The Ancient People from Song of the Lark
By Willa Cather, 1915
San Francisco Mountain lies in Northern Arizona, above Flagstaff, and
its blue slopes and snowy summit entice the eye for a hundred miles
across the desert. About its base lie the pine forests of the Navajos,
where the great red-trunked trees live out their peaceful centuries
in that sparkling air. The PINONS and scrub begin only where the forest
ends, where the country breaks into open, stony clearings and the surface
of the earth cracks into deep canyons. The great pines stand at a considerable
distance from each other. Each tree grows alone, murmurs alone, thinks
alone. They do not intrude upon each other. The Navajos are not much
in the habit of giving or of asking help. Their language is not a communicative
one, and they never attempt an interchange of personality in speech.
Over their forests there is the same inexorable reserve. Each tree has
its exalted power to bear.
That was the first thing Thea Kronborg felt about the forest, as she
drove through it one May morning in Henry Biltmer's democrat wagon--and
it was the first great forest she had ever seen. She had got off the
train at Flagstaff that morning, rolled off into the high, chill air
when all the pines on the mountain were fired by sunrise, so that she
seemed to fall from sleep directly into the forest.
Old Biltmer followed a faint wagon trail which ran southeast, and which,
as they traveled, continually dipped lower, falling away from the high
plateau on the slope of which Flagstaff sits. The white peak of the
mountain, the snow gorges above the timber, now disappeared from time
to time as the road dropped and dropped, and the forest closed behind
the wagon. More than the mountain disappeared as the forest closed thus.
Thea seemed to be taking very little through the wood with her. The
personality of which she was so tired seemed to let go of her. The high,
sparkling air drank it up like blotting-paper. It was lost in the thrilling
blue of the new sky and the song of the thin wind in the PINONS. The
old, fretted lines which marked one off, which defined her,--made her
Thea Kronborg, Bowers's accompanist, a soprano with a faulty middle
voice,--were all erased.
So far she had failed. Her two years in Chicago had not resulted in
anything. She had failed with Harsanyi, and she had made no great progress
with her voice. She had come to believe that whatever Bowers had taught
her was of secondary importance, and that in the essential things she
had made no advance. Her student life closed behind her, like the forest,
and she doubted whether she could go back to it if she tried. Probably
she would teach music in little country towns all her life. Failure
was not so tragic as she would have supposed; she was tired enough not
She was getting back to the earliest sources of gladness that she could
remember. She had loved the sun, and the brilliant solitudes of sand
and sun, long before these other things had come along to fasten themselves
upon her and torment her. That night, when she clambered into her big
German feather bed, she felt completely released from the enslaving
desire to get on in the world. Darkness had once again the sweet wonder
that it had in childhood.