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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
"There is a time in the last few days of summer when the ripeness of autumn fills the air, and time is quiet and mellow." Antonio lives that time fully. He becomes aware of a new world opening up to him. He walks with Ultima in the mornings in the hills of the llano and they gather wild herbs and roots for medicines. He carries a small shovel and she carries a gunny sack. When she sees a plant or root she needs she calls out about her luck in finding "la yerba del manso! (the gentle herb)." Then she leads Antonio to the plant and points out its qualities for him.
Ultima teaches Antonio that plants have a spirit. Before he can dig, he speaks to the plant and tells it why they are pulling it from its home. Ultima says and Antonio says after her "we lift you to make good medicine." Then Antonio carefully digs the plant out making sure the steel of the shovel does not touch the roots. The yerba del manso is the most magical plant they gather. It cures burns, sores, piles, colic, dysentery, and rheumatism. Antonio's mother often uses the plant herself. Ultima carefully lifts the plant and examines it by pinching a portion off and tasting it. She takes the same pinch and puts it into a bag which she has tied around her waist. The bag contains a pinch of all the plants she has ever gathered.
She tells Antonio that long ago before the train came to Las Pasturas and before the Lunas arrived in the valley, even before the great Coronado (one of the Spanish Conquistadores) built his bridge--, but before she finishes, Antonio's thoughts get lost in the puzzle of time and history he does not know. They walk on further and find some orégano, a cure for coughs and fever, but also a spice for beans and meat. They also find some oshá, a cure for everything: coughs, colds, cuts, bruises, rheumatism, and stomach aches. Antonio remembers his father's stories of sheepherders sprinkling oshá on their bedrolls to keep snakes away. Ultima had washed Antonio's face and feet with oshá the night of Lupito's death.
Ultima is happy out in the hills. Antonio recognizes a nobility in her walk. He watches her carefully and imitates her walk. When he does, he is not lost in the huge landscape. He realizes he is an important part of the llano and the river. Ultima cries out with joy when she comes upon a "tunas" (prickly pear). Antonio gathers them and they sit in the shade of poplars and eat them. The presence of the river watches over them. It makes Antonio wonder about Lupito's soul.
He tells Ultima he will soon go to visit his uncles in El Puerto. Ultima tells him she is old friends with his grandfather and that she lived in El Puerto years ago. He asks her why the Lunas are so strange and quiet while the Márezes are so loud. She tells him it is in the Lunas' blood to be quiet. She says only a quiet man can learn the earth's secrets for planting. The Lunas are quiet like the moon. She adds that it is in the Márez's blood to be wild like the ocean. After a while Antonio tells her they are near the llano and the river and that he loves both of them. He wonders which life he will choose. Ultima assures him he has plenty of time to decide.
They sit quietly and feel the wind. The silence speaks to them. He asks Ultima what it is and she says it is the presence of the river. Antonio thinks "the presence is immense, lifeless, yet throbbing with its secret message." He asks if it can speak and Ultima says it does if he listens carefully. He asks if she can speak to it and Ultima tells him he wants to know so much. As they talk, the presence leaves them. They head for home. Antonio knows Ultima did not answer his question because he was not yet ready to understand it. He is not afraid any longer of the presence of the river.
On their way home they find some manzanilla (chamomile). Ultima tells Antonio of how she treated his brother León when he was born. His mollera (the crown of his head) was sunken in and she cured him with manzanilla. She speaks further of the herbs and medicines they share with the Indians of the Rio del Norte (River of the North). She also speaks of the ancient medicines of other tribes, the Aztecas, Mayas, and those of the old country, the Moors. Antonio does not listen to her because he is thinking about his brothers.
When they arrive home, they dry the plants on the top of the chicken shed. Antonio knows Ultima has many plants she cannot gather in her region, but people who come to her for cures bring her herbs and roots from their area. She especially prizes plants from the mountains. When they finish placing the plants to dry, they go inside and eat delicious hot beans. María announces that it is time to help the Lunas with the harvest. Her brother Juan has sent word. The family visits the Lunas once a year to visit their grandfather and uncles and to help with the harvest. They bring María's share home with them. Juan has told María there is plenty of corn, red chile, and fruit. The Lunas' apples are famous in the state.
Antonio steps out of the kitchen and goes to Jasón's house where he plays all afternoon. Then Antonio goes to the river and cuts wild alfalfa for the rabbits' food on the days he is gone. Late afternoon brings his father home from work. After supper the family prays the rosary every day. They gather in the sala where the altar is. María has a beautiful statue of the Virgen de Guadalupe. It is two feet high. She is dressed in a long, flowing blue gown, and she stands on the horned moon. At her feet are the winged heads of angels who are the babies of Limbo. She wears a crown because she is the queen of heaven. Antonio loves the Virgin more than anyone else.