When the Legends Die
Part IV: The Mountains: Chapter 46–49
When Jim Woodward arrives, he and Tom begin to herd the sheep from the mountain. Glancing once more at Granite Peak and Bald Mountain before moving down to the camp below, Tom tells Jim about the incident with the bear. The morning after they spend the night in camp, Jim gives Tom a ride to Piedra. Tom travels by foot to Pagosa, where he visits hardware store. With a loaded pack, Tom makes the journey back to Horse Mountain, making certain that no one sees him leave town.
Determined to kill the bear that killed the lamb, Tom returns to the mountain. When he finds its claw marks in the dirt he knows that the bear has remained in the area. He follows the trail of the prints for several days. Tom stops to kill a deer and appease his growling stomach. After he has already eaten a slice of the meat, he regrets not having sung the deer chant. That night, bad dreams plague Tom's sleep. The next morning, Tom continues to follow the prints to Granite Peak. There he spends the night and attempts to think the way a bear would in order to estimate its location with greater accuracy. The next morning, Tom finds the partially eaten carcass of a doe. Hiding nearby, ready with a rifle, Tom waits for the bear to return to the carcass.
After a long wait, the afternoon passes into darkness, and Tom feels chilled and drifts off to sleep. Starting at the sight of movement, Tom spots not a bear but a woman, the "All-Mother." This All-Mother, the Ute representation of all mothers and grandmothers throughout time, chants a pleading song; Tom soon joins her in the song. She disappears at the conclusion of the chant, and Tom opens his eyes to see the bear. Aiming his rifle at the bear, Tom becomes dismayed when he simply cannot force his finger to pull the trigger. Tom's pulse pounds to the beat of the All-Mother's chant, as does a question in his head; "Who are you?" At sunrise the bear leaves and, during the night, the All-Mother reappears and resumes her chant. In the early morning, after bathing in the icy pool, Tom watches the sunrise. Naked and unarmed, Tom then heads back to the mountain peak and drifts off to sleep atop the mountain, under the stars. In his dreams, the mountain demands that Tom identify himself. At that moment, the All-Mother appears, claiming Tom as her son. Awakening to find himself surrounded by the white light of truth, he sings a chant to the new day. Tom draws a deer in the sand. Apologizing to the deer for having wasted its parts and having denied the teachings of his past, he scatters some flour as an offering. He then waits in the bushes and quickly kills a deer, performing the traditional ritual of offering the deer's blood to the Earth. That night he sleeps peacefully.
Tom builds a lodge on Granite Peak and begins living in the old Ute way. Winter passes without difficulty as Tom has prepared for it well. Tom, contemplating his past in his solitude, gradually overcomes the pain of his past. Ridding himself of his identity as "Killer Tom Black," Tom defines himself as a Ute, Tom Black Bull, once again. Tom determines he will travel to Pagosa and talk with Jim Thatcher; he seeks an understanding of Blue Elk's motives in mistreating his own people. As the sun sets, Tom chooses a scenic spot on the mountain and chants to himself in peace, harmony, and happiness.
The cyclical nature of the novel and of Tom's life becomes clear when Tom not only returns to the environment in which he was born, but also in his emotional return to the beliefs of his childhood. He once again remarks on the "roundness" of which his mother had taught him, which signifies his sense of the continuity of the Ute tradition as well as the spiritual sense of eternity. Borland writes, "He looked at the sky, the blue roundness of the sky, and he looked at the roundness of the aspen trunks. He closed his eyes and sang a silent chant to the roundness of all things, the great roundness of life."
During the climatic scene of the novel in which the All-Mother appears to Tom, colors play a significant symbolic role. White, blue, yellow and black appear to dance in the sky before becoming men who perform the bear dance. White plays perhaps the most important symbolic role in this part of the novel. After the All-Mother claims Tom as his son in Chapter 48, Borland writes, "Then he wakened, and the white was all around him, the white light of truth and understanding." White represents the "All-Mother," as well as the spiritual life in general. Both the multiple scenes with the All-Mother and his rebirth through the bathing ritual mark his growing spiritual maturity and his acceptance of the old ways.
The longest chapter in the novel, Chapter 48, provides the climax of the book and the turning point in Tom's life. After the All-Mother appears and chants to him, Tom undergoes a spiritual and emotional transformation. However, his rebirth does not become complete until his early morning bath; his disunion with nature manifests itself in his feelings of physical illness. His bath, however, represents a kind of baptismal ceremony. The preacher in Pagosa baptizes him in the Christian faith. Because Tom has no affiliation with or belief in Christian religion, the baptism has no significance to him. However, Tom has participated in the Ute ritual of bathing in an icy cold creek since his early childhood. His return to this practice marks his renewed embrace of the old ways.
The last chapter in the novel begins with a passage that speaks to Tom's growing contentment in his return to his Ute lifestyle, and his consequent growing connection to the natural world. Borland writes, "Hard frost came and passed. Aspen leaves fell and lay crisp and briefly yellow in the valleys, and the dark flame of the scrub oaks faded to the brown of their bitter little acorns. The sky was clean and clear, the air was crisp. The season turned to that pause when the mountains rest between summer and winter and a man knows, if there is any understanding in him, the truth of his own being."
Also in the last chapter, Tom grows disgusted by his own consistently self- destructive behavior. He recognizes the futility of his aggression toward himself and others, and begins constructive processes for the first time since he has left he wilderness. "Only to find, when the moment came, that he had done his killing, killed so many things, so many memories, that there was nothing to kill except himself. Facing that and not knowing who he was, forgetting even his own identity, he didn't kill the bear. He went in search of himself." He has grown tired of killing, and his return to his roots has rendered this killing disgusting and wrong.
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