Chapter One Sam pictured himself as a hollow bone, stripped of the marrow that made him alive. A hollow man notices little. He barely registered his fellow passengers, the captain, and crew. He barely knew the name of the steamboat, or the ports they stopped in, Cincinnati, Louisville, Evansville . . . He did feel the force of the current, the urge of the river, westward, westward, down the Ohio River. As much as he could experience any emotion, he was glad. At night he dreamt of emptiness. He slept outside on the bow of the steamer, wrapped in the moon's misty light and curled up with his pet coyote. Sometimes he dreamt that he was a feather, drifting on the wind alone. He had heard Crow men, his friends, make a piping music with the hollow bone from the wing of an eagle. But Sam's flight made no music. The air passed through him, sterile, and no song filled his emptiness. For the past two years he had wandered as a beaver hunter through the Rocky Mountains and the huge plains that stretched from them to the Missouri River. Two weeks ago he had started home, drawn by a force he could not name. After traveling a thousand miles he found a world and a family he no longer knew. He felled his older brother with a fist. He said a hurried goodbye to his mother and his sisters, a last goodbye. In effect, he had tipped his life upside down and poured out his past, his family, his home. Now he was empty. It was Sam's nature to be curious, especially curious about people. Yet these days he wanted to talk only to his coyote, Coy. Why? He didn't know. He didn't always know himself. He paid attention mostly to the motion of the currents, downriver. He didn't see the passing woodlands of Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, though he knew they were beautiful. He used mostly his mind's eye. He saw stretches of plain so vast they must embrace the whole world. He saw mountains rolling sensuously against a lilac sky. He tasted the water in clear mountain creeks, so cold it hurt the gullet. He saw huge herds of buffalo running across the grasslands, so thick a man could dance across an entire herd and never touch the ground. He saw friends, both trappers and Indians. He saw his best friend, Blue Medicine Horse, and the woman he loved, Meadowlark. When he looked at his fellow passengers, and only then, he thought of what was behind him. Home, yes, maybe that was the word for it, which was closed to him now. He said the word in his mind only---homeless. He set his feet on the bow of the steamboat, which now rode the turbulent waters of the Ohio and would soon churn up the great Mississippi to St. Louis, the river town. There he would set off for the Rocky Mountains, alone. Home? He didn't know. He only wanted to be there, now. Sometimes, wrapped in his blankets on the bow, he had another dream. In this dream he was not a hollow feather floating on the wind. He was a buffalo, a buffalo not of the earthly world, but of another dimension, maybe the spirit world. There something happened to him and the buffalo, something that could not happen in the ordinary world. This realm seemed to him more real than the ordinary world, and more alive. In his dream he held his arms out toward the Spirit Buffalo, but it was always too far away, elusive, and mysterious. In the West, when he got there, he would feel the buffalo close again, and vital. He was aware that his companions on the boat had no thought of buffalo, and certainly not Spirit Buffalo. They cared nothing about the tow-headed youth who was obviously the expedition's poorest, least-educated, least-decorous passenger. They showed distaste for the dog that hung near him. (Sam had been obliged to lie to the captain that his coyote was a common dog.) Sam overheard the captain dismissing him curtly to Mrs. GoodBlevins, Win is the author of 'Beauty For Ashes ', published 2005 under ISBN 9780765344823 and ISBN 0765344823.