Thursday, 28 April 2016

War in an age of innocence: 9

Link to Chapter 1

The colour drained from Vara’s face and she quickly sat down next to Kiri and put her arms around him.

Oh Kiri, there’s no reason for you to be so upset. I had no idea that our plan would affect you both so badly. I’m so sorry.”

Kiri was still overwhelmed with emotion, but he stopped sobbing and managed to speak, but with a trembling voice.

What plan?”

Urho told me that it is well known that Kala cannot keep a secret. Everyone teases her about it and she takes the teases without being hurt by them. She even laughs along with everyone about it. That is why we picked her to…”

Vara bit her lower lip and frowned. She continued.

I had better start at the beginning. When Urho and I were discussing our plans to bring you here for your lessons, he told me about the custom of having young people go alone into the forest to search for the stone circle. You must understand that everyone here is familiar enough with the forest not to be afraid of it. Merely entering the forest is no test of their abilities. Where we come from, the forest is a fearful place and few ever venture into it. You remember Urho’s story about the reindeer? This story was about overcoming the first fears of the forest, but more important, it was about the first quest to find the Great Serpent. In my story, the quest did not take place in the forest, but deep in the sea. To our people the forest is still the place where no one goes. It would have been unfair of us to demand you to enter the forest alone and seek out the stone circle. This would be a task much greater than is demanded of the young people here.

We both thought that having you go into the forest with Kala would be test enough of your determination. We knew that you would be very afraid, even if you were with someone else. Most people here place too much importance on the forms of things, and not the thoughts that are behind them. This is natural. To do otherwise is already a great step toward wisdom. We knew that many would not take you seriously unless you knew the location of the stone circle. This is why we picked Kala for you. Please understand that we hold no feelings against her. Her faults are only of enthusiasm. She wants to share everything with everyone and her kindness knows no bounds. We had no idea that she would be so upset as well. We thought that, at the worst, she would just blush about being discovered.”

Kiri buried his face in his hands and sobbed again. Vara waited patiently for Kiri to gain control of himself again.

Oh, Aunt Vara! This is all my fault. I was angry with Kala for showing me the circle. She told me that finding it was a test. I told her that she had ruined everything and then I hardly even spoke to her all the way back to the village. She was so sad, all the way back, and when she saw that you knew what she had done it was just all too much for her to take. That is why she ran out of the house.”

Vara stood up and helped Kiri to his feet. She wiped the tear stains from his face with her hand.

You had better go and find her. Tell her how sorry I am and have her come back here.”

Kiri left the house and went searching for Kala. He ran all over the village but did not see her. Realizing that it would be sheer chance if he found her this way, he started asking people if they had seen her. After he had spoken to about twenty villagers with no success, he finally came to an old woman coming back through the gate with a large bundle of firewood. The woman said that she saw Kala running along the forest path past her. Kala was crying and the woman called out to her, but Kala did not turn around to answer.

It was strange,” the woman said “she is usually such a happy girl”.

The woman continued homeward with her bundle of firewood and Kiri just stood there. He felt his eyes fill with tears again. He could not remember a time that he had felt so bad. He thought for a while and came to the conclusion that feeling sorry for himself and feeling bad for Kala was not going to do any good. He looked through the gate to the forest path, and then back the way he had come. He knew that he would have to find Kala, even though the thought of entering the forest alone filled him with dread and he doubted that he would have any success even if he could summon up the courage. He decided that he should go back home to tell his aunt of his plan. As it was already late in the day he should not waste any time and he ran back as fast he could.

Vara was waiting for him, and was visibly sad when he entered the house alone. He told his aunt what he had to do.

Of course I will not stop you,” she said, “just be careful. Take a torch and a fire starter with you, and a bag with some food in it. If you do not find her by this time tomorrow, you must come back. Leave a trail that will help you find your home.”

I am scared, Aunt Vara, but I have to do this.”

I know,” she replied, “Trust in the Oneness, and follow your fear.”

You mean if I get frightened I should turn back?”

No. What makes you afraid makes you run from it. Instead of running, you must approach it. The answer to all of your questions lies in and beyond the fear that you feel. If you do not continue past this fear, then you will never find what you truly seek. This is all that I am going to say. Go now.”

Kiri gathered up all the things that he thought he might need, including some bread, meat and honey, although he could not imagine that he would be hungry until he found Kala, and he set off down the path toward the darkening forest. He took a spear with him as well, just in case he encountered any ferocious creatures along the way. He also knew that he might need this spear to hunt with. He had not told Vara, but he had no intentions of coming back without Kala. As soon as he entered the forest he started to leave a very clear trail by placing sticks upright in the soft ground along the path. He could have left a trail of broken branches, but he thought that the upright sticks would serve as a signal to Kala. She might believe that only he would need such an obvious trail. He started to worry about whether he could find his way back to the stone circle. He felt that this would be the most likely place that Kala would go, and besides, he did not know of any other place to look anyway.

He felt his original fears of the forest coming back to him. He had overcome them when he was with Kala, but now he was alone and seemed like they saw their chance to gain mastery over him. He cast them from his mind. These were just general fears: they had no substance. They were not fears of animals, of the oncoming darkness, of the trees themselves. These were just fears of nothing at all. He started to feel better and he picked up his pace. Better get as far he could before it got too dark. Even with his torch, the darkness would make everything look different.

He had walked quite a long way when another fear presented itself to him. This time it was a real fear that had substance How could he find the other path? He was not sure how far he had gone. He didn’t think that he had passed the point where they had crossed the undergrowth to the second path, but he couldn’t be sure. One turn in the path looked like every other turn to him. He thought about Vara’s words to him: “The answer to all of your questions lies in and beyond the fear that you feel.” How could his fears provide the answer? The solution came to him suddenly, like a blinding flash. He laughed out loud.

The broken twigs!”

He remembered that when he was afraid that he would surprise some animal he had gone out of his way to trample on every twig he came across. Most of them were too old and damp to make a sound or too fresh to crack, but some had broken with a loud snap. He started to look at the twigs along the path. He soon came to recognize those that he trod on that had made a sound: the wood was clean at the break. He would travel a distance, and then search for the twigs. Some he even remembered by their shape. At one point he could not find any more, so he backtracked, looking for the last of them on the trail. He recalled that it was just a few steps from one trail to the other, so he stepped off the path into the undergrowth and then turned back if there was no other trail there. He kept this up for a while and just as he was starting to worry whether he was following his own trail, or that of some other person, he found the path he was looking for.

Along with his great joy came hunger and he after he set up some upright sticks on the second trail as a marker for Kala, he sat down and ate some of the bread and meat. The light was starting to fade. He realized that it must be after sunset, but he did not know how long it would be before total darkness descended on him. He thought it would be a good plan to light his torch right away. It took him a while to find kindling that was dry enough to start a fire. Most of the wood was too damp, but he found that by breaking into the interior of some rotten wood, he gathered enough dry wood to start a fire big enough to start the torch. He was glad that he started when he did, for by the time he had got the small fire started, it was getting dark.

With the path lit by the torch he pressed on toward the stone circle. He did not bother to leave any more trail markers and his enthusiasm and relief made his step light and added to his speed through the forest. Even the steepness of some of the hills did not seem to slow his pace. He was nearing the rocky cliffs when he heard wolves calling to each other in the distance. He was not afraid. It was not just because he carried fire with him, but his own sense of accomplishment and purpose drove any fears far away from him.

He almost ran the last steep steps up through the cleft in the rock to the open plain and the stone circle beyond. Stars filled the sky and a crescent moon hung over the stones. A cold gust of wind swept across the plateau and made him shiver.

Kala!” he shouted, “Kala! It’s me.”

The words faded into the darkness beyond and he was answered with silence. He realized that he was completely alone.

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  1. Part of this chapter was inspired by a camping trip, when I was young, to Cougar Canyon just east of Canmore, Alberta and opposite The Three Sisters mountains. I went with two friends. One of my friend's mother dropped us off on the highway near the canyon, and was going to pick us up again 24 hours later. We had no tent and had planned to build a shelter.

    As soon as she had left, it started to rain and the rain continued for 24 hours. Fortunately, we had thought to bring a large plastic tarp with us just in case. We built a circular wall of stones, with a door opening; a fireplace and a chimney, filling the cracks with moss. We cut saplings for a roof support, placed moss over that and had a central post so that when the tarp was secured over it, no water would pool.

    As everything was so wet, we used a hatchet to cut into the centre of a rotting tree trunk to find dry wood to start the fire. Coming out the next day was difficult: the creek (which we had to cross several times) was in flood and we strung ourselves together with rope so that no one would be swept away. We noticed that there was now a small waterfall at one place where we had though about building a shelter. I still had one arm in a plaster cast after a riding accident about a month earlier and the rain had damaged that. We were miserable as we slowly made our way to the canyon entrance. I kept thinking that each of the last few bends in the canyon would be the last one as they all looked alike.

    Near the highway, the creek was usually dry as the water went underground. This time the flood water was carrying small stones downstream with it. Finally we made it back and my friends mother was there waiting. As we approached the car, the rain finally stopped. Years later, during the Alberta floods, that same creek washed out that part of the highway.

  2. In this chapter there three things that stood out for me. The first being the development of Kiri's character in trusting his ability to work through his fears of the unknown. The second bring his ability to have a "Blink" moment to use his unconscious to solve a problem. Lastly, his recognition that one has to take responsibility for ones mistakes and to try to correct them. All three of these things are part of ones inner growth.
    Where will Kiri find Kala? Will she forgive him?

  3. Good assessment of Kiri's development. My writing? your perception? Bit of both? "Blink" moment is apt!

    There's nothing at all that I can say about the situation with Kala without giving something away, You'll just have to wait and see!