station One, this is Sidwalter Lookout. Come in! ” A woman’s voice, strained and urgent, drags me out of sleep.
Seconds later, the siren on the roof of the jail across the alley goes off, so loud it hurts. Something’s wrong.
I know what’s coming next. A door clicks open in the hallway, and suddenly, light seeps through the crack under my door. Then my dad’s bare feet cut a shadow out of the strip of light.
“This is Station One. Go ahead, Sidwalter.” He is talking into the two-way radio, and he is calm, like always.
The woman comes back on.
“We’ve got lightning strikes on the other side of HeHe,” she says. “I can see the glow from here.” I recognize her voice. She checks in every night from the fire lookout tower way out in the woods. August is danger season for forest fires.
“Ten-four,” my dad confirms. “Keep an eye on it. I’m headed down to Fire Control and will call you from there. Station One out.”
Dad doesn’t move. He must be staring at the map
of the Warm Springs Reservation taped to the wall. He’ll be tracing the web of lines anchored by Mount Jefferson at the corner of the reservation and by the rest of the Oregon Cascades. Looking for water sources
and access roads. Getting his mind all the way awake and focused on fire.
Steps echo again in the hall, heavy this time: Dad’s fire boots. The rusty spring on the back door creaks open.
Next, I hear the pickup start, back away from the garage, and turn in a sharp spray of gravel. And then the night is still again.
I wish I could go back to sleep, but my heart is racing and my mind is showing me pictures of fire. I breathe slowly and let my thoughts drift.
Funny, I know the Indian women up on the fire lookouts—Mrs. Wesley on Sidwalter Butte, Mrs. Quempts on Shitike, Mrs. Suppah on Eagle—better than any of the kids who live at Warm Springs. My brothers have already made friends. A guy named Jimmy showed up the day we moved in and asked them to go to baseball practice. Now Jimmy comes around just about every day and they go off somewhere, leaving me a sitting duck when Mom wants chores done, which is almost always.
We’ve been here two weeks, and I haven’t seen even one girl.
In the morning, I follow voices out onto the windowed porch. Mom is bent over the sewing machine, making curtains. She looks perfectly comfortable, as usual, despite the heat.
Bill is standing in the doorway, peeling his damp T-shirt away from his chest.
“How are you going to get there?” Mom asks, like she always does. I wonder where he wants to go.
“We can walk. It’s not that far.”
She sighs, then holds up a hem and cuts the thread with her teeth.
“Mom, we’ll watch out for cars,” Bill says. “We’ll be fine. Please?”
Finally, she nods. “OK, but you have to be extra careful.” She always says that, too.
“Great. Thanks, Mom!”
I follow Bill into the kitchen. “Where are you going?”
Bill reaches into the cereal box and takes a handful of corn flakes, which he crams into his mouth. “Swimming,” he says, chewing. “At the creek.”
I know about the swimming hole in the cold, fast-flowing creek up Shitike Road. We’ve driven to it, but for some reason Mom doesn’t want us to walk up the road. In Virginia, we could walk anywhere.
I’d give anything to splash around in the water. “Can I go?”
“Just Joe and me with Jimmy,” Bill says.
I hate when he makes me beg. “But . . . I want to come.”
Bill shakes his head. “Find your own friends.”
Easy for you to say. All the kids here are boys. I pour the last of the cereal into a bowl.
Mom comes into the kitchen. After a small silence, Bill huffs and says, “C’mon, Mom.”
She is staring him down. “Bill,” she says, “Kitty goes—or nobody goes.”
I can’t believe she’s taking my side! I spoon up my cereal fast, in case she changes her mind.
Jimmy is waiting on the back steps. The four of us scuff up the alley and then leave the shade of the big trees for the open and dusty trail that winds down the hill to Shitike Road. It’s scorching out, but the crushing heat feels bearable now that I’m headed for cold water.
The road is quiet, just a cluster of houses and a couple of dogs panting in thin shade behind a fence. I don’t know any of the Indian families that live down here.
The pavement ends, and the rest of Shitike Road stretches out in front, a dry graveled ribbon all the way to the mountains. Bill and Jimmy walk ahead, talking baseball. Boring stuff, like how 1962 is a great year because some guy named Jackie Robinson got elected to the Hall of Fame.
Jimmy’s the catcher for the VFW Little League team. Any boy at Warm Springs can join, even Joe, though he hasn’t played yet. Bill’s on third base, but his heart is set on pitching. Yesterday he came home all happy because the regular pitcher got benched. Maybe he’ll get his chance tonight. It’s the last game of the season.
I drop back, keeping out of the dust that they kick up. Joe trails behind, flinging gravel into the ditch. Walking to the swimming hole takes much longer than going by car. Finally, we come to a straight stretch where I can hear the creek tumbling off to the left through the thick brush.
Bill and Jimmy stop and look back.
“Remember where the trail is?” Bill calls.
Trees and bushes press close on both sides, coated with dust. I don’t see any trail. “I don’t think this is the right place.”
And then something blasts past my legs, skitters through the gravel, and plunks Jimmy right in the ankle. A rock the size of my fist.
“Ow!” he yells, and crumples into the dirt.
Bill whirls around to look back at Joe. “What the heck are you doing?”
But Joe didn’t throw that rock. He’s way behind us, standing in the ditch to one side of the road. A wedge of Indian kids in cutoffs and shorts comes up behind him, a tall girl in the lead. And she looks really mad. “Hey, Báshtan! ” she shouts.
“What’s that?” I ask Bill. He shakes his head.
Jimmy straightens up, brushes the gravel from his legs. “What do you want, Jewel?” he calls.
“You know her?” Bill asks, surprise in his voice.
“Oh yeah.” Jimmy nods. “Everybody knows her.”
Now a boy pushes through the group and steps out in front of the girl named Jewel. On his feet are ragged tennis shoes. He holds a rock in his fist.
“Uh-oh,” Jimmy says quietly. “Raymond.”
“Who’s that?” I ask.
Bill sighs. “Trouble.”
The boy named Raymond is as tall as Jewel and looks just as angry. He flips the rock up and down in his hand and says something I can’t hear. Joe’s head jerks away, his arm comes up. Raymond raises his fist.
Joe’s only eight. Raymond towers over him. “Hey! ” I yell.
“Kitty!” Bill says through his teeth. “Shut up.”
Raymond turns and stares at us. Then he lets the rock fly. I duck behind Bill and cover my head as the rock skips through the gravel and lands in the ditch.
Raymond waves his hand off toward the creek. “This is our spot,” he