Chapter 2: His Separate Shadow

Reuben tells us that his survival is his father’s first miracle. The second is that the doctor was wrong about him being brain damaged. The third is a bit more startling to Reuben than Jeremiah saving his son’s life. It is the trip when he shot his first goose. He, his sixteen year-old brother, Davy, his eight year-old sister, Swede, and his father are on their way to the farm of a friend, August Schultz, to go goose hunting. They are riding in their old Plymouth, which has a defective heater, and so Reuben and his sister, Swede, are all wrapped up in blankets in the back seat. In the front seat sit his father and Davy, who never speak a word to each other for the entire trip.


Before dawn, they are settled among decoys in one of August’s barley fields. It is a cold morning with freezing rain. Reuben, who had never yet shot his first goose, is nearly asleep on the ground when suddenly a lone goose approaches them. Davy spins Reuben from his stomach to his back as the bird takes off and shoves the rifle into his hands. Reuben misses the first two shots, and then because he doesn’t want to bear the shame of having lost the bird, he desperately shoots again even though he thinks the bird is out of range. Unbelievably, the bird is hit and makes a controlled flight to the ground and Davy tells Reuben to go finish it off. Instead, Swede jumps up and chases the bird. The bird sees Swede coming and begins to run faster than Reuben could ever have believed. That just makes Swede run harder and causes Dad to begin laughing. That goose still owns its spirit and Swede says later that it had decided to kill her. Dad continues to laugh so hard that he has to sit down hard on the ground wiping his eyes. Suddenly, Davy leans out and captures the bird behind its head and quickly snaps its neck. He hands it to Reuben with the words, “All yours, Natty Bumppo” after the character in the novel by James Fenimore Cooper. It is a wonderful moment for Reuben who feels a change in his life.

When they return to the farm, Reuben is expected to clean the bird himself. Davy offers to help him, but Reuben refuses even though he’d like his help. He wants to continue this rite of passage that will help lead him to manhood. Swede stands with him, telling him each step, until he tells her to let him do it. She sticks around, because she wants him to forgive her for running from the goose. He loudly forgives her and then asks the question they both have to have been thinking about: “What’s wrong with Davy?” Finally, she tells him what she knows that he doesn’t - two boys named Israel Finch and Tommy Basca walked into the girls’ locker room after the football game and beat up Davy’s girlfriend, Dolly. Jeremiah, the school janitor, saw them go in and followed them. He chased them off, but none of them have any details, because Dad won’t talk to Davy about it.

The next morning, Reuben wakes up from a dream he’d been having of a reptile of some kind to Davy wiping down his rifle. They heard there are some Canadian geese on the west quarter and they‘re going out again. Davy brings up the subject of the two boys who had hurt Dolly by warning him that they had threatened to harm Dad and his family. He want to make sure that Reuben and Swede look out for them. They walk to the west quarter and see a whole flock of the geese. Unfortunately, something spooks them, and they fly off. (Strangely, Reuben had never thought of the fact that he was going to kill a living being until he sees these geese.) Then his father tells them to lie back down, because again, a goose had broken off from the group. The goose begins a wide swing around the field while Reuben watches his brother seem to melt into a rock pile, hunting as if alone, and when it makes another swing around them heading south, Davy calmly gets to one knee and shoots it out of the sky.

That night as he and his sister lay under mounds of quilts in August’s house, he asks her what she thinks Davy will do about those guys. Swede thinks they’re just windbags and bullies and that Dad punished them enough. But Reuben feels like Davy thinks Dad didn’t go far enough. Swede’s response is that she’d hate to be those guys when Davy gets ahold of them. Reuben still worries, because he doesn’t think those two are as unimportant as Swede describes them. They are serious trouble in their little town of Roofing, Minnesota, not just bullies.

Reuben can hear the adults talking quietly in the kitchen about their memories of their youth together and how after the Dust Bowl, they were no longer farm owners, but renters, or in their case, a school janitor. As Swede returns to her own room to sleep, she kisses her brother sweetly and says he’s almost like Davy now that he’s gotten his first goose. Reuben, however, feels otherwise. Davy aiming and shooting that goose is an image that Reuben will keep with him forever. He says about his brother, “Not confidence - I understand confidence. What Davy has is knowledge.” (page 16)

Reuben has a terrible dream that night in which he is crossing a shallow river that smells of dying plants. He is surrounded by mist that suddenly lifts and he sees a dead horse on the shore, its tail in the river. He awakes gasping and is afraid to go back to sleep in fear that there is something worse on the shore than the dead horse. He realizes that he has to go to the outhouse and something that he usually dreads because of the dark, now relieves him. On his way, Reuben witnesses the third miracle. His father is pacing the bed of the old grain truck and praying. This is nothing unusual about his father pacing and praying. He often does so and especially when he is suffering from a troubled heart. Then, as Reuben stands watching, his father walks right off the edge of the truck. He wants to shout out a warning just before it happens, but Reuben is frozen tight. Then, his father goes over the edge, but does not fall! He goes on pacing and praying relentlessly about three feet off the ground. Reuben believes he is praying for Davy and the situation with the town bullies, but unbelievably, he hears his own name just as his father’s boot soles strike the boards of the truck bed again.

Notes

There are several important factors to this chapter. The first concerns the miracles Reuben witnesses in connection with his father. This will be a motif throughout the novel. The second concerns Reuben’s dreams. Like his father, who seems to be able to perform miracles as a result of his deep love of God, Reuben has a kind of premonition of events because of his dreams. They are often indicative of coming danger. The third and last factor is the sense that something bad will happen because of Davy’s feeling about the bullies and his skill with a rifle.

The title is a sign that Jeremiah Land is different from his family and other people. His has this deep abiding love for God, talks to Him regularly, and is rewarded with the ability to create miracles. There will be others as the plot unfolds.

Cite this page:

Clapsaddle, Diane. "TheBestNotes on Peace Like a River". TheBestNotes.com. . 09 May 2017
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