Gil Bean was born in Easton, Pennsylvania—where much of By the Breath of Their People is set—and raised in nearby Phillipsburg, New Jersey. After graduating from Bowling Green State University in Ohio, he pursued a career in technology that took him to locations throughout the eastern half of the United States. He eventually returned to the Delaware River Valley, moving to the Philadelphia area in 1995. The father of four grown children, he currently lives in Mays Landing, New Jersey with his wife, Deborah.
I was born and grew up where my story takes place. All around me there were places with Native American names—towns and townships, creeks and parks, streets and school districts—but, to me, they were just words. I never thought about the people who spoke them or whether or not they were authentic words or just someone else’s translation. It never occurred to me that the place where the Lehigh River spills into the Delaware was once sacred to an entire people, or that those people had been fishing in nearby streams for thousands of years.
As a teenager I drove up and down both sides of the Delaware River, past countless places where the terrain thrusts violently upward beneath a canopy of ancient trees, leveling off in unseen fields where boys from other times had found dozens of arrowheads in freshly ploughed soil. Not even for a moment did I slow down to think about what their lives may have been like, let alone the lives of the people who preceded them by centuries.
Much later I drove to the top of what is now called Morgan’s Hill to visit the graves of my mother and my paternal great-grandparents. From the cemetery, I looked out on the majesty of the Lehigh River Valley, which is merely beautiful until its bared trees are coated with winter snows and it becomes breathtaking. I still drive up Morgan’s Hill because now my father is buried there, as well. In the cemetery there are grave markers so old that the elements have completely obscured whatever they once had to say, but they are newly carved compared to the still buried artifacts of the forgotten people who roamed those inclines in equally forgotten times.
There are many ways to go home, and sometimes we make the trip unexpectedly. Inspiration creates the path—a path worn by a single file of travelers over millennia—and we travel back, not to where we were born, but to where we began.
I sincerely hope that you will enjoy my story.