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
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
Where to purchase:
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
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
“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
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
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
“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
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
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
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
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
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
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 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.