Scudder’s Gorge shines a harsh light on what man is capable of doing to his fellow man, beginning with the day of the “bomb” in Hiroshima and then moving backwards in time to Eighteenth Century Vermont to a village founded by post-Revolutionary settlers. Nestled between pine-clad ridges, the valley is home to a small band of Abenaki.
The settlers and Native Americans trade with each other and live in peace until a love affair blossoms between a young Abenaki and the daughter of a village elder. A crime reverberates down the generations, leading Everett Scudder and his daughter, Roseanne, to struggle for the dignity of all people.
(1877 – 1945)
August 6, 1945
Etsuko Hayato had not slept well. The sirens had sounded throughout the night, and he had tossed and turned on his thin futon. It was still dark when he sighed and, carefully folding the cotton mattress, placed it in a lacquered chest. He re-read the war stories in yesterday’s newspaper.
When his wife died, Etsuko had moved in with his older son and daughter-in-law, both of whom worked in munitions plants in the city. Etsuko’s second son was in the navy. He had been stationed at sea early in the war but was now at the nearby Kure naval base. His wife also lived with Etsuko’s older son. It was a comfort to Etsuko to live with his family even if the wooden house was rather small. It did have a vegetable garden and shrine in the back. Etsuko spent a lot of time in the garden.
Etsuko had three grandchildren, one of whom had been killed at Okinawa. The last letter from his other grandson had been dated three months ago and said nothing about his situation except that he had been promoted to captain. His granddaughter, a school teacher, had been evacuated from Hiroshima, along with her pupils, to a rural temple.
Etsuko knew he was fortunate to have both sons alive and to be living with one while seeing the other several times a month. His daughters-in-law were pearls. He grieved for his grandson, but other families had suffered far more. His friend, Mitsuo, had lost all three of his sons. He missed his wife but knew that they would be reunited. He found solace in thinking that, with luck, he would end his life quietly among his family. Hiroshima, despite having military facilities, had not been hit hard by the allies; and the government, fortunately, had not demolished the houses in his neighborhood to create a fire lane.
Etsuko, therefore, murmured a prayer of gratitude as he knelt on a tatami while his daughter-in-law served him a cup of tea and a small bowl of rice topped with pickled vegetables. At seven, the radio broadcast an air raid alert. Everyone froze - utensils in mid-air. His son, Jotaro, had thought to take one more bite before leaving for work. They all rushed from the house and searched the clear sky. Would this be the day when terror and destruction rained down on Hiroshima? They started for the shelter, but no huge B-29s droned over head. Instead, a lone plane – clearly not a bomber – circled the city.
They waited outside the shelter talking to neighbors and anxiously scanning the skies. At seven-thirty, Jotaro decided that the danger was past. He and his wife took a tram to work. Etsuko’s other daughter-in-law returned to clean up the breakfast dishes before going downtown to her job in a government office.
After inviting the neighbors to come over that evening for a glass of precious sake, Etsuko took a walk. He did not have to report to his fire warden’s station until ten, and perhaps he would find some fruit in a shop. With the disappearance of so many commodities, their diet had become bland and meager. He walked through narrow lanes crowded with small houses. After his restless night, it felt good to use his legs. The morning sun was warm on his face.
Having lost one grandson, he wondered, as he did frequently, if the rest of his family would survive the war. He revered the Emperor and had initially supported the war as vital to Japan’s interests. But the loss of lives, the physical destruction and the rending of the fabric of Japanese society had been overwhelming. Etsuko had sadly concluded that the time for surrender might have arrived.
Japan’s sun would rise from the ashes and shine more brightly than ever, but it was far too dangerous to utter such thoughts. He prayed instead that the Emperor, the living God, would seek an honorable peace. Otherwise, they must fight on. Japan must never abandon the Divine One who ruled over the sacred homeland.
He saw a few yellow flowers growing in a scrap of yard and smiled. He wished he could identify the flowers. He had worked as a mid-level manager in one of the big zaibatsu for forty-four years. Now that he was retired, he would devote some time to studying nature. His wife, Shizue, had worked miracles with flower arrangements.
He stopped briefly at a small temple with curved, red beams protruding over the lane. He prayed in memory of Shizue and for the safety of his family. It would be a clear, hot day. Through an open window, he heard the radio blare another air raid warning. He glanced at his watch; it was just past eight. There was no sign of bombers, but perhaps he should go home. He started down the lane and, noticing the drone of an airplane, quickened his pace. He hurried past an empty school with a small patch of sweet potatoes growing in the yard.
The engines sounded louder. He stopped and looked up. He saw one large plane followed by two smaller ones. They were almost overhead. He was panting. His heart and lungs were not what they used to be. He saw a white parachute fall from the large plane; he watched it drift slowly down. How curious; it must not be a bomb.
For the merest instant, he saw a blinding flash and heard an earth-shattering explosion. The world went black; and Etsuko Hayato’s dust mingled with a mushroom-shaped cloud.