026 Rosalio’s “Children”

On Ranger Johnson’s map in Heber I had seen how the sheep trail crossed the Sitgreaves National Forest, swung out over private land past Dry Lake, circled the tiny town of Snowflake, then entered Sitgreaves Forest again before crossing the boundary into Fort Apache Indian Reservation. What the ranger pointed out to me in two minutes, by tracing on the map with his pencil, took as many weeks for the herd and us to cover on foot. But here we were at last, camped close to the boundaries of the Reservation.

I thought it was the clash of thunder which wakened me next morning but soon discovered it was just Pablo splitting juniper wood to build up the fire.

A fire was needed. The air at this nearly mile and a half high elevation stung and pinched with its coldness. In the dog’s drinking pan, water was frozen a quarter of an inch thick.

Rosalio had to go out immediately to the sheep, for they were astir, so Pablo and I fried our eggs and drank our sugarless coffee. Then Pablo went to hold the sheep while Rosalio ate, after which Rosalio also headed back toward the sheep. I stayed to guard camp and wipe the dishes.

Hearing footsteps behind me, I turned around. Coming daintily into the circle of the camp was a young girl, bonnet on her head and a basket on her arm. The thought flashed through my mind:

“What, in heaven’s name, is Little Red Ridinghood doing here?”

It proved to be a girl from an isolated ranch nearby. She had come to sell eggs. I bought a dozen, although we already had as many as Pablo could conveniently pack. Prodded by my questions, the girl told me as much about the country as she knew, and as much about herself as I could get out of her. Before Pablo and Rosalio returned, she was gone. Pablo laughed and asked if she had frightened me. “She comes every year,” he explained.

A frosty dawn turned into a sunny morning and when we broke camp after shading up at noon, the weather was warm. In the distance we could see a ranch house — probably the home of “Little Red Ridinghood. ” Soon we came upon an asphalt pavement. This was U.S. Highway 60, the same route we had crossed at the very beginning of the trek, back near Mesa, a month and a half before. This was the only highway, since that other crossing, with traffic that might endanger the sheep. For half a mile Rosalio drove the herd beside it until we found a stretch with an unbroken view in both directions.
“Now we cross,” Rosalio told me. “Cars can see us. They have a chance to stop. “

Four cars came along. They stopped. The occupants seemed to enjoy this sight of the massed gray-white wool flowing across the black asphalt, although I think they did not realize this was the termination of a flow which had carried that herd in a turbulent river of torment across much of this wild state of Arizona. Those cars heading west would follow Route 60 down to Mesa and Phoenix, and be there in half a day. We had taken a month and a half.

The driver of one of the cars, if he could have had his way, would probably have arrived in Phoenix even sooner. He was plainly irritated at the delay the sheep were causing; he tried to inch his way through, but Rosalio sternly motioned him back.

“Sheepsies don’t like it,” he explained to me later. “They get scared. They run.”

As the last animal crossed the roadway, the car driver blasted his horn violently, churned his wheels, and throttled in high gear down the road toward Phoenix.

“He hurry too much,” stated Rosalio simply. “Those other cars, they good. More better that way. “

Pablo with his burros and Rosalio with the sheep continued on. I lingered behind at the highway. One of those cars, one of the “good ones,” had carried a California license plate. I sat down and wrote a letter to Helen, hoping I might stop some other tourist and ask to have it mailed. Several lumber trucks passed, and a few other cars. None would stop.

Carefully I erected a forked branch by the side of the roadway, and on it hung the sheet of paper containing my letter, with a note on another sheet giving Helen’s address and asking if some kind passerby would supply envelope and mail it. To the note, with chewing gum, I attached a quarter for envelope and stamp.

Five days later, Helen received the letter in Eagle Rock, California. We did not know who had provided the Good Samaritan “Special Delivery” service.

But years later I was making a phone call near Chandler to one of the Dobson Brothers, an important sheep owner. “Yes, I remember your name,” he said. “I mailed a letter years ago that you left by the roadside.”

Late in the day Pablo went ahead but soon came back with a half-sober smile flashing through his whiskers. Usually clean-shaven, he had been growing a beard after topping the Mogollon Rim.
“There’s water at Hog Springs,” he announced.

I went ahead and came to a glade — all filled with iris and water weeds and spongy underfoot, with tiny white daisies spilled around like confetti tossed at a wedding party.

I followed the iris and the soft footing, which led toward an earthen bank, behind which was a great pool of water stored up from a spring beyond. When that water got into Pablo’s kegs and I drank it from a can at night, it was still tinged with red, which is not a good color to taste. But there in the rubied pool, the sight of it was wine to the spirit, for the sheep had been days without water.

The pool was in a saucer of kiln-red earth, bare of grass. The pines which stood on one side were reflected in the polished ruby surface and the trees on the far side laid out their black shadows on the red earth.

The herd came as I had, smelling water first in the iris glade down below. I heard the churning welter of their baas, then the stampede of bells and bodies. Four days without a drink. They broke over the earthen bank, scrambled and slid down and each baa became a gurgle. Those behind swirled about the edges, for there was room for all and they found it.

Now the whole pool was edged in woolly white, like lace on the fringes of a ruby pillow or white carvings on the frame of a picture. They were kneeling worshippers about a sacred pool. When finally the sheep departed — satisfied — there was a baaing of joy. But Rosalio’s face was glum. I wondered why.

As we left the pool he told me that it pained him having to bring the sheep to water this near to night. Of course it had to be, for when water comes along once in four days it must be taken on arrival. “But too bad,” said Rosalio. “Those lambs especially. They drink so much they be up all night.”
Rosalio, although unmarried, is a true parent, with a parent’s instincts, so far as his sheep are concerned. As he predicted, the sheep were up, and milling around, nearly all night long.