On the high plains of northwestern Colorado, tales emerge near Yampa, up where the Bear River runs and the Causeway and Little Causeway Lakes nestle into the wilderness like curled cats lolling in the comfort of gracious laps. It is here within the purely black chill of night time when the pop and hiss of a campfire illuminates the faces of wide-eyed children hunkered with their backs to the deep, dark shadows of pine, spruce, and aspen; it is here where the telling of the tales commences from elders to youngsters.
Real or imagined movement within these night shadows is perceived by the children as bears, wolves, or maybe spirits of the White River or Yampa Ute Indian tribes. There is a sense that some malevolence lurks in the shadows, something that may rob sleep from the young who understand the thickness of a nylon tent is no defense against…well, imaginations do conjure a bleak inevitability in such circumstances.
George Seaton’s latest release, The Gift of Stories, is a stand-alone short story of some forty pages that is part of the “Average Joe Collection” published by MLR Press. It is a lovely and heartfelt tale within a tale of many themes including, the magic and importance of stories in our lives and the imparting of wisdom from one generation to the next.
A seasonal rite, Joe’s grandnephews, Jason and Michael, and grandnieces, Michelle and Jessica, have once again come to the Yampa Valley of northwestern Colorado to visit Joe and his partner Ty during their summer break. The weathered cowboys have taken the children camping to experience the great outdoors, sit around the warmth of a campfire and listen to their great-uncle’s story of the Meeker Massacre of 1879.
The children are fidgety, jumping at every sound in the night, as Joe spins his tale of Nathan Meeker, Indian Agent at the White River Ute Indian Reservation. Under the guise of Manifest Destiny, Meeker tried to Christianize the Yampa Utes and force the nomadic horse and warrior culture into a sedentary agrarian way of life in order to “civilize” them. While Joe’s patience is tried by the children’s antics and there are several stops and starts to his narration, he does finally finish his tale. Through his storytelling certain truths emerge as Joe imparts some of his well-earned wisdom on lessons in courage that will remain with the children for a very long time.
I found The Gift of Stories to be quiet and elemental in nature and very reminiscent of Mr. Seaton’s Continuum, in that the story contains little plot. But, through Joe’s rich third person narrative, his storytelling and the dialogue, the reader is given an intimate glimpse into the lives of these characters, in particular, capturing the essence of Joe and Ty, their life together of some forty years, their deep love and enduring commitment to one another, as well as their love and caring for the children.
As with all his works, Mr. Seaton’s prose simply flows and his inimitable talent for weaving a story, regardless of length, immediately pulls the reader into Joe’s tale reminding us of the violence and destruction that occurred in settling the American frontier, and in this instance of the near decimation of the Plains and Great Basin Indian nations. Joe’s unique version of the outcome of the Meeker Massacre conjures up vivid images of Ute warriors on horseback and serves as a lesson in courage for the children, in particular his eldest grandnephew, Jason. The story also captures Mr. Seaton’s true love and respect of the history, land and peoples of Colorado – a staple of his writing.
I’ve mentioned in my review of Mr. Seaton’s previous work that it is always a pleasure to read one of his stories whether short fiction or novel, and The Gift of Stories is no exception. I highly recommend this short story to all. While I’ve read most of Mr. Seaton’s works, this story reminded me that there are a few by this author that I’ve yet to read, in particular, Stories From The Yampa Valley, and I hope to get to them soon.