009 Morning Star

If Pablo did not call me each morning I would sleep right through breakfast. But he has acquired a habit of waking an hour before daylight and as soon as the fire blazes and the mush bubbles in the Dutch oven, he stirs camp with the shout: “Fran-cees, Francees. ” It came at 4:15 this morning.

Morning — even in the blackness of night which constitutes the sheepherder’s rising hour — is not my usual time to view the stars; the stir of breakfast preparations and the brilliance of the campfire rule against it. Jupiter and Scorpio, when we arise, are still blazing in the southwest, but the time for viewing them is in late evening or the dead of night, when all is still.

But this morning Rosalio called my attention to a planet which we had not seen before, just rising beyond Four Peaks in the east. It was Venus.

“Lucero,” said Rosalio. “In English you call it Morning Star. In Spanish we call it Lucero. We had a song about it.”

In his rich gentle tones he proceeded to sing:

Lucero de la manana.
No to des a conocer,
Que por ahi andan diciendo
Que reinas mi porvenir.”

Then I realized that Rosalio’s last name, Lucero, was the Spanish word for Morning Star. “Many our people named after stars,” he explained, and he spoke the name of Juan Estrella, another herder, as an example.

The sheep were bedded on a southwest sloping high hill a quarter of a mile from camp. Breakfast was hurried and as the twilight of morning pushed in upon us from beyond the mountains, Rosalio picked up his staff. “I go back to sheepsies now. They pretty good last night. I only had to get up once. “
His words sounded precisely like those of a caring parent concerned over a colicky child. Rosalio is not only a shepherd, but mother and father to his 2,200 children.

I saw his dark figure dimly working among the herd. Jupiter and Venus were the only lights left in the sky, which was paling fast — the evening and the morning stars. I looked at Venus working its way above Four Peaks; I looked at Rosalio working with the herd on the southwest slope, then broke out into sharp gooseflesh, which always happens to me when I am struck with some deep emotion. Rosalio Lucero; Rosalio, the Morning Star. Here was a name that fit. He was one of that chain of desert dwellers nurtured by starlight that had enriched humanity since time began.

As soon as Rosalio left for the sheep, Pablo went off in search of his horse and burros, leaving me to guard the camp in case the burros beat him back. Pablo assures me that his pack animals will eat an entire camp if given the chance. I have in the last day seen them eating rope; chewing and swallowing newspapers, printed in either Spanish or English, it makes no difference; and at least having a try at tin cans. Pablo, with droll humor, claims they will only eat the labels of cans which have the pictures of food — peas or tomatoes or corn.

Here alone in camp, sitting by the kyack table, still half an hour before sunrise, I can see the herd coming. Rosalio has gotten the sheep in motion. Their bells jangle as the gray backs wend in a hundred paths through the brush and shrubs down the low mountainside. A canyon intervenes before our camp. The leaders are already disappearing into it — a rocky steep-walled canyon. I know, for I climbed it when coming in last evening. Lucky the sheep were not too restless in the night or Rosalio would have had to climb that canyon repeatedly in the darkness. Now the animals will test the strain of their wilderness ancestors in accomplishing it.

Burro bells — more metallic and louder — are coming in now from the east, off toward Four Peaks. Pablo has traced his pack animals. I have been writing by the light of the campfire, though now at 5:40 A.M. the sky in the east has acquired an ample glow.

This I will remember as the night of the gentle rain. The sky was woolly with clouds as we had gone to sleep. At 10:00 P.M. by the Great Dipper I’d wakened with cold raindrops spitting in my face. Quickly rustling my cameras under blankets, I likewise pulled my head under the tarp, which was stretched tight, making the rain sound like drops on a tin roof.

This was but a shower and as the first bout ceased I came from cover to observe what took place. A groundhog poking my head from the burrow to scan the weather. Those things which come most frequently are perhaps least observed. In all the storms which have wet me or the roof above me I have never before taken occasion to observe one as a show. This one I did.

We were camped in a desert clearing cupped by hills close by, with mountains forming a second low circle beyond, like a saucer set in a plate. Above were bright stars but over the western hills a darkened mass appeared, dark clouds shaped like a hand — a witch’s hand, it seemed. The long black fingers shoved out from the black hills, erasing one star after another. A witch was catching wayward children. Soon the points of light overhead were rubbed out and cold pellets of rain began falling. Then slowly the fingers vanished and the starry-eyed children played again.

Scarcely had Jupiter moved the distance between two fragile branches of an ocotillo which stood between my view of it, than a ball-shaped mass of dim blackness — another rain cloud — forayed in from the southwest. It crept along the south horizon, blurred Jupiter itself, then screened it out.

There was rain from that cloud but not on us. A regiment of witches groped along the eastern hills but no move was made to ride toward our camp and finally the witch dance was over and the sky came clear again. Just one flash of lightning had been discharged.

Over on the high slope, Rosalio — the Morning Star — was heading his sheep out to start the day.