This wagon train was formed in the mid 1840s for the trek to Oregon. Like most, it was formed of various families who found each other more or less good company. But unlike most, it was formed late in the season. To make up for lost time they were on the trail each day at first light, and camp wasn’t set until after sundown. But the green Missouri grass gave way to poor forage on the upland prairies. And the mules and oxen, so long in harness, came each day a little weaker to the task. They balked in every gully. No wonder. There was not much to sustain them in all those withered plains. The wagon master kept telling everyone they could get through the Rockies before heavy snows blocked the passes. But his repeating it made it sound more and more hollow. With each new day the sun’s glare showed all too clearly the risk of their venture. So it was a surprise, under a wilting sun and a general nervousness in the air, that a young man and woman could find each other. But these two did find each other, if only with glances and smiles. And they did fall in love if only in whispers and shy kisses, this seventeen-year-old boy and a girl just turned sixteen. They saw the future in each other’s eyes, a treasure far beyond Oregon. At Fort Laramie, the trappers and traders told the party they’d be fools to try to beat the snow into the mountains. But the wagon master said if they gave their animals some grain and a day’s rest they could make it. A meeting was held that night. And the train divided into those who could afford to stay the winter at the fort and those who could not. The boy would leave with the wagons in the morning. The girl would stay. But before parting they each bought a ledger, an empty book, and promised that every day, no matter how hurried or tired, they would write in their ledgers, if only one sentence. This way, at least later, there would be no gap in their life together. Through the long winter the girl watched the snow pile across the hills, deeper and deeper. Her heart was a small red coal blazing to life only in the pages of her ledger. But the snow gradually receded, the river ice broke and then she could not endure the days of waiting for the mud to resolve into prairie grass again. Then they were on the trail. They hacked through the old snow of the mountain passes. At The Dalles they got word of the party before them who had gone into the Klickitat foothills late that previous fall. So they rafted their wagons and crossed the Columbia River. Not long after, they saw old wheel ruts in the dried mud and they followed them up along a branch creek to a tree. In its trunk was carved the word FEVER, and beneath lay human bones. The girl leaped from the wagon and ran up through the trees. Her father shouted, “You’re dead if you go up there.” She didn’t care. What could she lose that she hadn’t lost already? She found the thin shacks hastily built against the winter and searched the remains until she found the ledger. She was not allowed to return to the wagons, but must be quarantined for three weeks. The train camped a couple of miles from the markings of that tree, and each day they left food for her in the grass. Anything said to her was shouted from a distance. It was just as well. Her own thoughts shouting within her she could not even whisper. The day before she was to be let back, she saw a few ripe berries, the first of the season, down a ravine. As she reached for them her foot was balanced on a basalt rock, and it crumbled under her. She fell thirty feet. Her neck and skull cracked. Nothing could be done. They buried her and the two precious ledgers near the ravine on a knoll. Years later the farmer who settled that land saw the weathered grave marker. When he heard the story he planted two cherry trees on that knoll. But he never harvested those cherries. He let the birds take them all. The roots of those trees grew so much together, and the trunks became like two parts of the same. Every year on the first warm days of spring those dark branches break forth in white blossoms. And later when the sun reaches its height of the year, birds come from every direction, from many miles away, to sing in the branches and eat those cherries, ripe and red as blood.