Today my blog tour brings me to my home blog, Writer in Residence. Here’s an excerpt from Junction, Utah, illustrated with scenes from the novel. Happy reading!
Junction, Utah, Chapter 1 Excerpt
Moments of triumph on the river are often balanced by the practical. Sometimes you survive a monster run, then need to get to shore immediately while you keep an eye downstream and kick a popped oar back into place. Sometimes, too, you have to save someone’s life and stay as calm as pond water as you do. That last part, I realize, is my forté. Maybe I’m not mega-strong at the oars like they say my dad was. And I don’t bother nurturing people like my mom would, even when I’m the only woman on a river crew and they look to me for care. No, my claim to fame is that, when things go wrong, all I think about is coming to the rescue. I’ll focus on the other guy, get out of my body—so into lifesaving, I could be Supergirl. Or Achilles without the heel. I’ll burst out from under a flipped raft, in fast or rocky water, looking to save any swimmer and shove the boat to shore so we can right it, quick, before it’s lost.
My mom Ruth said it’s been true of me since I got my first oars. “Your dad was like that,” she told me, with light in her eyes. “Rescuing others. To a fault.” I listened, and I smiled when she hugged me, but when she looked to me for a reply, I didn’t have one. Her eyes filled with disappointment, a rare flicker of pain over my tendency toward silence. She’d been assured by doctors long before that my lack of words wasn’t due to any physical limitation; still, she seemed to hope for change. She sighed and hugged me again, assuring me it was okay, I should be who I am. She quoted Shakespeare—as she often did, being a voracious reader of verse: “To thine own self be true/and it must follow, as the night the day/thou canst not then be false to any man. Hamlet.”
Come to find out, though, not all people appreciate you as-is. I learned that the hard way. One time, when I was still greener at guiding than a river willow, I was on a three-raft float trip on the American, just drifting into the easy water near Gold Discovery Park. The hot, midsummer air had brought out the crowds. Looking for the river to cool them, families flowed together into a seamless horde that streamed from shore in inner tubes, kayaks, paddle rafts—anything that would float. It was a sort of Ganges River scene, one we were hoping to bypass.
Out of the crowd, two neophytes in matching camouflage cargo pants launched an aluminum canoe just ahead of us. At a glance I could tell the keeled canoe belonged on a lake. The two guys didn’t realize it, though, and they didn’t last long. Within minutes they’d wrapped on the big downstream boulder in Old Scary rapids. Only one of the paddlers stayed with the boat; the other washed downstream and swam to shore. I turned my attention to the marooned one. He looked small standing on his island of rock, hands clasping the waistband of his pants. I didn’t stop to chat, I just lined up on the tongue of the rapids, aimed for the little pocket eddy to the right of his boulder, and tied to an alder trunk. I called to the guy out in the river. Of course he’d dropped his paddle and lost his sunglasses. His eyes shone with big, bulgy fear.
Tossing him a line, I pointed to the canoe crossbar closest to him. He shrugged as if he didn’t understand, but with hand signaling I got the idea across. He tied the line to his boat, and I hitched the other end to mine. Then I jumped back to my rowing seat and pulled for the current. The river swept me downstream, dislodging the highly inappropriate craft and towing it behind.
I cheered, triumphant.
The rescued guy held to the canoe, full of water though it was, and drifted in his lifejacket. He seemed calmer now. To be kind, I vowed to say nothing about the silly, one-armed dog paddle he used to get to shore. But no sooner had we landed than he turned on me. “You’re just plain brave, aren’t you?”
My eyebrows shot up.
“That’s right,” said his friend. He coughed, soggy from his swim.
The rescued guy narrowed his formerly popping fish eyes to glittering slits. “You’re one tough chick. Just a Sacajawea in tennies, born too late.”
I was still breathing hard from rowing him free. I felt my blood race. What did he know about toughness—about losing your dad before you’re even born? About having just a mom, and one who’s fighting life-threatening illness at that? If the rescued guy knew toughness, I wouldn’t have had to bail him out.
I walked away, hotter than jalapeños, my mind full of curses I didn’t say. My neck burned knowing they were probably glaring at the rear of the skinny, long-legged, twenty-ish woman guide whose ponytail, bikini top, and Converse hightops shouted neighborhood babysitter, not whitewater goddess. Nonetheless, I’d pulled out their burning bacon.
“Bitch!” one of them called. They both laughed. “Say something!” They’d sure regained their guts, secure on shore. I didn’t look back.