If I'd known what there was to know about Early Auden,
that strangest of boys, I might have been scared off, or at
least kept my distance like all the others. But I was new to
the Morton Hill Academy for Boys, and to Cape Fealty,
Maine. Fact was, I was new to anyplace outside of northeastern
I've heard it said that Kansas has a long-standing history of keeping its sons and daughters close to home, but in recent years there have been some notable exceptions. General Eisenhower, for one. Everyone was so proud of the way he led the Allied forces during the war with Germany. He came back to Abilene for a big parade, but once all the hoopla died down, he left. I don't think he plans on taking up residence again anytime soon.
My father is in the armed services too. Captain John Baker, Jr. He's in the navy. You know what they say. There's two kinds of fellas: navy men and those who wish they were. My father heard that from his father, Rear Admiral John Baker, Sr. I'm the third John Baker in a row. Believe me, I'd rather be a whole of something than just a third. But you get what you get and you are what you are. That saying comes from my mom's side of the family. The civilians. They're the fun side. They call me Jack. My mom calls me Jackie. At least she used to.
But things changed. That's how I ended up at the edge of the country. To say I was a fish out of water would be a good expression but the wrong way to put it. Because there I was, a landlocked Kansas boy standing on shifting sands at the ocean's edge. And all I could do was burrow my feet down deep so I wouldn't get swept away.
I wasn't a complete stranger to sand. There was a goodsized sandpit near our house. And I'd read a story put out by the National Geographic Society that told of whole dinosaurs being found in the Kansas plains. They think Kansas might have once been covered in water, and after the water was gone, it was the sand and soil that kept the dinosaur bones from being scattered and lost.
Early Auden knew all about sand. But growing up in Maine, he had a whole ocean lapping up on his shore, washing it away. The first time I saw Early he was filling bag after bag with sand and stacking them like bricks. Just what he was trying to keep from washing away, I didn't know. It was a crazy thing he was doing, but something in me understood it. I just watched him sandbagging the ocean.
I knew Early Auden could not hold back the ocean. But that strangest of boys saved me from being swept away.
Walking into the cafeteria that first day, I remembered
the headmaster's words of advice about sitting with
a group in the lunchroom.
As much as I would have preferred to be by myself right then, I made my way through the lunch line, picked up my tray of meat loaf, green beans, and Jell- O with banana slices, then ventured over to a table of boys I recognized from some of my classes.
One boy it was the chubby Sam Feeney moved over easy enough as he continued the conversation. "Anybody who thinks you can outrun a cutter with a gig is a pinhead. Let's ask the new kid. Baker, which is faster? A cutter or a gig?"
I had no idea what they were talking about, so I took the safe way out. I shrugged and said, "Six of one, half dozen of the other."
Mr. Nelson said there are no venomous snakes in Maine. Early insisted there are still timber rattlesnakes up north and walked out."
"How come he's so sure there are timber rattlesnakes?" I asked.
Excerpted from Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool. Copyright © 2013 by Clare Vanderpool. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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