Welcome to Delbert’s Weir, a great YA survival story by Carmen Peone
Today I have the great pleasure of introducing a Women Writing the West® member and author friend, Carmen Peone, and her novel Delbert’s Weir, a great YA survival story. I read this novel last week and found it not only an intriguing survival tale, but also a believable and engaging coming-of-age story.
Clearly Carmen has history parenting, teaching or otherwise guiding teenaged boys! She captures the language and nuances of growing friendship, emerging Christian faith and everyday conflict among 16-year-olds. She’s also done her historical and cultural research, which I respect immensely. This historical novel comes alive in her well-crafted words.
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Summary: In a time when the west was still untamed, sixteen-year-old Delbert Gardner leads two friends into the backcountry for a three-day adventure. Little did they know three days of hunting and fishing would turn into eight days of near starvation, injury and illness. When hope of returning home seems out of reach, Delbert recalls watching his Native American friends construct a fishing weir and sets out to build one himself. To him, it is the only way out.
A Story that Begins with Family
Carmen Peone has family history among the Colville Tribes and spent a great deal of time gathering information from tribal members and history about something I’d never heard of . . . a fishing weir, a fencing and net apparatus used to capture fish in rivers and streams.
Native Fishing Weirs and the Columbia River
Carmen shared with me these insights to fishing and weirs in Native life along the Columbia River:
“For the Plateau Natives, salmon was the main staple. That is until Grand Coulee Dam was built in 1942. In the final draft of the plans for the dam, a fish ladder was omitted. Since then, salmon have ceased the 700-mile migration to the Kettle Falls to spawn.
“Elders talk of young warriors standing out over the falls on wooden platforms with large nets catching those salmon that were too weak to jump the 50-foot falls prior to the dam’s construction.
“Legends, including how Coyote brought salmon to the people from the mouth of the Columbia River to the Arrow Lakes band of the Colville Tribes, have been passed down from generation to generation for centuries in an oral tradition. Those legends have now been recorded and can be found on the tribe’s website: colvilletribes.com. Sons and daughters of elders are currently recording legends so the flames that keep culture brightly burning in the hearts of the people remain alive. Tradition and culture are fading as young people’s interests have turned to technology and the future.
“The Colville Tribe is sinking its hooks into the past, dragging tradition along, breathing new life into an almost forgotten slice of culture–fence-style weir fishing. I have managed to dredge this custom from the bottom of the river, helping the tribes bring it into the forefront with a new young adult fiction book titled Delbert’s Weir.
“Four years ago, Tribal Fish and Wildlife erected an aluminum fence style fishing weir and stretched it across the Okanogan River near Omak, WA. They now catch thousands of salmon each summer, filleting and freezing the meat for tribal members and their families. It may not be wind dried like the old days, but it is a way of providing traditional food to the people. The fishing weir is the inspiration of my book Delbert’s Weir. The weir in my book is actually made of cottonwood, the traditional wood used in this area. My character uses horsehair to tie the poles together. Indian hemp or the inner fibers of cattail stock or tule were used as well. Both fibers were also used to make fish nets.”
I appreciate Carmen’s presence on my blog, and I highly recommend Delbert’s Weir to those adults and young adults interested in Pacific Northwest Native histories and traditions. It’s a great read for deepening historical understanding of the Colville Tribes and insight to their relationships with the earth and water. It also could be used to prompt discussion about how environmental changes and government water management policies deeply affect diverse communities’ traditions and food resources. All in all, Delbert’s Weir is a well-told story of finding one’s courage to survive, with a can’t-put-it-down opportunity for deep learning across cultures.
An Excerpt from Delbert’s Weir:
He watched the leaves of the quaking aspen ripple in the breeze as if to encourage him. “Get up. Keep going,” is what they seemed to say. His mind flashed images of him watching Pekam. He and some other men walked up a stream and pushed fish toward traps. The same traps he’d made.
Delbert jumped to his feet and sprinted to camp. He shook each tent, even his own in the wake of excitement and yelled, “Get up!”
Jed popped his head out first, a grumpy frown on his face.
Ross attempted to open his blinking eyes.
“Come on. Get dressed. Daylights a burnin’. We’ve got work to do.”
Ross rolled over on his back and groaned. “What’re you babbling about?”
“The traps are empty, but I have a plan.” Delbert shook the tents until the boys crawled out. “Pekam spoke to me. No, God did, through Pekam.”
Jed’s sleepy eyes strained to focus. “What?”
“This better be worth it,” Ross sneered.
“I was sure there would be fish in at least one of them. But listen, when I was young, I saw Pekam and his pals walk up a creek toward different types of fish traps filling ‘em pretty fast. I think we should try it. It’s like herding cattle, but with fish. In water.”
“Now?” Jed complained. “Can’t we at least give the horses a drink first?”
Delbert turned his attention to Jed. “When did you start caring about the horses’ well-being?” Delbert felt hair on the back of his neck spike outward, so he spoke in a calm, slow tone, “Did you hear me?”
“Yes, I heard you. Did you hear me? It’s early. I wanna finish sleepin’.”
“Sure ya do.” Ross walked off.
“Hey, we can water the horses. Then how ‘bout trying to catch some breakfast. How’d ya like worms for breakfast? If you’re really fast, maybe you can snatch a grasshopper or two with a flick of your tongue. I’ll start callin’ ya frog, or does toad suit ya? Or would ya like to go on a Sunday afternoon stroll?” Delbert felt his patience leave his body as quickly as his last meal disappeared from his fish-oiled fingers.
Ross glared at him.
Delbert held out his hands. “You got a better idea? We’re outta of food. You think it’s gonna magically drop on our plates, cooked and all?” His tone sounded as impatient as a hungry wolf.
“Well, no…” Ross slouched and rubbed his eyes.
“Well, let’s get goin’.” Delbert marched toward the beach. He sat on the cool, damp sand, tore off his boots, and rolled up his pants. He slid the tip of his toe in and shivered.
Jed grunted and followed. He sat beside Delbert and peeled off his socks.
Ross straggled behind. He sat a spell before he yanked off his boots and rolled up his pants, grumbling about the injustice. “Maybe we need to cut off the legs of our britches. I have a feeling we may be in there–a lot.” He tilted his head toward the creek.
Delbert stared at his bare feet. No need to stir those two up any more than they already are. “Okay. Let’s walk downstream a ways, check things out, and meander back up.”
“Yep.” Ross’s eyebrow twitched. “Whatever you say, boss.”
Ross’ll be eatin’ his words soon enough.
Carmen Peone has lived in Northeast Washington, on the Colville Confederated Indian Reservation since 1988 gleaning knowledge from family and friends. She had worked with tribal elder, Marguerite Ensminger, for three years learning the Arrow Lakes-Sinyekst- Language and various cultural traditions and legends. She has owned and trained her horses for thirteen years and competed in local Extreme Challenge Competitions for three years. She lives with her husband and tribal member Joe. They have four grown sons who are also tribal members and seven grandchildren. With a degree in psychology, the thought of writing never entered her mind, until she married her husband and they moved to the reservation after college. She came to love the people and their heritage and wanted to create a legacy for her sons.
Buy Links for Delbert’s Weir:
Barns and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/carmen+peone?_requestid=709814
Carmen Peone’s Links to Social Media:
Website and blog: http://carmenpeone.com/
About me: http://carmenpeone.com/about/