Blurb: April Heatherton, history teacher and volunteer firefighter, is determined to protect the land she holds dear, particularly the grave of an unknown pioneer woman who once trekked the Oregon Trail.
Proposed logging operations are encroaching, and April soon finds herself organizing a local task force to try to stop them. Yet when April meets handsome Matt Spencer, son of the owner of Johnson Brothers Logging Company, she much reckon with her escalating attraction to him. Matt, one of a growing breed of displaced loggers, is also determined to fight for his beliefs - the right to make an honest living harvesting the timber. Can April and Matt overcome their differences? Or will their convictions forever keep them apart?
Meet author Sydell Voeller!
Sydell Voeller grew up in Washington State, but has lived in Oregon for over thirty years. Throughout her twenty-year writing career, her published novels for teens and adults have reflected her love for the Pacific Northwest's ocean beaches, inlets and waterways, evergreen forests, and mountains. Sydell resides in Oregon with her husband. They married in 1972 and have two grown sons.
Pet lovers, the Voellers have provided a home for several cats, a dog, gerbils, hamsters, and a turtle--but not all at the same time! A small rodent cemetery still occupies one corner of their backyard. She and her husband enjoy camping, reading, playing Scrabble, day trips to the Oregon coast, and spending time with their grandchildren and pampered feline.
When Sydell isn't writing, she enjoys camping, walking, amateur astronomy, reading, and surfing the web. In 1987 after the publication of her first novel, she was named by the Washington County Mushaw Center, Woman of the Year in Communications.
Formerly a registered nurse, Sydell now teaches writing correspondence courses, sponsored by the Long Ridge Writer's Institute (a home study course in writing short stories and articles) in West Redding, Connecticut. Visit Sydell on her website to view her book lists, bio, and family photos: www.sydellvoeller.com
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Excerpt from Daisies are Forever: Chapter 1
With loving strokes, April Heatherton brushed aside sun-parched fir needles from the old grave stone. Then she placed on it a bouquet of velvety pealed gold-brown daisies. Her mason jar made a perfect vase.
She stared down at the flat, three-cornered rock surrounded by white stakes and a simple cross made of mossy sticks. Dappled sunlight flickered through the towering Douglas Firs as the July breeze whispered overhead.
Suddenly the rustling of footsteps close by startled her.
“Man alive! Look at those firs. They’ll give us at least twice the board feet we got up north,” a husky voice proclaimed.
Heather’s stomach dropped. Loggers...undoubtedly the ones from the neighboring town of Silton Pass nestled deep in the foothills of western Oregon. Most everyone in Wolf Hollow had heard the loggers would soon be clear-cutting the entire forest that blanketed North Creek Hill. The pit in her stomach grew deeper as realization took hold: her beloved hideaway—the unmarked pioneer grave—was alarmingly at risk. Why, in possibly only a matter of mere weeks, one more tract of forest would lay in shambles, downed timber scattered like pickup sticks, the hillside carelessly gouged and barren!
Instinctively she drew back into the shadows, hoping the undergrowth would hide her. She would confront the loggers, but not yet, not until she’d had a chance to hear more of what they were saying.
Orion, her Golden retriever, emitted a low throaty growl.
“No, boy!” she commanded in a hoarse whisper, gripping the dog’s leather collar in an effort to keep him close by her side. Though the aging dog was nearly deaf, he hadn’t lost his keen sense of smell.
April peered cautiously around the side of a stump, scarcely daring to breath. She caught sight of two men squinting up at the mammoth evergreens.
The younger man, in his late twenties, she guessed, ran his hand through wheat- colored hair, pushing back an unruly lock from his forehead. He was clean shaven. His black T-shirt, cuffed at the sleeves, exposed his taunt, masculine biceps. “Yeah, what a loggin’ show,” he was saying. His voice was mellow, not at all gruff like his partner’s.
“It’s a cinch we’ll get that contract,” the older man put in. About mid-fifties or so, he had dark stubble of beard, wore a red checked shirt, denim jeans and boots that came just below his knees. “Jake Thornburg told me most of the other companies were already backing out,” he went on. “They’re too small to hack the county’s new land management requirements.”
The first man turned to meet the other’s gaze and broke into the most engaging grin April had ever seen. Even white teeth flashed against tanned skin. “I heard Thornburg say he planned to check out this hillside in the whirlybird today. I bet he’ll like what he sees.”
With that the two turned and began sauntering away.
“Wait! Stop! Destroying the forests is wrong!” April couldn’t contain herself any longer. Her voice was filled with desperation as she quickly clipped Orion’s leash to his collar, then started running after the men.
“What the—” The younger man stopped mid-stride and tossed a look over his shoulder. “Well, looks as if we’ve got company,” he drawled, his face splitting into a smile once again. His blue eyes flashed mischievously, his chin dimpled. “A bunny-hugger, no less. A good-looking one too!”
April flinched at the sound of the all-too-familiar term, a name many of the locals had tagged the environmentalists. Orion growled again.
“Don’t call me a bunny-hugger!” she said hotly, new determination fueling her on. “I’m merely taking a stand! The timber here on North Creek Hill is one of the last old-growth forests in the entire coast range. In no time our ancient forests will be gone. And most of all, there’s the. . .” She broke off abruptly, her sentence remained unfinished as she gestured helplessly back at the grave site, well out of view. How could she make them understand? They’d only accuse her of exaggerated female sentiment.
“We’ve heard all the arguments,” the older logger said. “Salvage the dwindling salmon, protect the spotted owl . . . the list goes on and on.” He hitched his thumbs into his belt loops. “But you gotta know, lady, we’re talkin’ jobs here. Logging’s been our bread and butter forever. And many of us, we’ve got wives and young ‘uns to feed.”
“Yes, but it’s high time to start thinking about our future and our vanishing natural resources!” She drew in a ragged breath. The issues were complicated and double-sided, and April knew there were no easy answers. After all, the loggers were only doing what many of their fathers had done, and perhaps their father’s fathers.
“See ya later,” the younger guy said, obviously eager to let the entire issue drop. He smiled again and winked. “And try not to tangle with too many bunnies. That goes for your dog also.”
She felt her cheeks flush with indignation as she turned to leave. Bunny-huggers indeed! Who had ever come up with such a stupid comparison? Well, one thing she knew for sure. She must—no matter what—protect the unmarked grave of the pioneer woman and the beauty of the surrounding woodland.
These 100 acres of Ramult County forest bordered the land where her grandparents had built a home and planted a filbert orchard nearly a half century earlier. After April’s parents were killed in a motorcycle accident when she was two, her grandparents raised her. Years later, April came to inherit the two-story clapboard house and surrounding property.
Ever since she’d been a small child, April loved to steal away farther into the woods on North Creek Hill to her own special retreat, a place where she was free to day-dream, write poetry, and muse about nothing in particular.
Some of her friends had had their tree houses. Others found their special places in musty old attics. But every chance possible, April always returned to the pioneer woman’s grave.
In summertime, she’d bring bouquets of wild flowers from the neighboring meadow. In early autumn, she would gather succulent golden chanterelle mushrooms that grew in the cool, mossy shade. Come winter, usually empty-handed, she’d brush away the brown parched leaves from the grave site, much as she’d just whisked away the sweetly scented fir needles.
Often Grandmother would accompany April there and tell her stories about the forests and animals, plus the settlers who had journeyed on the Oregon Trail. Gram had always held fast to a solemn reverence for the natural earth and her belief in a simple way of life.
As April grew to be a young woman, she pursued her teaching career, with a double major in biology and American history. What better way to pass on the ideals that bonded the past and the present, she’d decided. What better way to honor everything the unknown pioneer woman exemplified.
April turned and began trudging towards home while Orion trotted close by her side. A blue jay shrieked, sassing a crow. Breathing in the woodsy smells, she felt the tension flow from her body. She glanced at the sun as it slanted over the crest of the hill. Shadows were falling, making the dense slopes appear even darker. A bluish haze hung over them. Truly the most peaceful place on the entire earth, she thought dreamily.
A familiar beeping sound from the pager she wore on her belt loop jolted her from her reverie. She peered down at the screen and read, “A reminder for all Wolf Hollow fire department personnel: tonight’s practice burn will begin promptly at 1900 hours. Business meeting will follow.”
At the beginning of the summer, shortly after her twenty-sixth birthday, April had successfully completed her volunteer firefighter’s training and claimed the distinction of being the fifth woman in the history of Wolf Hollow to have done so. Her best friend, Donna Walgren, had been the first.
April quickened her pace, then came to the first fork in the trail. The firs gave way to sparse groves of madronnas, then the open meadow. The late afternoon sun sweltered unmercifully now, and perspiration ran down her face in rivulets. Pausing to lift her long auburn hair, she allowed the faint breeze to fan her neck and face.
She heard the babbling of North Creek, about fifty feet away, at the same time thinking that the sound should be much noisier, not a mere babble. The water levels in local creeks and streams had dropped significantly due to the recent near-drought conditions. Oh, if only it would rain, she thought. The rains of fall and winter typically kept the western Oregon forests lush and green.
In the distance the drone of a helicopter grew louder, drowning out the sounds of the creek. She jerked her head back, shading her eyes with her hand while the copter hovered like a giant mosquito above the treetops.
Fresh fear sprang inside of her. The whirlybird! The helicopter the loggers had been talking about! Yes, it was definitely going to happen: soon they’d be clear-cutting North Creek Hill.
With a whir of silvery blades, the copter lowered momentarily, long enough for her to read the inscription on its side. Johnson Brothers Logging. Then, almost as quickly as it had appeared, the copter lifted and vanished over the next rise.
The ringing of the April’s cell phone interrupted her reading. After a longer-than-usual fire drill and a refreshing bubble bath, she’d curled up in her favorite chair to relax with the book she was reading from her e-book reader. The phone rang again and glancing at the display screen, she hit the “send” key. It was nearly eleven. Who could be calling at this hour?
“I hope I didn’t wake you,” a lively voice spoke. Immediately April recognized the caller to be Donna.
“No, not at all. I was just reading a sci fi novel and trying to wind down.” She paused. “That was some killer fire drill tonight, wasn’t it?” The firefighters had practiced on a condemned shack on the northwest side of town, and the battle to contain it had indeed posed a challenge.
“Yeah, I thought for sure we’d never get the fire out,” Donna confessed. “But I didn’t call for shop talk. At least not fire department shop talk. I’m thinking about next year at school.”
“Oh? Aren’t you a little early?”
“Not if you want to get a jump on things.”
Both women taught at Wolf Hollow High School where they had also graduated eight years earlier. For April the balance of vocation with avocation seemed the perfect answer to a well-ordered life, especially during her desperate attempts to heal from a broken romance the previous summer.
“So what’s on your mind?” April prompted, then added, “Wait. Don’t tell me.” She tapped her index finger against the receiver. “You’ve probably come up with another brainstorm for a new cheerleading routine.”
“No, silly. Though I’m admittedly gun-hoe about my new job as cheering squad advisor, I don’t plan to dream up any new routines till cheerleading camp later in August.” Donna paused. “But I have come up with an idea to help you with your Pacific Northwest history classes this year. Interested?”
“Sure! What is it?”
“In today’s paper—in case you missed it—there was an article about the logger’s festival in Silton Pass this weekend. “The pioneer museum is free of charge with a general admission pass. There are supposed to be special displays in honor of the festival. Have you ever been there?”
April bit her lip. “Yes, but I’m afraid it’s been quite a while ago.” She pushed back the image of the handsome young logger that Donna’s suggestion had brought to her mind. The memory left her unsettled, with a vague, gnawing feeling. “I don’t know, Donna,” she continued. “It’s just—”
“There’s something else too,” her friend cut in. If we spend the best part of Saturday milling about the logging festival, we might be able to do a little detective work as to what’s going to happen on North Creek Hill. I’m sure it’ll be a hot topic there.” Donna lived on the outskirts of town, and shared April’s concern about the local environmental issues.
“I already know.”
“You do? How?”
April briefed her in on what she’d heard the two loggers talking about earlier that afternoon. “It sounds as if it’s practically decided. Johnson Brothers plans on winning the bid hands down.”
“So it’s going through—no matter what?”
“Yes, I’m afraid so. I’m trying to be reasonable about all of these clear-cutting issues,” April went on, as if more for her own benefit than Donna’s. She stared down at her burgundy colored bath robe. “But I still can’t bear to see the land around the pioneer woman’s grave stripped bare.”
“Me too,” said Donna. “If North Creek Hill really does go on the auction block as scheduled, then that old-growth forest is doomed for sure. But I have an idea.” April could hear the enthusiasm return to her best friend’s voice. “Let’s not worry about why we’re going to the festival, let’s just go and have a good time. After all, it’s the biggest event of the summer around here. It should be fun—and in my opinion, you need to lighten up a little.”
“I’m already having fun. I love my teaching job, and getting accepted as a volunteer firefighter has added a whole new dimension to my life.”
“I’m not talking jobs and volunteer work,” Donna insisted. “I’m talking romance.”
“Exactly. Who knows? There’s bound to be some handsome, available man on the loose at the logging festival. Obviously you’ll never meet any at the fire station. All the guys there are married and have a parcel of kids—even the ones that once swore they’d always remain single.”
“I don’t need any more handsome men in my life. Men only cause trouble. Especially men like Eric.” April gripped the phone more tightly as visions of Eric Mendelson paraded through her mind.
She’d met him a little over one year ago while she was enrolled in graduate classes at the university about an hour’s drive away. Eric, who’d taken a three-month leave from Arrowtek, a successful computer company, met her every afternoon in the student commons to study together over double lattes.
His suave good looks, dry sense of humor, and preoccupation with details had fascinated April from the first moment they’d met. In no time, she’d fallen hopelessly in love with Eric—only to soon learn her love would go unrequited.
The sound of Donna speaking jerked April’s attention back. “Maybe you think that about men, but I don’t agree,” she was saying.
“I said I don’t agree with your opinion about men. At least not all men...”
April’s focus was right on target now. “Just because you’re sporting the half-carat diamond engagement ring Travis gave at Christmastime, doesn’t mean romance is the answer for everyone,” she insisted.
Donna chuckled. “Don’t be jaded.”
“Jaded? How else do you expect me to act when the only man I’ve ever loved turned out to be so wrong for me?”
“Didn’t I warn you?” Donna answered April’s question with one of her own. “Didn’t I keep pointing out that Eric was a total computer nerd? And what about those hiking and camping trips that you ended up going on alone?”
“I know. Don’t remind me. I guess I was too blinded by love to see that then.”
“Yes, you were. And you were also too blind to see that Eric wasn’t the least bit willing to compromise.”
“That is, till the night he arrived on my doorstep and announced he’d found someone more compatible,” April reminded her. “Boy, did I ever wake up then!”
“And now it’s time to move on,” Donna said with a mixture of sympathy and pragmatic realism. “It’s time to put all that behind you.” She paused. “So what about the timber carnival? Will you go with me?”
“On one condition.”
“I’ll go only in the name of research—pure and simple. I have absolutely no intentions of looking for a man. Understood?”
Something in Donna’s tone told April that her friend was only placating her.
“Hurry, April! The show’s almost begun,” Donna shouted over her shoulder.
April sprinted to keep up. “Wait! I’m coming.” Together the two women pushed their way through the crush of people pressing towards the ticket gate. From the edge of the parking lot where the carnival rides were set up, organ grinder music pulsed through the speakers.
“Let’s shoot for front row seats,” Donna said after April had caught up. She dug into her fanny pack for her wallet while April did the same.
Minutes later they ascended the bleachers that overlooked a man-made lake and sat down next to a lady who was munching popcorn.
“Ah! We made it!” April exclaimed, scanning the quickly filling seats.
Settling back, her thoughts drifted to their drive to Silton Pass. Donna had suggested they take her new white Accord and follow the scenic route that paralleled the busy interstate. They’d wended their way past old railroad trestles that bridged tree-carpeted ravines, the millpond jammed with floating logs, and sparkling Lost Lake nestled at the base of the foothills. Finally they arrived at the sprawling city park where the carnival was in full swing.
April gazed about at the other spectators, taking in their excited chatter, their smiles of anticipation. Parents with toddlers, grade school children, and teenagers lined the bleachers. White-haired senior citizens looked on expectantly.
April recognized several of the folks and as her gaze met theirs, she exchanged friendly hellos. Some were former students, the others merchants and neighbors at Wolf Hollow. Yes, without a doubt, the lighthearted ambiance was infectious, she decided. Maybe Donna had been right about her needing this day.
The rippling of applause interrupted her thoughts as the mayor of Silton Pass took his place on a small, portable platform. Welcoming the crowd, he delivered a brief history of the timber carnival. Then he introduced a middle-aged man by the name of Harvey Rawlings.
After giving a few more words of welcome, the man reached for a shiny rifle. With a sweep of his arm, he aimed the muzzle at a tall fir that stretched up from the lake shore. A shot reverberated in April’s ears as the top of the tree ripped free, crashing to the ground.
The cheers from the crowd grew louder.
“Ladies and gentleman, welcome to Silton Pass, Oregon. I, Harvey B. Rawlings, proudly launch the most spectacular timber carnival in the history of mankind!” he hollered into the microphone.
People whistled and stomped their feet.
“How’d he do that?” April asked Donna.
“The program says the tree was wired ahead of time with explosives.”
“Oh.” April chuckled. “I guess I’ve been too busy gawking to read the fine print.”
As a souped-up chain saw began to whine, scattering wood splinters in every direction, April turned her attention to the opening event, the hot power saw competition, and settled back to watch.
The hour passed quickly. As one contest gave way to the next, April’s fascination mounted. Men with ropes secured around their waists and wearing high-top boots ascended trees that were stripped of branches.
In minutes they were cutting through the tops with hand saws. Others chopped at standing log blocks until the first severed pieces toppled down. When it was time for the ax throwing contest, Mr. Rawlings told the audience it was often considered the logger’s oldest sport.
The sun radiated down, warming April’s shoulders and back. From somewhere behind the bleachers, the aroma of buttery popcorn and barbecued beef wafted on a gentle breeze. The rainbow of sights, sounds, and delicious aromas everywhere about her made April feel relaxed and carefree.
Next came the men’s log-rolling event on the lake. As the first two contestants emerged onto the dock, April’s jaw dropped. She strained to see better, certain one of them was the young blond logger she’d talked to on North Creek Hill. He ambled closer.
Yes, that had to be him, she decided. There was no mistaking it. Today his face and arms were more deeply tanned, contrasting his navy blue tank top and white shorts as he strode, sure-footed, to the edge of the dock. His well-formed muscles were taut and glistening.
“Wow! Look at that guy!” Donna breathed. “What a hunk!”
April swallowed hard in an effort to suppress the shivers of attraction pressing down on her. “Stop that!” she teased. “You’re engaged, remember?”
“Of course I remember. And believe me, in my estimation, no one could compare to Travis. But that doesn’t mean I can’t still appreciate the competition, does it?”
April laughed. “No, I suppose not.” She struggled to maintain an indifferent air. If she was showing any outward signs of her own awareness of the guy’s masculine good looks, she must make certain not to let it show. No point giving her overly eager friend reason for any false hope.
The sound of the emcee’s rising voice sliced through April’s reflection. “The first contestant for the log rolling contest is Matt Spencer from Silton Pass!”
Matt, April thought. Matt Spencer. Carefully she turned the name over in her mind, deciding it had a nice down-to-earth ring. Yes, it matched him well. Earthy and rugged in a laid-back, chivalrous sort of way—despite the maddening fact he’d called her a bunny hugger. At the memory, she felt the heat rise to her face. Funny that it still bothered her so. After all the razzing she endured from the guys at the fire station, she should be accustomed to it by now.
Precariously Matt balanced himself on the floating log a few feet from his opponent, a well-built man with a bushy red beard. The water below them rippled, catching glimmers of noon-day sunlight.
After Harvey Rawlings introduced the other competitor, he explained the rules: “Two out of three falls will decide a match,” he announced into the public address system. “May the best man win!”
The two men started running in place on top of the log, whirling it faster and faster. April stared, transfixed. After what seemed an eternity, the bearded man lunged into the lake, sending up a fountain of white spray.
The audience roared with laughter, clapping their hands. Soon the contestants were at it again.
Someone from off to the side cheered, “Come on, Spencer! You can do it! Go, man! Go for it!”
April held her breath. Two, three, four more minutes ticked by. Suddenly it appeared Matt was losing his balance. He threw his hands out to his side in an attempt to regain it, but it was too late. In a flash, he hit the water. More cheers and cat-calls exploded all about.
In no time the two men were back on the log, spinning it again like a toy top. “One minute to go!” the emcee bellowed into the speaker.
A frown crossed Matt’s face as he began to falter. Then he quickly righted himself, teetering once again on the slippery wet log before he geared back into motion. The seconds seemed to stand still. The bearded man wavered, arms flailing, and plunged into the water.
The spectators stamped their feet and yelled.
“It’s a match!” Harvey Rawlings exclaimed. “The winner is Matt Spencer!”
Matt let out a whoop, jumped into the water, and swam to the dock. When he emerged over the side, he flashed a grin, then raised his hands in a sign of victory while the crowd continued to cheer.
Sitting on the edge of her seat, April clapped so vigorously her palms began to sting. “Way to go, Matt!” she yelled at the top of her lungs, purposefully ignoring Donna’s open-mouthed stare. “I knew you could do it!”
He looked in her direction, his gaze no longer sweeping the crowd. Their eyes locked. His grin widened.
For an immeasurable moment, he just kept staring at her as if the others in the bleachers no longer existed.