Miranda Amelia Harden is twelve years old and has lived all her life on her grandfather's mountain ranch. All Miranda wants is to live there, but the rest of the world can't seem to leave her alone. She has only two questions: how young is too young to know what you want? and how young is too young to achieve it?
Tara Carter was worried about the girl, though she knew it was none of her business. “As if I don’t have enough troubles of my own”, she told herself, but still it just didn’t seem right, that girl being all alone up there on the mountain with nothing but her grandfather and that old mare she came in on. Once a month, “regular as sunrise” as she liked to say, here she’d come, riding down into the valley with a few dozen fresh farm eggs, all carefully bundled and stowed, some goat cheese and some bars of homemade goat fudge, and every now and then a jar of fresh clean honey. She’d swing down off the horse and sling that satchel over her shoulder, bring it into Tara’s family’s little country store and hoist it onto the counter with barely a word, maybe a nod and a grunt as if she were a little cowboy from the movies.
Calvin Harden, Miranda’s grandfather, never accepted a dime for these offerings. He felt it was something he owed for the service the store provided of just being there when he needed it, as if his once a month dispatch into the known world was enough to keep it all waiting with endless patience for his trivial little gifts. Tara’s parents had been dealing with the man all their lives, so even Tara knew better when she was at the counter than to try and give the girl any cash. Instead they subtly subtracted a few bucks here and there from the running total as the grandfather - or the girl, whoever it was who came shopping if not both - piled up the items they needed. It usually wasn’t much, mostly ingredients like flour and sugar and oil and butter and rice and dry beans. They seemed to have everything else they required.
The Carters had other typical characters, who’d wander into the tiny town of Los Arboles every now and then to pick up a few things. Los Arboles wasn’t even properly a town, more a collection of houses and a post office and the Carter’s small country store. It was thirty miles from anywhere, and the few people who lived there practically drove their cars for a living, heading up over the mountains and down into the adjacent Valley of the Sand, where all the paying jobs were. Tara made that trek on most days. Her real job involved sitting at a desk and rearranging the data on spreadsheets according to arbitrary work orders that arrived from consultants worldwide. It was all part of “providing end-to-end solutions”, or whatever it was that Global Highware existed for. Except when she was back in Los Arboles, filling in for her aging mom or dad at their sorry excuse for a store, she was on the grid, full time. She couldn’t imagine being off that vast network of modern convenience that supplied her every need.
Calvin Harden never was a dirty hippie or anything like that. An old-fashioned rancher in some respects, he had also taken what he needed from the new. It was a hell of a lot easier that way. As a younger man he had put in some time in the military and then the shipyards down the south coast, and had some fruits of those labors arriving in the form of social security and pension benefits, all of which went directly into his bank account, “regular as sunrise” as he liked to say. Then when the first cellphone service went in, even way up there in the mountains, he was right on it, ordering up one of those smart phones which gave him and his granddaughter all the internet they’d ever need, featuring online banking, mail order shopping, entertainment and education and books and news and you name it. He’d grown up with candles and wood stoves, but went solar early on, and upgraded his installations every now and then so they had all their electrical requirements satisfied, even down to some of those internal oil heaters. It was a remote, country life and at the same time completely tied in to all the goings-on going on.
It was the only life Miranda had ever known. They owned a few hundred acres of mountain meadow and woodland high up in the Cybelline Mountains, where no road led, only a meandering secret trail. Their ranch was surrounded by so-called “open space”, land bought by urban trusts controlled by valley millionaires who wanted to keep their sacred views safe from the relentless pressures of human population growth. Those people must have loved sitting around their fire pits on their new condo decks sipping wine and looking up at all the pine wood and scrub up there, and that was fine by the Hardens. They had enough pasture for their goats and horses, wood for their stove and fences, room for the chickens to roam, and their own clear view of the dark night sky where the stars were still shining for them.
“She has to be lonely,” Tara Carter was thinking, “and what about friends? And what about school? That girl is only about eleven years old!”