The river is where Lily’s father taught her to fish; it is where she played all summer; it is what sang her to sleep at night in their cabin. But when her father dies while fishing, it is the river that Lily blames. Unable to make ends meet, she and her mother sell their cabin and move into town to live above the family hardware store. Even though she’s angry, the river keeps calling her home.
With a pair of wire cutters she borrowed from the store, Lily snips the fence that’s keeping her out of their old property. Living in their cabin is a mysterious man named T. R. Tracy, a veteran who lost his legs in the war. Together they bond over the river, and together they will learn to forgive.
|Publisher:||Open Road Media|
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|Age Range:||9 - 12 Years|
About the Author
Gloria Whelan is a poet, short story writer, and novelist best known for her children’s and young adult fiction. Whelan has been writing since childhood and was the editor of her high school newspaper. Many of her books are set in Michigan, but she also writes about faraway places based on her travels abroad. In 2000 she won the National Book Award for her young adult novel Homeless Bird. Her other works have earned places among the American Library Association’s Best Books for Young Adults, the International Reading Association’s Teachers’ Choices and Children’s Choices, Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People, and Los Angeles’ 100 Best Books. Whelan has also received the Mark Twain Award and the O. Henry Award. She lives in Detroit, Michigan.
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Forgive the River, Forgive the Sky
By Gloria Whelan
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1998 Gloria Whelan
All rights reserved.
From halfway up the oak tree I watched the fence go up. The first section of the fence shut off the place where last year I found four different colors of violets growing all at once: white, yellow, lavender, and purple. It was our land the men were fencing off. Only we didn't own it anymore. Someone named T. R. Tracy owned it. I told myself it still belonged to us. Like the time I spent weeks squeezing together a thousand tiny links to make a bracelet for my best friend, Laura. I know it's hers because I gave it to her, but she'll never know it like I do.
The land that Mom sold had forty acres of woods and a little pond. That's not all that unusual in this part of northern Michigan. Woods is about all there is. What made our land so valuable is the Sandy River. The Sandy is just about the finest trout river in the world. The cabin where I grew up sits right on a bend of the river. Mr. Tracy lives in the cabin now.
When Dad died last year, Mom said we'd have to sell our land and move into town. I said I wouldn't go. I'd run away and live in the woods and they'd never find me. I'd eat berries and roots until I starved. I said all that would be left of me was a bunch of white bones like the ones I once found next to a fox's hole. Of course I gave in and moved to town with Mom. I told myself it would serve the river right if I deserted it. The thing is, angry as I am at the river because of what happened to my dad, I can't stay away from it.
The link fence the men were putting up was heavy duty. To cut it, which I planned to do, I'd have to snitch a good wire cutter. It wouldn't really be snitching because we own a hardware store. Star Hardware. It's been in the family for three generations. Someday I'll run it. I borrow a lot of stuff from our tool rental. Hidden beside the oak tree I was sitting in was a bag with a crowbar and a claw hammer. I sneaked them out of the store for something I planned to do on my way home.
I waited until the men putting up the fence had moved on, and then I climbed down from the tree, tearing my jeans. Somewhere in the tree was the band that holds my hair back so it doesn't look like a frizzled cloud. There was a button off my shirt, too. Neatness is not my thing. I once heard a boy in school say I looked like I had been pulled through a hedge. My mother actually bought me a dress and insisted I put it on for church, but it showed my scabby knees and all the briar scratches on my legs, so I didn't have to wear it after all.
Picking up my bag with the tools, I headed back toward town. In the woods the early flowers, spring beauties and Dutchman's-breeches and trout lilies, had all disappeared. The only things in bloom were the trillium and a few starflowers, like my name, Lily Star.
I wove a wreath with the starflowers and the trillium. Kneeling beside the river, I laid the wreath on the water and watched the quick current snatch it and carry it away. In the year since my father died, I had made a wreath every week to send down the river. In the fall I used orange and red leaves and the spidery gold flowers of witch hazel; in the winter I wove the wreaths from pine and hemlock branches. When the snow cleared, I made my wreaths from pussy willows and moss. I knew every inch of the river and the speed of the current. I knew exactly when the wreath would be carried over the spot where my father died.
There were people who said my father had a happy death. He died of a heart attack fishing in the river he loved. But he was wading the river late at night when a hatch was on. So he died all alone in the dark. I see it happening in my nightmares. Over and over. Much as I love the river, I can't forgive it.
Everything changed after Dad's death. Dad had spent more time fishing than he had in our hardware store. I'd get up early in the morning and find him and his trout rod gone. I'd run down to the river and there he'd be. "Bring me a hot cup of coffee, Lily," he'd call, "and you can try a few casts. The trout are plenty hungry this morning." If the trout kept biting, Dad wouldn't get to the store until afternoon.
After he died, Mom spent a lot of nights shuffling papers and huddling with Betty Merker, the manager of our bank. Mom found out that Dad had taken out loans on the store. I guess he spent too much time fishing and not enough time working. That left Mom with all these debts. She was plenty unhappy, but she just gritted her teeth. She's got this independent thing. She doesn't want to owe anyone anything. After we sold our property to pay the loans, we moved into a little apartment above the hardware store, and Mom took over the business. She doesn't like working there. She liked it when she worked at May's Country Cupboard, a gift store, where she was selling pretty things. Now she has to sell bolts and nails and wrestle fifty-pound bags of fertilizer. She hates all that stuff because it smells bad and breaks her nails.
I like the hardware store, but I hate living over it. Instead of seeing woods when I look out of my window, I see Pete's Bar and Grill sign flicking off and on like some gaudy stars. Instead of hearing the river, I hear cars rushing up the expressway from downstate and then rushing back again.
On the way to town I stopped at the Bad Hads' shack. That's Hadden and Hadley Durwood. They're twins that live together. Neither one of them is married, which doesn't surprise me. No women could stand to get within a hundred feet of their shack. They throw everything out their back door, including their garbage. I could see tin cans lying in the tall grass like rusty flowers. Their beagle was sitting on top of an old crate, barking like crazy.
I skulked around in the trees. When I was sure the Bad Hads weren't there, I unchained their dog, Fleabit. He's skinny and full of fleas. He didn't even have a name until I gave him one. The twins just called him "Dog."
Fleabit was all over me, trying to get to the dog biscuits in my pocket. When he had eaten them, he chased his tail for a while and rolled around on the grass to scratch his fleas. Then I had to chain him up again. A couple of times a week I bring Fleabit something to eat and unhitch him. I have to be sure the Bad Hads are out doing errands or hunting, which is often. They kill anything that swims, has wings, or moves on four legs. In season or out. Mostly out.
Leaving the shack, I followed the river for a mile until I came to a pine tree on which a small platform had been built. Across the river was a taller pine. On top of that taller tree was a ragged nest made up of messy tangles of sticks. A great black bird with a white head and tail and a hooked yellow beak was hunkered down on the nest. The bird, a bald eagle, spread its great wings and flew off. It soared until it was a black dot in the blue sky.
I looked around to be sure I was alone. Slinging the bag holding the hammer and crowbar over my shoulder, I climbed the strips of wood someone had nailed to the tree to make steps up to the platform. After I pried up a lot of the platform's planks, I climbed down the ladder, knocking loose each rung above me until the ladder disappeared. I was anxious to finish so the eagle could return to its nest.
The Rivertown Avalanche had run an article about some scientists. They planned to come up from the university on weekends to observe the eagles' nest. They were going to drag floodlights and camera equipment up to the platform. I worried that all the commotion would make the eagles fly away. Eagles are really solitary and secretive. I like that. I wanted the eagle to stay on its nest.
It was late afternoon when I got back to town. Rivertown leans against woods on one side. The Sandy River has its arm around it on the other side. All there is to the town is Ben's Pizza Shop, the Rivertown bank, the supermarket, Pete's Bar and Grill, May's Country Cupboard, Value Drugs, our church, and Star Hardware. We also have fake Christmas wreaths with big red plastic bows on all the light poles. They're put up by the Rivertown Chamber of Commerce. Even though it was June, no one had bothered to take them down. They get around leaving the decorations up by having a Christmas-in- September sale at all the stores.
I was sneaking in the hardware store to put back the claw hammer and crowbar. Charlie, who works in the store, caught me. He's pretty old, with a gray beard and pale, watery, red eyes that look like holes in his head. You can always tell what he's had to eat from the crumbs in his beard. This time it looked like chocolate doughnuts. Charlie lives alone, so Mom has him over for dinner on days like Thanksgiving and Christmas and anytime she makes chili, which is his favorite.
"So that's where the crowbar went," Charlie said. "Someone was here after one, and I looked high and low for it. I'd like to see what all you do with our tools, Lily." He ran his fingers through his beard, and I watched some of the crumbs fly off. "On the other hand, maybe I wouldn't."
I told him about the scientists and the eagle.
"Well, Lily, you're only twelve, so you wouldn't remember, but ten years ago we didn't have any eagles around here. Those scientists you don't like are the ones who found out that DDT was having a bad effect on eagle eggs. When DDT was banned, we had eagles again. How about after work I give you a ride out to the tree, and you and I put the platform and the steps back?"
I didn't say no.
"Right now your Ma is looking for you. Now that school is out, you could give her a hand around here. When I was twelve like you, I was working eight hours a day cutting trees."
I wondered if he had had his beard when he was twelve. I couldn't imagine him without it.
In the front of the store, the Bad Hads were buying a length of chain from Mom. They were trying to talk down the price, something they always do. You can tell them apart because Hadden wears his baseball cap with the bill to the front, and Hadley wears his with the bill to the back. No one's ever seen them without their caps. They're both as tall and thin as saplings. "Mean 'n lean" is the way Dad described them. They never look right at you, only sidewise like birds do.
Hadden was lecturing Mom. "You should never have sold your property, Irene. The man that bought it is puttin' a fence around it. We've been huntin' that land for thirty years. And our dad before us. Now what? Who does he think he is? No one's seen him. Why's that? He must be hidin' something. I wouldn't be surprised if he was runnin' away from the law."
I couldn't keep my mouth shut. "You mean the law might be after him because he's been poaching deer?"
The Hads gave me a dirty look, since they poach all the time. It used to drive Dad crazy, especially when they did it on our land.
Hadley said, "Look who's talkin'. I seen you over near our place. That's trespassin', and that's against the law." He turned to Mom. "You keep your girl away from our place, Irene."
Mom doesn't like the Bad Hads any more than I do. Her voice was icy cold. "I'm sure Lily would find nothing to interest her at your place." Mom reminds me of a chipmunk. She's small, with brown eyes and short, shiny brown hair, and she's pert and lively. The Hads could look sidewise at her all they wanted and she wouldn't care.
After they left, Mom set me to straightening the shelves and putting out the new merchandise. There isn't enough money to buy a lot of stock, so there's mostly only one or two of everything. I put stuff right at the edge of the shelf so it looks like there's more than there is. After work, Charlie and I went to the pine tree across from the eagle's nest. We hammered the platform back together and replaced the steps. So it wasn't until after supper that I got to take my canoe out. Since Mom and I moved from the river, Mr. Borcher lets me keep it at his canoe livery in town.
I let the current carry me downriver. I was doing a little fishing, casting out the line and then holding it still for a minute on the back-stroke to let it straighten out. It was the way my dad had showed me. I tried to snap it into the little riffles at the edges of the moss-covered logs that hugged the shore. Red-winged blackbirds were jumping up and down on the alder bushes, spreading their wings to show off their shoulder patches. Their shrieky calls said, "This is my space. You get away."
I knew how they felt. It was how I felt about someone else living on our land. I guided the canoe toward what used to be our cabin. There's a landing dock in front of the cabin with a bench on it. Dad and I used to sit there looking up and down the bend. If you stay really quiet, you can spot otters sliding down the bank, or blue herons high-stepping along the river, spearing frogs with their long beaks.
I felt awful looking from the outside at the place where I used to be inside. Our old cabin seemed deserted. I was just thinking about beaching the canoe and looking in the windows when a light went on. I decided I had better get out of there. There was something mysterious about T. R. Tracy. Even Mom had never met him. When the sale was made, a lawyer signed all the papers for him. Mom had talked to Mr. Tracy on the phone. She had offered to show him around the house, tell him where the septic tank was, and explain what to do when the front door stuck. He had said thanks but no thanks. He didn't even do his grocery shopping in Rivertown. People saw his van headed in the direction of the next town.
I turned the canoe around and started back up the river. For a mile or two I really hated T. R. Tracy, who was living in our cabin and fencing me out of our land. But a mink started playing tag with the canoe, swimming around it and diving under one side and coming up on the other side. So I forgot about Mr. Tracy. You really have to concentrate to hate someone.CHAPTER 2
I hung around the store most of the next day. It was Friday, the beginning of the weekend. People from downstate would be coming up to fish the Sandy River. Dad had always told them what kind of fishing tackle to buy. He had kept a supply of artificial flies, too, and could tell which one to use depending on what insects were flying around the river. Mom doesn't know anything about that stuff. She depends on me because I used to fish with Dad all the time. Sometimes we'd fish from the canoe; sometimes we'd wade the river. Right now I was saving for some new waders.
When some preppy with neatly pressed khaki pants and a funny hat stuck all over with artificial flies comes in, he isn't exactly happy about a twelve-year-old giving him advice. After we talk a while, though, he stops treating me like some smart-mouthed brat and starts paying attention.
Around two I went out for a Coke with Laura Schawn, who is my best friend. We'll be in seventh grade next year. Laura and I don't look at all alike. She's got this perfect, sleek blonde hair that looks like she's always combing it, which she isn't because she's not like that. I'm tall and gangling with washed-out brown hair that frizzes up into a bird's nest if there's even one drop of rain in the air. Laura is a little spacey and forgets things like when she's supposed to meet you. But you can't get mad at her because she has this friendly face. It's round with big round eyes. She looks like the kind of person you make when you first learn to draw. Unlike me, she's an indoor person who is always doing crafts. Their house is full of stuff made of pinecones and shells and dried flowers. Sometimes I think a hot glue gun is actually part of Laura's arm. But she's really loyal to her friends.
Once in my sixth grade class everyone had to give a report on how to identify mammals. I brought the droppings I collected in the woods from raccoons, porcupines, and deer to show the differences. Even though I had put everything in neat plastic bags, the teacher wanted to throw the droppings and me with them out of the room.
Laura raised her hand and said that I had showed her a book a real scientist had written about that stuff and that it was a scientific way to recognize an animal. Later she told me what I did was the grossest thing she had ever seen.
Laura's dad is an assessor for the township. He checks out houses to see how much they're worth so he can figure out what the taxes are going to be. I could see she had some news she was dying to tell me. "Dad went to the Tracy place," she said.
"I wish you wouldn't call it that." I still thought of the land as ours. "Was Mr. Tracy there?"
"No. Dad just looked through the windows."
Excerpted from Forgive the River, Forgive the Sky by Gloria Whelan. Copyright © 1998 Gloria Whelan. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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