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The Troll Garden and Selected Stories

The Enchanted Bluff
We had our swim before sundown, and while we were cooking our supper the oblique
rays of light made a dazzling glare on the white sand about us. The translucent red ball
itself sank behind the brown stretches of cornfield as we sat down to eat, and the warm
layer of air that had rested over the water and our clean sand bar grew fresher and
smelled of the rank ironweed and sunflowers growing on the flatter shore. The river was
brown and sluggish, like any other of the half-dozen streams that water the Nebraska corn
lands. On one shore was an irregular line of bald clay bluffs where a few scrub oaks with
thick trunks and flat, twisted tops threw light shadows on the long grass. The western
shore was low and level, with cornfields that stretched to the skyline, and all along the
water's edge were little sandy coves and beaches where slim cottonwoods and willow
saplings flickered.
The turbulence of the river in springtime discouraged milling, and, beyond keeping the
old red bridge in repair, the busy farmers did not concern themselves with the stream; so
the Sandtown boys were left in undisputed possession. In the autumn we hunted quail
through the miles of stubble and fodder land along the flat shore, and, after the winter
skating season was over and the ice had gone out, the spring freshets and flooded bottoms
gave us our great excitement of the year. The channel was never the same for two
successive seasons. Every spring the swollen stream undermined a bluff to the east, or bit
out a few acres of cornfield to the west and whirled the soil away, to deposit it in spumy
mud banks somewhere else. When the water fell low in midsummer, new sand bars were
thus exposed to dry and whiten in the August sun. Sometimes these were banked so
firmly that the fury of the next freshet failed to unseat them; the little willow seedlings
emerged triumphantly from the yellow froth, broke into spring leaf, shot up into summer
growth, and with their mesh of roots bound together the moist sand beneath them against
the batterings of another April. Here and there a cottonwood soon glittered among them,
quivering in the low current of air that, even on breathless days when the dust hung like
smoke above the wagon road, trembled along the face of the water.
It was on such an island, in the third summer of its yellow green, that we built our watch
fire; not in the thicket of dancing willow wands, but on the level terrace of fine sand
which had been added that spring; a little new bit of world, beautifully ridged with ripple
marks, and strewn with the tiny skeletons of turtles and fish, all as white and dry as if
they had been expertly cured. We had been careful not to mar the freshness of the place,
although we often swam to it on summer evenings and lay on the sand to rest.
This was our last watch fire of the year, and there were reasons why I should remember it
better than any of the others. Next week the other boys were to file back to their old
places in the Sandtown High School, but I was to go up to the Divide to teach my first
country school in the Norwegian district. I was already homesick at the thought of
quitting the boys with whom I had always played; of leaving the river, and going up into
a windy plain that was all windmills and cornfields and big pastures; where there was
 
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