Lily feels overwhelmed by grief following Helen’s death, and resents Red Lake for not affording her sister compassion when she needed it most. As time passes, the thought of having a baby helps ease her grief. To do so she will need a husband, though. Lily decides that she trusts Jim Smith, and without hesitation or any grand gestures asks him if he would like to marry her. She says that they must be equal partners in whatever they do, and that, despite his Mormon origins, he must not take other wives. Jim readily agrees, saying he has wanted to marry Lily since he saw her fall of the horse and get back on, and that she is as much woman as “any man can handle.”
Like most everything else in her life, marriage is something Lily takes into her own hands. She continues to never be content waiting around for things to happen to her. Her demand to be an equal partner with Jim is in keeping with the independence and self-reliance she has exhibited throughout the novel, while her demand that Jim not take more wives reflects lingering anxiety from her marriage to Ted.
Jim and Lily marry in the classroom once school is out for the summer, with Rooster as Jim’s best man. Despite feeling as though she has gotten a late start marrying at twenty-nine, Lily also feels her age might help her “enjoy the journey” even more. Jim agrees to leave Red Lake and move his garage to the more developed town of Ash Fork. Together they build a new sandstone garage by hand. Jim teaches Lily to pump gas, change oil, and fix flat tires, and she continues to pitch in even after she gets pregnant that winter. They also build their own house and install their own indoor plumbing. Lily is proud to have a flushing toilet and running water, much like the “rich people” she worked as a maid for in Chicago.
Lily and Jim are clearly well-matched, with both of them valuing hard work and self-reliance. Both also embrace modern technology, as shown by their choice to open a garage. Lily’s work ethic pushes her to keep going even in the late stages of pregnancy. On paper, she has also now achieved the “American Dream” by obtaining many of the luxury items she saw as a maid; later in the novel, however, she will change her conception of success.
When Lily is eight and a half months pregnant, Jim insists she stays home. She quickly gets cabin fever, and snaps at a pushy Jehova’s witness who comes to the door, angry with his insistence on telling her what to believe. Lily asserts that people need to find their own way to heaven. In her frustration, she accidently sits on a sewing needle. She takes this as a sign that she needs to get out of the house and insists on going back to work.
For Lily, hard work is an end unto itself; she will never be content to sit idly even when she has the means to. Her words to the Jehova’s witness also reflect her belief in self-reliance.
Two weeks later, Lily gives birth with the help of local midwife Granny Combs, who uses a “mind-over-matter” method to help her get through the pain. Granny Combs also tells fortunes and says the baby girl will be “a wanderer.” Lily names the baby Rosemary and notes that she looks like Helen. Considering Helen’s beauty to have been a curse, Lily vows never to tell Rosemary she is beautiful. A year and a half later Lily gives birth to a boy, this time at a modern hospital with the use of anesthesia—something she notes is much more effective than Granny Comb’s pain management method. They call him Little Jim.
Granny Combs’ fortune will come true later in the novel, as Rosemary leads a nomadic existence after marrying Rex Walls. Rosemary’s beauty and resemblance to Helen foreshadow the struggles she will have with men and also set the stage for Lily’s strict parenting as an attempt to protect her. As with other technology, Lily embraces modern anesthesia.
The country is now in the middle of the Great Depression, and hard times hit farmers who have farmed the land in northern Arizona “beyond its limit.” The garage loses business as people can no longer afford to buy gas, and Lily fears they will go into bankruptcy. One day Mr. Lee, a local Chinese man who made money selling bootleg alcohol during prohibition, comes by and asks Lily and Jim to hide some cases of booze while revenuers are onto him. Lily realizes she can make extra money selling it, and that revenuers would never suspect a mother of two. Jim reluctantly agrees, and Mr. Lee agrees to bring them two cases a month and split the profits. Lily proves an excellent and discreet liquor lady, and the extra money balances the family’s books.
Lily continues to be extremely resourceful and to do whatever it takes to keep her family afloat. She has no need for rules or laws that she deems arbitrary, and as such feels no guilt for selling bootleg liquor. The fact that it is Lily, and not Jim, who prevents the family from going bankrupt further emphasizes Lily’s strength despite living in a deeply sexist world.
That spring the Camel brothers, a pair of ranchers from a nearby town, drive their flock of sheep to a shipping station. There, a hand foolishly separates the lambs from their mothers. Chaos ensues as the ewes and hungry lambs try to reunite, and the ewes refuse to give milk to a lamb that is not their own. Jim has the idea of wiping the ewes’ noses with a kerosene-soaked rag, blocking their sense of smell so they will let any lamb feed. He then helps the brothers reunite the babies and their mothers. One lamb is left, having not been claimed by any ewe, and Jim declares that it is meant to be Rosemary’s pet. They name it Mei-Mei, Chinese for “little sister,” and it follows Rosemary everywhere.
Jim’s quick thinking reveals his intelligence when it comes to the natural world and importantly impresses the Camel brothers, who will recommend him to manage their ranch. The presence of Mei-Mei foreshadows the fact that Rosemary will grow to be a sensitive child, and later teenager, who hates to see animals caged or mistreated.
Later a man pulls up to the house in a car with two women sitting inside and asks to buy alcohol. Sensing he is already drunk, Lily refuses, causing him to become angry and call her “the sister of a whore who’d hanged herself.” Lily grabs her gun and points it in his face, saying the only reason she won’t shoot is because of the women in the car, and he angrily leaves. Two days later two men in uniform with badges and guns come to the house and ask about liquor being illegally sold. Rosemary throws a fit when she sees the officers, and Lily insists she is just a teacher and mother with her hands full. The officers believe her and leave, and Lily is amused at having fooled them. Jim insists they get out of the bootleg business, however, and within six months the bank forecloses on them.
Lily once again stands up to a man without hesitation. She then uses sexist beliefs about women as submissive, docile, and pure to her advantage, fooling officials into thinking she could not possibly be running an illegal business. The fact that the family so quickly goes bankrupt after Lily stops selling reveals how instrumental her efforts were in keeping her family afloat.
Lily and Jim decide to auction off their belongings and look for work in California. Before they leave, one of the Camel brothers, Blackie, stops by to tell them he sold his ranch to English investors (whom they call “Poms”), who need someone to manage it. He recommends Jim, who gets the job. The family moves to the nearby town of Seligman—an easy journey because the road has been paved for the first time. The ranch is another full day’s ride and extremely isolated; Lily cannot see the “slightest sign of civilization.”
Lily and Jim’s understanding of the natural world helps them avoid disaster and prepares them to take advantage of this now opportunity. The paved road to Seligman represents the continued march of modernization, though ultimately Lily will once again be living in relative isolation from the rest of society—and as such forced to rely on herself to survive.
The ranch is very large and in solid working condition, and has a garage filled with twenty-six different vehicles, ranging from covered wagons to a Chevy pickup truck. Lily knows she and Jim will have to play every role on the ranch, but that they are both prepared for it. She momentarily misses things like indoor plumbing, but understands that luxuries are not necessities.
The garage is akin to a museum of various technologies, including those from Lily’s childhood. This is fitting, because she will need to draw on the lessons from her past to succeed on the ranch. Importantly, her success up to this point in life has not clouded her judgment, and she is still able to live simply.
The ranch is over 100,000 acres, and it will take them a week to tour the perimeter. The family tours the land for ten days but finds no natural source of water. Lily suggests renting a bulldozer to build a dam, and writes up calculations about how much more money having a reliable source of water would eventually bring in. The English investors visit, and Jim presents the idea; they agree, and soon enough they are able to get a bulldozer to the ranch. They build dams all over the ranch, including a large one in front of the house. That winter it fills with rain, and people come from all over to swim and fill buckets of water. It becomes known as “Big Jim’s Dam,” and eventually simply “Big Jim.”
Lily continues to be an invaluable partner in her marriage with Jim. Her suggestion of using a bulldozer reflects her ability to embrace modern technology, even if it means changing the natural world. Technology allows her and Jim to control parts of nature in a way she never could as a child. In fact, the dam itself is named after Jim—representing their newfound ability to make the land work for them, at least at times.
With prices still low from the Great Depression, Jim is able to buy cattle for cheap and hire twelve cowboys to drive the cattle to the ranch. Lily tries to keep Rosemary away from them. Rosemary is like a “half-broke” horse herself, Lily thinks, in that she is happiest running free outside. She proves unafraid of coyotes or wolves, and hates seeing animals penned in. The Poms send Jim a pureblooded Guernsey cow named Bossie in appreciation for his work at the ranch. One day her stall is left unlatched, and she dies after devouring an entire bag of feed. Rosemary insists Little Jim did it, but Lily doesn’t believe her and says that sometimes animals don’t know what to do with freedom, and “it kills them.”
Jim, like Lily, is both pragmatic and forward-thinking. Lily’s concern over Rosemary being around men stems from her awareness of the way society treats women who stray. This is not the last time Lily will compare her daughter to a half-broke horse, and Rosemary will continue to buck societal rules throughout her life. Like Bossie, Rosemary hates being penned in, but does not yet understand the danger too much freedom or indulgence can pose.
To manage her workload at the ranch, Lily says she will not do any unnecessary cleaning, or “maids work.” This includes washing clothes, which she brings into town to be steam cleaned, and their Levi’s, which they never wash; they in fact appreciate them getting so caked with grime that they are briar- and waterproof. Lily also keeps the cooking simple, making steak, potatoes, and beans seasoned with salt. She makes cottage cheese once, but it is devoured so quickly that she declares it a complete waste of time.
Lily rejects many typical aspects of women’s work—in effect, behaving in the exact opposite way from Mom, who did housekeeping but not manual labor. Lily wants to only engage in labor that has a purpose beyond aesthetics, reflecting her eminently practical, resourceful nature.
Lily senses a growing tension between herself and Rosemary, who has become more rambunctious after spending time out repairing fences with Jim. Lily drills her on arithmetic and spelling and worries that Rosemary is too unfocused, noting how much work she herself was already doing at age four. Rosemary constantly gets into dangerous situations and is accident-prone. Lily refuses to “mollycoddle” her, insisting she learn from her mistakes—even when her dress catches on fire after hovering over a jack-o’-lantern.
The tension between Lily and her daughter will grow throughout the novel, as Rosemary—still very much a half-broke horse—remains resistant to the many lessons Lily wishes to teach her. Rosemary setting herself on fire mirrors a scene in author Jeannette Walls’ memoir The Glass Castle, in which a young Walls—Rosemary’s daughter—accidentally lights herself on fire while making hot dogs when Rosemary is not watching.
That winter Lily and Jim buy a long-range radio, along with two giant batteries, since they still don’t have electricity. World War II is brewing in Europe, but they are more interested in listening to the weather forecasts each morning, since this has a huge effect on life at the ranch. The children love storms and play in the water and mud after them. Jim says there is nothing like water in the world, and they need to both cherish and fear it.
The radio is yet another piece of modern technology making its way into Lily’s world and, by sharing the forecast, improving life on the ranch. Nevertheless, technology cannot defeat the natural world. Jim’s speech about water foreshadows the drought and floods soon to come.
Over the next year, a serious drought occurs and Lily and Jim save the ranch by hauling drums of water from another town. When the rains return in August, they threaten to break the dam. Lily and Jim decide they need to create furrows to divert the water. They hitch a plow to the Chevy, with Lily in the driver’s seat while Jim shouts directions. Their dam holds, though many others are destroyed. The next day, the ranch is covered with colorful flowers, their seeds having been turned up by the water.
Even with technological innovation, nature still dictates life on the ranch. Through hard work—and the help of an automobile—Lily and Jim are able to keep the ranch running. The flowers at the end of the chapter represent the fact that even as nature can be destructive, it also creates beauty and life.