The Watershed Years
BY RUSSELL ROWLANDThe long-awaited sequel to In Open Spaces picks up just after World War II has ended and Montana has entered a period of unprecedented prosperity. Now that Blake's brother Jack has seemingly disappeared for good, Blake and Rita, Jack's ex-wife, take the opportunity to declare their longtime love for each other by getting married. But their sister-in-law Helen is still on the ranch, and the determination she showed in surviving the Depression now takes the form of greed as the ranch continues to thrive. When Jack unexpectedly reappears, the alliance between him and Helen becomes official. Blake and Rita's battle to save their place on the ranch becomes more personal than it's ever been - and the friction within the family eventually leads to fatal consequences. While In Open Spaces explored how desperation can bring out the best or the worst in people, The Watershed Years illustrates how those same people can display similar qualities under very different circumstances.
What the critics say:"In his novel, The Watershed Years, Rowland allows readers an intimate look into the lives of ranchers on the plains of Montana. Three generations of family and their friends intertwine in sometimes marvelous and sometimes awful connections. A few good years of good weather and good crops and good prices on a ranch cannot undo the Depression’s years of hardships and heartaches. And for the Arbuckle family, those few good years of prosperity are fraught with greed, deceit, and tragedy. And, it turns out, bad weather is the least of their troubles ... Rowland writes with precision about the fabric of people’s lives – fabric that sometimes flutters smoothly, but that sometimes is tattered by family conflicts ... In his storytelling he portrays the catty spats and veiled accusations of family members on the edge. But Rowland never quite tells you the truth on most of it. He walks you to the edge of the truth behind those accusations, then slaps you back to two ranchers in a hay field talking about the weather – just like life in Montana. Indeed, that’s perhaps the essence of Rowland’s writing. It’s just like life."
Excerpt:The rain in Carter County, our little corner of Montana, rarely comes in a drizzle. Instead the sky opens and the clouds empty, accompanied by brilliant orange flashes and chest-rattling thunder.
On a spring day in 1948 I pounded staples into a twisted fence post. After spending most of the afternoon bent over, I figured I had about a half hour left before the fence would be mended. I didn’t see the clouds forming. The next thing I knew, I was standing under a waterfall. Because it had been clear that morning, I didn’t have my jacket with me. My shirt soaked through to my ribs, and I made a dash for the barn, running with one elbow over my nose to keep from drowning. In those five minutes, the dusty brown soil transformed into a slab of black oily gumbo. Ten feet from the barn, the mud threw my boots up over my head, and I landed flat on my back.
I scrambled to my feet and slipped into the barn. Like a swamp creature, I walked with bowed-legs, sheaths of gumbo and grass dangling from my arms. I heard talking to my left, and I started toward the sound, and almost called out. But something about the tone of the conversation made me stop. A shout echoed, and I recognized the voice of my sister-in-law Helen.
I stood frozen, listening to the rain drum against the tin roof. And then I heard a thump, and my curiosity pushed me toward the sound. I heard another thump, and I saw movement in the very last stall. I hid behind the center post and watched as Helen pounded on my brother Bob with a pitchfork handle, bringing it high above her head, then down on his back time and again. I almost shouted, but a combination of curiosity and discretion told my tongue to lie still. As familiar as I was with Helen’s brittle personality, I had never seen this kind of violence from her. But even more disturbing was the response from Bob. Because he didn’t. Not only did he not fight back, but he made no move to defend himself. He sat on a milking stool like a man deep in thought, his hands folded between his knees. He took every blow silently.
Helen must have hit him twenty times, and the only bit of comfort I could conjure up was that Helen was too small to do much damage. She finally stopped, and tossed the handle to one side. And then she fell against Bob, as if the effort had taken every bit of her strength. She laid her head on top of his, and I watched his hand move to her shoulder, where it came to rest. And before I snuck off to the other end of the barn, where I waited in quiet torment for the next hour until the storm subsided, I heard one last sentence from Helen.
“We have got to do something.”
Dedication:This book is dedicated to Rowland's stepdaughter, Brittany "Ally" Harbuck, who was killed in April 2005 in a motorcycle accident. Half of the royalties from this book will fund the scholarship established in her name.
"Brittany was nineteen and a promising writer," says Rowland. "This fund has been established to help promising writers at Georgia Southern University, the college Brittany was attending."
Brittany "Ally" Harbuck Memorial Scholarship
University Foundation of Georgia Southern
P.O. Box 8053
Statesboro, Georgia 30460