Wednesday, April 27, 2016

While trying to fall asleep, which usually is not a problem for me, I've had my brain kindly bring up that one (take your pick) embarrassing episode from 9 years ago and I lay in bed just wincing at the memory. Or, perhaps its during a contemplative moment -- nevertheless, having these cringeworthy moments is a good way, provided they stay in check and an unstoppable avalanche of anxiety doesn't start to fall, to stay grounded -- to remember that all of us are vulnerable to doing stupid shit, at any time. Going back and reading old pieces of writing isn't so different. There are times I think, while checking out old short stories, essays, or whatnot, that "hey, you weren't a complete idiot back then." Most of the time, however it is very similar to that feeling of brain betrayal while trying to fall asleep. Right now, for instance, I went back to read the blog post detailing my plans for my first component of this project.  My main character, I say, is 3 years old. Well, I meant to have him at 13 years old -- and while this is not a big deal, I feel kinda the same as if I made a some faux pas at a big work party or something. And, while I don't edit or proof-read these blog posts as I would if they were being turned into a writing class (why I don't is a good question -- as presumably more people will read these things than a single professor) I may have to spend a little more time doing so. 

Well, here is my rough (read: 1980's skateboard griptape) draft for the first chapter. 

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Chapter 1


Even though the dull roar of the rapids and waterfalls ahead was still audible, the rest of the wilderness had grown quiet. The normally rambunctious wind was resting and the birds were caring for their own in their nests with quiet intensity. I was in the front of the 20 foot long dug-out canoe -- at 13 years old I was finally able to help my mother and father with the paddling duties. We were approaching the same spot where my father had nearly drowned 13 years earlier, as he was heading downstream on the mighty Columbia River as it passed through the sheer granite glacier carved cliffs that is the Columbia  River Gorge. He survived that accident and now was careful to seek portage before the swirling green waters became too treacherous and silently sped up in preparation for white water excitement. 

It was at this point that the hills began to shiver, which grew to full on shaking. It was disorienting at first -- to be rocking to the small waves of the river as we approached the shore and to reconcile the growing bouncing of the towering mountains on either side of river. We first heard the deafening roar before we saw the side of the northern mountain face begin to slide towards us -- with the tall David Douglas Fir trees pointing towards us instead of reaching for the sky as the earth sought to swallow. 

...

My name is Nuua-Chaahh and the day I was born my father was not there. He had been expected to return before the end of the summer, as he had all the years prior since he had begun trading with the Walla Walla tribe which was 3 weeks up river, on the other side of the mountains. My father did arrive soon after my birth. His delay was due to a near drowning while passing through the challenging rapids of the Columbia river as it passed through the Cascade mountain range in the dramatically glacier carved gorge. He was no worse for the wear but he was forced to stay with locals near the rapids while he recovered. I knew all of this not because I remember it but because it became lore and legend in our tribe, which sat at the sand dunes on the southern aspect of the mouth of the mighty Columbia River as it feeds into the Pacific Ocean. 

As I grew up in the shadow of my Father, like any young boy, who continued to annually travel east to trade with the powerful Walla Walla tribe I looked forward to the day when I could accompany him, and now my mother to visit the land where the hills were barren, only covered with the stubble of prairie grass and trees only found on the southern aspect of the rolling golden hills. I was used to towering evergreens and lush foliage of the northern Pacific coast where the living was relatively easy provided there was wood for the long house fire and men to hunt the seals, salmon and whales which formed the backbone of our sustenance. And indeed, this is what we traded with -- the oil from the whales, the pelts from the coastline fauna, the cured meat and of course, the shells. I didn't understand this at such a young age, but the Walla Walla tribe did not have many goods we needed -- except regional power and a chief with a daughter who was a year younger than I. My father started the relationship with the Walla Walla chief initially to gain power and prestige within his own tribe, however after a few years it morphed into an effort to have his first born son, your's truly, enter into matrimonial relations with the Walla Walla Chief's only daughter. 

The other young men of the Clatsop tribe yearned to reach the age where they could partake in the whale hunting parties that could take dozens of men in numerous sea going dug-out canoes out to sea for days at a time. I waited for the day I could accompany my parents to the dry side of the mountains  from where the sun was born every morning -- to the Walla Walla village. 

My father, Nuua-Slingit, had learned from the people that lived in the area of his near drowning about how generations prior there was a terrible earthquake that had caused the mountain to fall into the river. They described to places along the river where this had happened. The further east location was where the trees no longer grew and had caused large waterfalls to form from the mountain remnants. The area where he had to recuperate saw the river become much  narrower and thus swifter and the walls of the gorge were much steeper with the cliffs on either side turning the multitude of streams into waterfalls adding to the girth of the river as it headed to feed the sea. Nuua-Slingit would tell the story during potlatches about how the mountain created a damn, displacing the villages that were streamside, and how eventually this damn became a bridge, as the relentless river bored through the underside of the earthen barrier. This had collapsed into the waters many generations ago, adding to the already treacherous passing. It was this story that crept into the back of my mind as I saw the mountain crack in half.  

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I'm already becoming apprehensive about how to integrate the culture of the Native Americans I'm trying to write, along with the time period, which predates the Western naming of the regional landmarks. How far do I take it? Is it disrespectful to call the it the "Columbia River?" when this is obviously not a name that would mean squat to my characters? My instinct is to use these Western names in hopes that the reader understands that non disrespect is meant and that we have to use names. I have specific locations and events in mind that I'm basing this story around. 

Temptation lingers for the inclusion of footnotes; David Foster Wallace style. I've tried this in the past and couldn't control myself. It would make things easier and provide explanations that would only serve to weigh down the story itself. Perhaps I'll create some footnote ground rules for myself and explore that option. 

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