Saturday, July 23, 2016

Did the original Bridge of the Gods have a toll?

This is my first rough draft of the second chapter. Struggles remain with this story and in some ways I feel compelled to just get stuff onto "paper" so I can clean it up and reorganize while knowing full well that I may not even like what I have. The idea of writing about historical events in fiction is so very intriguing to me and in that sense, I really want to make this work. However, my thoughts of how to do so are divided and it is showing in the writing -- the action is happening too fast -- huge momentous action scenes, such as an earthquake causing a mountainside to fall into a river, creating a huge wave that sets a canoe on the opposite shore's cliffside is a crazy, Hollywood-esque scene. I start and finish it with a few paragraphs. In chapter two, I have a man tumble down a huge set of rapids, nearly drowning and then saved within a few paragraphs. Perhaps I'm writing short story yet and I just haven't come to terms with it yet! And that is okay -- I'm used to being told things by my subconscious that I may not really like. 

Chapter 2

            The early flames of panic began to lick the mind of Nuua-Slingit. His canoe was laden with pelts and grains and admittedly, a canoe the size he was piloting really needed two people to safely navigate. He had seen the rapids as he ported his canoe and goods while going upstream. He was now coming upon them as he headed back home, downstream. The violent nature of the rapids, with huge boulders and boiling pools of green water made the decision to circumvent the water an obvious decision. This was his first trip from his home with the Clatsop people on the coast at the mouth of his river, to the Walla Walla tribe, who lived on the same river but three weeks east, into the dry lands.

As he approached these rapids from the eastern aspect he was on the north side of the river and unbeknownst to him, there was no place to pull the canoe ashore, as there was on the south side. A rocky shelf that abruptly ended, plunging into the river was all that the north shore provided. He had frantically tried to grab the rock to slow the canoe but only earned bloody and torn hands. When it became obvious he would enter the rapids with his canoe, he jumped into the cold water and held on to the side of the canoe in hopes of pushing off into relatively quiet pool close to shore. As soon as the canoe hit the first drop it pushed the back of the canoe, where Nuua-Slingit was holding on, violently sideways. He was flung backwards. The last thing he remembers is the searing pain in his back and gasping for air as his breath was knocked out of him.

            The small village of fishermen on the south side of the river had seen this seen unfold – they had yelled to him but the river was so wide that Nuua-Slingit could not hear them. One of the men had run to a small canoe on the sandy beach positioned downstream from the rapids. He paddled out into the river to find what he assumed would be the body of the unfortunate sailor. To his surprise Nuua-Slingit was alive, but bleeding and not breathing. The man pulled his upper body into his canoe and turned back to the river’s south shore. Nuua-Slingit coughed and river water shot out of his mouth. He began to gasp for air. By the time the rescuer had circled around to head to the south shore, the debris of the destroyed canoe and cargo was slowly bobbing away from the rapids.

            Nuua-Slingit’s survival was looked at with awe by the people who lived in this small village. Hundreds of people had accidently gone through the river’s gauntlet in the people’s memory and very few had survived, most were never found. For the first day he was delirious, refusing water and food and speaking gibberish. The eldest man, who functioned as the tribe’s doctor for most of his life, stayed with Nuua-Slingit in the same long-house. Through observation, the doctor recognized, by pressing his ear to his chest, that breath sounds were decreased on the patient’s right.  Also, the rise of the ribs was not the same, with the left side moving more. He had seen this previously and had learned from his mentor to craft a dried lambskin tube and insert it into the throat and push until the tube was in the chest. By marking the tube intermittently while it lay on the patient’s chest he could tell how far the tube was inserted. The tube was inserted and the doctor placed his moth around the end of the tube protruding from the mouth. Matching the inhalation pattern of the agitated patient he blew hard into the dried lambskin tube. He repeated this until the chest rose symmetrically.

            The days turned into a week and the delirium continued to slowly fade. Instead of fighting the sips of water offered by the doctor, he eagerly took them. His appetite returned with vigor.

            Nuua-Slingit stood by the fire for many hours after the others had gone to sleep. He had improved significantly in the past weeks since he had been recuperating from his disastrous canoe accident, but still struggled to sleep from the pain while lying down. Initially, the pain from his body weight pressing against his fractured ribs was enough to find sleep while in a sitting position. That had abated, but still, the very act of breathing was enough to keep all but the most desperate slumber at bay. Rib fractures are notorious slow to heal, as they must remain in motion. Nuua-Slingit had broken his arm as a child and knew the pain of a fractured bone.

            Despite the pain and the growing fear of how he was to get home, Nuua-Slingit began to enjoy the sleepless nights as best he could. The doctor, who was busy during the day tending to his own family and the ailments of the tribe would often stay up and talk with him. Nuua-Slingit was a young man, all of 23 years old and recently married with a baby one the way. He supposed that the baby may have already been born, as he planned his return to coincide with the delivery.

            The doctor told many stories – stories of triumph and heartbreak with all the people he had treated in his life. Nuua-Slingit’s favorite topic was the stories of how the rapids had formed – after all, the fishing village was close enough to the water’s edge so that the whitewater’s roar was ever present. Also, as he grew stronger he began to feel a sense of pride, albeit somewhat misplaced, that he had survived his calamitous accident.

            Ten generations earlier, a direct ancestor of the doctor was one of the few survivors from the tribe that inhabited the small fishing village, which at the time was not so small. A great shaking of the earth powerful enough to cleave the towering mountain on the north side of the river struck during a warm summer day. There was still evidence of this landslide, as the shear cliffs that apparently were only on the southern aspect of the mountain peak were striking. No trees grew there. The doctor said that if one were to climb one of the surrounding mountains and gain a bird’s perspective, it became clear that a landslide had pushed into the river, creating a bow in what was mostly a straight and broad river, for dozens of miles on either side. The river was noticeably narrower at the point where the rapids were, and clearly, the rapids were nothing more than the collapsed mountain that deigned to bury the river.

            Proudly the doctor told Nuua-Slingit how his forbearer survived when no one else did. He was saved by the river itself, as he fished with his net in the river, in his canoe, when the earthquake occurred. The massive movement of soil, trees and boulders pushed into the river creating a wave of gigantic proportions, one that lifted the canoe high into the air and as the wave crashed over the land, destroying the village and all living things in and around it, his ancestor was behind the crashing wave and ended up being gently deposited on the steep hillside that overlooked the village and river. As the water receded he watched from the side of the cliff as his loved ones and all he had known were swept into the river in a swirling mass of logs, trees, animals and people. The river itself had saved him and this was why the people who lived here revered the river and made their homes as close to the river’s edge as possible.

            Nuua-Slingit delighted in his imagination of what life was like for people who lived long before him. In his village there were stories of an earthen bridge that traversed the river, and this was collaborated with other stories the doctor told him during the cool sleepless nights. The landslide had come to rest on the south side of the river. It had created a damn, with a lake quickly forming behind it. The former place of the village was now a part of the earth, swallowed up with no trace left other than the debris floating to the sea. The lake continued to grow and push against the damn. Over the years, with the lake now many times wider than the original river, it pushed out the dirt from under the damn. At this point, the damn had become a conduit between the northern and southern tribes, which before had to rely on boats to ferry people and goods to each other. The river bed downstream still had water in it, but until larger tributaries further down stream joined the river, it was only a ribbon of flowing water with a mud field on either side.

            The river is relentless and turned the damn into a bridge. The lake drained and a surge of water pressed towards the ocean, yearning to make up the lost time. The shallow rapids that nearly killed him were the collapsed remnants of that earthen bridge.

Nuua-Slingit was nearing full health and he set out to build a canoe that would take him home to see his wife and firstborn child.


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