A Yellow Raft in Blue Water By Michael Dorris Summary and Analysis Rayona: Chapter 5

Summary

Next morning, the first person Rayona sees is the man who runs the gas station at the state park; ironically, Christine and Rayona had stopped for gas on the way to Aunt Ida's at this very place. The man, nicknamed Sky, asks Rayona if she'd like a cup of coffee, and the two strike up a conversation. Sky discusses his past, including evading the Vietnam War draft by going to Canada, and Rayona talks about her Uncle Lee, who died in the Vietnam War. When Sky learns that Rayona has no place to stay, he calls his wife, Evelyn, who's the cook at the park, and asks Evelyn if she knows of a park job for Rayona.

Rayona locates the park kitchen and meets Evelyn, a large woman who has short white hair and eyes that are "bright and suspicious." After feeding Rayona, Evelyn gets Rayona a job in the maintenance department, responsible for picking up trash that campers leave behind.

Rayona adjusts well to her new environment. She's responsible for the park area that houses female lifeguards and swimming instructors, including, we will learn, Ellen DeMarco, a young woman whom Rayona's male coworkers find very attractive. Evelyn tells Rayona that she can stay with her and Sky in their trailer.

Analysis

The park sign that warns campers to stay where they are if they're lost and soon they'll be found symbolizes Rayona's predicament at the beginning of Chapter 5. She's lost, but then she's found — by Evelyn and Sky, two unlikely saviors who come to her aid.

Evelyn and Sky are everything that Christine, Elgin, and Father Tom are not: adults who accept Rayona at face value. Without hesitating, Sky tells Rayona about his past, including the fact that he avoided the Vietnam War draft by going to Canada — unlike Rayona's Uncle Lee. Evelyn, although she has "bright and suspicious" eyes, accepts Rayona without question, noting only matter-of-factly that Rayona is black, which Rayona doesn't dispute, and that she's not eighteen, as she claims to be.

Rayona quickly takes to her new job in the park. She feels a freedom about herself that she's experienced only once before: on the yellow raft, before Father Tom's assault. However, she is still seeking a personal identity, wondering just who she is and where and how she fits in the world.

Rayona's discovery of the bottom half of a discarded letter is one of the most important episodes during her time at Bearpaw Lake State Park. The letter presents a picture-perfect world that Rayona has never known. She can't seem to read the letter enough times to satisfy her curiosity about the "Mother & Pops" who wrote it and the person to whom it is addressed. But no matter how elated the letter makes Rayona feel, it is actually destructive to her, although she doesn't realize it. The letter allows her to fantasize about how her life would be if only she were a different person, if only she had this "Mother & Pops" as her parents. But she's Rayona Taylor, with a mother and father who seemingly don't care about her.

No matter how hard Rayona tries to put the letter out of her mind, she can't. Ironically, although she's happy that she's found the letter, she feels sad and cheated: "This scrap of paper in my hand makes me feel poor in a way like I just heard of rich. Jealous." The letter confirms what Rayona has feared for so long: Her life is anything but picture-perfect, anything but normal.

Glossary

fresh air funds Sky's pronunciation of "fresh air fiends" — people who enjoy fresh air instead of turning on their air conditioning or furnace.

Ukie a Canadian who was (or whose family was) originally from the Ukraine.

M.Y.O.B. mind your own business.

come up a boxcar a pair of sixes on a throw of the dice.

the paten the plate used to hold the host (consecrated wafers) during the celebration of the Eucharist.

pheromones chemicals secreted by certain animals that influence the behavior of others of the same species.

chinooks dry, warm winds blowing down from the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains.

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