We had to leave early, so they could get to a secret valley no one knew about where there were a lot of big deer.

I knew somehow that something had been leading me to the lake, from Oregon where Iíd saved the tropical fish from Ed Roperís gaff on The Blue Fin and got fired — maybe before that when Iíd lost the logging job in the labor strike and come to Mussel Bay for the salmon run.

The night at The Mast, the marine biologist Paul Banner had described the transparent lake and its folklore, when he learned Tug and I were going to Kootenay, two hours from the third-deepest body of freshwater in America (after Lake Chelan and then Crater Lake).

That was the first night I dreamed about Sleeping Child Lake.

We left Oregon the next morning, and by the Cinnamon River in Idaho an Indian boy at a crossroads store gave me the antler Sleeping Child, after weíd almost got in a wreck with a black car fleeing a sheriffís siren and flashing lights in the narrow gorge.

I saw the driverís young face as he grazed our fender and, up the road, he collided with two more cars before he lost control, became airborne and sailed into the river.

The first morning in Kootenay, Joyce gave back my carved antler. Iíd let her baby play with to get him to eat and, in the kitchen, she talked about the lake at length before she asked me to make love to her.

With Wes Blackdeer in Montana Iíd seen his motherís big Sleeping Child in her house on the Cottonwood Reservation and learned the Sleeping Childís story. Wes and I had found Joe Whitehorse crawling home along the road, the white figurine like my own dangling from a rawhide cord around his neck.

Mrs. Blackdeer said the Sleeping Child tried to wake from his bad dream.

Since leaving the coast, Iíd dreamed about the lake three times, about the warm-water fish that had swum out of its range, and about a green river that fed the lake — and a beautiful, young Indian woman who stood on the riverbank.

I thought I was on some strange path and, twice, I started to ask the yellow I Ching before I got superstitious and didnít want to know —

Ray was a gun nut and drinker and Tug and I had just missed a murder in Idaho, at an A&W: a spurned loverís revenge-killing had been reported on the radio and in the paper. His name was Stivers and it was his car that hit Tugís pickup by the Cinnamon River.

Iíd seen his thin mustache and doomed, aggressive face when I swerved and he brushed our front end and his window passed half a foot from my door as he hurried on toward his drowning death.

Heading to the lake without making a conscious move toward it made me gun-shy — the same sort of thing had happened before. As a kid on the ranch, I heard my pet peacock scream and looked up, just in time to duck a crowbar a drunken hired man swung, furious that my father had slept with his wife.

Near Seattle, a girl and I narrowly missed getting killed in a springtime meadow full of wildflowers, saved because I stopped for a sticker in my sock.

The yellow fish was the reason Iíd come to Montana, why I got let go from the salmon boat for fighting — the same day Tug was laid off from the factory that made cheap sofas.