indian police muttered as they left.

Grandma Fleet did not move for a long time after the police left in case it was a trick and they returned. Indigo squirmed because the circulation to her left foot was cut off by Grandma's leg; Sister Salt pinched her to make her be still, so Indigo kicked her in the shin. Grandma Fleet finally stood up and walked to the doorway to look both ways before she pulled back the quilt.

"It's a good thing they were gone when you girls started your commotion!" she said, shaking her head sternly. That evening when their mother came home from work she had news: the government man and Indian police had taken away six Walapai children to school. Grandma Fleet said it was time to go back to the old gardens; Sister Salt was almost a young woman and Indigo was just the age to be sent away to school. Mama agreed but wanted to work at the hotel a little bit longer so they could buy supplies to take back with them; they would have enough money if she worked awhile longer.

Each day while Mama and Sister Salt were at their work in town, Grandma Fleet took Indigo with her. Some days they prowled the arroyos to gather willows for basket making; other days they walked in the sand and sagebrush hills outside town to gather grass seeds to grind into flour. Most days Grandma Fleet and Indigo ended with a walk through the town dump, where they surveyed the refuse and Indigo scrambled down the sides of the garbage pits to retrieve valuables the townspeople carelessly threw away. String, paper, scraps of cloth, glass jars and bottles, tin cans, and bits of wire -- they washed their discoveries in the shallows of the river and reused them. Grandma Fleet saved seeds discarded from vegetables and fruits to plant at the old gardens when they returned; she poked her stick through the debris in garbage piles behind the café and hotel. Grandma kept her seeds in the little glass jars with lids they found at the dump; she kept the jars of seeds in her bedding for safekeeping. The apricot pits were her special favorites because she remembered the apricot trees of her childhood at the old gardens. Grandma Fleet held the jar up close to her face and spoke to the seeds;

"Mmmm! You will be my little sweethearts, my little apricot trees!"

Grandma Fleet planned to take along Sister Salt and Indigo when she returned to the old gardens after the winter rains arrived; their mother would send food and make visits from time to time. That winter more people came from the north; remnants of many desert tribes, mostly children and women, came to Needles because the winter was so hard and they were so poor.

The Paiute visitors told a strange story; their people were starving but they were not worried because they were waiting for someone, someone named Messiah. A Paiute prophet named Wovoka died and visited Messiah, who gave him instructions to take back to the people. The Paiute women described encampments of hundreds of people all dancing in a circle as Wovoka instructed. The Paiutes were reluctant to talk about Wovoka because many white people feared and hated Wovoka. If white authorities heard the Indians even speak the name, there was trouble. Far to the north there were rumors the soldiers killed dozens of dancers.

On cold mornings, smoke from the campfires drifted across the sky above the river. Now the lean-tos and shacks extended up and down the sandy floodplain on the west side of the river. Their life was different now that there were more people living around them. The smell of roasting meat became more familiar, and so did the sound of voices and laughter at night. A few Paiute boys and old men appeared later on; they stayed in the camp or hunted the river dunes for rabbits. The men were careful not to show themselves in town.

Mama made friends with a Paiute woman who talked about Wovoka. Wovoka lived an ordinary life until one day he died and saw Jesus in heaven. Jesus was sad and angry at what had been done to the Earth and to all the animals and people. Jesus promised Wovoka that if the Paiutes and all the other Indians danced this dance, then the used-up land would be made whole again and the elk and the herds of buffalo killed off would return. The dance was a peaceful dance, and the Paiutes wished no harm to white people; but Jesus was very angry with white people. As the people danced, great storm clouds would gather over the entire world. Finally, when all the Indians were dancing, great winds would roar out of clear skies, winds the likes of which were never seen before; the winds, for weeks without end, would blow away all the topsoil and strip the trees of all leaves. The winds would dry up all the white people and all the Indians who followed the white man's ways, and they would blow away with the dust.

The Paiute woman had seen Jesus surrounded by hundreds of Paiutes and Shoshones and other Indians who heard Jesus was coming. Jesus wore a white coat with bright red stripes; he wore moccasins on his feet. His face was dark and handsome, his eyes black and shining. He had no beard or whiskers, but thick eyebrows. The people built a big fire to throw light on him. Then, as Jesus sang, hundreds and hundreds of people began to dance in a circle around him. They danced until late at night, when Jesus told them to stop. The next morning Jesus talked to them, and talked all day. He told them all Indians must dance, everywhere, and keep on dancing. If they danced the dance, then they would be able to visit their dear ones and beloved ancestors. The ancestor spirits were there to help them. They must keep dancing. They must not quarrel and must treat one another kindly. If they kept dancing, great storms would purify the Earth of her destroyers. The clear running water and the trees and the grassy plains filled with buffalo and elk would return.

The Paiute woman said when the dancers saw their dead friends and family members, they fell to the ground shaking and twitching, then lay silent. When they woke up, they all were happy and excited because they had seen the Earth reborn.

Grandma Fleet said all that was fine and good, but why had these Paiutes run away from the Christ and his dance? Mama shook her head. There were rumors the soldiers were on their way to kill the Messiah and all his dancers. Grandma Fleet shook her head. She wished the Paiutes could have stayed up north, but they had no choice. Now that there were so many Indians living along the river, the white people watched them more closely. Grandma Fleet had watched white people long enough to know they would tolerate a few Indian women and children so long as there was no trouble. But white people got uneasy when they saw numbers of Indians gathered in one place.

One cold morning Sister Salt awoke to the sounds of hundreds of crows. Mama and Indigo were still sleeping but Grandma was up. She had already made a little fire and was squatting next to it. The air smelled moist. The sky was overcast with thick gray snow clouds that dimmed the sun's light. Sister Salt peered in the direction of the cottonwood trees that towered above the riverbank; dozens of crows darkened the bare pale branches of the trees. The birds frolicked, swooping and circling above the trees, playing chase. Grandma gave her a tin can full of warm tea brewed from wildflowers she helped Grandma gather in early fall. Grandma Fleet studied the crows; ordinarily, there were only ten or twelve resident crows, who roosted in the cottonwood trees above the river and roamed the town dump, hopping along the ground with their wings spread as they searched for tidbits. Later that day Grandma Fleet talked with the Paiute woman and learned the flocks of crows were a sign that Wovoka and the Messiah were coming.

One evening after sundown, Sister Salt and Indigo came home from selling baskets at the depot to a strange spectacle: the river sand a short distance from the camp had been cleared of pebbles and debris. Indigo took one look and stopped short. A fire had been built in the midde of the smoothed area and dancers moved slowly in a circle around a fire. The earth under the dancers' feet was the color of old blood. She didn't want to go any closer. The hair and faces of the dancers were painted completely white, and they were all wrapped in white shawls. The girls did not recognize anyone. Sister Salt guided Indigo by the arm away from the dancers and toward home, but nothing looked the same. Someone had gone from shack to shack painting big streaks of ocher red around the entrances; it wasn't dried blood but finely ground red clay. Indigo cautiously touched a finger to the red clay and was about to taste it when Sister Salt batted her finger down; the red clay belonged to the spirits.

The girls hurried to their lean-to. So many people had come; their small bundles and ragged bedrolls were neatly stacked outside their lean-tos of willow branches. They passed a campfire where people were lined up waiting to be painted by a stranger and his two assistants. When they reached home they found red clay dust smeared over the scrap lumber of the doorway, and red dust was even sprinkled on the floor inside, but Mama and Grandma Fleet were not there. The ashes

From: Part Two

Hattie did not try to coax or drag the child out of the bushes; instead she smiled and nodded as if she was accustomed to visitors in the lilacs. Edward had alerted her to the runaways from the Indian school a few miles down the road. No danger. No cause for concern. Only the first-time students tried to run away; after the first year they were not so wild, he said, and she laughed gaily and replied, "Thank goodness we haven't got a penitentiary next door!"

At first she could not determine if this was a boy or a girl, though Edward said the boys were shorn of their long hair; this child's hair seemed long, though it was too tangled with weeds to be certain. Poor little Indian.

She did not want to frighten the child any more than she had already. She carried the monkey to his cage in the old orchid house, damaged some years ago by an earthquake, then abandoned to a white wisteria. Over the years, the wisteria followed the contours of the glass panels of the vaulted roof, snaking along tiny ledges formed by the leaded glass. Long cascades of pendulous white blossoms caught the bright morning light through the glass; the white blossoms gave off a luminous glow as if they were little lanterns. The monkey did not want to go into the cage and clung to her tightly; she tickled him gently and played with him until he loosened his grip, then quickly set him down inside the cage on his bench. She hurried to the house to decide what to do about the Indian child.

The cook was in the laundry helping the new maid iron the linens, but she did not disturb them. Edward's household staff was accustomed to the needs of a bachelor who spent more than ten months of the year away on expeditions. Hattie was in no hurry to make changes; she wanted the cook and maids to feel comfortable with her.

She opened the cupboards and drawers in the pantry in search of something special to lure the child from under the lilac bushes. A peach? Some bread with strawberry jam? Edward said the Indian students were quick to learn civilized ways. In the summer, when he was not away on an expedition, Edward hired two or three Indian boys to help with the weeding and mowing.

She carried the bread and jam and a cup of water on a tray and left them at the edge of the lawn next to the lilac bushes. She wanted the child to see she meant no harm, so she proceeded to measure the grassy arcade created by the lilacs. She had big plans for this area. While she paced off the length of the lawn, she kept watch from the corner of her eye for any sign of the child. She wondered what the school fed the Indian children. Did they feed the children the tribal foods they were accustomed to?

She paced off the width of the grassy area and noted the measurements on one of the note cards she carried in her pocket, a habit left over from her days of scholarly research into early church history. Of course, to Edward, the garden was a research laboratory, though she felt he appreciated its beauty. During his mother's last illness the orchid house and gardens were neglected, but the acres of lemon and orange trees were tended by Edward to occupy himself. He did not talk about those difficult years, so Hattie did not press him, but she saw evidence of some sort of breakdown in the neglect of the orchid house.

The rectangle of lawn outlined with lilacs was wasted space she could put to good use. She stood motionless for a good while as she surveyed the area and imagined its transformation. She became so engrossed as she sketched her renovation plans for the arcade, the child under the lilac bushes slipped her mind. She wanted to surprise Edward when he returned from the Bahamas-Key West expedition. She wanted to reassure Edward that she was not at all bothered that the expedition had come so soon after their wedding.

Of course, the expedition had been planned well in advance of their engagement; Edward always kept a busy schedule. Actually, she looked forward to this time by herself to get accustomed to her new home and new life. The day after his departure, she rose at dawn and gathered pink rose petals from the old climbing rosebush that covered the wall of the kitchen garden. While the petals dried she sewed sachets from white satin remnants of her wedding gown; now the musty drawers and closets of the old house were scented with roses. Her mother said no man wanted a professor for a wife, but Edward was no ordinary man; he showed no concern at all over the controversy her thesis topic caused.

The first week Edward was away, she walked from room to room; from the polished oak floors to the oak paneling and high ceilings, she could find nothing out of place. Edward's mother died ten years before they met, but her presence still was there. The rooms had an aura of completion about them that reminded her of her parents' house, with its aura of self-satisfaction rising off its mahogany furniture and emanating from dark oil portraits in gilded frames.

Hattie's mother did not permit the maids to reposition the furniture, and Hattie did not bother to challenge her mother over the furniture or rugs, because housekeeping chores bored her. Hattie laughed at her mother's prediction that she was destined for spinsterhood -- she knew she was too pretty to be an old maid. She had a sizeable dowry too. Actually she hoped her mother was right: if she were a spinster she would never have to run a household or take an interest in the shirt starch the laundress used.

From the time she was able to ride her pony alone, she vowed to herself she would not have a husband to interfere with rides along the beach as her parents had when she was thirteen. She discovered books when she was four years old, and Lucille, the cook, held her on her lap, where Hattie loved to listen to Lucille read from the old Bible she kept in the kitchen. Hattie pointed at words and Lucille pronounced them, and before long, Hattie recognized the words when she saw them again. Her father was delighted when Lucille proudly informed him Hattie could read; he went into the city that afternoon to buy children's books of simple rhymes and the alphabet. Hattie rapidly lost interest in the dolls dressed in elegant gowns and the tiny china teacups and plates she was given on her last birthday. With a book in her lap Hattie became a different person, thousands of miles away, in the middle of the action. Her mother worried that books at such an early age would ruin the girl, but Mr. Abbott didn't agree. He admired the theories of John Stuart Mill on the education of women and he was proud of his precocious child.

As Hattie finished noting the measurements, she glanced down and saw the bread and jam were gone from the tray; the cup was empty on the lawn. At that instant she heard the cook call her. Hattie returned her call, and the big woman came down the steps to the lower garden with a telegram in her hand. As the cook approached, Hattie said, "I've found a little Indian hiding in the lilacs."

"I'll send word to the school right away, Mrs. Palmer."

"Oh no -- that's not what I meant." Hattie was surprised at the sudden change in the expression on the cook's pink face. With her lips pressed together in disapproval, the cook bent down and squinted to get a better look under the lilacs. But when Hattie pulled back the branches to show her, the child was gone.

"You have to notify the school. It's the law," the cook said.

No one was permitted to employ or otherwise "keep" reservation Indians without government authorization. Edward had explained that out west it was necessary for the government to protect the Indians on reservations; otherwise the settlers would have killed them all.

The cook stared at the lilacs as if she expected a tiger to leap out. In that instant Hattie realized the cook disliked her, and she was embarrassed that her feelings were hurt.

"I'm sure the child returned to school herself," Hattie said stiffly. What did it matter if Edward's cook did not approve of her? The controversy over her thesis topic had shaken her self-confidence; before the thesis committee's decision, she seldom cared what others might think of her, certainly not a servant.

The cook seemed to be waiting for her to open the telegram.

"No need for you to wait," Hattie said. "I'll come inside if there is a reply to be sent." She was annoyed at the cook's attitude. Her mother said leave the cooks in the kitchen, otherwise there would be trouble; if a cook left the kitchen, look out; cooks wanted to run the whole house. Her mother said bachelors like Edward, who were never at home, spoiled good servants because he allowed them the run of the place while he was away. Hattie must be firm with the cook from the start.

She waited until the cook was gone before she opened the telegram. The message was odd; it must have been sent by someone else, a colleague, perhaps, who signed the message "Dr. E. G. Palmer," not "Edward" as he would have. The telegram told her nothing but the arrival time of the train. Had there been an accident? Was Edward ill?

She felt her heart pound as she hurried past the water garden and fountain and up the steps to the house. The expedition was to have lasted three months, time enough, Edward hoped, to allow him to complete the collection of sponges and marine algae of the Caribbean Sea.

She sat down at her writing desk, then realized she might have to break into his desk to locate the name and address of Edward's liaison officer at the Bureau of Plant Industry in Washington. She had not thought to ask for the address, but Edward did not leave instructions for her either. He had been a bachelor too long, her mother said, but he was the only gentleman willing to take a heretic to be his wife.

She paused at the door of Edward's study. They had not discussed what she should do in the event of an emergency. Edward had invited her into his study once, when they first arrived and he showed her their home. The entire third floor of the house was three big rooms, one passing into the other; the walls of every room were lined with oak bookshelves booked solid from floor to ceiling; in the center of the rooms were oak cabinets with dozens of small drawers.

Edward made his study in the first room; the desk in the center, flanked by two vast library tables covered with papers, books, and bits of dry leaves and plant stalks, was Edward's desk, as massive as a throne. She felt uncomfortable as she looked through the papers and letters on top of the desk. No mention of the expedition underwriters, no names or addresses, only Latin names of plants, diagrams of leaf structures, and queries from other plant collectors concerning plants they wished to sell or to buy.

The drawers of the desk were locked. She sat down in the big oak chair and took a deep breath. Her heart was pounding and she could feel the perspiration cling to her clothes and her body. She took deep breaths, as her doctor had instructed, and calmed herself. Easy does it.

She was not about to break open the locks on his desk drawers lest she appear to be overwrought. Her annoyance surprised her. Edward prepared for weeks and methodically reviewed all that he might need for three months in the Caribbean. The floor of his study had been spread with lanterns, candles, tents, tarps, a folding shovel, a trowel, a clock, bottles of chemicals -- formaldehyde and alcohol -- and a number of handsome cherry wood boxes that contained magnifying glasses, a microscope, a small telescope; and of course, one cherry wood box contained Edward's camera, another the glass plates and bottles of chemicals. Specimen collection envelopes, botanical field guides, a book of maps, blank notebooks, leather boots, rubber boots, rubber hip waders, a wide-brim straw hat, a pith helmet, mosquito netting, a canteen, and a revolver all were carefully packed into huge black steamer trunks. With so much equipment to organize, no wonder he forgot to leave her a name or address to contact in the event of a mishap for himself. The telegram said nothing about illness or injury. She really had made much over nothing. Her nerves were still fragile, though she was much better since she married Edward.

She got up from Edward's desk because walking calmed her. She wandered up and down the aisles of worktables in the laboratory-study. He collected other curiosities as well as plants. On the floor in one corner, a fossilized clamshell as big as an oven cradled a giant yellow tooth. Odd baskets as tall as chairs were filled with artifacts -- bows and spears and arrows bristled out of pottery jars painted with serpents and birds. A strange carved mask with a frightful expression gazed at her from another corner stacked high with colorful handwoven textiles. Mineral specimens filled the shelves -- fist-size amethysts, flawless crystals, and rows of eye agates watched over glittering pyrites.

As she turned, her ankle brushed a big dark lustrous rock on the floor. A meteorite. Edward had showed it to her because he was quite proud of it. Too heavy for the shelf with the other meteorites, it was allowed a place on the floor. He was quite keen on "celestial debris," as he called it. Meteorite specimens were nearly indestructible -- unlike rare orchids.

In the seventh month of their courtship, Edward told Hattie about the disastrous expedition to collect rare orchids on the Pará River in Brazil. He lowered his voice slightly as he recounted the events. His companions on the expedition were unreliable, and Edward was injured, unable to protect the specimens during the ocean storm. Boxes of rare orchid specimens were lost at sea during a storm, and others were ruined later when they were stored in a damp shed in Miami. Dozens of rare orchids, intended to repay the underwriters of the expedition, mildewed and rotted. Later there were allegations certain plant materials were exported without proper government permits. His companions behaved irresponsibly, and the failure of the expedition nearly ruined him.

Hattie had not expected such frankness from Mr. Palmer, though he was much older than the suitors she was accustomed to. Suddenly she felt too warm, on the verge of a queasy stomach. Was this a test, to see if she would confide her difficulties? How much had his sisters told him about her? Should she tell him how the suitors vanished from her doorstep after the decision of the thesis committee became known? Or how the illness that followed was to blame for her withdrawal? What a relief it had been to stay home with her books. Yes, she would confide in Mr. Palmer.

"By now you must have heard -- I am the heretic of Oyster Bay," Hattie said bravely, with a smile. Then Edward Palmer won her heart as he looked at her intently and replied, "Good for you!" He was a man of science himself, he said. He listened quietly to her story of the failed thesis with its scandalous view of early church history. The thesis committee had been unanimous in its determination that her principal reference sources -- Dr. Rhinehart's moldy Coptic scrolls -- were not authenticated, and in any case the scrolls were unacceptable Gnostic heresy, pure and simple.

"Surely you've heard all about the furor from your sister," Hattie said, feeling bolder. "My heresy was a lively topic of dinner party conversations on Long Island for months!" Edward's laughter at her wit endeared him to Hattie; all the other gentlemen she told looked a bit shocked.

How good Edward's laughter sounded! To hear her mother talk, Hattie's entire life was ruined by her assertions that Jesus had women disciples and Mary Magdalene wrote a Gospel supressed by the church.

Her affection for Edward stirred at that instant, and she could only smile at his neglect to leave her a way to reach him. The hundreds of tiny specimen drawers in the huge oak cabinets stirred her curiosity. She pulled out a drawer: inside was a small manila envelope carefully secured with red string. She unwound the string from the circular clasp and gently squeezed the sides of the envelope to look inside. All she saw was a single shriveled stalk with fragments of dry plant material, remains of leaves, perhaps. She sniffed the envelope but detected only a faint odor. Edward's special interest was in aromatic grasses and plants, which always were highly prized by horticulturists and gardeners. Edward traveled to places so remote and collected plants so rare, so subtle, few white men ever saw them before. He added these rare treasures to his growing collection of roots, stalks, leaves, and, most important, when possible, seeds. His ambition was to discover a new plant species that would bear his name, and he spent twenty years of his life in this pursuit before their marriage.

Hattie did not attend any parties or formal gatherings after she left graduate school, though gradually she accepted invitations to family picnics and outings to the beach -- always with a group of her younger cousins, who needed a chaperone. The only reason she agreed to attend a formal event like the Masque of the Blue Garden was because their neighbor Mrs. Colin James served with Hattie's mother on the bishop's fund-raising committee, and Hattie was curious to see the garden so well known for its drama and the spectacle of its mistress.

Hattie's mother wanted the party to mark the end of the seclusion Hattie assumed. Eyebrows were raised when she enrolled in graduate studies in early church history; all the other young women her age were engaged or married. After the scandal over her thesis topic, Mrs. Abbott was relieved to let the dust settle awhile, but she still hoped to find Hattie a husband. In a year or two the incident would be forgotten. By chance, Susan James's distinguished brother, Edward Palmer, arrived from an expedition abroad two days before the blue garden event.

The Masque of the Blue Garden was considered the premier event of the summer season, and Hattie thought it promised to be eccentric enough to be interesting. And so it was. Just as the full moon rose over Oyster Bay, out stepped Susan Palmer James from the arch of blue rhododendrons, dressed all in sapphire blue -- blue feathers and blue satin. She strode grandly from the far end of the blue garden along the white marble terrace next to the pool filled with fragrant blue water lilies.

Moments after her triumphant entrance, their hostess introduced Mrs. Abbott and Hattie to Edward Palmer, distinguished botanist and brother. His face and hands were tanned from his fieldwork just completed in Mexico. Hattie found him quite interesting, and while the others danced, Hattie and Edward talked about Italy. She went to England with her parents when she was a child, but she wanted to see Rome. Edward laughed when Hattie recounted her mother's fears that high church officials might excommunicate her for heresy. But Hattie's father, God bless him, suggested the church's cardinals had more pressing concerns than a Gnostic heretic. Her trip to Italy was scheduled for the following spring.

Mrs. Abbott did not trust Hattie or Hattie's father; after all, they conspired to enroll Hattie in graduate school at Harvard without her knowledge. What respectable man wanted a wife who sat in a musty library all day to pore over heretical texts? Mrs. Abbott's face assumed a stricken expression at any mention of Hattie's thesis, but her expression relaxed whenever she reminded Hattie of the size of her dowry. Mrs. Abbott talked about money almost incessantly -- who had money, how they got the money, and who lost their money. Despite her family's impeccable lineage, their wealth was in decline when Mrs. Abbott was a child. She felt quite fortunate to find a husband who did not care about such things.

Despite Mr. Abbott's disapproval of the practice, Hattie had a sizeable dowry that made Mrs. Abbott smile every time she thought of it; she liked to remind Hattie of its size.

"In that case, I hereby renounce my dowry!" Hattie used to reply. "I'd rather spend the money on travel."

"Oh nonsense, Hattie!"

"I'd rather not be married anyway -- now that I'm a heretic!" she laughed, but after she got acquainted with Edward, her opinion of marriage began to change. Edward was a remarkable man. He traveled a great deal to the most distant and fascinating destinations, and he had a wonderful gift for recounting his adventures, in which he portrayed himself humorously, as the innocent tourist hell-bent on disaster. The tourist identity was the disguise he adopted to confuse the customs officers. Some foreign governments were quite unpleasant about the export of valuable root stock and seeds.

Edward was quite irreverent about customs authorities in general, which Hattie found appealing. Iama heretic, she thought, but Mr. Palmer doesn't seem to mind. Hattie asked her father what he thought of Mr. Palmer.

"He's too old and he travels too much," her father said, "but nothing I say will stop you if your mind is made up."

She linked her arm through her father's. "My mind isn't made up," she said as they walked to the dining room together. "Mother's mind is made up." Mr. Palmer wasn't as young as the others, and like any longtime bachelor he might be set in his ways; still, he didn't seem adverse to children. Indeed, in the months that followed the garden party, Hattie saw Edward again at a picnic on the seashore and at a birthday party on the lawn for Edward's young nieces. On both occasions Edward brought along his view camera and made photographs of the children playing, and later posed everyone for a group photograph that included him too -- he tripped the shutter with a long black string as he posed with the group. Edward really could be quite appealing. Hattie had not wanted marriage or children, but Edward changed all that. Children -- the child! Suddenly she remembered the Indian child in the lilac bushes. What if the child did not find her way back to the school?

Hattie rushed downstairs and out to the south garden lawn hedged with lilacs. Next to the plate, the cup was lying on its side in the grass. Hattie didn't mind if her skirt got dirty; she crawled and searched carefully under and among the dark green leaves of the lilacs. She found a few late blossoms hidden in the lower branches; their perfume seemed stronger than the earlier blossoms; but she could not locate the child. Hattie blamed the arrival of the telegram for her thoughtlessness; she should not have taken her eyes off the child!

Hattie rushed up the steps to the fountain and pool for a better view. Beyond the lilacs, orchards of lemons and oranges stretched to the horizon. She couldn't quite see the redbrick buildings of the Indian school, but once from the third-floor balcony, Edward had pointed out a cluster of two-story buildings in the distance. The child almost certainly returned to the school; there was nothing but desert beyond the citrus groves.

She checked under the lilacs a last time just to be sure. A late afternoon breeze wafted the perfume of the yellow climbing roses on the kitchen garden wall. She still had to bathe and change clothes before she went to meet Edward's train, but the excitement of the telegram on top of the discovery of the Indian child left Hattie exhausted. On a marble bench that overlooked the gardens and orchards below, she felt herself almost shiver with anticipation, so she closed her eyes and took deep breaths as her doctor instructed. The fresh outdoor air relaxed her. The doctor's orders were to take every opportunity to relax and to avoid fatigue lest she fall ill again. She exhaled slowly, as the doctor instructed. She still had not unpacked her books or papers because the doctor advised against the resumption of her studies until they were certain she was fully recovered. Men were equipped for the rough-and-tumble of the academic world in ways women, unfortunately, were not, the doctor said. Hattie's mother looked sharply at Hattie as the doctor spoke.

Fortunately, Hattie's father entered the room just then. Bless his heart, he reminded them of Hattie's academic honors in her undergraduate studies at Vassar. Women who never opened a book suffered from nervous exhaustion -- how ridiculous to blame Hattie's studies! Mr. Abbott encouraged Hattie to continue work on her thesis regardless of the committee's decision, but she could not bring herself to even look at the manuscript or notes, though she did bring them with her to California.

The sun began its descent in the west, and the thick perfume of orange blossoms washed over her in the breeze. Hattie was considering whether to send a note to the superintendent of the Indian school when the cook hurried across the terrace breathlessly.

"Mrs. Palmer! Mrs. Palmer! He's here! Dr. Palmer has just arrived!" Hattie stood up and looked beyond the fountain in time to see him step through the French doors to the terrace. Hattie waved and called out a greeting as she ran. She paused an instant to look him over for signs of injury, then rushed to him. Edward smiled and embraced her.

"I was afraid something was wrong," she said, the words muffled by his chest.

Only the weather was wrong, he explained; one hurricane after another. He kept her close to his side with his arm around her and neither of them spoke as the huge red sun slipped behind the groves of oranges. She found his height and fitness very attractive; men half his age were not as lean and fit as Edward, despite the lingering effects of his injury in Brazil. Before their courtship commenced in earnest, Edward insisted she understand the impediment; he was so tender and ardent in all other ways Hattie was confident he would make a full recovery. She leaned closer to him and kissed his cheek; he smiled and glanced down at her warmly before he looked west again at the sunset as though something was on his mind.

They remained on the terrace in silence even after the sun went down. A gentle wind moved through the white climbing roses heavy with perfume. At last Edward shifted his weight to give his good leg a rest and glanced toward the orchid house.

"How's the monkey getting along?" he asked.

"Oh he's a jolly little thing!" Hattie inhaled sharply as suddenly she remembered the child.

"Oh Edward! How could I forget! Linnaeus found an Indian child hiding under the lilacs this morning."

"A bit late in the season for runway Indians," he said. "Usually by this time they've sent them home for the summer or they've farmed them out."

"I was about to send a note down to the school, but the telegram arrived -- in the excitement I forgot."

"Where is the child now?" he asked, looking down past the pool to the lilacs.

"I'm not sure. I went back to find her just now and -- "


Hattie felt her face flush. "I think so. I'm not sure. I saw long hair. You said the Indian boys -- "

" -- have all their hair cut off."

"Yes, but now I can't find her."

"No need to worry. She probably went back."

After the sun went down, Indigo crept out of her hiding place under the trellis of cascading white roses. She ran from the lilacs into the white garden because it was enclosed by a low rock wall that concealed her. While the twilight was still bright, she moved cautiously, listening for footsteps or voices. She peeked around the corner of the rock wall and saw the stone walk led to stone steps up to an arch of climbing red roses. What a fragrance they had! Grandma Fleet used to talk about the flowers the Mormon ladies grew, but never had she or anyone ever talked about flowers so fragrant and big as these.

She wanted to run right over to examine these red giants more closely, but she waited until the twilight darkened a bit more. The white blossoms seemed almost to glow and the wonderful perfumes only increased with the darkness. On stalks taller than she was, huge white lilies leaned their faces down to hers. She went from flower to flower, burying her nose in each blossom as deeply as she could, licking the sweet pollen from her lips. The night air was delightfully cool and the sensation of the rich damp soil under her feet made Indigo want to dance. She had to hold the stupid long skirt of the school uniform in one hand to keep from tripping over it; a moment later she pulled off the skirt and danced between the white lilies and white irises, around the white lilacs next to the gate. As she danced, Indigo looked up at the great field of stars like so many little bean blossoms; Grandma Fleet could travel up there now, but where were Sister Salt and Mama tonight?

After she got tired of dancing, she sat on the low wall overgrown with white honeysuckle to watch the moon rise from the same direction she must travel to get home. She made a plan: The school dress with its long sleeves and long skirt would serve as a blanket as well as a pack to carry any food she might find around here. What she really needed, what she really missed most, was her gourd canteen. She didn't have much time. She had to find a place to hide before daybreak. She might need another day to locate the things she would need for the journey home.

The west wind stirred and cooled her face; she inhaled the scent of orange and lemon blossoms, then suddenly caught the scent of roasted meat that wafted down the path from the back of the house. Indigo's stomach grumbled about the scanty food. She crept out from the low wall and made her way to the steps that brought her from the lilacs and past the fountain and pool. From the top step Indigo could see the fan shape of the gardens -- in orderly squares and rectangles, outlined by low walls of stone bright with the moon's light. Orange and lemon groves surrounded the house and the gardens and a number of outbuildings and sheds. The place was almost as big as the boarding school.

With the moon high overhead, she could see the white stone steps and paths clearly. She needed to find the best hiding place before morning. She slipped off the school dress and underclothes -- how delicious the open air and warm breeze felt against her bare skin. Clothing suffocated her skin; naked in the moon's light, she felt alert and invigorated. Grandma Fleet was right: too much clothing wasn't healthy. She skipped down the steps, two at a hop, past the white garden's snaking branches and thickets of white bougainvillea; she brushed aside the flowering branches and saw three steps down. Below, planted in spirals and whorls, were blood red dianthus, red peonies, red dahlias, and red poppies; bright red cosmos and scarlet hollyhocks made the backdrop along the east wall. Indigo's heart pounded with excitement at all the red flowers -- oh Sister Salt would love to hear about this garden of red flowers. By daylight the red garden would be even better.

She picked handfuls of fat rose hips and ate herself to sleep, curled up under the rosebushes with her head at the edge of a stone step. She awoke when the color of the sky was dark red, almost black, the color of the hollyhocks at the burned house. Rapidly the sky became the color of the roses, and finally the sky was blood red. Too bad she had to get going, because Grandma Fleet always advised the girls to collect as many new seeds as they could carry home. The more strange and unknown the plant, the more interested Grandma Fleet was; she loved to collect and trade seeds. Others did not grow a plant unless it was food or medicine, but Sand Lizards planted seeds to see what would come; Sand Lizards ate nearly everything anyway, and Grandma said they never found a plant they couldn't use for some purpose.

There were oth

Excerpted from Gardens in the Dunes by Leslie Marmon Silko
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