When they quit the highway at Variadero, the countryside opened and the old Ford yawed on the graded washboard, sending ravens flapping and squawking before their rattling dustcloud.
A half-hour later, their progress metered by stunted cedars and silted arroyos, by chollas and cattleguards and glimpses of the distant river, they reached a gate.
“Bell Ranch,” the driver explained, mopping his face with a shirtsleeve.
He turned to the Indian, impassive in his tweed coat and polished brogans.
“I’ll get it.”
Beyond the gate, the ranch road straightened, parting a low, rolling landscape of blanched hardpan and telescopic mesas. They passed the remnants of a cattle chute, shipwrecked and listing, and a creaking windmill in whose shadow cows had gathered to loll in flickering somnolence.
When they topped the next rise, the driver braked the car and leaned and spat through the settling dust.
“There she is.”
The Indian straightened. Below them lay a canyon. A jagged suture of cottonwoods. New buildings, clustered in a clearing.
“What do you think about all of this?” he asked the driver.
“What, the feather?”
“No, not the feather. The dam.”
The driver was a young cowhand with sharp sideburns. He thumbed his hatbrim, scratching absently at his scalp.
“Well sir, I don’t rightly know. Jobs is jobs, I reckon. And Lord knows, we need the jobs.”