The River’s Fury.
In the last post we met a young Indian girl named Sunrise. Today her story continues as sets about her daily work! But more than every day work will transpire. What will happen?
The hard, summer wind whisked my face. I stood and stretched my tired back. The hot, midday sun was beating down on us and the only thing that kept us working was the mist rising from the river! I stared over the crashing waters mentally comparing them to the peace and beauty farther down stream. It was hard to imagine it was the same river!
The men were hard at work fishing! The women, meanwhile, were busily cleaning and drying the fish along the shores. We had much to do for summer was the time when our tribes met together to trade, fish, and enjoy each other’s company.
There as another group coming in that evening! As always I was excited! I loved it when the Nez Perce would gather together! It seemed there was always a friend, relative, or someone I knew to talk too! It was a great festive time! But we still had work to do.
I had been helping all morning with the fish drying. We had to clean the fish, cut the meat in two strips, and lay it out on tool mats to dry. It was hard work carrying the heavy fish from where the men stood on the rocks to where the women were cleaning them! The girls walked back and forth, back and forth, back and forth all morning long!
But I was getting a break for my mother had just motioned for me. Unlike the peaceful part of the river near our village, where we fished, near the falls, was loud as well as dangerous! So my Mom did not call me for it was to loud but I saw her beckoning me to come over. I stretched again and ran over to her.
“Sunrise.” She called when I was beside her. “The women have brought lunch for the fishermen. Will you go and help take it to the men?”
“Yes Mother!” I answered, turning to where she had motioned.
Several of the women had gone back earlier and were now returning with a meal. Smoked salmon, root cakes, fresh berries and all sorts of delicious foods were piled in their baskets. Wild Flower and a couple other girls were already there to help them. Quickly, I scurried over.
While the women could eat anytime during the morning and afternoon, the men were kept busy fishing so they just ate at lunch. So we set out to distribute food to them all.
Some fishermen stood on the rocks while others stood on wooden platforms made on the rocks. But they all had a rope tied securely to the ground and also tied around their waste in case they fell in! Each fisherman held a giant net which he lowered into the powerful force of the river until a fish jumped into it! Finally he would drag the heavy salmon to land and give it to us girls. Last of all we would carry the fish to the ladies.
It was hard work and they were all ready for a break! We went around and fed everyone. Last of all Wild Flower and I came to Dad and Strong Wolf, Wild Flower’s brother. We stayed and talked to them as they ate.
Just as I was leaning down to refill Dad’s plate with the last of the salmon, I saw something out of the corner of my eye. I stood up and looked for what I’d glimpsed. There, straight ahead of me, were two little boys, Squirrel and Runs Swiftly, Wild Flower’s two little brothers!
They were playing tag and were dangerously near the river’s edge! Runs Swiftly was chasing Squirrel and Squirrel was laughing and teasing his brother as he always did in tag. They felt totally safe but I saw they were getting nearer and nearer the rivers edge!
I raised my hand to call and warn them when abruptly Squirrel stepped backwards and disappeared! I barely heard his dismayed cry over the sound of the fails and my pounding heart! Without even thinking I snatched my knife from my belt and lunged for the two ropes Dad and Strong Wolf had been using for safety.
I grabbed them both and sliced them off the ground. And I charged towards the river looping them together as I went. I glimpsed Squirrel struggling and screaming in the water. I dashed along side him not even bothering to holler for he would never hear me!
I saw him catch hold to a small tree and cling there! But just as I reached him his grip slipped and he fell away! I saw him bobbing about, his head barley above the current. But he was a strong swimmer and I was not so afraid about him keeping his head up as I was afraid of the giant rapids just a little ways down the river!
If he were caught in them he could be sucked down a whirlpool or pounded to pieces against the sharp rocks! I shook my head, trying not to think about it! Instead I focused on what I was doing!
I charged as fast as I could to get ahead of him! I looked back and saw him latch onto a rock. He was clinging with all his might and I dashed ahead of where he was and found a tree near the water.
Swiftly, I tied my rope around the tree. My fingers had done it so many times they knew what to do without thinking! I tied the other end securely around my waist so it would not get tighter. Next I stepped my bare feet onto the bank and neared the river’s edge.
Squirrel had not seen me. He was facing the other way and was focusing on hanging onto his rock! I reached the water and waded in slowly. I held to the rope with both hands for I knew the power of the river!
Squirrel’s rock was out in the middle of the river but I had a plan. Hanging as tightly to the rope as I could, I continued farther into the water. I raised my voice and yelled louder than ever before. But he did not hear me! So I stood firm and screamed with all I had in me!
That time he heard me and turned.
“SWIM! SWIM! SWIM!” I screamed and pointed towards the shore I was on. I knew that if he swam for all he was worth he would reach the bank close to where I was. When he was close I knew I could grab him and pull him in. Squirrel seemed to understand and I could tell he was working up the courage to jump into the raging water!
I went in deeper and tried to ignore the water swirling around my knees and tugging at my dress. I held tightly to the rope for I had plenty of extra length. All at once Squirrel jumped in! I saw him charging the shore swimming in quick, swift strokes. The river ragged and drug him towards me.
I stepped in a little farther, straining as he came closer! The river roared and splashed! I felt it tightening around me and trying to drag me in! My feet sunk in the oozing mud. And he was almost there and . . . close enough! I plunged forward two steps feeling the water wash up around me! I leaned out, grabbed his arm, and turned towards shore!
Squirrel crawled up my arm and grabbed my waist to hang on! I turned and snatched the rope with my second arm but it was too late! The water swept me of my feet and drug us under! The pounding current pulled us away. I could feel Squirrel tightening his grip on me as the water tried to rip us apart. I could feel my lungs running out of air and my arms burning as they clung to the rope.
What, I screamed in my head, am I going to do!!?