Jim Woodward, another shepherd Dave, and Tom depart for Horse Mountain. En route, Jim, who feels as if Tom somehow looks familiar to him, asks Tom a few questions; Tom responds with brief answers and mentions nothing of his career as a bronco rider. After they arrive at Jim's plot of land, Jim and Dave depart, leaving Tom alone in the area where he grew up with his parents. Tom enjoys the simplicity and routine of his life as a shepherd on the mountain. It affords him a lot of time in which to reflect on his past.
As the weeks pass by, Tom's experience as a sheepherder renews the appreciation for nature he had had as a young boy. He enjoys revisiting the rituals of his youth such as bathing in the icy cold water, feeding the creatures of the wilderness, and weaving baskets. He soon realizes that most of the pain in his leg has disappeared and that only a mild limp remains. When a man named Charley delivers some supplies, Tom realizes that something about the man reminds him of Red; consequently, Tom dreams of Red and Blue Elk that night. One day Jim comes to the mountain for a visit, informing Tom that he has realized why his face had looked familiar; he had seen a picture of Tom riding a bronco in an old magazine. Tom declines Jim's proposition that he continue his shepherding through the winter season. Jim informs Tom that he will be back to take the flock in about two weeks and then leaves the mountain.
Tom plans to travel to Albuquerque for a competition. He wants to practice in preparation for the competition, but he has no horses on which to ride. He decides he will rely on his old skills in the upcoming rides. Waiting for Jim's arrival, he spots Granite Peak and Bald Mountain, wishing he had the time to experience the seasons there. Contemplating his life, he admits that he acted bitterly and defensively for the majority of his life and has felt very alone. One day a bear viciously kills a lamb from the flock, wreaking havoc among the herd. He succeeds in controlling the herd but has difficulty sleeping that night as he recalls the events of the day. Worried that he has acted foolishly by failing to kill the bear, Tom searches for and locates bear tracks the following morning. That evening he becomes uneasy because of his awareness of the bear's presence in the area and regrets missing his first opportunity to kill it. Finally Tom drifts to sleep and dreams about his mother's death; his own singing of the death chant awakens him.
Chapter 45 marks a pivotal stage in Tom's emotional development. Before he returns to his homeland, he attempts to repress his emotions and memories. Because it is impossible to entirely repress these feelings, they manifest themselves through his treatment of other people and the horses he rides. However, when he returns to Horse Mountain to become a shepherd, the natural environment and the aimless hours provide him with an ideal opportunity to ponder his thoughts. He has not had such an opportunity for many years, since his life on the road, traveling from rodeo to rodeo, has occupied his time and effort. His station on Horse Mountain also facilitates his thoughts, and, while such a transformation may not have been possible during his travels, his homeland provides the ideal setting for reflection on his life in its entirety. Since he has come full circle, he may better assess his past by occupying the place he associates with his heritage as well as performing the same rituals he had performed as a Ute child.
In the process of self-exploration and a search for a sense of identity, Tom begins to understand the extent of his cruelty and isolation. His treatment of the broncos he rides represents the classic defense mechanism of projection. Projection occurs when a frustrated individual channels his anger in a way that society finds acceptable. In fact, Freud believed that individual frustration arises when external or internal barriers prevent the type of behavior that might directly remedy the frustration. In Tom's case, his Ute heritage provides an internal barrier; discouraged from living in the old Ute ways, he desires acceptance from his peers. People like Blue Elk, Benny, Albert Left Hand, and Red provide external barriers and take advantage of Tom's low self-confidence.
When Tom returns to his native environment, he resumes the activities of his Ute upbringing. His interaction with the creatures of the wilderness represents a renewed communion with the natural world. The environment and the renewal of the rituals of his heritage create a connection to his youth that he has not felt for decades. Borland writes, "Time, he thought, was like the onions he had just peeled. Layer on layer, and to get down to the heart of things you let the layers peel off, one by one."