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Stuck in the Rapids

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What could you do if you saw a guy clinging to a rock in the middle of the rapids in a roaring river? Oh, and you had a rope that was long enough to reach him.

Here’s what Zan did to help save Lazelle in my eBook, Can Do, Zan.

Zan scrambled over rocks and tree limbs toward Luat.

“Hey! Yo! Hurry up. I’m getting tired.” Lazelle called.

Zan grabbed a hunk of driftwood the size of a baseball bat and handed it to Luat. The counselor stared at him—how had he got down so soon without a rope?

“Water ski,” Zan said.

Luat stared. Then his eyes widened and he nodded. He tied the end of the rope around the middle of the stick, swung it around his head twice then launched it far out into the current. The rope and log floated toward Lazelle the way a water-skiing rope circles a fallen skier. When the rope hit his legs, Luat slowly retrieved it till the wood snagged up against the camper who carefully reached down to grab the stick, lifted it over his head and jammed it under his armpit before clamping his arms back around the rock. Luat pulled in the rope until it made a straight line.

Ready?” he shouted.

Lazelle bobbed his head.

“On the count of three, I’ll pull and you jump. Okay?”

Lazelle nodded.

The counselor sat, bracing his feet against a large rock. “One! Two! Three!” he shouted and tugged hard on the rope. Lazelle jumped toward the near shore, went under and popped back up spitting water. The rope tightened and Lazelle swung in an arc like a water skier behind a circling boat. Luat pulled with all his might trying to retrieve the camper. “Help me!” he called to Zan as he struggled against the full force of the current.

Zan shrugged. “Just let him go. He’s safe now. He’ll wash into the quiet water down there.”

Again, Luat stared, nodded and let the rope go. Lazelle rolled over backwards and came up spluttering in the shallow water.

“How come you know so much?” the counselor asked Zan. “And how come your shorts are wet?”

“Maybe I wet my pants worrying about poor Lazelle.”

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Loving an Animal at First Sight

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Loving an Animal at First Sight

 In these exercises the student is asked to vizualize a situation and then write what might happen next. I include a sample from one of my novels that speaks to the same situation. For reluctant writers, it’s possible to read my sample first and ask the student to continue the adventure or to come up with an alternative outcome. In any case, the point is to get imagination juices flowing and to jump start storytelling skills even if they’re verbal rather than written.

 

The scene:

Have you ever seen a dog or cat or horse for the first time and immediately felt like you knew them and wanted them to be part of your life? Here’s a scene from Wa-Tonka, camp cowboys where Nick first meets the horses the campers will be riding all summer. There is also a picture of the actual horse, Prince, that he immediately picks out as his favorite.

 After lunch, while Rob and Nick chalked the foul lines of the baseball field, a stake truck drove into camp. The heads of four horses swayed over the sides of what looked like a fence. Nick caught glimpses of tan, brown, and pinto between the slats. “Looks like he brought the best of the bunch in the first load,” Rob remarked.

The first horse down the ramp was a buckskin with black mane, tail, and stockings. She resembled a greyhound with her slender legs, curled-under hind quarters and delicate, tapered muzzle.

“He looks fast,” Nick said.

“That’s Tara,” Rob said “and she’s a mare.”

“How do you tell?” Nick asked.

“All these horses are either mares or geldings. The geldings are males that have been castrated. If they were left to be stallions, they would be too wild and dangerous around kids.”

“Yeah, but,” he was still confused, “how do you tell?”

“You know what male dogs look like, right? Well horses are the same, only bigger. A lot bigger. Wait till you see a gelding take a leak. It looks like half a fire hose fell out of his belly.”

“Really?” Nick tried to imagine. Meanwhile, Tara galloped for a short stretch. “She’s fast.”

“Nah, she’s okay but she’s not as fast as Jamal or Prince. What she really is, is easy to ride. She has the sweetest trot. Single-foot it’s called. It means you don’t bounce at all when she trots. I like that. It’s easier on the buns and you don’t have to learn to ride Western. Tara’s my favorite.”

Next, a big, black-and-white gelding pounded down the ramp like a giant football player. “That’s Jamal,” Rob explained, “the fastest and strongest horse in the whole bunch. Period.”

The next arrival was a small bay mare, almost a pony, that tugged at her halter and tattooed her tiny black hooves across the floor of the truck bed.

“Cutter is fast, but real nervous. She’s always fussing with the bit and tossing her head. Not my favorite,” Rob said.

The last horse was a magnificent white and reddish-brown pinto. Almost as big as Jamal but not as muscular. He pranced – ears forward, head high. He scanned right, then left, nostrils flared scoping out his new surroundings. The gelding nickered loudly, bowed his head almost to the ground and galloped out of a sharp right turn to join the others.

Nick was stunned. It was love at first sight.

“What’s his name?” he asked.

“Prince. He’s the next fastest after Jamal.”

“That’s going to be my horse this summer and I’m going to learn to ride him like he deserves,” Nick vowed.

Learning From a Well-Trained Horse

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Learning From a Well-Trained Horse

 In these exercises the student is asked to vizualize a situation and then write what might happen next. I include a sample from one of my novels that speaks to the same situation. For reluctant writers, it’s possible to read my sample first and ask the student to continue the adventure or to come up with an alternative outcome. In any case, the point is to get imagination juices flowing and to jump start storytelling skills even if they’re verbal rather than written.

 The scene:

Imagine if someone lets you ride a very fast cow pony that won’t respond to your signals to turn or stop. What would you do if you couldn’t jump off? After the ride would you go again? What would you do differently?

 Here’s what Nick found out about the retired cow pony, Trace, in Saving For Trace

 Nick located the stall marked TRACE and appraised the sleepy roan. His bucket head hung low, eyes almost closed in a half doze, tail swishing at flies. Retired cowpony, eh? If he was retired, he hadn’t retired any too soon. Trace was not an imposing example of prime horseflesh.

Still, Nick had a job to do. So he brushed, bridled and saddled the horse. Leading him out to the pasture, Nick noticed a dramatic change in the gelding. Trace held his head high, ears forward, nostrils arched. He was high stepping, parade prancing. What a transformation.

Nick swung into the saddle. But before he was properly seated, Trace bolted across the field at a full gallop. Nick snapped the reins back. Nothing. He searched for the stirrups with his toes, yanked again, then again. “Whoa!, Whoa!” he shouted. Nothing. He was straddling a run-away rocket that could veer at any second and leave him floating in space.

Nick talked to himself. “Stay with him. Keep a balanced seat. He won’t hurt himself. You just have to be ready for anything—like that single strand electric fence coming up fast. As soon as he sees it—”

Trace planted all four feet in a hard check, then cut to the left. Nick stayed with him as the cowpony whipped through a gate and swung behind the barn through a nightmare of plows, combines and tractors. He never slackened his pace as he dodged and juked like a superstar running back until he stopped at the back fence, breathing hard, in the end zone.

Nick jumped down, grabbed Trace by the bridle and walked him back through the barnyard obstacle course. Nick’s legs were still trembling when he reached the main corral where he discovered Corky leaning on the gate, smiling broadly.

“I was in the way of telling you that you should make him walk for a good ten minutes before you let him run. But I forgot.” She chuckled.

“I could have got hurt,” Nick spit out.

“No, luv, I knew you could stay on him,” she assured, arm across his shoulder, almost hugging him. “I would never put you in the way of getting hurt. Your mother would never forgive me—lucky woman that she is to have a lad like you.”

Nick tensed, surprised and slightly embarrassed.

Corky withdrew her arm and began again. “You did a good job of sticking with him. The secret to riding Trace is to let him know you’re in charge—ten minutes of making him walk when he wants to run. That’s the ticket. And then you let him teach you a few things.” She laughed. “Maybe you learned that you can’t judge a horse in his stall.”

Nick stared at the woman. Was she putting him on? Should he try again?

She raised her bushy red eyebrows and nodded. “Someone needs to ride him, poor beast. The owner never comes around. Just sends his check every three months.”

Nick walked over to Trace and rubbed his nose. Remembering Mack’s advice when he had first mounted Prince, Nick lowered his voice so it sounded forceful and soothing at the same time. He hoped his voice didn’t shake the way his legs were shaking. “All right, big boy. Let’s try this again from the beginning.” He didn’t want to rush or act nervous. He turned the stirrup toward himself, hiked his boot into place and rotated until he hung over the saddle. Then he sat down hard. At Trace’s first move, Nick popped the reins.

“Whoa!”

Trace stopped. Started again. Snap.

“Whoa. We don’t go till I say so.”

After three or four tries, the cowpony walked. Not a trot. A walk. It took close to fifteen minutes before Trace knew Nick was the one calling the signals.

After establishing control, Nick’s fun began. He discovered that Trace responded to weight shifts: if he sat forward quickly, the horse would go;  if he leaned back, he would slow down. Amazing.

Nick accidentally bumped Trace’s shoulder with his right foot. The horse turned right. Nick touched him with his left foot. Left turn. Right foot. Right turn. Nick felt like he was playing a computer game for the first time, exploring the controls, discovering what they were programmed to do.

What else does he know that I have yet to find out? Nick wondered. He carefully eased the roan into a gallop. Under control this time, Nick kept the reins high on his neck. Pulled right. Trace leaned into a right turn without losing a step. He tried left. Same results. Passing Corky on the rail, Nick raised a thumb in the air, calling out, “He’s awesome!”

The horsewoman nodded in confirmation, then shouted, “Rein him low, why don’t you? Try that.”

So Nick lined him up at a diagonal across the field and lurched forward. Trace was in a full gallop. Right now. What a horse. Nick lowered the reins to the front of the saddle horn and drew them to the right. Trace planted all four feet in a bulldozer check and came out digging in a gallop. Nick was slammed back into the saddle –like driving a sports car through a fast, steep curve.

“Yes!” Nick shouted. “C’mon, baby, let’s see you hang a left.” Same thing. What moves. Cut. Turn in a flash. Stop. Accelerate. Beautiful. Nick began to wonder who was in charge of whom.

“Would you ever bring in those horses from the back pasture?” Corky asked.

His eyes followed her fingers pointing to six horses grazing over in the next field. Nick and Trace set out at a rolling canter. Nice smooth gait. As they approached, the horses scattered. Before Nick had a chance to tell him where to go, Trace chased two of the fastest horses. “Yeah,” Nick said, “that’s right. That’s just what I was about to suggest.”

While Nick was still figuring the best cut-off angle, Trace faked right, went left and had them cornered. “Look,” Nick said to Trace, surrendering control, “why don’t you take care of this? I’ll just concentrate on staying in the saddle.” The rest of the ride was a clinic in quarter horse moves: fake, cut, burst of speed, stop, check, turn. Nick was humbled.

 

Canoeing up a rapids

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Canoeing up a rapids

 

In these exercises the student is asked to vizualize a situation and then write what might happen next. I include a sample from one of my novels that speaks to the same situation. For reluctant writers, it’s possible to read my sample first and ask the student to continue the adventure or to come up with an alternative outcome. In any case, the point is to get imagination juices flowing and to jump start storytelling skills even if they’re verbal rather than written.

 

The scene:

Rivers flow along with countryside. If they reach what amounts to a cliff they form a waterfall. If they flow down a hill they make a rapids or white water. Good canoeists can paddle upstream or against the current and even through a rapids if it’s not too fast. When paddling up a rapids it’s important that no one in the canoe grabs a branch to rest because the canoe will turn sideways in the current and either swamp or shoot back down the rapids. In this scene three boys are racing back to a city to get medical help for a badly cut hand of one of the passengers. They decide to paddle up a rapids instead of getting out and carrying the canoe around (portaging). Describe what happens…

 

Here’s what Zan, Luat and Lazelle do in, Can Do, Zan:

 Zan, anxious to keep the rhythm going, said, “Why don’t we keep paddling? Go right up the rapids?”

“You’re crazy,” Lazelle said.

“I did it by myself. Well, almost. Remember Luat?”

“Yeah. But the water was slower. The falls weren’t steep.”

“Hey, look at it this way,” Zan pushed his argument. “We’ve got two paddlers now. Besides, I watched Nick fish there and I know a route we can follow through the rocks.”

“What’s the point?” Luat asked.

“We can gain a half hour,” Zan replied, “and make up the time we lost in the first hour…” Noticing Lazelle’s head come up and his shoulders tighten, Zan added, “while we got our pace going.”

 Pausing before the falls, Zan mapped out the path they would follow. “First we get booking for the shore side of that big rock. That will be the worst part. Just past the rock, we hang a right across the white water. That should be easier. And once we get to the far side, we’re in. And don’t touch anything outside the canoe, Luat, it can dump us.”

Luat raised his bandaged hand to his forehead in a mock salute. “Aye, aye, sir.”

“Let’s do it,” Lazelle said, digging his paddle deep in the water. Soon the canoe was traveling at twice the normal cruising speed.

The water coursing around the big rock rose up in a wall that reached over Zan’s head. He steered as far away from it as he could but the force of the current squeezed in the narrow space between the boulder and the shore slammed the canoe to a near standstill. He and Lazelle dug furiously, inching forward against what felt like a big hand pushing them back. It seemed like a draw. They couldn’t go forward but they weren’t falling back. Luat reached out to a branch hanging over the water to pull them along. That’s all it took to edge the nose of the canoe sideways in the current and in a second they spun completely around and washed down to the quiet water below.

Zan exploded between ragged breaths, “Dang, Luat…I told you… not to grab…anything.”

“Sorry, guys. Nice try, but let’s just walk the canoe around.”

Zan’s jaw clenched. “No! We can do it. We’ll try the other side. I’m sure we can do it this time. Right, Lazelle?”

 A furious paddle and a couple of minutes later, the Wa-Tonka canoeists rested in the gentle lake above the falls.

 

Weak legs…Strong mind

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Weak legs…Strong mind

 In these exercises the student is asked to vizualize a situation and then write what might happen next. I include a sample from one of my novels that speaks to the same situation. For reluctant writers, it’s possible to read my sample first and ask the student to continue the adventure or to come up with an alternative outcome. In any case, the point is to get imagination juices flowing and to jump start storytelling skills even if they’re verbal rather than written.

 The scene:

A tall bus gets stuck under the low arch leading to a horse stable. Any ideas on how to get the bus out?

 Here’s what Meredith, challenged with cerebral palsy and part of a therapeutic riding program, suggested in, Zan, City Cowboy:

 “Nick, I was just thinking,” Corky said before pausing to blow on her steaming mug of coffee and then taking a careful sip. “You know, our front gate might be too low for some tall motor homes and such.”

Nick glanced at the two fieldstone towers supporting a metal sign that spanned the entry way. The sign, clover-leaf green letters on white, spelled Shamrock Stables in two-foot high letters. Silhouettes of horse heads faced each other from opposite corners.

“What we need is a sign to warn the tall vehicles to go around. We can’t have people smashing our sign now, can we?”

In the tool shed Nick scrounged up a piece of plywood and a can of white, quick-drying spray paint. By the time he found a small brush and a can of green paint the background was dry enough to be lettered. First he drew with a pencil; then he filled in with paint:

LOW OVERHEAD GO AROUND

Then he drilled holes in the top corners and was twisting a piece of hanging wire in place when he heard a loud SCREECH!

A yellow school bus was wedged under the Shamrock Stables entryway blocking the long line of cars waiting to get in.

“Too late,” Nick muttered.

Running with the still wet sign, Nick could make out Corky telling his Aunt Josie to direct traffic around the arch. A crowd gathered. One of the children on the bus recognized Sara and soon all the children along one side began calling out to her.

“Sara. Hi!”

“Hi, Sara!”

“It’s me, Meredith.”

Sara waved, then spoke to the bus driver, “Take children off. No?”

“Good idea,” he replied. “Then we can work on getting the bus loose.”

He and an aide raised the handicap ramp and one by one the wheelchair-bound children were lowered to the ground. Children who could walk with the help of braces and crutches climbed down the steps under Sara’s watchful eye.

“Are those the kids who are going to be in the riding program?” Zan asked.

“Uh-huh,” Nick responded.

“They’re pretty weird looking.”

Nick said nothing. He thought so, too, but didn’t want to agree with Zan.

A circle of rodeo spectators formed around the bus, all eyes looking up, puzzling how to free the bus without breaking the sign.

“Maybe if you tried to back up very slowly,” one voice suggested.

“Naw,” someone else answered, “You’d pull the sign with it.”

“Is there any way to raise the sign?” someone asked.

“No,” Corky answered. “It’s cemented to the top of the towers.”

A strange-sounding voice, like a computer robot talking with a mouth full of food, broke the silence.

“Huh?” the driver said.

 Everyone turned to stare at Meredith. She leaned into her arm-crutches and blushed such a deep red that the freckles covering her face disappeared. Then she cleared her throat and repeated herself. “You don’t have to raise the sign.”

“She talks funny,” Zan remarked.

“Shh! Just listen,” Nick replied. 

Sara stepped next to her friend, reached a protective arm across her shoulders and gently stroked her carrot-colored hair.

“You just have to lower the bus. Let some air out of the front tires.”

 The driver stared, open mouthed, while her words sunk in. “Great idea!” he said, before squatting next to the front tire and depressing the valve stem.

“I could of thought of that,” Zan said rather loudly.

“But you didn’t,” Meredith answered.

Zan locked eyes with the girl. “You’re pretty smart,” he grudgingly admitted, “for a—” He paused.

“For a girl. Is that what you were going to say? Or for a cripple?”

Zan looked away.

Meredith’s blue eyes glinted like icicles in the sun. “My legs may be soft but not my brain.”

 

A Horse in My Kitchen

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In these exercises the student is asked to vizualize a situation and then write what might happen next. I include a sample from one of my novels that speaks to the same situation. For reluctant writers, it’s possible to read my sample first and ask the student to continue the adventure or to come up with an alternative outcome. In any case, the point is to get imagination juices flowing and to jump start storytelling skills even if they’re verbal rather than written.

 

The scene:

A girl has saved a newborn foal (baby horse) that was born in the snow. But now it has to be cared for inside her home, if it is to survive. The question is, what does she have to do to keep a horse in a kitchen. Think of all the things you would have to arrange to keep the room clean and the horse safe while it recovers.

 

Here’s what Luz and Zan did in, A Horse in My Kitchen:

 

Later that morning, Zan slouched against the snack bar in Luz’s kitchen. She leaned on the stove. The space between them no bigger than a double bed.

“Not much room,” Luz observed.

Zan nodded.

“What do we need to do to get ready?”

Zan shrugged, sliding his sneaker in a small puddle of melting snow dripping from his shoes.  “This floor is slippery. When that sweet little thing takes a whiz, I don’t plan to flip and land in it.”

“She could slip too,” Luz added, “and we need to be able to clean it up.”

“We could try diapers,” Zan suggested. “Do you think they make diapers for horses? Maybe call them Pony Pampers?”

“C’mon, Zan, get serious. Holly’s going to be here in a couple of hours.”

“Okay. Serious,” Zan said. “Once at a Fourth of July parade I saw a bag they hung under a horse’s tail to catch the road apples. Maybe we could get one for Holly. Or,” Zan grinned, spying Luz’s school bag, “maybe we could rig up your ratty backpack—”

“Zan!” Luz stamped her foot. “What can we put on the floor to keep it clean and not be slippery?”

“I saw a blue tarp on your woodpile out back. We can put that down so the floor doesn’t get soaked and stained.”

“Good. That’s good,” Luz said. “And then we have some indoor-outdoor carpet rolled up in the shed. You know, the kind that looks like grass? That should work too.”

 Half an hour later, Zan and Luz finished cutting the carpet and tucking it under the counter. From their knees, they could see the kitchen from a foal’s point of view: the snack bar, a phone cord, a jar filled with pencils and pens, a bag of chips, salt shaker, a coffee maker.

Zan reached his arm across the counter. “When she’s standing, her neck can probably reach this far. So we have to clear everything off the counters that she could mess with.”

Luz nodded. “And the towel hanging from the refrigerator door and the magnets and pictures on the refrigerator.”

“What about the stove?” Zan asked. “What if she bumps the buttons or messes with knobs? We should probably put some tape over them.”

“Okay,” Luz said. Looking at circle the kitchen made, she eyed the space between the snack bar and the dining room. “How are going to keep her in here?” she asked.

“We could stack some bales of straw in the gap. You know, make a wall?”

Luz rolled her eyes.

“What? What’s wrong with that?” Zan asked, slightly offended. “You ask for ideas then you shoot me down. Besides, then the straw would be right there for the bedding.”

“What about a board—like a piece of plywood or something?” Luz asked.

“How would you hold it up from both sides?” Zan asked.

Luz, sighed. Then her eyes widened. “I know.  Our neighbor down the road—I babysat for her once. She had one of those fences you put in doorways to keep kids in a room.”

“That would work. Now we need to get her a bottle.”

 

Roping Diablo

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In these exercises the student is asked to vizualize a situation and then write what might happen next. I include a sample from one of my novels that speaks to the same situation. For reluctant writers, it’s possible to read my sample first and ask the student to continue the adventure or to come up with an alternative outcome. In any case, the point is to get imagination juices flowing and to jump start storytelling skills even if they’re verbal rather than written.

 

The scene:

A boy is riding an old, slow horse and is supposed to round up cattle from a pasture. After collecting all the cows and loading them on the truck, he realizes that there is one more huge steer he has to get. He finds the sharp-horned beast stuck in a swampy corner of the pasture and has to figure out how to get him out. What would you do to get the steer out?

 Here’s what one boy did in, Saving for Trace:

 There in the bog stood a full grown steer sunk to his knees in muck. He swung dangerous horns from side to side as he glared first at Nick, then at Mojo with angry red eyes—a devil, panting loudly, slobbering drool.

Frightened until he realized that the steer couldn’t move, Nick slid out of the saddle, threw back his shoulders like a haughty matador and taunted, “Aya, Toro, aya!”  The devil glowered back—El Diablo.

Mojo lay down at the edge of the bog facing the steer, her tail twitching. Now what do I do? Nick wondered. Maybe if I rope Diablo around the head, Buttercup can pull him out. And then once he’s out, I can lead him through the woods to the pen.

Nick shook out the noose from his lariat, flipped it over the steer’s head and uncoiled twenty feet of rope before tying two loops around the saddle horn. He climbed aboard, pointed the horse away from the steer and said, “Okay Buttercup, do what you’re good at. Pull!”

Buttercup strained forward. Nick looked back to study his plan in action. The steer’s head stretched forward as the rope tightened—would he strangle or break his neck before he freed himself? Finally Diablo’s hooves lifted, sucking out of the mud. On solid ground, he shook his head, caught his breath.

Nick patted Buttercup on the shoulder, “We did it. We got him out. No problem.”

Diablo bellowed behind him. Mojo barked excitedly. Nick caught sight of a red blur the moment before the rope twanged taut and the horse lurched sideways. He hadn’t predicted that tug-of-war could go both ways.

Buttercup recovered, facing the steer along the stretched rope. Now what? Nick prayed for inspiration. Let’s see what happens if I move the horse ahead; create some slack. 

He eased Buttercup forward three steps, Diablo cut to the side. When he took up the slack, he kept running, in a circle now, around a tree, under the horse’s nose.

They were back at a stand-off—this time with a tree in the middle of the tugging contest. Nick was desperate. Something had to give. He couldn’t take the rope off the steer. That left untying the rope from the saddle. But then what? He couldn’t hang on to it. The only alternative was to untie from the saddle horn and hope to catch him in the open.

Once freed, Diablo lumbered through the woods with Mojo barking nearby. When the steer eventually broke into the pasture, Mojo held him at bay until Nick could pick up the rope, twist it around the saddle horn and begin towing 1200 pounds of reluctant beef to the loading pen.