Joel was worried. He was almost sure he had started down the right canyon, but he should have been able to see smoke from their cabin long before now.
Mother was probably worrying because he was so late. She had reminded him when he left home that morning everything would look different if it should start to snow.
“I know you have to check the sheep today, Joel,” she said, “even if it is Thanksgiving. But with those black clouds building up behind Gap Mountain, there will be snow before noon.”
Joel tied a scarf around his neck and pulled on his gloves. “I’ll be careful,” he said, wishing his mother would remember he was eleven now and could take care of himself. “Besides, I’ve been up to the sheep range nearly every day this month. I won’t get lost.”
Mother still looked worried, though, when Joel opened the cabin door to leave. He turned to look back. The big room was bright and warm and already smelled good from the pies that were baking in the oven. On the sideboard three chickens were ready to be stuffed. Joel hoped Father would make it home from the settlement in time for the special dinner.
It was a long walk up winding Lost Canyon and across Nameless Ridge to the flat meadow where the sheep were kept. But Joel finally checked the sheep and then started home.
While he was walking home, he remembered how he and his father and mother had come to this valley three years before. Then they had only two horses, a few sheep, and no home. He had helped his father build the cabin. Now they had more than fifty sheep and four cows. Their garden grew well too.
Even the Ute Indians who lived in the valley on the other side of Nameless Ridge were friendly now. Joel remembered how Chief Kanosh had threatened them when they first moved to the valley. But that seemed a long time ago. Joel’s father and mother had done many things to help the Indians, and in return the Indians had helped them a great deal. Kanosh’s wife visited with Joel’s mother often, and Joel enjoyed watching them talk in sign language.
Joel stopped walking and bent his head back. If he only knew where the sun was, he would be able to tell whether he was going the right way, but dark weighted clouds filled the whole sky.
Which way was home? Joel looked in every direction. He knew he was going down a canyon, but how could he tell if it were the right one!
Before long big snowflakes began to strike his cheeks. Joel could scarcely see the nearby trees.
He remembered how his father always said, “Now don’t be nervous.” It helped Joel to remember Father’s calm voice.
Joel wiped snowflakes off his nose and began to walk very fast, looking to his left to be sure the slope of the hill was still there. If so, he was near Nameless Ridge and couldn’t be lost. Home was only half a mile east of where the ridge ended.
Joel began to wonder if he were really following Nameless Ridge. The pine-covered slopes looked alike through the thickly falling snow.
Joel walked steadily on. The swirling white snow that lit on the ground was beginning to pile up. Walking seemed to be harder with each step.
After what seemed a long time, Joel felt the ground under his feet begin to rise steeply. Although he couldn’t see ahead, he knew he should not be climbing. If anything, he should be going downhill to reach the clearing where the cabin stood.
Joel took a shaky breath. He stood still. Then he slowly turned around and around. The whole world was white. Everywhere he went looked exactly the same.
“I’m lost,” Joel said aloud. “I’m really lost.”
Blinking hard, Joel looked around once more, but it was no use. He didn’t know which way to go. But he couldn’t stop moving or he might freeze. The world was cold and silent. All he could hear was the crunch of wet snow beneath his boots.
Then Joel stopped as he heard another sound. Was something coming behind him? Or did something move to his left? He held his breath to listen, but the snow muffled sound and changed it.
Coming from the trees behind him, Joel caught sight of a dark moving figure and two others following behind. The frightened boy watched the figures plod steadily closer.
As they came closer, Joel saw it was Chief Kanosh and his wife and their little boy! Joel was so happy to see the big Ute chief and his family that he grinned from ear to ear.
“You go wrong way,” said Chief Kanosh when he reached Joel. He pointed to the right. “Cabin is over there. We go together.”
Joel didn’t say a word as he fell into step behind Chief Kanosh. The four people pushed through the snow. In a short time Joel saw a break in the trees. Dark smoke rose from the chimney of their cabin.
A wagon was behind the barn. Father was home too!
Later that night after everyone had eaten all the roast chicken and stuffing, creamed corn, and squash pie they could hold, Chief Kanosh and his wife pulled their chairs in front of the fireplace beside Joel’s mother and father. Joel sat on the floor by the Indian boy.
“Well, Joel,” said his father, smiling. “We certainly have lots to be thankful for today.”
“We surely do, Father,” Joel agreed. “And one of the things I’m most thankful for tonight is that Mother invited Chief Kanosh and his family here for Thanksgiving dinner.”