River's Song

River's Song

by Melody Carlson


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Following her mother’s funeral, and on the verge of her own midlife crisis, widow Anna Larson returns to the home of her youth to sort out her parents’ belongings, as well as her own turbulent life.

For the first time since childhood, Anna embraces her native heritage, despite the disdain of her vicious mother-in-law. By transforming her old family home on the banks of the Siuslaw River into The Inn at Shining Waters, Anna hopes to create a place of healing—a place where guests experience peace, grace, and new beginnings. Starting with her own family . . .

“Melody Carlson painted a serene and unforgettable sense of place that came alive with shimmering waters, one woman’s dream, life-changing wisdom, and characters I care about … I’m seriously hooked on the series!"
— Kathy Herman, author of Secrets of Roux River Bayou Series and the Sophie Trace Trilogy

"Melody Carlson's River's Song eased through me gently layer by layer, deeper and deeper. This story of re-awakening or renewal appears deceptively simple but wields great emotional power. I look forward to book 2 in The Inn at Shining Rivers series."
— Lyn Cote, Author ofHer Abundant Joy

"In River’s Song, Melody Carlson beautifully tells a generational story of a family living alongside the banks of Oregon’s Siuslaw River. Told with sensitivity and insight the story includes a Native American thread, deals with issues of abuse, and weaves an ending full of redemption and grace. I can’t wait to read the next novel in the series!" Leslie Gould, Beyond the Blue and co-author of The Amish Midwife and The Amish Nanny, with Mindy Starns Clark

g her old family home on the banks of the Siuslaw River into The Inn at Shining Waters, Anna hopes to create a place of healing—a place where guests experience peace, grace, and new beginnings. Starting with her own family . . .

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781426712661
Publisher: Abingdon Press
Publication date: 07/11/2011
Series: Inn at Shining Waters Series , #1
Pages: 290
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Melody Carlson is the award-winning author of more than 200 books, including Love Finds You in Sisters, Oregon, Limelight, the Diary of a Teenage Girl series, the TrueColors series, and the Carter House Girls series. Nominated for a Romantic Times Career Achievement Award, Melody is also the author of Homeward, which won a Rita Award. Melody and her husband live in central Oregon.

Read an Excerpt

River's Song

The Inn at Shining Waters Series

By Melody Carlson

Abingdon Press

Copyright © 2011 Melody Carlson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4267-1266-1


Siuslaw River 1959

In twenty years' time, nothing had changed on the river. Or so it seemed. Although mid June, the sky was gloomy, the color of a weathered tin roof, and the river, a few shades darker, was tinged with mossy green. The surface of the water was serene, barely moving with the ebb tide, and the sounds of birds and a churning boat motor were muffled, hushed by the low-slung clouds. Not a scene that everyone could appreciate, but Anna wished to drink it in, absorb it into her being, and savor it for years to come when she was far from this beloved place.

"So what d'ya think, Anna?" Henry Ackerman shouted over the chugging sound of the diesel engine. "Everything still look all right to you?"

"Yes," Anna assured him. "It feels the same—not much has changed."

Henry nodded as he guided the old boat along, greasy felt hat pulled low over his shaggy brows, peering intently at the water, just as he'd done for decades. Henry, like the river, hadn't changed much. Older maybe, and a little more grizzled if that was possible, but the easy smile and friendly demeanor were just the same. She'd known Henry for so long, he seemed like family.

Something caught Anna's eye upstream. "What's that?" she called out, pointing to a dark smudge in the water.

"Just another one of them dad-burned rogue logs." He spat into the water as he steered the boat clear of it. "Always getting loose from the pilings. You gotta watch out real close when you run the river anymore." He pointed upriver. "I'm telling you, Anna, them logs are like gold nowadays. The lumber mills can't seem to get enough of 'em."

Anna stood in the boat, staring out at the enormous stretch of floating logs around the bend. Laid out like firewood side by side, they were cabled together in large groups, creating a wide, uneven border along the south side of the river—stretching for miles.

"Oh, my!" she gasped. "I've never seen so many logs in my entire life."

"Been like that for years now. Seems they can't get 'em outta the woods fast enough. Then they dump 'em here in the river and leave 'em." He cursed. "And them logs just float there till the mill's ready to cut 'em into lumber. That is, unless there's a storm or a cable busts and them logs break loose and head straight out for the ocean. You don't want to be on the water when that happens."

Anna stared in horror at the deformity on the river. The log barges resembled big ugly scabs cutting into the otherwise sleek surface of the water. Even creeping into the estuaries, like a growing cancer, barge after barge of floating logs seemed to fill up most of the surface of the Siuslaw. She could only imagine what the surrounding woods must look like. Glancing up at a hillside that had once been lush and green, she gasped to see the land scalped bare and brown ... the stubble trunks of trees the only reminder of what had been. Her dad used to call those men gippo loggers—the reckless kind who came in and clear-cut the trees, took their money, and ran. With no concern for the future, those thieving loggers ravaged the land, leaving it barren and useless ... dead. A lump of sadness filled her throat to think that while she was gone, the Siuslaw was being ruined.

"How long's it been since you were back here, Anna?"

"About eight years." She spoke loudly to be heard. "I came out for the funeral after Daddy died, back in '52." She wondered why she hadn't noticed this devastation back then. Perhaps she'd been too distracted by grief and guilt ... or perhaps the river hadn't looked this bad.

Henry slowly shook his head, tucked a pinch of snuff into his cheek, and huffed. "Can't understand you young'uns nowadays. Everybody ups and leaves. My boy James went off to war and never came back."

Anna was shocked—her mother had never written of this. But then Anna had her own problems to tend to back then, her own casualties of war to keep her busy. Perhaps this was just one more piece of sadness that had eluded her. "James was killed in the war?" she asked gently.

"Nah. James made it through the war. He got hisself a GI education grant then landed hisself a fancy job in the big city. James is an accountant." He pronounced the word as if it meant something distasteful. "Now he's gotta wear a suit and tie every day. He sits around in a stuffy office building and counts other people's money. Course, he thinks it's mighty important work. Better than running the river every day year in and year out." Henry shook his head again. "Can't understand how a body would choose to work indoors and give up all this." He waved his hand out over the river. Henry looked honestly dumbfounded, and a part of Anna understood his bewilderment. Why had she given up all this?

"Do you hear much from James?" she asked.

"Aw sure, he writes me once in a great long while. He and the wife got two girls that are pert' near growed up now. But they don't hardly come back down here no more. Too citified, I reckon."

"It's hard coming back ... after you've left ..." Anna said this quietly, not sure she wanted Henry to hear her words, probably because she was guilty of the same thing as James. To confess it out loud sounded like betrayal. Not that she wouldn't do it all differently now—if only she could. But her chances, like time and tide—and the forests and the river—had come and gone. She would turn forty next year, and she was worn out and weary. It was too late to start over now.

Henry looked out over the water as he guided his boat. "You couldn't pay me to leave this river. When I die, I want them to tie this here anchor 'round my neck and just toss me overboard." He spewed a long brown stream of tobacco into the water, then continued without missing a beat, "right up there at the mouth of the Siuslaw. At high tide, hopefully around sunset."

Anna almost smiled. "My mother loved the river too." She wondered if her mother had felt the same sense of loss that Anna did right now seeing the log barges eating into the water like they planned to swallow the river whole.

"Say, how was the funeral anyway? I'd truly meant to come and show my final respects. You know I thought real highly of your ma. But then Jim Flanders calls me up just as I was heading out and says he needs me to deliver a barrel of heating oil up to their place. They'd run plumb dry and it's been cold this past week. And well, what with their new baby and all—"

"That's all right, Henry. Mother would appreciate you thinking of the little Flanders baby like that. And the funeral was just fine. There was a nice reception at her church afterwards." Anna felt tears gathering again. "I was surprised at how many people attended. I didn't realize how many friends my mother had."

Henry pressed his lips together and nodded sagely. "Your folks were good people, Anna. And don't you never think otherwise. Most everybody on the river's been helped out at least once or twice by Oscar and Marion Larson; some were helped many a time over. We were all real sorry when Marion had to finally close up the store. A real loss for all of us. Not just for getting milk and eggs either—your mother was a right good woman."

"Thank you." Anna knew Henry spoke from the heart. And the funeral had been a touching reminder to her that most folks in these parts never concerned themselves with the fact that her mother was one of the few Indians remaining from the Siuslaw Tribe. Even now it irritated Anna that she was still overly conscious, perhaps even ashamed, of her Indian blood. And even though Anna's mother had tried to distance herself from her heritage, it seemed disrespectful for Anna to feel like this. But truth be told, Marion Larson, married to a Swede, had lived and worked in the white man's world. She dressed, acted, and spoke like a white woman. And for the most part, she'd been accepted as such. Folks on the river were like that.

Henry guided his boat past another barge of logs, then turned into the inlet that ran in front of Anna's parents' riverfront land. She had expected to see this section, like so much of the rest of the river, clogged with log barges, but to her relief, it was not. When she asked Henry how that was so, he explained that because of the store, back when it was opened and the dock was used frequently, no log barges were allowed.

"Your mama fought to keep this part of the river clear, Anna. And she won." He slowed his engine and another surge of relief rushed through Anna as she spied the familiar stand of Douglas firs ahead. Lined along the muddy riverbanks, about a dozen majestic sentries stood tall and noble, some with trunks nearly four feet wide. She knew from her grandmother's stories that these evergreens were not like those of the ancient forests, but substantial just the same. She also knew the only thing that had saved those trees from doom was the property line.

Like it was yesterday, Anna remembered her father's outrage when loggers, clear-cutting on the adjacent land, dared to raise a saw to one of those trees. Daddy had marched down there and told them in no uncertain terms to keep their hands off of his trees. And since Daddy used to be a logger, he knew how to talk to men like that. It wasn't that he had anything against cutting down trees in general, as long as it was done right, but he just didn't want anybody cutting down his trees without his consent. After the loggers saw that he meant business, they all stood around and shot the breeze for the better part of an hour.

Anna had recently read the term "second-growth trees" in a newspaper column, but she knew better. These tall firs were simply the descendants of generations and generations of evergreen trees that had lived and died before them. Second-growth trees, like so many other explanations about nature, were man-made myths.

The trees were so many you could walk for days and not reach the end. So big they blocked the sun, making the great forest dark like night, and the plants grew so thick beneath the trees that your foot never touched the forest floor. But that was before the great fire. Her grandmother's words echoed in her mind with such clarity that she looked over her shoulder—almost as if the old sweetfaced woman were sitting right next to Anna in the riverboat.

"Say, how come you didn't bring that little girlie of yours along?" Henry asked suddenly, as if he had just remembered that Anna had a child.

Anna forced a laugh. "That 'little girlie' is a young woman now. Lauren will be nineteen this fall."

"You're pulling my leg!" Henry slapped his hand across his knee. "It cannot be! You're not old enough to have a child that big. Just yesterday you were a girl, Anna."

Anna sighed. "Children grow up fast." Too fast as far as she was concerned. Her daughter had only graduated from high school a week ago, and yet Lauren already knew everything there was to know about everything, and she was quick to point out how much her mother didn't know. Anna had begged Lauren to join her on this trip. She thought it might improve their strained-to-breaking relationship. But finally she realized it was useless to force her headstrong daughter to do anything against her will.

At first Anna had felt guilty about leaving Lauren behind. But then she wondered why, since her mother-in-law had made it perfectly clear that she had everything under control— including Lauren—or so she claimed. Perhaps Anna was no longer needed there. And now that she was free to come home, her mother was gone. Blinking back tears, she stared at the shore of her childhood home.

Henry cut back the engine and slipped it into reverse, easing that old boat to the dock as gracefully as a young swan. Anna looked up at the square-shaped, two-story cedar building. It looked like a tall, gray wooden crate that someone had set down next to the river and then simply walked off and forgotten. The windows were blank, with shades drawn; and the big front door to the store, which had almost always been open, was now closed, and a faded sign, painted in white block letters, probably by her mother's hand, was nailed to the door." Sorry, store closed" it declared with abrupt finality.

Henry tied up to the dock and unloaded Anna's bags, then reached for her hand to help her from the boat. "You have everything you need here at the house, Anna? I can bring you supplies from town, you know."

Still wearing her good suit and shoes, Anna stepped carefully from the boat. "I picked up a few things in town," she assured him. "That should tide me over for a day or two."

"Can I carry your bags up for you?" Henry stood and slowly rubbed his whiskered chin as if he had all the time in the world. And maybe he did. He had to be pushing seventy, but he still ran his boat daily, servicing the river folks as faithfully as ever.

"Thanks anyway, Henry, but I can get these." Anna looked up at the darkening sky. "It looks like it's going to rain again. You'd better head on home before it lets loose."

Henry laughed. "Ain't never been worried about the rain a'fore. Can't live on the river if you don't like rain, Anna."

"I guess not." She forced a smile and picked up her suitcase." Thanks again for everything, Henry."

"You betcha. Now you take care, ya hear?"

She waited for Henry to untie the rope, waving as his boat began to chug back down the river. She watched the rustcolored craft, followed by a wispy blue cloud of exhaust, growing smaller as it sliced its V-shaped trail through the river. Satisfied that Henry would be home before long, Anna hurried to transport her bags and things from the dock and up the exterior stairs that led to the house, which was situated above the old store.

On her second trip from the dock, she paused beneath the covered porch, where customers used to linger and catch up on the local gossip, and for a moment she could almost hear someone talking about how Tina Flanders gave birth to a baby three weeks early and how her husband, Jim, the same one who'd run out of oil that morning, had been stuck in the woods during the birth and couldn't make it home until the baby was two days old. But then Anna realized she was simply remembering her mother's most recent six-page letter. Marion Larson didn't write short letters. She wrote regular epistles. Anna had always thought that if the river had started up a newspaper, her mother would've made a great society columnist. But thanks to those letters, Anna had stayed fairly well informed on all the local comings and goings of the river folk these past twenty years.

Anna could smell rain in the air now. She hurried back to the dock for the box of food she'd picked up at the grocery store, carried it up the stairs, and set it next to her other bags. Despite his rainy day bravado, Anna knew that Henry had probably cranked up his engine by now. She hoped he'd make it back to his river house before the clouds broke. As she dug in her handbag, trying to find the house key, she wondered how many times she'd sat in Henry's little two-room shanty while he and her father loaded store supplies to take back up river. She still remembered the smell of that river shanty— old canvas, damp wood, stale coffee, gasoline, and smoke. She imagined how old Henry would soon be stoking up his little potbellied stove and warming a can of pork and beans—or if fishing had been good he might fry up the catch of the day. Not a bad way to live really.


The first raindrops began to fall, plunking noisily on the metal roof, as Anna searched in her handbag for the keys that the lawyer had given her that morning. He said the brass key was for the upstairs entrance and the stainless steel one was for the store below, but the brass key looked foreign to her. She couldn't remember anyone locking the door to their house while she was growing up. Sometimes Daddy didn't even bother to lock up the store. Despite a fairly steady cash flow in the store, except during the Great Depression, her parents had never seemed overly concerned about thieves or breakins. Each night, her dad would stash the day's earnings in an old tin box that he kept tucked beneath his bed. But he had always been more careful when they made their weekly trip into town. Then he would place the cash in a money belt "in case the boat sinks," he'd explain with a broad grin as he patted the slight bulge under his shirt. Of course, the boat never did sink. And the store never made their family wealthy either.


Excerpted from River's Song by Melody Carlson. Copyright © 2011 Melody Carlson. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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