Editor’s note: In this excerpt from Lost Mountain, a novel by Anne Coray inspired by the real-life proposed Pebble Mine, the main characters take shape and the plot hints at the emotional and political entanglements ahead. Reprinted with permission from West Margin Press.
The Cessna 207 descended over blue-green lake ice. From the pebbled shore rose a gradual slope of mixed forest: spruce and birch and pockets of water-hungry poplar. Alan leaned forward for a better look, taking in the rooftops—twenty? thirty?—all deep blue and postcard pretty. A network of narrow trails and some larger ones, more like roads, spidered out from an oval center populated by several large buildings and a creek winding between them.
So this was Blake Parsons’s creation. Whetstone Cove, an artist’s town. Well, maybe “town” was the wrong word. This place was smaller, and surrounded by wilderness. “Hamlet” would be better, but it wasn’t an Alaskan word. And this wasn’t a village. One thing was certain: in a place this size you’d get to know your neighbors—maybe too well. He’d worked in the bush, he’d been just a little farther west, in King Salmon and Dillingham, and he knew he could make either instant friends or instant enemies. He hoped he wouldn’t be squirming like an octopus with no suction cups in the company of so many intellectuals.
The plane banked sharply and lined up on the end of the gravel strip. Alan’s stomach jarred as the wheels of the main gear touched down; then the nose wheel made contact, and the aircraft slowed and came to a full stop. He was here now, for better or worse. The faint smells of exhaust and engine oil filled the cabin.
The pilot climbed out and circled around the nose of the plane. Derek Johnson: Alan’s link to civilization. Alan found him cocky in a charming kind of way. How did Derek pull it off? Alan’s own confidence was tough enough, but it was far from impermeable.
He craned his head to see the crowd at the end of the airstrip, presumably here to greet him. That was decent. And among the brown Carhartt work jeans and jackets he saw a flash of red: a scarf, sported by a woman with long, wavy black hair. She was on the tall side, and pretty. A good distance away, but he felt suddenly short of breath. Must have been the high altitude. But Derek had only flown at two thousand feet, well below the mountain peaks, through a spectacular pass. And now they were almost at sea level.
Another woman stepped forward. A husky build: Carolyn, no doubt, the one who shouldered the burdens. The town leader, she’d described herself to Alan on the phone. She had a wide smile… would she at least be fair? That was often the best you could hope for with bosses.
Carolyn and Derek exchanged greetings with the ease of those who’ve worked together a long time. Derek shoved his hands in his back pockets and Carolyn touched his arm before giving herself some distance.
“Another perfect landing!” she said to him.
“A student pilot could have aced that one.” Derek swept his arm expansively. “Look at this: fifteen-knot breeze, clear skies—” He grinned at the bystanders. “I suppose you’d like to meet your new handyman.” That burned Alan. He was hired as a solar tech, not a handyman. There was nothing inherently wrong with the generic label; he’d spent enough time in bush Alaska to know that flexibility was key. Lodge owners, air taxi operators, boat captains—all required their employees to wear different hats. But he wouldn’t mind being at least called a solar technician. Derek opened the passenger door and Alan jumped to the ground. It felt good to stretch his muscles.
Carolyn extended her hand. “Alan Lamb. I’m Carolyn Parsons. Welcome to Whetstone.”
Alan gave her a firm shake, and she more than matched his grip.
Some in the crowd waved. About twenty people had come to greet him, many in baseball caps and rubber boots, perfect for April weather. It was late in the month and it had been a warm spring; the snow had already melted. A tall, Nordic-looking man approached, a Pomeranian under one arm. The dog’s blonde fur matched the color of the man’s mustache.
“Dan Broderman.” He didn’t offer his hand; his eyes were a cold sea-blue. Not the kind of blue you’d want to go swimming in.
Alan started to speak but Dan made an about-face, as if he’d simply been reporting for roll call in the army. Down his back swung a long ponytail.
Derek unloaded the plane and Alan sorted his things from the rest of the freight: personal items; a tote full of food; his box of electrical tools, solar catalogs, and installment guides. A burly man named Stew drove up with a four-wheeler and trailer. Stew drummed a palm on Alan’s tote, half the lid covered with duct tape.
“Nice repair job.” Stew’s voice spilled out like gravel from a pail. He gave Alan an approving nod. “Made in Alaska.”
Alan nodded back. One friendship secured.
The ground was littered with gear. Stew loaded the trailer and thumped the four-wheeler seat. “Hop on.”
Alan looked back once as they made their way down the wide trail with a sign that read Cat’s Eye to see the woman and the red scarf already disappearing.