A complete rewrite of the first chapter. I read the other chapter, with some editing, at a writing workshop last week and it fell flat. I received many solid critiques, namely that I was overreaching with my flashback scenes in the rough draft and that my mixing of modern "white-man" terms with Native American terms was confusing, and a little patronizing. I also took the outright references to the landmarks, rivers and mountains out and described them without the names. Simple things, like describing the canoe as being the length of 5 men laid end to end, versus a canoe 30 feet long. It has to be kept simple, though, and describing long distances, such as the width of the river is more difficult. We'll see how it shakes out. It will be an ongoing challenge to balance this particular facet of the story telling. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't looking forward to the modern stories.
Chapter 1 (first major rewrite)
The biggest were the size of my hand. The thick line of raised scaly ridges broke the water close enough for me to touch them. It prompted my dad, in the front of the dugout canoe, to thrust his fishing net into the cold swift river water. I could see the fish now, which was at least half-as long as this canoe, which measured 5 grown men from head-to-toe long. It swam into the net. The canoe lurched forward ensuring my dad, at the front, my mother in the middle and me in the back went tumbling backwards. I hit my head hard on a cedar box secured to the stern of the canoe, dislodging a pile of sea otter pelts and burying my upper body in stinky oily fur.
I climbed out from under the pelts with much effort and found my parents holding their bellies from laughter. The sturgeon had taken the net when my dad lost his grip and we could see the wooden handle bob across the surface of the river. This was not the first time a net was lost and there were more in the canoe.
“We're getting close to the waterfalls. Let us stay close to shore as we come around the next bend.” My father said, still smiling while he watched me restack and tie down the pelts.
Now that I was thirteen years old I was expected to be able to man the most posterior position and handle all the responsibilities concerning paddling this large canoe. I had grown a lot in the past year but was still a smaller version of my father. We both had the long black hair separated into a handful of braids with seashells as clasps; his was much longer than mine. We also shared broad shoulders upon which hung determined muscles of our torsos, his much more developed than mine.
Sunshine and a warm breeze filled the gorge through which a mighty river flowed. We had started our journey in this canoe three weeks prior, from the southern aspect of where this river meets the sea. A wide tumultuous area of water, where the sweet water mixes with the dominating saltwater; this, along with the winds and frequent storms characterizes the nature of the river where we lived. Learning to pilot a canoe in dangerous waters like that allowed for carefree enjoyment of paddling the canoe on this protected stretch of river. On both sides of the river rose vertical granite walls. This was the beginning of summer and the waterfalls that plummeted over the cliffs looked like slivers of clamshell interiors stacked up along the cliff.
“How soon until we land, dad?”
Here the riverbank was rocky and uneven with no obvious good place to pull the canoe ashore. Stories that my dad had told me since I was old enough to understand him described the stretch of river we were coming upon. The year I was born, my father had been on the return leg of this very same journey and nearly drowned. At no point was this a lazy river but this area was impassable by any ship, marked by rapids and numerous disjointed waterfalls. Even the salmon had to fling themselves out of the water in hopes of climbing the smaller boulders as they returned home to spawn. The people who lived here had constructed boards that jutted out over the whitewater allowing them to catch a flying fish with their net.
“Don’t worry, Nuua-Chaahh” said my dad, “in a just a bit we’ll have a sandy beach that will allow us to push up right out of the water.”
My father, Nuua-Slingit had done this every summer for the past fifteen years and knew what he spoke of. As soon as we passed the bend and I could see past the rocky outcropping, the still dull roar of the rapids surrounded us. The sandy beach that eased out from the river on the beach was obvious and I started to point the bow in that direction. I began to breath hard as I paddled, trying to gain enough speed to beach our canoe. At first I was not sure if the low rumbling was in my ears alone but suspicion was confirmed with the look on my mother’s face. Wide-eyed she was staring at the northern shore, across the river from us, which was shaking back and forth. I turned my head back around and saw the beach, which we were fast approaching, shaking back and forth, too. I resumed paddling, imagining that we should beach the canoe and run into the forest. We hit the beach with a lurch. This time we were all ready for it and jumped out started to pull the canoe up onto the land.
We had the canoe half way out of the water and the earth was still shaking; it had been at least 20 seconds thus far. The roaring of the shaking was marked by a sound like I had never heard before; like a stone striking another stone but so loud and pervasive that we all turned to face the mountain peak north of the river. The side of the mountain facing the river has falling towards us, towards the river. The David Douglas trees, which sat so majestic and silent, reaching for the sky, were now pointed towards us -- and coming fast.
“Laana-Tshimshian! Nuua-Chaahh! Get the boat back into the water!” My father yelled frantically at my mother and I. I was still frantically was pulling the canoe onto the sand, not understanding why he wanted the boat back into the river.
The side of the mountain continued to separate and fall towards us. Whether or not the earthquake had subsided none of us knew. The sound and vibrations from the mountain on the move took up where the earthquake would have left off. My father had run around the side of the canoe and was now pointing and pushing for my mother and I to get the canoe back into the water. It was clear that there was no arguing with him.
We pushed off into the water and with my father in the back of the canoe he told us to paddle straight out from the shore. We did. The mountainside had reached the basin and was now entering the water with full force. It became obvious that wave of water that was to result from this intrusion into the river would be of significance. My mother and I exchanged glances and we both could tell the other was unsure about continuing to paddle into the river. We were now three times as long as the canoe in distance from the shore. My father yelled for us to continue paddling. The wave began to take shape and was gaining height. We continued to paddle towards it; the wave hurdled towards us, lifting the river upwards towards the peaks of the southern rim of the gorge. We paddled; the lip of the wave was now high enough that we could not see what remained of the mountains on the northern aspect. The bow of our dugout canoe began to rise and we were lifted upwards and backwards. We all stopped paddling at this point and were holding on to the sides of the canoe. We accelerated, moving backwards away from the still moving landslide, which we could now see as we were on the crest of the wave. It felt like we were flying – perched on the crest of the wave, unable to see where we were going, facing backwards. This continued for an unbelievable amount of time; I raised my head and looked behind me and saw the still immobile trees of the southern shore getting larger. We were riding the crest of the wave past the river shore and up into the forest where the cliffs began. We hurtled towards the tips of the trees while the wave began to break into a chaotic blur of pine needles and whitewater. The day's third lurch of the canoe overshadowed the two previous. The wave had let us down into the trees and I was now falling out of the canoe and through the wet arms of the trees, I didn’t know whether to prepare to drown or fall to my death but I tumbled and tumbled, with no orientation known until I stopped falling. The large fish just down the hill from me, with a fishing net around his head, flapped occasionally, knocking the surrounding trees with the fishing net handle. That and the dripping of water from the trees was the only sound besides my own breathing.