Passage Hawaii to Vancouver - Day 16
26 July 2013
It's Friday in the North Pacific. We are motorsailing. That is to say we are motoring along with our sails up, hoping they will give us an extra boost. The wind has been very light. The forecast today is for a breeze of 1.4 kts - lovely at the beach but not good when it comes to boat propulsion! As it turns out we are once again smack dab in the middle of the North Pacific High. It has mysteriously reappeared over our route, leaving us with glassy seas and mere puffs of wind. Sigh. This is why we are now bound for Ucluelet, a small fishing village on the west coast of Vancouver Island. It is closer than Victoria and we can get much needed fuel there. Ucluelet will be our port of entry into Canada. We'll rest there overnight and then head down the Strait of Juan de Fuca, then north to Mayne Island in the beautiful Southern Gulf Islands. Beth's mom, Sarah Jean I, awaits us there!
And now back to Joanna who is plunged over a waterfall and down a dark hole into the earth!
VISION OF JOANNA - A Continuing Blog Adventure Set in Vanuatu
CHAPTER 7 - The Cave of Stars
Papa raced along the rain soaked trail, a hunting spear in one hand, mud squishing up between his bare toes. Behind Papa, his two oldest sons, Paul and Daniel, followed, running quickly with the same urgency, their expressions solemn. They each carried long curved machetes. Every few minutes the group stopped. Papa shouted out in a booming but plaintive voice, "Jo Jo! Where are you? Jo Jo! Where are you?" They waited quietly for a moment, hoping for a response, then hurried off along the trail, eyes down, desperately searching for a clue that might lead them to Joanna.
The village had been in an uproar since yesterday afternoon when Joanna failed to come home for dinner. Mama was distraught. Weeping quietly, she rocked back and forth outside the entrance to the family hut. Papa was frightened; his heart heavy in his chest as he paced restlessly back and forth near Mama, knowing the many perils that could befall a child lost and alone in the jungle. Neighbors and relatives gathered outside the hut, talking quietly; standing vigil with Joanna's family. The women brought food, as they always do when tragedy strikes, but little was touched. It was a long and sleepless night.
At dawn the men began a systematic search, moving further and further from the village, but nothing was found. Papa was discouraged, fearing the worst. Mama continued to weep, her face ashen. It was early afternoon when young Mathew finally came forward and told his parents that he and Simon had been playing with Joanna way up the trail that led to island's interior. They explained how they had encountered a huge wild boar, brown and black in color, that had chased them all the way back to the village. Mathew said he thought Joanna had been right behind them as they ran but had been too frightened to turn around to check. He could not explain to his parents why they had all been on the rugged trail in the first place.
When Papa heard this news he was devastated. The old brown and black boar was well known to him and the other men of the village. It was named Matago, which meant Angry Beast in the local dialect. Last year it had chased down a little boy and killed him. Running to his hut Papa grabbed his hunting spear, rounded up Paul and Daniel, and raced up the rugged trail as daylight began to fade.
They had now travelled many miles but found nothing except mud and more mud. The search party pressed onward, deeper and deeper into the island's mountainous interior. As they rounded a dense thicket of ferns Papa cried out in excitement! He ran forward, slipping and falling. He looked up. There on a sharp twig, just inches from his face, hung one of Joanna's pink flip flops! But Papa's sudden hope was soon lost to despair. Their thorough search of the area revealed nothing. The heavy rain had washed away all traces of Joanna. From this spot on the trail she had simply disappeared!
As a terrified Joanna tumbled and spun down the dark hole into which the river flowed, all she could think about was the small log she was clinging to. I must hang onto it, she thought, or it will land on top of me and smash me! She tightened he grip on the log and waited for impact. It did not take long. Suddenly she hit water. It felt like she had run into a stone wall! Then she was immersed, deep under surface of swirling black water, rolling over and over, still clinging to the log. It was so dark she had no idea which way was up. Joanna was still holding her breath, her lungs exploding! She felt a sharp pain in her shoulder as she bounced off something hard; a sharp underwater rock.
After what seemed like an hour, but was probably less than a minute, Joanna broke the surface, buoyed up by the log. She gasped for breath and looked around. Joanna was stunned by the utter blackness. She could see nothing, not even her hand in front of her face.
The speed of the river had slowed considerably but Joanna could feel the gentle tug of the current pulling her along. Occasionally she would spin around and around as a small whirlpool grabbed the log and turned it slowly about. Joanna would then kick her way back into the main current, hoping the meandering underground river would eventually carry her out of the darkness.
Joanna felt herself accelerating, changing direction around a sharp corner, the current racing for a moment. Then there was calm. Total silence. Even the sound of babbling water was gone. Joanna could see nothing, but intuitively knew she had just floated into an immense underground lake. Looking upward she gasped! Above was a dome of twinkling stars, bright and intense, as if she was standing on the beach looking upward on a clear night. But there was something different about these stars. Instead of being blue, they had a pale green tone. Unfortunately she could not see them clearly. But her fuzzy vision created little halos around each star, overlapping like lacework stretched across the sky. It was the most beautiful thing Joanna had ever seen. She lay on her back, tilting her head so her eyes and nose were just above the water, holding onto her log from below, drifting along slowly under the magical underground sky.
Joanna remembered once asking Papa why there were stars in the sky. Papa had reached over and held her hand, as he often did when he had something important to tell her. "Jo Jo" he said "I don't know why there are stars in the sky, and I prefer it that way." Joanna was surprised by this response. Papa knew everything. "You see, Jo Jo," he continued, "Certain things are better left unexplained so they can remain very special to you. By not knowing what the stars are and why they are there, those little twinkling lights can become whatever I want them to be." Papa paused to let this idea sink in.
"When I am out alone on the sea at night, fishing and slowly paddling my canoe, to me the stars are the spirits of my family; my mama and papa, and all the people I have loved who are no longer here." Papa looked up as if identifying various relatives. Then he went on, "My special stars keep me company. It makes me happy knowing my family is always with me." He paused again
"Jo Jo, this is my explanation of the stars. I don't want or need another." Papa was finished.
At the time Joanna had wondered about Papa's explanation; if he actually believed what he said or if he was just trying to make her feel better about not going to school where she might learn about the stars..
Floating slowly along, looking up at the twinkling halos above her, Joanna thought about Mama and Papa and her brothers. Maybe they were with her now. Maybe these little green stars were the spirits of the people who loved you and were still alive, waiting for you. Joanna liked that idea. Here in this strange place deep underground she no longer felt alone.
Straining her eyes downstream where the river slowly flowed, Joanna thought she saw a faint white light. Yes, it was getting brighter! She looked back at the fading stars on the roof of the cavern and whispered to them, "Goodbye everyone. I'll be home soon. I promise."
The approaching brightness hurt Joanna's eyes. She squinted, as she and the log floated towards the mouth of the enormous cavern. Joanna could tell the sun was almost down by the steep angle of the rays. It was getting late. Just along the river to her left was a rocky ledge that became a sand covered bank. With overhead protection from rain, Joanna thought this would be a good place to spend the night. She kicked herself and the log to the shore.
Hungry, but too exhausted to go in search of coconuts for dinner or even palm branches for a bed, Joanna sat on the small beach staring across the river. The dying rays of the setting sun penetrated the cavern, lighting up the opposite bank with a warm, golden glow. There, round and golden, were several mysterious objects on a pile of golden sticks. For some reason their presence nearby made Joanna feel uneasy. It was too far away for her to see clearly what they were. She would investigate tomorrow. Lying back, with her head on a rock for a pillow, Joanna watched the golden objects fade into the shadows and then disappear all together. Just then her bright pink flip flop, now quite battered, floated into view. Joanna reached out and plucked it from the water. She lay back again on her rocky pillow and within minutes she was fast asleep.
TO BE CONTINUED . . .