The Waterfall

 

I

Chaz swung his leg over the seat of his bike and pushed hard on the pedal. He was so glad to get out of the insanity of school. Some days it was okay. Today it was horrible. Rather than think about school, he decided to take the long way home. He headed up the Cross Valley Trail and stopped at Beaver Falls. He dismounted and sat for a while. Watching the water flow over the rocks helped him put the troubles of the day behind him.

Nothing, thMap of The Village of Beaver Ridge ought Chaz, was more fun than riding his bike through the hills and creeks of the valley where he lived. His mountain bike was a gift last Christmas. It was, he thought every time he rode it, probably the best gift he could ever hope to get in his whole life. After opening the gift: a new bike, new helmet, new bike shoes, new water-bladder and backpack, even a pair of waterproof socks! He vowed silently to obey his Dad, to do everything he could to make the man happy. But he felt that he could never make his Dad as happy as he was the next day when he went riding.

It was odd, Chaz thought, that just watching water fall over rocks would wash away the irritations of the day. As he started to climb over some rocks his feet began to slide in his shoes. It wasn’t the first time this had happened. Sometimes he had trouble keeping his feet securely placed on the bike pedals. His shoes seemed to have stretched over the past few months and were now too wide, his feet slid around in them, not matter how he laced them. Perhaps the pair he got were made wrong. Or maybe they just were not made for riding through creeks. He was going to have to get a new pair of bike shoes. One more reason today was horribly insane. He was going to have to go shopping. He just did not like shopping.

It wasn’t far up Beaver Creek Trail to the junction with PayDirt Trail, but it was an uphill challenge. Today it was even harder: he had to concentrate on pushing straight down on the pedals, otherwise, his foot would slide in his shoe. When he reached the main trail he realized he was hot, thirsty, irritated and quite a distance from home. Rather than try to ride straight home, he headed downhill to Staley’s Store. The ride down to Staley’s was not much fun today. Instead of feeling the excitement of riding downhill like a crazy gorilla, he had to ride slowly, like a novice biker.

He was hot, thirsty and frustrated when he reached Staley’s. Parking his bike in the bike rack, he went inside. Hank was behind the counter, making a milkshake. Martha gave him a glass and a pitcher of water. He drank three glasses before he felt reasonable.

Hank called out, “Hey Kermit” and held up the milkshake. A guy walked over from the grocery section and, saying thanks, took the shake. Kermit, milkshake in hand, sat at a nearby table. From the bike helmet and other paraphernalia it was obvious that he had been sitting there. Chaz wondered about the man. He had talked to the guy a few times. He was, probably, mid-twenties, medium height, fit but not muscular. Still, he looked like he could hold his own in a fight. He seemed self-assured, like he knew he could take care of himself. One odd thing, he lived in Rockborough but frequently drove up here to go bike riding. Suddenly he had an inspired thought. He looked at Kermit and said, “Hey, Kermit, may I ask you something a bit personal?”

Kermit looked at him. People sometimes teased him about his nickname and why he liked riding in the rain. But Chaz was a fellow biker. Besides, Chaz appeared to be bothered about something. So Kermit smiled politely and said, “Ask away. If I don’t like your question, I’ll flatten your tires.” Then he gave Chaz a big grin.

Chaz found the grin reassuring. He glanced at Hank and then pointed to his feet, saying, “I need some new bike shoes. These were new Christmas, but they’re wearing out. I started wearing skate shoes on easy rides; but for the tough stuff I need a good pair. I hate shopping. There’s a bike shop in The Plaza, but…” He stopped talking, not knowing what to say next.

“Get them online,” Kermit said bluntly. Chaz looked at him, unsure. Kermit smiled and offered, “I like Five-Tens. I order them online. Just surf around the Internet. Check out Five-Ten’s website, Amazon perhaps, but there’s others. Read some blogs. They’ll tell you what you need to know. They’ll be cheaper online and you’ll know you have what you want.” He paused in thought, then said, “Ask Doug. Or maybe Steve. I ride for fun, for play. They’re the serious riders. They’ll know.” He smiled and added, “You might try two pairs of socks so your feet won’t slip around.”

He stared at Kermit, wondering how the guy knew exactly what the problem was. Chaz thanked him for the advice and then thanked Martha for the water. As he mounted his bike he thought that Staley’s always cheered him; someone was always there to help, even if it was a bit weird.

The Internet was insane. He searched for about an hour each night for the next three nights. He read blogs. He read reviews. He found all sorts of information. And the more he read, the more confused he became. The pictures on his computer screen were helpful, but the reviews sometimes indicated that they were not totally accurate. Even more irritating was trying to find out how stiff the sole was. Bike shoes needed stiff, supportive soles. It looked like a trip to The Plaza. The problem was that he’d buy something just to end the shopping trip. That’s why he ended up with the shoes he was wearing now. Santa had put a handwritten coupon for one pair of bike shoes in his Christmas present. So he and his Dad went shopping. Like always, his Dad expected him to make a decision and buy something. Apparently it was “like father, like son” in that they both disliked shopping.

Saturday morning Chaz headed down the mountain to The Plaza. The Plaza was not a mall in the big city sense. It was by comparison rather small, about the length of Main Street. Built up against the expressway, it was WalMart on one end and a sporting goods store on the other. The middle was a covered shopping plaza. The best part was the fountain. It was in the middle of the covered plaza. On a hot day everyone splashed in the fountain. Most of the stores had moved into The Plaza from Main Street. This had caused much animosity, as it looked like the village might disappear. Instead, the old village had become a tourist destination, with boutiques, handmade crafts, camping outfitters and souvenirs, even a fancy coffee shop that sold espresso and panini sandwiches. Mike’s Hardware and the florist were the only stores that had stayed downtown. Even though Main Street seemed to be flourishing, there were a number of people who were unhappy. It had caused a lot of bickering, even in his own family. His Dad and his Uncle Phil had a huge disagreement about it. But that was over five years ago. Chaz was pondering all this as he rode toward The Plaza. He had been to Charlotte, Atlanta and Dallas. He knew what big cities were like. And he did not like them. The Village of Beaver Ridge was as urban as he wanted.

In a big city he couldn’t ride through the woods on his way to a mall, like he was doing today. He had taken PayDirt Trail from behind his house and followed it the long way around. It was a very pleasant, easy ride following the creek as it flowed toward the river. As he rode his mind raced from one topic to the next. His thoughts about shopping led him to thinking about shopping on the Internet. He’d never done anything like that before. He wondered what else he could find by searching, instead of surfing from site to site or checking Facebook and Wikipedia or YouTube.

This led to other thoughts and eventually he began to get tired. It was a long ride, after all. His Dad had offered to take him shopping, but he decided to go on his own. After all, he was almost seventeen and it was a nice cool Spring morning. More to the point, his Dad would want him to make a decision, to buy something now. This trip was only for looking. He wasn’t desperate for new shoes since Kermit had been right about wearing two pairs of socks: his feet did not slip around as much when he wore two pairs. He had made a promise to himself that he would not buy anything today. He was just going to look; he had time to think about what he was going to buy. Besides, once his mission was accomplished, he would be free to ride wherever he wished.

It was about 10:00 when he chained his bike to the rack nearest the bike store. For the first half hour or so he did nothing but window shop. Then he found a pair of high-top skate shoes that would be great for biking. The soles were really too stiff for skateboarding, but that was what he wanted for mountain biking. Still, he had promised himself…

So, he walked around a bit and ended up at the fountain. It was not spraying, and the water level was rather low. Today, no one was even sitting on the ledge that surrounded the fountain. He sat down and, as was usual for him, spun around and put his feet down to touch the top of the water. Only today, it was so low that he could not stretch enough to get the soles of his feet to touch the water. He realized there was less than an inch of water in the fountain. He could walk across it! Now, if someone he knew could take a picture, that would be a bit wild. It might look like he was walking across the fountain!

While he was sitting there, two friends, Aiden and Matt, sat down on the opposite side of the fountain. Aiden was tall enough that his shoe almost touched the water. Chaz decided to walk over to them. As he walked over, they began to laugh.

“Almost looks like you’re walking on the water!” Aiden said, laughing.

Matt was grinning. “Great idea,” Matt said. “But you can’t get wet and cool off in that.” He was pointing at the fountain. “And that,” Matt continued, “was out plan. To get sprayed by the fountain. Then we’d continue our ride.”

A few minutes of conversation and Chaz learned that his friends, who were bored, had been riding around the valley and were now very hot. So they decided to cool off in The Plaza’s fountain. The discussion continued for a while. The cool Spring morning had become a very warm day and his friends wanted a place to refresh themselves by getting wet. They could ride out to BeaverDam Pond, up in the forest, but it would be crowded. Same, most likely, for Beaver Falls and The Cascade.

It was when Matt suggested a waterfall that was far up in the national forest, some distance up highway 12, that Chaz remembered the little falls. Up above his Uncle Phil’s house was a small waterfall. It was maybe four or five feet high. But it was wide enough for three or four people to sit under it. He told them about it.

In moments he was calling Uncle Phil on his cell phone. Then he called his parents and told them he’d called Uncle Phil. They headed up Beaver Ridge Road, stopping at FoodMart to buy water and lunch. Bicycling to his uncle’s house was harder than one might expect because it was almost totally an uphill ride. The ride home would be a blast. But on this hot day, it was like riding in a sauna.

To make matters worse, each of them was wearing jeans. Considering how cool it was at sunrise, jeans made sense. But it was now noon, no clouds, and they were riding uphill wearing skate shoes, t-shirts and jeans. Their shirts were soaked after the first mile. They quickly ran out of water. Chaz took a left and headed to Staley’s. Refilling their bodies with water and buying more for the rest of the trip, they returned to their quest.

Uncle Phil’s house was actually in the national forest. It was near the original McQuillan family homestead. The family had owned it as far back as the Civil War. Sean McQuillan managed to hang on to the farm when the government set up the national forest. His son had turned it into an organic farm, producing mostly organic apples.

Soon they rode past Uncle Phil’s mailbox. This last section was hardest, and not just because it was steep. Struggling with anticipation, they felt like the forest service road would never be found. Chaz began to feel a bit of worry, since he had only been to the waterfall once before. That was last September. He hoped he wouldn’t ride past it.

The forest service road was a dirt road about half a mile beyond the mailbox. The boys were relieved when they saw it. As soon as they left the paved road they could feel the difference. Trees shaded the road. The temperature dropped about ten degrees. They were in the forest. The real adventure had begun.

As they forded Sawdust Creek, they saw a sign that they were on private property. Chaz relaxed a bit, knowing they were in the right place. Aiden heard it first, then Matt and Chaz heard it. The song of water splashing over rocks was drifting daintily through the trees. Matt saw the old road that led to the McQuillan Homestead Ruins. They dismounted and rolled their bikes down the overgrown trail.

Their girlfriends would call it “cute”. It certainly was not Niagara Falls. But it was a true waterfall, not a cascade. A stream of water was dropping maybe four feet into a small pool. The three boys stood in reverent awe as the spray blew up and around the pool area. They put their phones and other items in the bags that hung from their bike seats. Walking around the bank of the pool, they felt the waterfall spray blowing on them. At the base of the falls the cool spray was truly refreshing. Not knowing what the pool was like, if it was shallow, deep, sandy bottom or deep sticky mud, strong currents or safe, they stepped gently into the pool. As the cool water seeped into their shoes they began to relax. The floor of the pool was sandy with some rocks sprinkled around.

As they walked deeper, soaking the legs of their jeans, they felt a solid bottom. The pool was about as deep as the falls were high. There were some large rocks in it, but they could swim a little. The best part was sitting under the falls. The falling water was a rather thin curtain of wetness, sometimes mostly spray, sometimes a solid sheet of water. But it was very cool water, so refreshing after the long, hot bike ride.

It felt like a very sacred place. The feeling of awe never departed. They did play and swim, but they never made any loud noises. Shouting and hollering with exuberance seemed totally inappropriate for this place. Instead, they felt moved toward prayer. Not that any of the three were spiritually pious; but that it just felt like this place required an attitude of reverence.

The waterfall itself was landing on a pile of rocks, apparenly broken from the ledge above. That had happened a long time ago, as that rocks had been smoothed by the water. The way they had fallen made a sort of bench on which they were sitting. One of the most interesting things was the way the water felt. The water in the creek was crystal clear. At first Chaz reveled in the silky texture of the water as it poured over him; it felt cool at first, but it was warm enough to made him sleepy. He looked around, seeking a distraction from the way the water made him feel. An idea popped into his head. It was a crazy idea, but he liked it.

Wading around the pool, he noted the position of the larger rocks. All of them were on the edges of the pool; there were none in the middle of the pool. He climbed under the falls, reaching up to the ledge above. It was so slick he could not get a grip on it. The edge of the ledge, the creek-bank, gave him a good purchase. He swung his legs and was up on top of the falls.

His plan was to jump off the ledge into the pool. He stood on the ledge and started to swing his arms for a long jump. Then that feeling of sacred awe swept over him. He could not move, much less jump. From where he was standing he could not see Aiden and Matt sitting in the falls just beneath him. Then, just as Chaz would have jumped, he saw Matt, followed closely by Aiden, launch themselves from under the falls into the pool.

Chaz tried to holler; the spirit of the place, whatever it was, would not let him. Then he saw something totally unexpected. Standing at the level of the pool the tall weeds blocked the view, but from up here he could see clearly. There were at least a dozen mounds of rock surrounding the pool. Graves! This was a cemetery! He sat down in the water. The spirit seemed to overcome him. He had a vision of a massacre. He did not know who was killing or being killed. But the graves were testimony to a horrific event.

Sliding down to the edge, he slipped over the falls into the pool. “Aiden! Matt!” He heard himself holler in a whisper. “It’s a cemetery!” Again, he was hollering in a whisper. He headed to the bank and stepped out of the water. “Look!” he said and pointed at one of the mounds. In a normal, but very quiet voice, he said, “There’s about a dozen of them. Old graves.” He pointed to several more, “there’s one, there’s another. From up there,” he pointed at the waterfall, “you can see all of them.”

All three of them were silent for a few minutes. Then Matt walked over to his bike, lifted it up and began to head toward the road. Aiden and Chaz quickly followed him.

By the time they passed Uncle Phil’s mailbox they were feeling much more relaxed. The downhill ride was exhilarating. They began to shout for joy. The still warm air flowing past them did help their clothes dry. Instead of going down Harrison Hill, they took the long way around, to Watson’s Roost. The Downhill Run was the perfect way to end the ride. As they rode past the school parking lot, Aiden headed home up Harrison Hill Road, Chaz headed up Cross Valley Trail and Matt headed toward The Meadows.

Chaz had learned to keep a pair of dry jeans, t-shirt and shoes in the garage. After a thorough washing with the garden hose, he slipped into them and tossed his clothes in the washer. He put his wet shoes on a shelf and turned on the small fan he kept there to dry them. After gathering some more dirty clothes from his room, he turned on the washing machine. Then he called Uncle Phil.

II

Every day for the past month had been on the cool side. Then, two days ago, God turned on the furnace. PayDirt Creek Valley was suddenly hot and dry. Chaz rose at sunrise in order to get his chores done before the heat became unbearable. When he finished, he went for a ride. The forest was always cooler. And, he could jump in the creek.

Unfortunately, The Cascade was crowded. And the little pool at the little dam was too. He headed toward Beaver Falls and then decided to enjoy Staley’s air conditioning. He could quench his thirst, refill his water bladder and get a bite to eat. He was surprised to see the parking lot full; even more surprised at the uproar inside.

Phillip Harrison, whose wife owned one of the craft boutiques in the village, was almost shouting. Thomas Rodriguez, a relative newcomer—having moved to the valley about five years ago—was the object of Mr. Harrison’s irritation. It took about ten seconds for Chaz to figure out the topic of conversation. He wondered if he wouldn’t be wise to leave. His thirst won.

He walked over to the counter with a quart bottle of Gatorade and put some money on the counter. Martha rang him up. He was almost out of the door when Willie Smith called out his name.

“Hey! Chaz! You found the place. What do you think?” Willie was grinning from ear to ear. He was hoping for Chaz to say something even more controversial.

Chaz had talked about this with his Mom and Dad and his Uncle Phil and Aunt Lucy. So he smiled and said, “I think it’s best to leave the dead alone. You know what happens when you stir up ghosts.” Then he turned and walked out of the door.

The Gatorade was refreshing. He headed up PayDirt Trail. Soon he was deep in the forest, close to the small pond that was a favorite swimming hole. The two couples who had been there when he rode by were gone. Looking around, he found some rabbit and fox tracks and plenty of wild turkey tracks. Fortunately, they had taken their trash with them.

The pond was about three feet deep and ten feet wide at the center, made by a neat little dam that someone had built many years ago. It was made of stone, no cement was used, so water did seep through the stones. But not very much. A minor engineering marvel. The pool was always fresh, since the water flowed through the stones. The most impressive part was that it was still standing. Neither storm nor human had damaged it. That was even more impressive.

Since he was peppered with mud from his ride he stepped into the pool to rinse off. At least he would get the mud off his face and out of his hair. When he felt relatively clean he climbed up on the rocks above the pool and pulled off his shirt and shoes. Then he let the sun do it’s magic. It didn’t take long for his clothes to go from wet to damp.

Sitting up, he looked around and soon was pondering the dam. The thought that there had been no human effort to damage it nagged at him. Why, he thought, did no one try to destroy the dam. They destroyed sand castles at the beach. There were always some who seemed to enjoy destroying what others had done.

His thoughts drifted to the controversy that was raging across the valley. The uproar in Staley’s was just a tiny part of the animosity and anger that flowed through the valley. And everyone was, in one way or another, blaming him, even though Aiden and Matt were with him when they found the graveyard. Uncle Phil had warned him. But he really didn’t believe it would be this bad. Later, his Dad and Uncle Phil explained the whole thing.

It actually started with The Plaza. That, his Dad confessed, was his fault. He had leased the land for The Plaza to a developer. Because it was down at the intersection of Highway 12 and the Expressway, his Dad did not think it would harm the valley. That caused the disagreement between his Dad and Uncle Phil.

When the local stores moved into The Plaza, some thought the village would turn into a ghost town. But Phillip Harrison sold some of his farm for a subdivision and set up his wife in her arts and crafts store. After that, a number of boutique stores opened. Rumor was that the Harrisons were involved in a few of the newer boutiques. People like Rodriguez, who had bought a small farm several years ago, saw all of this as the urbanization of the valley. They were afraid that turning the farms into subdivisions would destroy the rural lifestyle.

Staley’s, which originally was a ‘seed and feed’ store, was evidence of the changes taking place in the valley. The Village of Beaver Ridge was the closest town to the national forest. Smokey’s Back-Country Outfitters had just opened in the village and there were rumors of a Zip-line going in somewhere. And now this graveyard was deemed an archaeological site of historical importance. Some believed that it could become a tourist attraction.

Uncle Phil had called the state historical society to find out what they knew about the graveyard. Most likely it was some of his wife’s ancestors. It was when some professor at the university got involved that the craziness took over.

The sun had moved into the west and Chaz began to feel a little cool. He put his shirt and shoes on and headed back down PayDirt Creek Trail toward town. When he reached the ford where the trail crossed the creek he stopped and dismounted. There was a little cascade just above the ford and Chaz stood watching it for a few minutes. Willie Smith may not have got the controversial comment he wanted, but he sure did manage hijack Chaz’s thoughts. As he watched the cascade, Chaz wondered about the little dam again. There was something to it, something he didn’t understand.

He sat down on a rock. The sun had moved so that the cascade began to catch the sunlight. From the vantage of his rock, Chaz could see rainbows in the splashing water. The people who lived in the area, he thought, were the ones who hiked and biked the trails. When they arrived at a place like this, they stopped to enjoy it, just as he was enjoying this cascade right now. So, he thought, it’s local people who enjoy this place. There are few visitors to this area. And, his thoughts clarifying in his head, he realized that when someone arrived at the little pool and dam, they stopped to enjoy a dip in the pool. They know that they will want to do that again and again, so they don’t damage the dam.

None of this helped him understand why someone would enjoy destroying a sand castle, or a dam, or anything else. Maybe he could find a way to understand that later. He remounted his bike and rode home.

III

Chaz put the shoe box on his bed, took off the top and looked at his new bike shoes. It occurred to him that these shoes had caused a lot of trouble even before he had bought them. They were the reason he had gone to The Plaza and they were the reason he had sat down by the fountain. So, he thought, looking at the shoes, they’re going to be a source of adventure. In fact, they already were.

As he put the shoes in his closet he almost laughed out loud. Uncle Phil had been right. The graves were his wife’s ancestors. But they also turned out to be the first people to settle in the valley. That meant that his Aunt Lucy and his Dad were the descendants of the first family in the valley. And so were his cousins: and so was he…well, with his sister and brother. His family was totally cool. The oldest family in the valley.

Phil Harrison disputed this claim; but the professor was certain. The Harrison family cemetery was at the Old Stone Church. The McQuillans were also buried there, but only after they had abandoned the cemetery by the falls. The little cemetery dated back to 1738. There was more, but it all proved that they were the first family in the valley.

Like his Mom had said, that and two bucks will get you a doughnut and a cup of coffee. But it was still really cool. They had looked up relatives and a family tree was now hanging on the wall near the TV. The tree branches were all spread out with the McQuillan family crest and almost everyone listed.

He started to toss the box to the trash, but noticed that it was a nice size and rather sturdy. It might be useful, so he put it on his desk until the morning. A short while later he said his prayers and crawled into bed. Just before he turned out the light he noticed the shoe box. He clicked off the light but found himself thinking about his shopping trip. It really was not horrible. In fact, it was fun. That surprised him. He had gone back to the store where he had seen the high-top skate shoes. They still had them, along with another style that was even more suited to biking. Instead of black or gray, these were brightly colored. Vibrant, electric colors: red, yellow, blue and green with black laces. He wondered how they’d look covered in mud. They were specifically designed for mountain biking. They were even waterproof. The clerk said he had a pair and they dried quickly when soaked. He told the clerk that if they didn’t, he’d bring them back. Still, it had been an enjoyable trip. But then he knew exactly what he wanted when he left for the store and he’d found it when he got there. That made a big difference, he thought.

A few days later he was enjoying a milkshake at Staley’s when Phillip Harrison and Willie Smith walked in. They didn’t seem to notice him. But they did sit down at the counter and order lunch. Their conversation was a bit loud, considering the topic, but Chaz didn’t mind listening to them. They were discussing ways to get state government to obtain parts of the national forest and turn it into a state park. They wanted to tie it to the graveyard at the waterfall. They also wanted to build an amphitheater and a big barn for square dancing and music concerts. Chaz just listened. Later, he tried to repeat everything he’d heard to his parents.

The question that bothered Chaz the most was whether or not Mr. Harrison and Mr. Smith knew he was in Staley’s and could hear every word they said. If they did know he was there, well, were they setting some sort of trap? Hard to believe they didn’t see his bike chained in the bike rack, harder to believe that they had not seen him sitting at the first table. His parents and his uncle and aunt took note of his concern. Suddenly, he was included in the adult discussions. Not just to listen and learn, but to express his opinion, to be a part of the conversation.

Aunt Lucy also had a concern, one that was rather frightening: it sounded like they might be trying to force the state to take over their farm. That way no federal land would be involved. They also might try to take PayDirt Springs. The springs belonged to the McQuillan family, but was maintained by the National Forest. There had always been some animosity between the Harrison family and his, ever since Great-Grandpa McQuillan had managed to keep a part of his farm. The Harrisons had taken the money; their old family home was now a display maintained by the Forest Service. Which is why many thought they were the oldest family in the valley. They had kept and developed what is now known as Harrison Hill. They also laid out the four streets that are now the Village of Beaver Ridge, giving land for the school and the town hall.

Uncle Phil was doubtful. “Look,” he said, “Phillip is just trying to keep what his great-grandparents set up. They didn’t keep their land. It’s part of the national forest. He’s just trying to farm what he has the best way he knows how. Charles, I know you and Lucy have had trouble with him for years. But he’s not as bad as you think. He just sees things differently. They’ve sold the best part of Harrison Hill and their lowland to developers. They’ve got money now, not land. They’ve got to find ways to keep the money flowing. Willie Smith is in the same boat. If they can get something to attract tourists, they might survive. They’re not thinking about your farm or our farm, I’m sure.

“When that professor started yakking about the cemetery up by the falls I pulled out the agreement your great-grandpa made with the government. They can’t condemn the land and take it as long as the land is used for agriculture. Charles, I’m sure your farm has the same provision. But you’re right to worry about what they’re doing. They could make BeaverDam Pond a state or county park, as well as the Springs. They could do that and still pay the lease on the Springs. And if they did that, we’d have tourists hiking all over our farms.”

The family sat in silence as they pondered what Uncle Phil had said. Finally, Chaz’s Mom spoke, “Well, we really don’t know what they’re up to. Charles, why not check this out with Dan Piper? Maybe he can shed some light. Can the state even buy or lease national forest land? From what I understood Chaz to say, our neighbors don’t know the answer to that.” Chaz grinned. The way she had said “neighbors” was quite funny. Even Aunt Lucy was smiling.

As he donned his pajamas, Chaz looked in the mirror. He’d become an adult today. Well, sort of, anyway. It wasn’t what he’d expected. Adults always seemed to have it easy. They knew the rules. They knew how to deal with life. He was always getting into trouble because he did not understand the rules. Today he learned that there were no rules. At least not like he’d thought. He used to think that if his great-great grandpa had sold the land they’d be as rich as the Harrisons. Now he knew the truth. His family had fought for their land. And they were still fighting for it. But they had land. The Harrisons only had money. He didn’t comprehend it completely, but he was beginning to understand the Harrisons and the Smiths.

Adults didn’t live easy lives. His Dad and Mom didn’t just get up each morning and farm. Sure, they enjoyed it. It was work, but it was fun. The hard part was keeping what they had. They were going to have to work with the Harrisons and the Smiths. He realized that much. Mr. Rodriguez was mistaken. Phillip Harrison wasn’t trying to ruin the valley. He was just trying to survive.

He now understood his friend, Aiden, and his older brother, Bob. They were Phillip Harrison’s sons. While they’d always been friends; sometimes Bob would get weird and Aiden could be weirder. Now he knew that they lived in a much less secure world than he did. Money, even a lot of money, did not solve everything.

Chaz said his prayers and pulled the covers up. He felt the cat jump up on his bed. “Missie,” he said to the cat, “you are the only one who truly lives an easy life. All you got to worry about is where the dog might be.”

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