The Leighton Legacy
In 1869 London, an educated woman, even a poor one, had a chance of tossing off the marriage bridle to find a worthy life. The traps were everywhere, however. A keen eye and a level head was vital, and a supportive shoulder, preferably one padded by either social standing or money, bolstered one’s chance for success. Flanna Leighton grew up at the side of a stalwart social reformer, outfitted with the training she needs to make her own mark on society, or so she thinks. Now that he’s dead, she’s made a false step. She’s about to learn the extent of a family’s determination to smother change, with herself as an unwitting catalyst in their downfall and redemption, even if it means her own demise.
Branding the Land
The Custer County clerk squinted at our signatures, her crooked nose nearly touching the land deed spread out between us on the wooden counter. She shifted her gaze to our photo IDs, which she gripped in one bumpy hand. Like a rusted toy crane, her neck cranked her head upward until she could peer over the top of her spectacles at my face, then to my shoulders, and, finally, even down to my chest. I felt like a teenager caught after curfew in the beam of a cop’s flashlight. I tried to arrange my face into something pleasant but she didn’t return my smile. Next to me, standing still as a column, my husband Frank started a nose chortle that threatened to break into full chuckle — but it failed to thrive and aborted into a cough when the clerk’s rheumy eyes darted to him.
Stamp! She pounded the deed and I started my happy dance, but only from the waist down. Foots, c’mon and play. Our dream had come true — we’d been anointed landowners! What an atrial-fluttering word! What a picture of stolid American work ethic it conjured!
And then, it happened: somewhere between floating out of the courthouse in Westcliffe, Colorado, and finishing up a course of congratulatory bean burritos at the diner, we started having delusions of the grandiose sort that went something like this: Drive to our land; search for a couple fallen Ponderosa pines; peel them with some tool or another; sink them deep into the rutted track leading to our property and then hang between them a plank of wood upon which will be etched the clever name of our homestead, something catchy such as Hare Today, Fawn Tomorrow Ranch.
Dancing off the Mesa
Lilah and I call it a night on a broken stretch of Hwy 191 in northern Arizona. Bleary-eyed, I’m bent over the wheel of the Toyota trying to avoid clumps of sage and ruts, intent on parking as far away from the pavement as possible. My childhood chum had offered, repeatedly, to drive us on to the Hopi Cultural Center but I fear her driving more than I do bivouacking in the middle of nowhere.
Backlit by a full moon, we relocate tent, backpacks, and cooler from the rear of my station wagon to the front so we can lower the back seats flat for sleeping. Just as we’ve said our goodnights and snuggled into our sleeping bags a whirling strobe of unmistakable colors jerks me upright, and I smack my head on the roof.