Do you ever meet someone and know in an instant you’re going to be friends with that person?
That happened to me the first time I met Carmen Peone in the fall of 2014. Her name popped up frequently in a writer’s group I belong to – Women Writing the West. From her posts within the group, she seemed like a fun, supportive, caring individual.
That doesn’t even begin to describe her. Carmen is just an amazing, wonderful woman and writer and I’m so pleased and proud to call her my friend.
Recently, Carmen released the first book in a new young adult trilogy. Today, I’m happy to share Delbert’s Weir with you!
In a time when the west was still untamed, sixteen-year-old Delbert Gardner leads two friends into the back country 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.
Since I’ve read Carmen’s first YA triology (starting with Change of Heart), it was fun to see she included Spupaleena in Delbert’s story as an admired aunt.
The book begins with descriptive, emotional passages that set the scene for the adventure three boys are planning. Delbert Gardner and his two friends want to learn about traditional native hunting and fishing methods from his American Indian friend, Pekam. Delbert also wants to earn his Pa’s approval. The three boys set out into Northeast Washington Territory in the mid 1800s to test their knowledge and skills.
What they planned as a fun excursion quickly turns into trials and opportunities for personal growth.
Carmen’s writing makes you feel like you are there with the boys, experiencing the days in the wilderness right along with them. Because she includes their flaws and fears, the characters are very relatable.
If you’re searching for a good historical YA book – or just one that combines clean entertainment with good life lessons, check out Delbert’s Weir. I, for one, am glad this is book one in the trilogy. That means there will be more books in the series to enjoy!
Carmen came to live on the Colville Reservation in 1988 and through family and friends has learned about cultural, language, and legends for almost three decades. She inserts bits and pieces of language and legends in her books to help keep them alive. Legends have been passed down orally from generation to generation, but like the language, it’s dying a slow death. Members of the Colville tribes have diligently been attempting to revive both, not only in traditional oral form, but in books and curriculum for adults and in the schools.
The Arrow Lakes or Sinixt language Carmen learned from mentor and elder Marguerite Ensminger was the old style that was phonetically based from the Sinixt band. Today, in the modern curriculum, the use of letters and symbols are used to illustrate sounds and words in the Okanogan band as well as two other languages. Tribal leaders struggled with which languages to breathe life back into as there are twelve bands within the Colville reservation. They settled on three: Nselxcin of the Okanagan; Nxaamxcin of the Nespelem, and Nimipu of the Nez Perce.
Legends are American Indians’ greatest teaching tool of life skills elders have for the younger generations. Most include Coyote, a trickster, and his lessons of foolishness. These stories train youth and give them wisdom into the world of right and wrong and common sense.
Legend Excerpt from Delbert’s Weir:
Delbert closed his eyes and shouted above the downpour. “As I said before…the people were dying from starvation. The great evil spirits of the warm land south of here built a mighty dam that spanned the width of the Columbia River and closed off the trail salmon swam for years. The people began to dance and pray day and night. They asked the Creator how to open the salmon trail so the fish, which was their main source of food, could return and reproduce in the mountain streams. My pa says salmon spawn up Hall Creek, but don’t make it as far as we are.”
Jed jerked his head up. “They do?”
“That’s what my pa says.”
“I’d love to see one. Can you imagine us snaggin’ one of those? My uncle told me some of those fish are as big as the little ones in the village.” Jed’s voice rose to a higher pitch.
“We forgot our hooks, remember?” Ross chimed in.
Jed rolled his eyes.
Images of holding a giant, slimy salmon ran through Delbert’s mind. He breathed deep and swore he smelled it cooking over a fire. His gaze shifted to the flames in the pit: blue, orange, red. They danced like a warrior at a Sinyekst celebration, taunting his hunger.
Delbert picked up one of the sticks and poked at the fire as if a fish dangled on its tip and continued. “Coyote heard and came to the rescue.” He wanted to move the story along before Ross’s snide remarks destroyed Jed’s excitement, and his own. “He volunteered to go to the warm country and break up this dam of evil monsters. The people cheered as they envisioned the water spilling over. Coyote set off on his long journey south and after many sundowns, he drew near the dam close to the ocean, or what they called big waters of the Columbia River.
“Coyote shape-shifted into a cooking basket and wiggled himself onto the river. He floated downstream and swirled with the current. There were two sisters, Snipe and Little Snipe, who kept watch over the dam for the evil spirits. They thrived off killing salmon as the fish came close to the stick wall.
“Little Snipe spied the small basket and she squealed with delight. She plucked it out of the river. When she and her sister returned to their tipi, she used the basket as her eating dish. She filled it with salmon and gobbled up the fish. Her sister pounced on Little Snipe. She scolded her for being greedy. Little Snipe quit eating, yet her belly growled with hunger. She set the basket aside. She eyed salmon hanging out the sides of the basket. Her mouth watered. Reaching for the basket, she gasped as it stood empty. Coyote ate the salmon.”
The rain let up to a light sprinkle. Delbert gave Ross a sideways glance and grinned––he was still awake with this head tilted back.
At least he isn’t snoring.
Jed stirred the coals and banked the fire with a few logs. “What did the Snipe sisters look like?”
“I don’t know. I asked Pekam awhile back. He didn’t answer.” Delbert stared at the fire.
“Maybe the elders want each person to figure that out on their own. See what they wanna see.” Ross’s big nose poked out of the shirt over his face.
Delbert’s gaze jerked to Ross. “You surprise me, Ross. You actually came up with an intelligent answer. I bet you’re right.”
Delbert’s Weir is available on:
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-Sinixt- Language and various cultural traditions and legends. 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.
Links to Social Media:
Website and blog: http://carmenpeone.com/
About me: http://carmenpeone.com/about/