Grantville, May 2, 1632
"Race time ten minutes," blared the speaker. The murmur of the fairground crowd rose, and then subsided.
"I can't believe you talked me into this," Maria Vorst said. Maria had come to Grantville with her brother Adolph, the curator of the Leiden Botanical Gardens, and a member of the faculty of medicine. They had visited Grantville's greenhouses, and Adolph had met with Doctor Nichols and Doctor Adams. Adolph had returned to Leiden; he had classes to teach and meetings to attend. Maria had stayed in Grantville to study botany and gardening.
Her partner, Lolly Aossey, waved to some of her middle school students. Lolly was their science teacher. She was also a girl scout leader and a gardener. Maria was boarding with her.
"Good luck, Ms. Aossey!" they chorused.
"Thanks, kids!" Lolly turned to Maria. "Don't worry, Buffalo Creek is about as gentle a river as you are going to find anywhere."
"There's that drop," said Maria doubtfully.
"Oh, that? Two feet, maybe three. Now, if we were running Schwarza Falls, upriver, you'd get some real action."
"Buffalo Creek is more than enough for me, today."
"Wait until you take my whitewater kayaking classes. Then you'll look forward to a fifteen footer." Lolly taught canoeing, climbing, spelunking and other wilderness skills at the Girl Scout's outdoor adventure camp each summer.
Someone bugled the traditional horse racing "first call." Lolly and Maria stood on either side of the middle of their canoe.
"Welcome, folks, to the fifth running of the Great Buffalo Canoe Race. Sorry we missed last year, but we didn't expect to enter a time warp.
"Contestants, line up according to your entry number. The first team will start at the sound of the starting gun. After that, the teams will enter the water at one minute intervals. Sorry you can't all start at once, but the creek's a wee bit too narrow for that. We will call you by number.
"Each team must start on the bank, at the starting line. Getting your canoe into the water, and yourselves into the canoe, is part of the fun.
"When you come to a drop, you can portage, but you must carry the boat and get back on board without outside assistance.
"Friends, don't forget that one of our sponsors is Thuringen Gardens. Show them you appreciate their support of this event. Of course, if you're a contestant, you might want to wait until after the race.
"All rise for 'The Star-Spangled Banner.'" The middle school chorus sang the anthem. The ceremonial marshal, standing on the footbridge, waved his staff.
That was the announcer's cue. "Team One, on your mark, get set . . . ." The starter fired his gun. "Go!" The Baker twins, Billy Joe and Jim Bob, grabbed the gunwales of their canoe and ran with it to the bank. One jumped down, painter in hand, and started pulling, while the other went to the stern and pushed. The canoe lurched down the bank, and the canoeists slid it into the water.
"Team Two!" The second pair, Walt Jenkins and his apprentice barber, Erhard Matz, headed to the water. The Germans in the audience cheered.
"Team Three! Hey, it's a brother and sister team, Phil and Laurel Jenkins. Try not to kill each other."
"Team Four!" That was the cue for Phil's friends, Larry and Gary Rose. They were carrying a garishly painted Chestnut Prospector.
"Team Five!" That was Lewis and Marina Bartolli. Their parents owned Bartolli's Surplus and Outdoor Supplies, so they had a real racing hull, an eighteen foot long, 3x27 pro boat. "Buy Bartolli's" was painted on both sides.
"Ouch," said Lolly.
Maria flinched. "What's wrong?"
"Oh, look at that canoe. The longer the boat, the faster it can go in the water."
"On the other hand, it's a pain in the butt to carry, it turns slowly, and I have my doubts as to how well it will do in whitewater."
"Team Six!" Phil Gerard and "Ikey" Pridmore were upholding the honor of Grantville Sporting Goods, the Bartolli's main competitor. They, too, had a USCA competition cruiser. "Go, Grantville Sporting Goods!" they shouted in unison, and picked up their canoe.
More teams followed. Finally, it was Lolly and Maria's turn. They walked a bit further than the others, in order to go down to the river where the going was easier. The time they lost up on the bank was regained when they descended rapidly and safely to the water. Lolly held their canoe, a fourteen foot Mad River Synergy, pointing upstream, and Maria swung herself into the bow position. Then Lolly jumped into the stern, and they came about and edged their way into the main current.
Seeing all the other canoes in the river ahead of them was discouraging, but they knew that contestants' actual running times would determine their placement.
"Buffalo Creek's a bit woollier than it used to be," Lolly remarked. "Faster and deeper. The water from the Upper Schwarza tumbles a few hundred feet down the southwest ring wall, rushes into the Spring Branch and then into the Creek. Which is a real river, nowadays."
A couple of strokes later, Maria did a double-take. "Wait a moment, you said it was gentle."
"A gentle river. Just not a creek anymore."
Walt and Erhard's canoe entered the Hough Park loop; staying on the inside.
"Bad choice," said Lolly. "That may shorten the distance, but the current is strongest on the outside of a curve." The wind carried her voice forward. Maria nodded.
"But you don't want to get too close to the outer bank. That's where the erosion is greatest, and so you tend get fallen trees there. We call 'em strainers, 'cause they let water through but trap boaters."
The canoes passed under Hough Street bridge. Its pilings acted a bit like a "rock garden" on a wild river, creating little eddies. But they were easily avoided.
A few minutes later, the contestants were approaching the mouth of Dent's Fork, on river left.
"Be careful here, Maria. If you look closely, you'll see the shear line, where the waters merge. Stay away from it."
The pack swept past Dent's Fork, and under the Clarksburg Street bridge. The bridge was packed with spectators. Maria couldn't help but wonder whether some poor soul would fall off and have to be rescued.
High Street Bridge. Lolly and Maria were fourth from the lead, at this point. Pretty good, considering that they had started last. Phil and Laurel Jenkins were in the boat ahead of them.
A ninety degree turn. Now they were heading east southeast. This was a long straightaway, and it gave a bit of an edge to the longer canoes.
Route 11 Bridge. More onlookers. Another ninety degree turn, bringing them into a nearly southerly course.
High up on the bank, they saw the sign, "Leaving Grantville."
Some minutes later, they were approaching Rainbow Plaza. The crowd assembled there yelled encouragement (and an occasional jeer).
The high school was the next major landmark, and it signaled that they were approaching the wilder part of the river.
Now came the Drop. This was a broad ledge, two feet high, extending the full width of the river. A large crowd stood nearby, on the low bank. It was a popular vantage point, since the spectators got to see how the contestants would handle the drop.
Walt and Erhard took the easy way out. They ferried over to the side, where the current was weakest. They clambered out, holding their canoe in place, and then walked it over the Drop.
Phil and Laurel paddled up close to the ledge, then set their paddles down, grabbed both bulwarks tightly, and braced themselves. The water carried them to the brink, where they teetered, and then crashed into the foam below, with a teeth-jarring crash. But they were upright, and more or less dry, at least.
Billy Joe and Jim Bob tried to copy this move, but with both hands raised in the air, like thrill seekers on a roller coaster. That wasn't a good idea. Their boat rolled to port, and without paddles, there wasn't much they could do to stop it. In a moment, they were taking a swim.
"Count the fish!" a spectator yelled. They righted their canoe and pulled themselves back in. With grim expressions, they resumed paddling downstream.
Lolly and Maria's canoe neared the Drop. As it did so, they increased the power of their strokes, accelerating. As her toes came even with the lip of the drop, Maria planted her paddle where the green water met the white, like an Olympic pole vaulter preparing to jump. She pulled back on the paddle, bringing it past her hips. Lolly's paddle struck the water at the same time and grabbed more water, adding to their forward momentum.
Their canoe went airborne, traveling several feet, over the boil where the waters fell, before pancaking in the quiet water further downstream.
Phil Jenkins had turned his head back a moment earlier to see what was happening behind him, and had watched the whole boof. "Wow," said Phil. "Who's the pretty girl with Ms. Aossey?" Maria was blond and blue-eyed, which was very definitely Phil's "type."
He had also stopped paddling, and the boat had veered a bit. "Keep your mind on your oarwork," Laurel snapped.
Larry and Gary Rose, battling to catch up with Lolly and Maria, were also impressed. "How are we going to top that?" said Larry. "It's not like we're going to win the race, so we have to find some way to impress the girls."
"I dunno. Maybe we can strike a pose?" Gary said sarcastically. "How about we just finish the race?"
"Great idea! Let's strike a pose," Larry said, ignoring his brother's obvious dismay. "The girls will love it. When we're almost at the Drop, back paddle to hold us there. This'll be spectacular."
It was. Although not perhaps the way Larry had in mind.
Gary held the boat against the current, so it jutted out over the Drop. Larry, in the front seat, set his paddle down, and shook his fists in the air. The crowd roared appropriately.
"Bring us back a little, Gary," Larry ordered. Now lean back, and keep paddling." Gary groaned, but complied. Larry slowly rose up from his seat, extending his arms for balance. The boat trembled as Gary fought the rush of the water. Larry was standing now, and brought his hands together, like a prizefighter after a K.O.
"Can we go yet?" said Gary, through gritted teeth.
"A moment more. I can see someone adjusting a camera."
An inquisitive wasp buzzed Gary's head, and he lost control as he tried to keep an eye on it. With a great lurch, the boat toppled. It first penciled down, throwing Larry into the water, and then its butt dropped with a great thud. Since the falling water had carved a deeper hole at the base of the ledge, this in turn caused the prow to seesaw upward. At some point, Gary also lost his seating, and joined his partner in the drink. The boat bobbed downstream as the Rose boys scrambled, sputtering droplets, out of their little bubble bath.
"So, did we impress the girls yet?" asked Gary.
"That was fun!" said Maria. "I'm glad we did those practice runs, though. I would hate to mess up in front of a crowd like this."
"Practice makes perfect," Lolly acknowledged.
"So what's the next step?"
"In whitewater rafting? You need to learn to handle a kayak. Start on flatwater, then try the lower Schwarza. Once you have enough experience, you can tackle Schwarza Falls, upriver. Or at least the little falls below it."
"Where the Schwarza flows over fallen chunks of the ring wall."
"Sounds good to me."
Grantville, Summer 1632
"So you're the plant ladies."
"That's what people call us," Irma Lawler acknowledged. She studied Maria. "You're the Dutch gal who's boarding with Miriam's daughter, Leila?"
"That's right." 'Lolly' was Leila Aossey's nickname.
"Edna and I know Miriam from the Garden Club. So you want to buy a few seeds?"
"A lot, actually." Maria took a deep breath. "Probably some of every variety you have, if that's possible."
Irma looked at Edna, then back at Maria. "Well, now. That's sounds like a lot of business, and we can use the money. But some of the varieties are getting a bit scarce. We give them to you before we grow any more, and other people will have to go without. For a long time; it's not like we can just order more out of a catalog."
"Why do you want so many seeds, girl?" asked Edna.
"It is for the Hortus Botanicus, in Leiden. It's the botanical garden of the University of Leiden; my brother Adolph is in charge. As was our father before him. The medical students use the garden to learn the herbs used in medicine, and scholars come from all over Europe to study its many botanical curiosities. Those are exotic plants, sent to us by the Dutch East India Company, or by other gardens."
"And you send plants to the other gardens, too?"
"Yes, we trade."
"Well, why don't we compare inventories? We'd like to expand our own collection."
Maria saw her friend Prudentia Gentileschi leaving the Nobili house, and waved. Prudentia was the daughter of the world-famous artist Artemisia Gentileschi, and a part-time assistant in the middle school and high school art classes.
"Prudentia!" Maria crossed the street and joined her. "On your way to class?" Prudentia nodded.
"I'll walk you there, if you don't mind. Shall we take the scenic route?"
They walked a bit, in companionable silence, then Prudentia spoke up. "So what's new, Maria?"
"I got a letter from my brother."
"You don't sound happy about it. Is there bad news?"
Maria sighed. "Nothing like that. He's fine, his wife Catarina is fine . . . " Her voice trailed off.
"It's just that he's so lazy. So smug. So uncomprehending of all his advantages, denied to those of our sex. So—"
"A decade ago, he and cousin Gijsbert got to go on a grand tour, see England, France, and Italy. Whereas I thought myself lucky to visit Amsterdam, or Delft. And, in Italy, they studied at the famous University of Padua. While I made do with academy classes and language tutors. And puttered about in the garden with Papa, of course."
Maria shook her head. "Adolph came home in 1623, and, the next year, he was appointed professor extraordinary of medicine, with a salary of six hundred guilders a year. In 1625, when father died, he became curator of the Hortus Botanicus. Did he continue to recruit departing ship captains to bring home exotic plants, as Papa did? No, he was content to administer potions to rich merchants, and flirt with their daughters."
"Catarina was the last of those daughters, I hope."
Maria nodded. "Then the curators of Leiden University told him he needed to . . . what is the American term? 'Publish or Perish.' So he produced a catalog of the plants in the garden."
"That's the one you illustrated, is it not?"
"Yes. Elzevier will be publishing it. Next year, I hope.
"So, that was his big chance to honor our father's work. Even then, Adolph did the minimum work possible, contenting himself with the garden inventory. I prepared the list of 289 wild plants. Limited to the vicinity of Leiden, of course, because I didn't get to travel to anyplace exotic, unlike Adolph."