In a secluded Rocky Mountain watershed, gathering rivulets of melting ice form from snow-capped peaks. They launch slowly down headwater creeks, meander through plush beaver meadows, and catapult between deep canyon walls, slowed only momentarily by a large reservoir. They then race through the white-water rapids of Devil's Gulp and eventually intersect Towne, a remote mountain community.
Within this community lives a host of people with a variety of successes, failures, loves, ambitions, obsessions, hopes, and fears. There's Laura Menard, who left Wisconsin looking for a job but finds only fishing. When her car breaks down near Maggie's Corner, Laura discovers that people do care. There's former Wall Street broker Richard Whendelstat, who gave up the fast pace of life to open the Flies and Lies fishing resort. And then there's Bradley Hawkins, who came to the area on a fishing trip and never left; his wife now wants a divorce.
With wry humor, joy for life, and an immense appreciation of the mountains and small-town living, Rocky Mountain Watershed narrates the stories of these characters, who face personal decisions that will change their lives and those around them-as well as affecting the common thread that binds them all, the river.
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.56(d)|
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ROCKY MOUNTAIN WATERSHEDITS RIVER – ITS PEOPLE
By BILL BURCH
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2010 Bill Burch
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMaggie's Corner
Laura crested the last foothill out of the mountains, a route filled with hairpin curves and abyss-like drop offs, the danger exaggerated even more by the oncoming darkness. Ahead she saw headlights moving along the Interstate and an exit ramp less than a mile away. A lone billboard promised services ahead. There it was. A gas station nestled just below, an oasis of sorts, ablaze in electric light. With lots of luck it would be a full-service garage. With just a little luck there would be a tow truck.
Pushing the hazard light button, Laura shifted into neutral and shut off the engine of her pickup. As a result, she also stopped the rhythmic banging under the hood, along with the power steering and power brakes. With all the strength she could muster, she aimed for the side of the building, away from the fuel pumps. Cranking the steering wheel, while standing on the brake pedal, she sent a spray of loose gravel bouncing off the vinyl siding like a machine gun's report. With flashing amber hazard lights reflecting back into the cab, the truck came to a stop inches short of the shiny free air and vacuum tanks.
Taking a deep gasp of late evening air, Laura wiped her sweaty palms on her pant legs and climbed out of the truck, slamming the door with a sense of relief and disgust. Unfair, with all the scrapes she and her truck had been through, she had no right to be angry at the vehicle. She glanced down at her dust-covered bumper sticker:
THIS IS NOT MY BOYFRIEND'S PICKUP!
Right now she wished she had a boyfriend—a boyfriend that was a mechanic. "Thanks, truck. You certainly know how to make a grand entrance." She patted the back bumper and headed for the front of the convenience store.
Laura stopped a second to get her bearings. She noticed the fueling area in the front was equipped with the newest self-service equipment for autos, with diesel pumps for semis in the back. Brilliant lights on tall poles illuminated the entire area. The building itself could have been mistaken for new until you noticed that it was a timeworn, two-story structure, recently covered with pure-white vinyl siding. An old, unlit neon FUEL sign topped the second story. In the brilliance of modern lighting and cheap plastic, hung another sign announcing:
Laura stood for a moment peering through the double glass doors, took another deep breath, and shoved her way inside. A glance around showed a pre-WWII patterned-tin ceiling and a well-worn plank floor. Side walls were lined by modern head-high coolers with thick sliding glass doors. Three aisles of shelving were stacked with food products and assorted items for kitchen or camp. A fourth row contained fishing gear and small repair items plus rows of motor oil cans. Against the back wall was a second entrance from the diesel area. A rack of magazines, mostly aimed at the hunter or fisherman, stood in the corner.
Enough, you've been in a truck stop before.
Laura slid a cooler door aside. The cold blast of refrigerated air sent a shiver up her spine. Resisting the wine, she picked up a single can of Pepsi, popped the top, and walked over to the cashier's counter. Registers, credit card machines, and a surveillance monitor were surrounded by open boxes of candy bars and cheap lighters covered with pictures of leaping trout. Racks behind the checkout held assorted packs of cigarettes, and round tins and pouches of chewing tobacco, along with a modest offering of hard liquors.
Behind the counter, studying a pile of invoices, stood a small woman of forty-five or maybe even fifty-five. She wore jeans, a plaid shirt, and well-scuffed leather cowboy boots. Her graying black hair was pulled back into a pony tail.
"Heard you slide in. Brake problem?" the woman asked with the warmest smile Laura had seen since leaving her home state of Wisconsin. She had discovered that most people 'out here' in the Rockies generally ignored you. The ones that didn't went out of their way to be rude. Of course, there was the occasional exception when someone seemed ready to adopt you on the spot, listen to your life story, and then offer you a home-cooked meal. Sometimes it was better to be ignored.
"No, my motor ... er, engine, has been banging for the last ten miles and I just shut it off at the top of the hill. Forgot how hard it was to handle a truck without power breaks or steering. Almost came through your building. Guess I nicked up your siding a little. Sorry."
"Forget it," the woman said, continuing to smile. "It's not like I've got real wood siding."
"Well, thanks. But now I have to do something about getting my truck fixed. Can I have it hauled somewhere?" Laura asked, without much hope.
"Unless you've got twenty-four hour road service, you're stranded until tomorrow. It's Sunday night. Even if you did get a tow, nobody would check it out until morning."
"Do you know anyone close by who would take a look at it? I'm due back in Madison ... Madison, Wisconsin on Thursday. Guess that's out," Laura sighed.
"Going back to school. I came out here with a bachelor's degree looking for work ... a job with pay. Apparently, unless you have a Master's, or are willing to be a volunteer, you're out of luck. I've been offered room and board for forty hours of work a week. I really have to do better than that. So my job search became a three month fishing trip ... which isn't all bad." For the first time a genuine smile crossed Laura's face.
"Well, let's see if we can get you back on the road real soon," Maggie said. "I've got a cousin, Charlie ... lives in Towne. He's the best mechanic hereabouts. Better than anybody in Big City. And he won't cheat you ... at least he won't cheat you if I send you. Look, I've got a guy going by there tonight after we close. Shoot, I'll send him home early. He lives in an apartment near Charlie's. I'll have him load your truck onto our flatbed.
"George," she hollered, belying her small stature. "Charlie's garage is only six miles from here, and by ten tomorrow morning he should know what's wrong with your truck and how long it will take to fix it."
"And how much," Laura muttered to herself. "Looks like I have no choice. I'm at your mercy." She shrugged and tried to return the older woman's smile.
"I'm Laura, Laura Menard." She stuck out her hand. Eventually, everyone who came to know her closely would call her Laurie, but she saw herself as Laura. One day, coming home from junior high, she had announced: "Hence forth, I will no longer answer to the name Laurie, only Laura." And yes, she did indeed say hence forth.
"I'm Maggie, just like the sign says. I'm the Maggie of Maggie's Corner." And the two women shook hands.
"George!" This time it was more of a bellow than a holler.
George appeared from the back storeroom. He was a short, stocky man dressed in caramel-colored bib overalls, clean-shaven with a military haircut.
"Take a look at this young lady's pickup. The one nosed up to the air pumps." She winked at Laura.
"Keys in it?" Maggie asked. Laura handed them to George. Without acknowledging her, he took them and exited with a noticeable limp.
"Old war wound. What war? I'm not sure. Not sure if he really knows. George came back to Towne just out of the Army with his head all scrambled. He looks a little scary, but since he got out of the Veteran's Administration Hospital in Big City, he hasn't hurt anybody. And he does have a heart of gold. If George likes you, he likes you. Really don't know how I ever got along without him."
Laura nodded. Not knowing what to say, she changed the subject. "Do you have a place where I could set up my tent ... somewhere I'll be out of the way?"
"Nonsense, I've got a vacant cabin out back. Who am I kidding? I have six cabins and five of them are vacant. The old guy in Cabin #6 rents every summer from the end of the snow runoff through September. He uses it as a base camp for his fishing trips. The rest of the time he wanders around the area with a notebook in his hand, just scribbling away and asking questions of the local folks. Not sure if he writes down his thoughts or what folks tell him ... maybe both. He's a little eccentric and harmless enough ... really quite nice.
"Anyway, we'll get you settled in Cabin #1 until we get your truck fixed. Cabin's clean, with a hot-water shower, and I just changed the bedding. There's heat, air, a refrigerator, an old gas stove, and a new microwave oven, although you won't need the air until July." Laura forced a smile. "Don't laugh now, you might like it well enough around here to stay awhile. Winters aren't all that bad. Well, some years they aren't," she amended. "Come to think of it, nobody has ever called this the Banana Belt of the Rockies."
Laura attempted another smile but didn't quite pull it off. "I'm sorry. I really can't pay you for much more than a campsite. I could give you my credit card, but it's over the limit. I'll probably have to call home for money," she whispered more to herself than to Maggie. She reached for her wallet to pay for her Pepsi.
"Not to worry. We'll figure it out later and the soda pop is on me."
The sound of Laura's crippled pickup starting and quickly shutting off preceded George through the back doors.
One shake of his head said it all. As if he were reading Maggie's mind, he said, "I'll load it up and haul it to Charlie's. Be back before you close."
"Slow down George. I'd like you to officially meet Laura Menard." George nodded his head and Laura returned the greeting. "Help Laura get her stuff out of the truck before you leave. Take it to Cabin #1. After you drop her truck at Charlie's, get some sleep. Don't you dare come back here tonight. I'll call Charlie early in the morning and let him know what's going on. You come in anytime. We'll have the usual Monday deliveries to put away."
Maggie turned to Laura, "If you like to fish and have a rod and reel in your truck, grab it before he leaves. You may have some time to kill." She flipped the cabin key to George. "Use the dead bolt when you get settled, Laura. If you need anything tonight, just come up the side stairs and bang on my door. I live in the upstairs apartment. I'm a light sleeper. Have to be in this business."
"I can't thank you enough," Laura said, slight apprehension in her voice.
"Shush. Go take a hot shower and get to bed. I'll see you in the morning."
* * *
George dumped Laura's stuff on the front porch of the small cabin, turned the lock, and handed her the key. He left without a word. Laura watched as he crossed the pavement and loaded her Dodge Dakota onto the flatbed. He climbed into the cab, did a one-eighty and headed toward Towne.
Laura repressed a smile then laughed out loud. "What have I gotten myself into now?" Other than the problem with her truck, she didn't see a downside to the situation. Not yet, anyway. Oh sure, the expense, but that's a given with an old truck, especially after tearing it up in the mountains. She had certainly gotten her money's worth and she could always register a few days late for grad school.
She opened the door to Cabin #1 and felt for a wall switch. A ceiling fixture in the kitchen area flooded the modest but extremely clean cabin with fluorescent light. Four ladder-back chairs surrounded a kitchen table covered with a red and white-checkered oilcloth, reminding her of her grandmother's kitchen. An overstuffed chair and small sofa faced the television. A tiny antique desk and chair filled another corner. A paneled door led to the bedroom where a wicker chair sat next to a queen-sized bed covered with an authentic Amish quilt. The walk-in closet and cedar chest of drawers crowded the rest of the room. Another door led to the bathroom that held a small stand-up shower.
Laura tried the heat first. The blower kicked on and in seconds warm air poured out of the vents. She pushed the lever over to air conditioning. It worked. Now, for the supreme test—Laura held her hand under the showerhead and felt a powerful burst of cold, then warm, then hot water. It was apparent that someone took great pride in these cabins.
"I've hit the mother lode," she proclaimed to a porcelain ballerina on top of the chest. For almost three months she had lived out of the back of her pickup and slept in a mountain tent. Yes, this was the mother lode.
After a very long and hot shower, she found some Myers's Rum stashed in her backpack and poured it into the now half-empty Pepsi can. She took a swallow and began examining books on the shelves under the TV. There was the obligatory bible (surprisingly, it looked like it had been read before), a Pat McManus book, and an Ernest Hemingway volume of Nick Adam's Stories, two dated fly-fishing magazines, and a large ledger where fishermen had recorded their fish stories. Most of the entries, some dating as far back as the 1930s, were signed. She thumbed through the pages and had a feeling that there was more useful information contained on these yellowing pages than there was in all the modern fishing magazines put together. Of course, you couldn't believe all the handwritten entries anymore than you could believe the stories in the glossy-covered periodicals.
By the time she finished her drink, Laura had crashed on the bed, out for the night.
* * *
There was a kicking on the cabin door just as Laura had finished dressing from her morning shower. Two showers in twelve hours, it was heaven. She opened the door to find George standing on the porch with a loaf of bread, carton of eggs, slab of bacon and a tub of oleo all balanced in one arm. In his other hand, he gripped a steaming pot of coffee. Mumbling "good morning," George pushed past her to the kitchen, put the food in the refrigerator, set the bread on the table, and lit the stove for the coffee.
"Frying pan and toaster in the cupboard. Dishes too. Coffee pot is mine."
Laura watched him go down the stairs. "George." He stopped and half turned. "Thank you very much." He gave a half wave and headed toward the store.
"I think he kind of likes me," Laura smiled to herself. "How could I tell him I really need cream for my coffee?"
God, how she loved bacon and eggs—death-on-a-platter.
After finishing breakfast she washed the dishes, rinsed the coffee pot and walked over to the store, pot in hand. Maggie was behind the counter, as if she had been there all night.
"Just set the pot on the counter. Did you sleep, Laura?"
"Like a hibernating old bear. Thank you so much."
"Good news and bad news about your pickup. Charlie said it wasn't all that serious, but it will take a few days to fix. He doesn't stock many parts ... has to send to Big City for most of them. Take my Blazer and go talk to him."
"No thanks, I'll just have to trust him. I couldn't come up with anything intelligent to ask him anyway. Not about trucks. Would you please call him and tell him to go ahead and do whatever it takes to fix it. Well, within reason. Then maybe I'll go for a hike." Laura hesitated, "Is there anything I can help you with around here, Maggie?"
"Tell you what," Maggie said, "Why don't you run the Blazer up to the dam and do a little fishing? That rust bucket should be good for one more trip. God, I've put a ton of money into that piece of ...," she trailed off.
"You were probably too worried to notice last evening, but you came right past the cutoff to the reservoir. It's a great tail-water fishery and there won't be many fishermen around. Probably none," Maggie amended. "Judging by what George lugged over to the cabin, you're a fly fisherman. It should be fun for you and it may be your last chance."
"Why's that," Laura asked.
"Well, there's some talk about removing the dam. Got the tree huggers ... er, environmentalists pushing the Bureau of Land Management to take out the dam but there are rumors that some big East Coast money wants to lease land from the government and build a private resort with an 18-hole golf course over looking the water. Some claim it's actually Hollywood money. If true, that could mean jobs and a boost to our economy. Drain the reservoir and they'll have a view of a canyon, not a lake. It's a beautiful view but I don't think that's what those folks have in mind."
"Pebble Beach North?" Laura asked.
"That's good," Maggie laughed. "And then there's the Indian uprising."
Excerpted from ROCKY MOUNTAIN WATERSHED by BILL BURCH Copyright © 2010 by Bill Burch. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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