Tucker Renfro is obsessed with Native American culture, and nothing is more important to him than his tribe—his dad and his best friend, Joe Allen. When Tucker’s sister comes to visit, he isn’t exactly excited to see her. Tucker hasn’t seen his mother or sister since they left his dad seven years ago, so Olivia is a stranger to him. He cannot believe he has to put up with such an annoying little sister, especially one who won’t stop talking about their mother, whom Tucker can barely remember. No matter how hard she is trying, and no matter how much his dad likes having her around, Tucker will not allow Olivia to be part of his tribe.
But when Olivia tells Tucker that their mom wants to come back so they can live as a family, Tucker can’t help but imagine how great it would be to have everyone together again. Maybe, just maybe, Olivia isn’t the worst sister in the world.
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By Tom Birdseye
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1990 Tom Birdseye
All rights reserved.
The bear is asleep. It is lying on its side in the late summer sun like a huge shaggy dog. I can hear it breathe—in and out, in and out. The sound covers the mountainside as if the boulders and pines themselves are alive. I stand very still, my breath shallow, silent as it crosses my dry lips.
The breeze picks up again. The bear's fur moves, the hairs standing up like soldiers on guard. They glow the color of cinnamon in the sun, except on the ends, which are silver. My heartbeat quickens. It is a grizzly that I stalk.
Slowly, more so than all the braves who have stalked and touched sleeping bears before me, I lift one foot and move it forward. I do not take my eyes from the bear. If it wakes it will descend on me with the angry speed of a clap of thunder. There will be no time to run away or climb a tree. I have no weapon. I must touch my foot to the ground in rhythm with the natural sounds of the forest. It must come to rest so gently and evenly that no twig snaps, no stone turns, as if my toes have eyes.
Now I move the other foot forward, crouching low as I approach the bear. Elders wait at the village for me, sending out their prayers for my success in this test of skill and bravery. They remember when they too stalked the bear. They can still feel the coarseness of its fur on their fingertips. They have always carried the day that they became a man very close in their hearts. I will do the same.
The pungent smell of the sleeping bear suddenly reaches my nostrils. I am only three, no, maybe four steps away. There is no turning back. I must keep my mind clear. Noisy thoughts would wake him as surely as noisy feet. I take a deep, slow breath and hold it. I move silently forward and reach out my hand, stretching through the shortening distance between human and beast, hunter and hunter. Balancing my life on my fingertips, I will now touch the bear—
"Tucker, she's here."
I will now touch the bear—
"Olivia's flight just arrived at gate three. She'll be getting off the plane in just a minute."
—and begin my passage into the man's world of The Tribe.
A hand came to rest on Tucker Renfro's shoulder. "It's your sister. She's here!"
Tucker pressed his nose against the glass and looked one more time at the stuffed grizzly bear inside the large showcase. Travelers moved around him on the red concourse of the Spokane International Airport as if he were a rock in a stream. The glass eyes of the bear stared out at them in fierce defiance. Tucker felt the same way. He blew a circle of breath onto the bear's glass case.
The hand on his shoulder squeezed gently. "C'mon, son, let's go welcome Olivia to the Northwest."
Tucker turned and looked up at his father. The two mirrored one another in many ways: brown hair, high cheekbones, slender build, and a particular look in the green eyes, as if often thinking of distant places, other things. Father and son. Most people saw it right away. "But, Dad, I don't even know her," Tucker said.
Duane Renfro tried to smile. "That's the whole point. Your mother and I never intended to let things go " He stopped and looked down the concourse toward gate three, then took a deep breath. " go this long. Seven years is seven too many. You were only four when we split up. Olivia was only two."
Tucker stuck his hands down deep in his pockets. In the left one the small piece of cedar root he had carved into an Indian chief's head slipped comfortably into his hand, as if it had always been there. He ran his fingers across the face, then back over the war bonnet of carved eagle feathers. He had spent hours working on it. "Why change things now, Dad?" he asked. "We get along OK by ourselves."
An instant of pain flashed across his father's green eyes. "Just because your mother and I are divorced, that doesn't erase the fact that you and Olivia are brother and sister. She will be able to start the school year with you here—her in fourth grade and you in sixth. Be thankful that your mother and I have finally been able to agree on something and bring you two together, even if only until Thanksgiving."
Tucker turned and pressed his nose against the glass case again. A brass plaque was mounted at the bear's feet: WORLD RECORD CLASS GRIZZLY BEAR. SHOT BY SCOTT GRAHAM OF SPOKANE, WASHINGTON, IN BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA, 1988. TAXIDERMY BY KNOPP BROTHERS. HUNT ARRANGED BY WORLDWIDE TROPHY OUTFITTERS, SPOKANE, WASHINGTON.
"They've opened the door at gate three, Tucker," his father's voice came over his shoulder. "Please try to be open-minded and give it a chance. According to your mother it was Olivia who first brought this up. She really wants to be here and to get to know you. It probably wouldn't be happening if she hadn't insisted."
Tucker looked once more into the fierce glass eyes of the grizzly bear. I have stalked the bear as it sleeps. By completing this test of bravery, I begin my passage into the man's world of The Tribe—
"There she is, Tucker." His father's excited voice cut in once again. "Just like in the picture your mother sent. I can see her coming up the ramp!"
—and become a warrior.CHAPTER 2
"You want to play Slug Bug?"
The face that leaned over the backseat of Duane Renfro's white station wagon had a smile on it that stretched from ear to ear. Large brown eyes sparkled. Sandy blond hair was cut straight across the front into bangs, the rest pulled back into a ponytail that fell onto a pink-and-lime-green T-shirt with a picture on it of two elephants riding a surfboard.
Tucker ignored his sister, keeping his eyes on the line of white dashes down the middle of the road that stretched out ahead toward Sandpoint, Idaho.
"It's a great game, really," Olivia insisted. "Every time you see one of those little old Volkswagen Beetle cars you yell 'Slug Bug!' and the one who yells it first gets to slug the other players in the arm. Mom says she used to play it with Uncle Stanley when she was a girl."
Duane Renfro laughed softly and looked in the rearview mirror at his daughter. "It sure is good to have you here, Olivia," he said for the third time.
She smiled, again wide enough to touch both ears. "Just call me Livi. That's what Mom calls me, all my friends back in Kentucky, too. I'll bet your friends here call you Tuck, huh, brother?"
Tucker blew out a puff of air. "No," he said, still looking straight ahead. I am a warrior. I have stalked the bear.
Livi seemed not to notice the edge in his voice. "Well, Tucker, I keep my mouth ready to yell 'Slug Bug!' when I play the Slug Bug game." She leaned over even farther and twisted her face around in an attempt to get in Tucker's view. "See, my mouth is ready to yell 'Slug Bug!'"
Just then a logging truck passed, its load towering over the small station wagon.
Livi's eyes went wide. "Wow! Look at the size of those logs!"
Duane Renfro shook his head. "Old growth timber. Those trees could be up to two hundred years old or more. They'll soon be plywood, Olivia—"
He checked the rearview mirror again and smiled. "Sorry, Livi, I can't get used to calling you that. I remember you only as a Kentucky two-year-old named Olivia who hugged me like a bear when I came home from teaching." He looked back at the log truck. "I can't get used to seeing those big trees on their deathbed, either. We should be leaving them for people to enjoy standing tall. That's why I won't work at the mill."
Tucker looked sidelong at his father, then out the window. The first hint of fall could be seen in the clumps of birch and aspen beside the road. A warrior should provide for his people. That is his work, no matter what. In the distance the twin peaks of Butler and Blacktail Mountain were now in view, their rocky tops pushing up and away from dark evergreen flanks. I will go to the place of The Tribe. The two-hour ride was almost over. It was only six more miles to home.
Livi was going on about the logs on the truck again—"They're so BIG!"—and then Idaho— "Everything out here in the West seems so BIG! Mom said it would be. Just look at those mountains over there. They're like Mount Everest or something." She paused only long enough to take a big breath. "Did I tell you about the time I skateboarded down Gwynn Island Hill over by Herrington Lake? It was a big hill, too for Kentucky, anyway. I was moving as fast as a fly before the swatter by the time I reached the bottom of that thing."
Tucker let out a sigh. It is time to prepare for the hunt.
"Say, Tucker, can you belch whenever you want to?" Livi asked cheerfully.
Duane Renfro laughed again. "Where did you get your sense of humor, Livi? It couldn't have been from your m——"
He stopped short, then tapped his fingers on the steering wheel and joined Tucker looking out over the forested landscape of Northern Idaho.
Livi passed her wide smile back and forth across the front seat. "I can belch on command. Mom acts like she doesn't like it. She's funny. She tries to hide her smile. But if someone says, 'Belch,' I'll do it."
Tucker noticed a deer standing on the edge of a meadow, mostly hidden in the afternoon shadows. My bow is almost ready, handcrafted from the limb of a birch tree.
Duane Renfro turned his car off the main highway onto a gravel county road. A plume of dust kicked up as he accelerated across a set of railroad tracks and moved up a hill. A partially finished log house sat beside a mobile home on one side of the road. Farther up was a junkyard with a house in the middle—old car parts, discarded window frames, rusty buckets, and gray lumber piled around a shack covered with black roofing paper instead of siding.
"Tamarack Road," Duane Renfro said as much to himself as Livi. "Almost home."
Livi sat back in her seat. "I can't believe I'm here," she said with a giggle. "The wild West! Just like Mom said! I've got a letter already written to send her. I wrote it on the plane. She mailed one to me before I even left Kentucky. Is it here yet?"
Duane nodded yes. "It came Saturday."
The station wagon slowed and pulled into a narrow driveway. Duane turned off the ignition and pointed toward a small one-story house with a tin roof and wood siding stained dark brown. To the side was a makeshift turkey coop and pen, in back of that a garage. A shaggy, cinnamon-colored dog was curled on the porch, asleep. "I know it's not as nice as what you're used to, Livi," Duane said, "but it sure is great to have you at our house."
Livi beamed up at him from the backseat. "I'm as pleased as fruit punch, too, Dad." Then with a wild lunge forward, she pointed to the banged-up Volkswagen parked beside the Renfro garage. "Slug Bug!" she yelled, and punched both her brother and her father playfully on the arm.CHAPTER 3
"And this is where you'll sleep," Duane Renfro was saying to Livi. Tucker stopped for a moment and listened to the voices of his father and sister in the back of the house. He then quietly pulled the door closed behind him and stepped out onto the porch.
The dog, Maggie, rose from her regular spot near the steps and yawned. "What Dad means is that Livi will be sleeping in my room," Tucker muttered to her. His voice came out even more sour as he mimicked the earlier conversation between him and his father: "It will just be for a while, Tucker. It's not that much to do for your own sister, is it?"
Tucker jumped down from the porch steps. He looked back at the house, then at Maggie. She had returned to her spot, curled on the doormat, chin resting on her paws. "Stay," Tucker said, in case she decided to follow him. He turned and slipped quickly out the driveway, and toward the woods on the other side of Tamarack Road.
The red flag was up on the mailbox. Tucker stopped and looked at it. Olivia had run there right from the car and put in the letter to Kentucky. "There!" she had beamed at Tucker and Duane, who were still standing in the driveway with her suitcases in hand. "A letter written is a letter received. Mom writes such good letters. I can't wait to see what she wrote me before I left, knowing I'd open it on my first day in Idaho! She'll write every day! It's almost like she's here!" She reached over and gently stroked the mailbox the same way you would a sleeping cat. "I just love mailboxes, don't you?"
Tucker had answered with only a steady stare, the same he now gave the mailbox. He reached up and touched the red flag, then let his hand move slowly down. He traced the curl of the aluminum handle with a fingertip, then gripped it. With a gentle tug, he opened the door.
The letter lay faceup. Tucker could clearly see the address: Ms. Kathy Hayden, 1169 Crosshill Road, Lexington, Kentucky 40502. The carefully printed words and numbers seemed to jump off the white envelope. The address was one he knew by heart. It was also one he seldom heard from or wrote to. He shut the mailbox door, then turned and hopped the ditch beside the county road.
When he reached the woods, Tucker broke quickly into a run. Jumping logs and cutting around stumps, he wove through the trees and onto a narrow, downward-sloping path.
At the bottom of a hill, Tucker stopped and rested beside a dry creek bed. He was breathing heavily. Sweat had soaked through his shirt. The cloth fell cool against his skin. He wiped his forehead. I am about to enter the place of The Tribe. A brave should do so only with a clear mind. He calmed his breathing and inspected the creek bed. Large rocks that were stepping-stones in wetter times sat in the middle of cracked mud. He stepped on them anyway as he crossed.
On the other side of the creek bed, Tucker looked quickly over his shoulder, then knelt and crawled through a tunnel-like opening in a thicket of low willows. Here I can prepare for my first hunt.
The tunnel curled around a large cedar tree, then opened up to a small clearing. Tucker stood and crossed the clearing, stopping only for a moment at a fire pit circled with stones to set up a log seat that had fallen over. He then walked to a small tipi made from lashed branches covered with old wool blankets.
Tucker knelt and crawled inside. I must write all important events in the journal. In the back of the tipi was another old blanket spread out on the ground. Tucker folded it back. A piece of plywood lay beneath. He brushed off the dirt and pushed the plywood to one side to reveal a round coffee can neatly sunk into a hole dug in the ground. He pulled it out and pried off the plastic lid. A small spiral notebook was curled inside. It's The Tribe's record book, almost three years now. Pulling the notebook out of the can, Tucker gently uncurled it and looked at the cover. It was decorated with tiny pictures of tipis, Indian hunters on horseback, buffalo, spears, bows and arrows, and shields. In the center was an Indian chief sitting in front of a stretched buffalo hide, paintbrush in hand. WINTER COUNT: A HISTORY OF THE TRIBE was printed neatly in large black letters on the hide. Just like the Indians used the buffalo skins to record important events.
Tucker scooted over to the better light of the tipi doorway and opened the notebook. He turned each page slowly, scanning dated entries here and there as he went: July 13, Season of the Drought: Forest fires are out of control in Montana and in Eastern Washington. We're expecting trouble in North Idaho, too. No fires in the fire pit. October 31, Season of Early Snows: Snowshoe hares haven't turned all white yet. Easy to see. April 1, Season of Mud: Joe Allen and I had a mud ball fight by the creek this afternoon. He yelled "Geronimo!" My mud ball went right into his open mouth. Tucker laughed softly, then read on. January 23, Midwinter Thaw: Where is all the snow? May 18, Season of Flowers: I found just the right piece of birchwood for my bow, and some good ones for my arrows, too! Dad says he'll help me with it and take me on my first hunt.
Tucker continued reading until he came to blank pages. He reached back and picked up a ball-point pen from the coffee can and dated his entry: September 5 (Labor Day) He hesitated for a moment, then started to write again. Season of Olivia's Arriv——
A sound from across the dry creek bed stopped him. It was the sharp snap of a twig breaking underfoot.
Excerpted from Tucker by Tom Birdseye. Copyright © 1990 Tom Birdseye. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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