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by L. H. Hall

Chapter 21 - Terraces


by L. H. Hall

Chapter 21


Monday morning found everyone up before the sun peeked over the jungle. The canteens were filled. We had each rolled a sheet and blanket, plenty of jerky, and other things we thought we might need in a poncho, and tied it up with vines. We were all ready before Sheba and Prince brought in the meat for breakfast.

At Goat field we turned east down the mountain. We did not have any trouble finding the trail. The open rocky area was like a big funnel leading down a broad trail into the jungle. Goats were everywhere. Those we had left behind on the mountain in Goat Field were nothing compared to the number that were grazing in the forest beside the trail. The trees were tall and green, but there was no undergrowth. Apparently the goats kept it down.

Off to the left, I saw a wild dog, and then another. I said nothing. They did not look menacing, and I felt no sense of urgency. There was no reason to alarm the others. The dogs obviously saw us, but did not appear to be overly conscious of our existence. It must take a massive herd of goats, to continue to exist with a pack of wild dogs on an island this small.

As the trail narrowed, the light dimmed. I looked up and could hardly see the sky. There was a great canopy above us. Soon it was almost like twilight. Occasionally we would see a ray of the sun shining here or there. It was really weird, but it was as beautiful as it was weird in the ghostly light.

We had been under the jungle canopy for a half hour, maybe slightly less, when it began to brighten. I looked up and saw a line of large holes in the canopy running south. "This must be the line in the tree tops we saw from the mountain we thought indicated a stream." Jamie pointed to the openings in the canopy.

"Yeah, but where's the water?" I was puzzled. There was just a trickle of water at our feet. "We should have a lot of runoff. I was sure the stream from the goat pen would come down here somewhere. I guess, it could empty into the sea on the north shore."

"The stream ran into a hole in the mountain back there a little ways." Julie pointed behind us to the right.

"Why didn't you tell us?"

"I thought you saw it. Everybody else did." Sarah came to her defense.

"I must've been too busy trying to see the sky. How far back was it."

"It wasn't too far back, but it was quite a way to the south." Jamie turned, pointing. "It was just before the valley narrowed."

"I'll see it next time, I guess. I wish someone had said something."

"Where were you, Timmy? We talked about it for five minutes," Sarah assured me.

"I must have been in my own private world in this weird place. I've never seen anything like this before."

"It is spooky, ain't it?" Debbie offered.

We were descending steadily. The valley had rapidly become a ravine. It looked like we were in a box canyon. A few paces in front of us, there was a steep upward incline; but suddenly, the bank on the right disappeared. The ravine narrowed to no more than four feet, and made a sharp turn toward the south coast.

It was like walking into a different world when we turned the corner in the ravine. The line of holes opened into a wide ribbon of light shining on a green meadow surrounding a series of lakes, each emptying into the one below it, like a huge stair way. From our vantage point, we could not see where the water was coming from, but we could hear a waterfall to the West. We moved on into the valley, and saw several streams and two beautiful waterfalls as the valley opened to the right. Again there was lush grazing and the goats reappeared. I could not understand why any of them would ever want to venture off up onto the rocky hillside. The lakes ranged in size from a couple hundred feet to several hundred yards across. The goat herd, again, appeared to have kept down the undergrowth.

I could not imagine why no one lived on the island. It had everything a person could ask for. The only reason I could think of was its isolation, but surely one would think that some island tribe would have found it and settled here.

I checked the first lake for swimming. It was one of the smaller lakes. Its wide, mostly grassy, beach sloped gradually into the water, and got deeper until it was over our heads. It was a perfect place for swimming. There was no drop off in the water.

Both waterfalls, west of the lakes, fell from a cliff some fifty or sixty feet high. The first, fell into a shallow pool that emptied down a steep rocky incline into the lake. The second, the smaller of the two, after it fell about ten feet, it hit an outcropping of rock that made it spray out like a veil. It fell the rest of the way like a constant hard rain into another wide basin, similar to, but smaller than the Patio at the cave. Then a thin sheet of water ran the last hundred yards into the lake.

Near the lower end of the lake we found a good place to set up camp. A reasonably level, grassy area surrounded a dry, flat, outcropping of rock some twenty feet from the shore. We could safely build a fire there, if we could find some dry leaves and the sun ever appeared in the sky. I was sure it was not noon yet and prayed we would be able to see the sun for a few minutes then.

We spread out looking for dry tinder the goats had missed. It was not long until we found enough to build the fire. We got everything ready. The magnifying glass hung around my neck on a braided fishing line necklace. All we needed was the direct rays of the sun for a few minutes.

We unrolled the bed rolls and made camp. I regretted that we did not have something to which we could fasten the ponchos to make a tent. I could see a poncho stretched over some bamboo poles like an Indian teepee, but I did not think it would be large enough. We would not need a tent if it did not rain, but you could bet it would rain before nightfall. The best thing to do was to put all the bedding into one poncho. Then, if it rained hard, some of us could share one if we wanted to stay dry. Frequently, we enjoyed staying out and playing in the rain. When the camping plans were made, we looked for more substantial wood. We needed enough to keep the fire burning through the night. We could probably get by without a fire in the morning, but it would be better to have one and not need it, than to need one and not have it.

You could bet, with all these goats around, Sheba would bring us one for supper, on the other hand, maybe not. The goats did not seem to mind us, but they kept a weary eye on Sheba and the pups. Sheba acted like there was not a goat around, and most of the pups stayed clear of them. Only Buster and Prince needed another lesson not to mess with the goat kids, and went flying through the air off the horns of an angry nanny. I realized, then, how the goat herd managed to thrive with a pack of wild dogs around. They learned when they were pups not to mess with them. Probably the only time they would dare to attack one was when they found a young kid off by itself, and that did not happen often.

"May we go swimming?" Debbie threw her last load of wood on the pile.

"Sure. Have fun." I looked at the sky. "I'm going to wait a little while. I want to be ready to light the fire when the sun appears." I sat alone gazing down the terraces below. On either side the terrain rose from the valley floor. On the West, the grassy beaches rose gradually for, maybe one hundred to three hundred feet to a line of cliffs ranging from fifty to a hundred feet, or more, high. On the East the grassy beaches disappeared into the jungle. There were a few low cliffs at the higher end of the valley, but the closer it got to the sea the lower the eastern rises were. I could look over the treetops at the lower end. Sometimes I thought I would get a glimpse of the sea beyond them, but I was not sure if it was the sea or sky. I decided it was probably the sky. It was also possible the last lake more than a hundred feet below me and nearly a mile away was the cove, or maybe not. The jungle seemed to close in between the last two lakes, with what appeared to be thick undergrowth.  I thought it strange that the goats would keep the undergrowth down every where around the valley except in that one spot. It was a long way off, even looking through the small binoculars. I could be mistaken. We'd probably know that in a day or two. It was so peaceful, I did not care if I ever left, except I would miss seeing the sun, and the night sky.

The sun was midway across the little ribbon of sky. I was beginning to feel quite warm, before I realized the noonday sun, with all of its heat, was beating down on me. Within seconds I had a flame; a few minutes later, a good fire was blazing; and in a little over a half hour, all chances of starting another fire until noon the next day were gone. I joined the others in the lake, but they were about ready for lunch.

We feasted on jerky and mangoes we had picked on the way down from the cave. I had thought there would be more fruit here, but there were only a few mango trees and coconut palms scattered around the edge of the jungle. I presumed the goats must have kept the smaller trees eaten off. We had plenty for lunch, and would have all the mangoes we wanted, while we were in the valley.

"Isn't this a beautiful place?" Sarah threw a mango seed at me.

"I'd give a million dollars, or more, for it, if I had it, if I could move it to the coast of Oregon, or even to the Philippines," I agreed. "I don't think I've ever seen such a beautiful place."

"I'll miss watching the stars come out tonight."

"Yeah. Well, I guess nothing is perfect, except God."

"I wonder if even the Garden of Eden was this pretty."

"Maybe this is the Garden of Eden." I looked at the terraces below. "It seems like the whole world disappeared except us, the sea, and this island. I wonder which tree is the tree of life, and which is the tree of knowledge of good and evil."

"I ain't gonna let no snake talk me into eating of that tree," She vowed. "You'd better find out which tree we can't eat from."

"I don't see many trees around here we can eat from."

"There are some coconut palms and Mango trees scattered around. There's a coconut palm right behind you."

"There was only one forbidden fruit tree in the Garden, so coconuts and mangoes are okay to eat. There are more than one of them."

"This ain't the Garden of Eden, and you and Sarah ain't Adam and Eve," Jamie assured us. "They didn't have no kids 'til they left the Garden an' you already got three."

"You're right about that," I laughed.

Jamie and the two girls, apparently bored with the conversation, since we had agreed this was not the Garden of Eden, took off to explore.

"I can't imagine the Garden being any more beautiful than this." Sarah closed her eyes, as if trying to dream.

"Yeah, as long as we have to be marooned on an uninhabited island, I'm surely glad it's this one."

"I agree with that, and if we girls have to be marooned, I'm glad you and Jamie are with us. Of course, it would have been better if it had been Momma and Daddy."

"I'm glad you and your sisters are with us too, but I wish you didn't have to be."

"I don't know if I ever want to leave this island, Timmy. I'd just like to have our families live here. Our dads would never have to go to work. We have everything we need. It would be just like heaven if they were here."

"Yeah, but they would need other people to be happy, and the others would need somebody else. Pretty soon there would be too many people. It wouldn't be the Garden of Eden any more. It would be just like Manila, crowded and dirty."

"Yeah," she admitted wistfully. "You're right, but it's such a beautiful dream."

"God was good to give us such a beautiful place."

"If we hadn't been marooned, you'd be just another nice boy I met and played with for an hour or two at airports, and forgot about. I'm glad it wasn't like that."

"Yeah, me too. You're not just a girl any more. You're special."

"You too, especially since that night on the Top of the World, when you put your arm around me and prayed for me."

"Did you feel it too."

"Mmm hmm. There was something special happened that night. I'm not talking about the experience I had with Jesus. I'll remember it as long as I live."

"I know. I don't know what it was, but it was special."

"Like everything was the way it ought to be."

"That's the way I felt. Like we would be together forever and ever." I remembered the moment.

"Yeah, like nothing could ever tear us apart."

"When you scooted over and snuggled against me, I felt like I could think your thoughts, dream your dreams, and feel your feelings."

"Yeah, almost like we were one person," she agreed.

"I wanted to stay there all night, and not ever come down."

"Me too, but I got sleepy, and I was afraid we'd go to sleep and fall off into the jungle below."

"What do you think happened?" She looked deep into my eyes. "Do you think--maybe--it means that we--love each other?"

"I don't know. I don't know what love feels like. All I know is . . ." I turned around to see what the others were doing. I didn't want them to hear what I was about to say. They were playing tag by the little waterfall. "All that I know is that you've been different since that night. The experience you had with Jesus is part of it, but I think there is something else as well."

"Jesus may have been part of it, I'm sure He was, but something happened between you and me. Since then, I don't want to let you out of my sight, and sometimes, I wish the others would go somewhere, so we could talk like we are right now. Coming down here this morning, I wanted to take your arm in mine, and squeeze it, and walk really close to you. Other times, I wish you would give me a big hug."

"Me too. I feel like doing that sometimes."

"Maybe it is love."

"Naw, we're too young for that, but I do have special feelings for you that I don't have for your sisters. That's probably because I depend on you so much to help me, and I think of them as little kids."

"Don't ever tell them that. Julie's a big girl, now that she is six, and Debbie thinks she's almost grown too," she laughed.

"I won't." I laughed with her. "Let's go see what there is to see."

"I looked for the kids. The game of tag had stopped, or paused. Jamie was squatting, looking at something on the ground. "Jamie, look out!" I screamed too late. A black nanny hit him in the side rolling him down the hill like a big ball. Sheba had the Nanny by the throat before she knew what happened, but it was too late for Jamie. He was lying on the ground, holding his shoulder, crying.

We ran to him. He was all right. Nothing was broken. He had no cuts, but his shoulder was bruised.

"I was trying to see if the baby was all right, I didn't see it, and I tripped over it."

"The nanny didn't know that," I explained. "She thought you might hurt her baby."

"I didn't mean to hurt it."

"I know you didn't, but you can't blame the nanny. She didn't know."

Apparently, Sheba didn't know either, because when we got up, she and the pups were still growling and tearing at the dead nanny's throat. "Sheba! That's enough!" I called.

Sheba left the nanny, and went to see if Jamie, who was still sitting on the ground sniffling, was all right.

It had all happened so quickly. In less than a minute our peaceful surroundings had changed to violence, leaving a boy bruised and crying, a beautiful nanny goat dead, and her baby helpless to die without a mother. It reminded me of how quickly we had been snatched from our mothers.

"She's so sweet." Sarah picked up the orphan, and was cuddling it in her arms. "She's a little nanny."

"Put her down by her mother," I advised. "Maybe she can get one last meal"

"We've gotta help her." Sarah laid the kid by her mother.

"The best thing we can do for her is to cut off her head and eat her for supper." I said.

"No!!! Debbie screamed.

"That's what we would do, if Sheba had brought it to the cave."

"That would be different. She'd already be dead." Sarah caressed the orphan. "Besides it's too little to eat. She can't be over a few days old."

"Yeah!" Julie put in.

"I think we ought to just leave her here." Jamie watched the orphan sucking the last of its dead mother's milk.

"I know what we can do," Sarah got up excitedly. "It'll work. I know it will."

"What?" I was ready to try anything, I might talk tough, but inside I wanted to save the baby as much as any of them.

"We can find another baby, and put this one with it. Then, you can ask Jesus to make the mother accept it."

"That's a good idea. I think it will work," I contended. "Except for one thing."

"What's that?"

"Jesus gave you the idea. You ought to be the one to pray for her. Jesus will answer your prayers as quickly as He will mine."

"I wouldn't know what to say."

"Just tell him what you want him to do, just like you'd tell me. He doesn't require any special language. It's time you learned to do your own praying."

"Let's see if we can find another tiny baby lying in the grass." Debbie was already looking. We all scattered out. "When you find one, stay away from it. We don't want somebody else hurt, or another dead nanny because Sheba has to protect us." I reminded them.

"Here's one, behind this tree," Julie called after about ten minutes. "It looks about like the other one, except it don't have a white ear."

I picked up the orphan that was sleeping, nuzzled against her dead mother, and called Sheba. "You keep the nanny busy, but don't hurt her." Sheba stayed beside me until we got close to the hiding place, and she saw a nanny getting nervous. Sheba began to tease her.

I laid the orphan down by the other one. Neither roused from its sleep. "Let's get in a circle around them and hold hands while Sarah asks Jesus for help."

"Dear Jesus," Sarah prayed, "this little baby is just like us, all alone without her momma to take care of her. You take good care of us, so please, Jesus, take care of this orphan too. Let the other baby's momma adopt her and take good care of her. Thank you, Jesus, we don't know what else to do for her we would."

"Now let's get away from here," I advised, "and watch what happens."

"Here, Sheba," I called when we were at a safe distance.

The black and tan nanny with a white blaze on her nose, rushed to the babies. She sniffed at the orphan, then at her own and back to the orphan again. When she was satisfied that all was well, she wandered off a little and lay down to chew her cud, like she wanted to ponder the situation.

I dressed the dead nanny, while Sarah joined the others in their game of tag, as if nothing had happened; except, they stayed where they could watch the nanny and the kids. I took the two hams and gave the rest to the dogs. They carried, or dragged, it away from camp, before they started fighting over it.

We cooked, played, and explored the afternoon away with a constant eye on the black and tan nanny, with a white blaze on her nose. She never moved. Even when the afternoon shower came, and we scampered for the four ponchos, Debbie and Julie sharing one, she did not budge. Supper was over, and she still lay there contemplating the situation, keeping an eye on the nest where the kids lay. It was getting darker. Apparently the sun was setting. Hundreds, maybe thousands of goats came down from the hills to drink and sleep, but she did not move. We had about decided that she was going to reject her own, which had been crying for its dinner for quite a while. Finally, a few minutes before darkness settled into the valley; she arose; nibbled a few spears of grass; drank from the lake; and returned to the kids. She smelled each one of them again, nuzzled them, and let them eat, one on each side.

"Thank you, Jesus, for answering my prayer." Sarah praised the Lord. "Thank you so much."

"We have so much to be thankful for." I led the evening devotions, as darkness closed in around us. We made our bed close to the fire. Sleeping together, as usual, Sarah lay on one side with her machete handy. I was on the other side with mine, and big brother Jamie lay in the middle. His machete lay within easy reach at his head. Sheba and her pups encircled us, except at the foot, where the fire burned brightly. Most importantly, God's blanket of protection covered us. We lay without fear, looking at the ribbon of stars, talking until, one by one, the others dropped out of the conversation without warning. Jamie was the last. He was talking about being sorry for . . . He never finished the sentence. I lay there for a long time thinking and thanking the Lord for all his blessings.

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Copyright 1995
Leonard H. Hall, Sr.

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