Wednesday, December 29, 2010

a Shoshone teenager teaches me about patience: The Legend of Jimmy Spoon [part two]

The Legend of Jimmy SpoonWhile researching The Legend of Jimmy Spoon, I volunteered as a tutor for the high school Indian Club. This was in Pocatello, Idaho, seven miles from the Shoshone-Bannock reservation. Basically I was a blond California girl who knew little about Native Americans, but wanted to learn. I was eager and cheerful. Also, I talked a lot.

Yackety-yack while helping students with English essays, blabbidybla while correcting math papers (which I knew even less about). One morning, a Shoshone boy named Kerwin Toane sat at the table across from me. He wore his hair in long braids and was quiet. I offered to help with his homework then chatted on and on about this-and-that. Finally I asked why he wasn't saying anything.

"I'm just waiting for you to finish," he answered.


Eagle Tip FeatherOver the next weeks, Kerwin and I developed a friendship. When I remembered to keep my mouth shut, he talked about his tribe and traditions. The more quiet I was, the more I learned. He recounted going into the mountains with his uncle, to capture a sacred eagle feather. I took detailed notes. He translated Shoshone vocabulary for me.

So in The Legend of Jimmy Spoon, Chapter 21 describes how Nampa and Ga-mu ride their horses into the foothills with Jimmy. They teach him how the Teton Sioux catch an eagle without harming the bird.

It's one of my favorite chapters.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

exploring the ghost town of Bodie, California for "Orphans Runaway"

Full Moon Rises over the Ghost Town of Bodie, California Artists Photographic Poster Print, 18x24
ghost town of Bodie, California

At nearly 8,400' elevation, the old mining town of Bodie, California takes your breath -- literally from the altitude, but also from its stark beauty. It's high in the Eastern Sierra Mountains on a wind-swept plateau.

Getting there is tricky: 10 miles off Hwy 395 up a winding canyon, then another three miles of jaw-rattling washboard. There are no trees. When you finally arrive, you understand why this historical park is called a "real ghost town." The buildings are in a state of "arrested decay," meaning some day they'll just crumble into the sagebrush. The stores remain stocked with goods, just as they were when people up-and-left. A coat hangs from a hook in one of the homes, a hat nearby. A table is set for supper. It's eerie peeking in the windows. Visitors are instructed not to touch anything, but to leave every rusty can and fencepost in place for others to see.

In its boom years, Main Street was a mile long with 65 saloons. Shootouts, stabbings and stagecoach robberies added to Bodie's reputation as the most wicked mining camp in the West. There were brothels and gambling halls. Its Chinatown had opium dens. In 1879, a newspaper quoted a young girl who had learned her family was moving there: "Goodbye, God! We're going to Bodie!"

Orphan RunawaysI had visited many times, but not until we took our young sons did I imagine this rough place through their eyes. Greg and Cody wished they could have roamed the hills without parents, smoked cigars and stayed up all night. That sounded like fun to me!

So on a subsequent trip, Dave Marquart and Susan DesBaillets from the California State Park Service, escorted us through Bodie's deserted stores, schoolhouse, morgue, hotel, and the frightening stamp mill. My copious notes became a middle-grade novel, Orphans Runaway. It was a lot of fun writing about two young brothers who tumble through adventures in this wild camp of 1879.