Island of the Blue Dolphins appeals to readers in several ways. It is a story based on actual events, a kind of adventure that makes people ask themselves how they would have behaved in similar circumstances. Narrated in the first person, the book reads more like a realistic account than a work of fiction. Rich with history and information about plant and animal life, the novel is also full of ingenious ideas for survival and for entertainment in isolation. The work's most endearing qualities are its sense of humor and its humaneness.
Page after page, O'Dell offers imaginative solutions to seemingly insurmountable problems. Although the story takes place over a century ago, Island of the Blue Dolphins has a timeless appeal because of the author's artistry in communicating his love for the sea.
(The entire section is 133 words.)
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Chapter 1 Summary
It is a day to remember. A twelve-year-old girl and her six-year-old brother are gathering roots, which grow every spring. They are at the head of a canyon that leads to a small harbor called Coral Cove. When she first sees the ship approaching, it is small, like a shell floating on the sea. As it sails closer, it looks like a gull with its wings folded. Finally it becomes a red ship with two red sails, and it is approaching their island.
The boy is small but quick, and when he gets excited he does foolish things. Because she wants him to help her gather roots, his sister does not point out the ship to him as she digs for roots with a sharp stick. But the boy’s black eyes miss little, and he tells his sister he sees the sea as a flat, blue stone with a small cloud on it (for he has never seen a ship). She is determined to have him help her work and denies seeing anything out of the ordinary.
The boy, Ramo, pretends to work and not watch the approaching cloud, but soon he asks his sister if she has ever seen a red whale. She lies and tells him yes, that a young boy has not seen everything an older girl has seen. Soon, though, he knows it is a giant canoe and he is so amazed at the sight that he throws the root he is holding into the air and is gone, crashing through the brush and shouting as he runs.
His sister is even more excited than her brother, but she continues gathering roots with a trembling hand. She knows that the ship’s arrival can mean many things and she would like to leave her task and run to the village, but she keeps digging because the roots are needed by her people. When her basket is full, she sees the ship has made its way into the harbor between the two great rocks which guard Coral Cove. Word of the ship had already reached her village, Ghalas-at, and her people are moving. The men are hurrying down the trail to the shore, weapons in hand, and the women are gathering at the edge of the mesa overlooking the cove.
The girl has made her way to the sea cliffs and crouches there to watch. Half the men of her village are standing at the water’s edge; the other half is concealed by the rocks, ready to fight if necessary. The girl leans over the cliff as far as she can to see and hear everything below her. A smaller boat has left the ship. Six men with long oars are rowing the boat; they have dark hair and bone ornaments stuck through their noses. A tall man with a yellow beard is...
(The entire section is 999 words.)
Chapter 2 Summary
The Aleuts and Captain Orlov move to the island immediately, making many trips back and forth from their ship. They are camping on higher ground, with permission from the chief, since the beach is small and the tide often covers it. They camp here most of the summer.
The island is two leagues long and one league wide, and from a high vantage point the island looks like a dolphin lying on its side. It is named The Island of the Blue Dolphins, either because of its shape or because many dolphins live in the sea surrounding it. The wind is strong on the island, polishing rocks and twisting trees. The village is situated near the cove and a good fresh spring. North of the village is another spring, and that is where the Aleuts erected their low tents made of skins.
The girl’s father warns his people not to visit the hunters’ camp, for their ways and language are not the same. Each of them will benefit from the hunting; the Aleuts will take otter and leave behind goods which the villagers can use. Befriending them will not bring any profit to the natives. While these are not the same hunters who “caused trouble” before, they are of the same tribe; they do not understand friendship. No one disobeys their chief; however, someone is always watching the Aleuts to see what they do and how many otters they kill.
After Ramo watches, he says Captain Orlov brushes his beard until it is shiny every morning. When Ulape (Karana’s older sister by two years) watches, she tells everyone that one of the hunters is a girl who keeps her long hair tucked under her hunting cap. No one believes her. The Aleuts are also watching the village or they would not have learned about the village’s good fortune. Early spring is not a good season for fishing, so the villagers eat sparingly then, mostly from their autumn stores. Ulape is gathering shellfish, and on the way home she hears a loud noise behind her. Looking down from the cliff, she is not at first sure what she is seeing.
The shapes begin to move and she can see it is a school of large white bass; each of them is as large as she is. They came into the cove to escape the pursuit of the killer whales which eat them, and they so misjudged the depth of the water that they ended up beached on the ledge of rocks. Ulape runs to the village and, before she finishes telling them her news, the villagers are running to the cove before the tide comes in and the fish are...
(The entire section is 631 words.)
Chapter 3 Summary
Wide kelp beds surround the island on three sides, drifting out a league away from land. This is the hunting ground the Aleuts worked from dawn to dusk each day, coming back at dusk towing their dead otters behind them. Sea otters are different from seals; they are much more playful and spend their days floating on their backs and sunning themselves in the kelp beds. The hunters only want them for their valuable pelts.
Each day the hunters sling their arrows at the otters, and each night they spend hours skinning the creatures, abandoning their bloody carcasses on the beach to be washed away by the tide. Tribe members watch and count and are glad because of all the beads and other things that each pelt represents. Karana never watches the killing, for the otter are her friends, and watching them frolic in the sea is better than any kind of beads around her neck.
One morning she tells her father that there has been too much killing, that the otters are nearly gone. He laughs and tells her she is only looking at this side of the island; there are two more, and the otter will come back after the hunters leave. Karana is not convinced, sure there will be none left in a few weeks. Her father assures her the hunters will be leaving soon, for their boat is already heavy with pelts.
In fact, the village has begun keeping lookouts on the beach and near the camps, watching to make sure the Aleuts do not leave without paying for the otter they killed. Occasionally a large tree trunk washes ashore; when it does, the men drag it away from the shoreline and build a canoe. Some of the men are building one now, sleeping by it at night, watchful on behalf of the village. They are all afraid the Russian captain will cheat them, so they are vigilant. Every hour a messenger brings news to the village.
Ulape brings news that the woman hunter is cleaning her skin aprons, something she has never done before. Ramo announces that Captain Orlov trimmed his beard this morning, so it looks the way it did on the day he arrived. The Aleuts who used to spend all day sharpening the group’s hunting spears now concentrate their efforts on skinning the otter which the hunters have caught. The village of Ghalas-at knows these signs and knows the hunters are preparing to leave soon. Now they wonder if the captain will keep his word or if they will have to fight to get what they are owed. These are the questions the villagers ask all...
(The entire section is 461 words.)
Chapter 4 Summary
It is a sunless day when the Aleuts leave the island. The sea is rough and the waves are roaring, spraying white water against the rocks. Before the day is over, there will be a storm. Shortly after dawn, the hunters pack up their tents and carry them to the beach. Captain Orlov has not yet paid for the otter skins, so when they hear that he is leaving, the villagers make their way to Coral Cove—first the men with their spears, followed by the women and children. While the women stay hidden in the bushes by the cliff, the men wind their way down the trail to the beach.
Ulape and Karana are in the same spot the younger girl had been in when the hunters first arrived. It is low tide, and the beach is scattered with bundles of pelts. Half the hunters are on the ship; the other half of them are wading out into the water and tossing the pelts into a boat. The Aleuts must be glad to leave, for they are laughing as they work. Captain Orlov is talking with Chief Chowig. Karana cannot hear their words, but she can see by his by his stance that her father is angry. Ulape notices the same thing, but Karan reminds her that he is not really angry until he pulls his ear.
The village men working on the canoe have stopped and are watching their chief, as are all the men at the foot of the trail. The boat carrying the pelts is taken to the ship; when it arrives, Captain Orlov gives a signal with his hand. The boat returns to the island carrying a black chest; two of the hunters carry it to the beach. The captain raises the lid and pulls out several necklaces. Even in the dark sky, the necklaces sparkle; Ulape and the other women gasp in their delight. Everything changes as they see their chief shake his head and turn his back on the chest.
The Aleuts stand in silence, and the village men move forward a few steps. Everyone is watching Karana’s father. He tells the captain one string of beads per pelt is not what they agreed to; the captain says they agreed to one necklace and one iron spearhead for each otter pelt. This chest cannot hold everything they are owed; they will need three more such chests to pay for the one hundred and twenty bales of pelt skins they are taking with them. Captain Orlov says there are more chests on the ship and signals the Aleuts to continue loading the last of the pelts onto the boat. The sisters hiding on the cliff, like everyone else from the village, are afraid that the captain will take the...
(The entire section is 933 words.)
Chapter 5 Summary
In the history of Ghalas-at, this night is the worst. At the beginning of the day, the tribe had forty-two men; now they have only fifteen, seven of whom are old. Every woman on the island has lost someone. The storm blows for two days; on the third day they bury their dead on the south side of the island. They burn the fallen Aleuts.
Ghalas-at is quiet for many days, the villagers leaving only to gather food and come back to eat in silence. Some in the tribe want to leave and go to an island called Santa Catalina, far off to the east, but others say there is little fresh water there. A council is held, and the villagers decide to stay. They also select a new chief, Kimki. He is very old, but he was a good man and hunter in his youth. That night he calls everyone together. He tells them the strong men who had snared food, found fish in the deep waters, and built canoes are now gone, and it is the women—who have never been asked to do such things—who will have to take the place of the men. There will be danger and there will be complaining in the village because of this. There will even be “shirkers” who refuse to work; these will be punished, for everyone must work or everyone will perish.
Kimki assigns work to everyone in the tribe. Ulape and Karana are to gather abalones, which grow plentifully on the rocks. At low tide, the girls gather them in their baskets and carry them to the mesa where they cut the red flesh from the shell, placing it on flat rocks to dry in the sun. It is Romo’s job to keep the abalone meat safe from the gulls and wild dogs. Dozens of the dogs once kept as pets left the village after their owners died and have now become part of the wild pack that roams the island. Soon the pets grow fierce and came back to the village only to steal food. At the end of each day, the girls and Ramos pack the food in baskets and take it to the village for safekeeping.
Other women are gathering apples (called tunas) from the cactus bushes, fishing, or netting birds. The women work so hard that the village is soon better provided for than when the men were doing those duties. Life should have been peaceful in the village, but the men begin complaining about the women taking over their jobs. Now that the women have become hunters, the men scorn them; so Kimki once again assigns jobs to each villager. Now only the men hunt and the women only harvest, and there is already plenty of food set aside for...
(The entire section is 730 words.)
Chapter 6 Summary
Kimki has been gone for one moon. Even on stormy days, someone watches the sea from the cliffs, hoping for their chief’s return. But spring came, and then summer, and there is no sign of Kimki. There had been little rain that winter, and now many of the villagers are fearful they will run out of fresh water. The springs had run low before, but now there is fear in the village. Matasaip, who is the chief since Kimki left, says they have more important things to worry about, as this is the time of year when the Aleuts came last year.
Watchers on the cliffs look for the red sails. Ghalas-at prepares to leave if the hunters arrive, for they will be unable to defend themselves. They store food and water in canoes placed at the south end of the island. The cliffs are steep, but there is a stout rope on which each of them can climb down to the canoes. Once the Aleut ship is sighted, the natives will flee to the cliffs, let themselves down one by one, and sail east for Santa Catalina. The cove is too narrow for a ship to traverse at night; nevertheless, a watch is kept from dusk to dawn as well as during the day.
One clear night a watchman comes running back to the village. Though everyone is asleep, his cries awaken them and he tells them the Aleuts have arrived. There is no surprise among the villagers, for they have been expecting this news. They are prepared, yet they are afraid. Matasaip tells them to pack only what is necessary and to move quickly. Karana brings only her skirt of yucca fiber (for it is pretty and it took her many days to make) and her otter cape. Quietly the village of Ghalas-at empties.
When the procession has walked about half a league away from the village, the messenger who warned them about the ship now speaks to Matasaip; the rest of them huddle around to listen. After warning them, the man went back to cove; when the ship got closer, he realized it had white sails, not red. It is not the same ship. The chief ponders the import of this news and sends everyone on to the canoes while he goes back. At the edge of the cliffs it is cold and the wind is blowing, but they do not start a fire as the smoke would be seen by the ship. They are not sure the canoes are still there in the rocks below, and Ramo goes down the rope to check.
While he is gone, Nanko arrives with a message from Matasaip. He is sweating and out of breath, but he has a smile on his face so they know he bears good...
(The entire section is 560 words.)
Chapter 7 Summary
The villagers had left nearly everything behind them when they left for the cliffs, so as they are packing all their belongings now there is great excitement. Nanko is walking around trying to get them all to hurry, for the wind has risen and the ship cannot wait long. Karana fills two baskets with the belongings she wants to take: three whalebone needles, an awl, a stone knife, two cooking pots, and a small box made of shells containing many earrings. Ulape is vainer than her sister and has two boxes of earrings. She also draws a thin mark across her nose and cheekbones with blue clay—the symbol of being unmarried.
Nanko and Ulape tease one another, but he is serious about rushing everybody to the ship as the winds begins to blow in fierce gusts. Ramo is far ahead of his sisters but comes back to say he has forgotten his fishing spear. Nanko is motioning them to hurry, so Karana does not allow Ramo to back for the spear. The ship is anchored as close to shore as it can get, and there are two boats on the beach, four white men standing next to them. All of the village men are already on the ship, and Nanko tells Karana her brother is already aboard the ship, too. The women are then divided into two groups and loaded into the boats.
The cove is protected, but as soon as the smaller boats move out of its shelter they are wildly tossed and wetted by the waves. Finally they arrive on the ship. As soon as everyone is aboard, the white captain instructs his men to prepare to sail. Karana calls for Ramo, since she knows he is likely to be a nuisance to the men trying to work. The ship is big and crowded, but Ramo does not answer and she walks from one end of it to the other. Karana finds Nanko, and he repeats what he told her on the beach; however, Ulape points back at the island. Ramo is running along the cliff, his fishing spear held over his head.
The sails have filled and ship is beginning to move faster, but everyone on board is watching the small boy across the water. Karana screams and Chief Matasaip grabs her arm, telling her they cannot wait for the boy or the ship will be driven into the rocks. Karana protests, but the chief is adamant: there is food and water, places to sleep, and the boy will be safe until the ship comes back for him another day. Karana will not be assuaged, and as the ship begins to circle away from the island, she flings herself into the sea despite the many hands that try to hold her...
(The entire section is 631 words.)
Chapter 8 Summary
The storm is strong as Karana and Ramo climb the trail, and they take shelter until night falls and the wind subsides. The deserted village looks eerie by moonlight, and there is an odd sound, like running feet. As they get closer, Karana realizes dozens of wild dogs are scavenging through the empty huts. They run away, snarling, when the two humans approach. The dogs must have gorged themselves on the stored food, for there was barely anything left for the children to eat for dinner. They sleep near a fire, and Karana hears the dogs howling nearby all night. In the morning, though, the pack trots back to its lair in a cave at the north end of the island.
Ramo and Karana spend the day gathering food. The wind is still too violent to gather abalone, so the girl gathers gulls eggs and the boy spears a few small fish in a tide pool. He proudly brings his catch to his sister, hoping to make up for the trouble he caused. These, along with some seeds Karana found in the ravine, make a plentiful meal for them; however, she has to cook it on a flat stone because her bowls are at the bottom of the sea. The dogs appear again that night, obviously drawn by the smell of the cooking fish, and their eyes glow in the firelight. They leave at dawn.
The wind has died down, so the pair is able to gather abalone, putting them in a basket woven from seaweed. As they carry the food back to the village, they stop at the cliff and look in the direction the ship went. Ramo wonders if it will come back today, but Karana thinks it may be many days because the country from which it came is far away. The young boy looks at his sister with dark, shining eyes and says he does not care if the ship never comes because he likes being here with her. Tomorrow he plans to go where the canoes are hidden and bring one back to Coral Cove. They can use it for fishing and exploring the island.
When Karana tells him he is too small to move a heavy canoe, he puffs out his chest and reminds her he is the son of Chief Chowig, and he is strong. Suddenly his eyes grow large, and he realizes he is now Chief of Ghalas-at. Karana is willing to help with the ritual of his becoming a man; she will whip him with a switch of nettles and tie him to a red-ant hill. Ramo turns pale as he remembers the rites; she quickly tells him since there are no men to administer the rites, perhaps he can forgo them. He leaves her to decide on a new name; he returns with the name...
(The entire section is 1001 words.)
Chapter 9 Summary
This is a difficult time for Karana, and she remembers spending all her time thinking about how to survive on her own. She only leaves the village to replenish her food supplies. But she will never forget the day she vowed to leave the village forever. It is a foggy day. The mist creeps in and out of the huts, reminding her of all those who are dead or gone. The noise of the surf becomes the sound of their voices. For a long time she watches and listens; when the sun comes out the fog vanishes and she makes a fire against the back wall of her home. When that hut is gone, she burns another until all of them are destroyed. Nothing but ashes mark the village Ghalas-at.
She leaves with nothing but a basket of food and walks to the place she has decided to make her new home until the ship returns. On a headland half a league west of the Coral Cove there is a large rock, and behind it is shelter from the wind about ten steps across and from which she can see both the harbor and the ocean. A freshwater spring runs from a nearby stream. That night she sleeps on top of the rock; it is flat, smooth, and high enough to keep her safe from the dogs. She has not seen them since the night she chased them away, but she knows they will one day find her new camp.
She can also store her food there. Since the ship might come any time, she does not need to keep large stores of food she may not need; instead she spends her time making weapons with which to defend herself against the dogs. They will attack her sometime, she knows, and she plans to kill them, one by one. She already has a club, but she also needs a large spear and a bow and arrow. The fishing spear her brother had is too small for her needs.
The laws of Ghalas-at say a woman cannot make a weapon, so Karana searches for any which might have been left behind. She finds nothing among the ashes of the village or in the canoes under the cliff. Remembering the black chest the Aleuts brought them, she goes to the cove and looks at the place where she last saw the chest. The beach is empty, but Karana begins poking into the sand with a stick, thinking perhaps a storm covered up the chest. She hears a thunk and keeps digging until she sees the lid of the trunk.
All morning she moves the sand so she can lift the lid; however, the tide comes in and inundates the hole she has dug. Karana braces herself and stands in the spot as the waves crash over her so she can find...
(The entire section is 937 words.)
Chapter 10 Summary
Summer is the best time on the Island of the Blue Dolphins, for the weather is good and the wind from the west is mild. Each day, Karana is hopeful she will see a ship on the horizon. Once she sees a small object and grows hopeful, but when water rises from it she knows it is just a whale. The first winter storm crushes her hopes of being rescued, at least for another season, and her heart is filled with loneliness. She had believed Matasaip before, but now her hopes are dead. She does not eat much and her sleep is filled with “terrible dreams.”
One storm is so fierce that she must sleep under the rock, feeding a fire for protection. She sleeps there five nights. The first night the dogs come and circle outside the fire ring. She kills three of them with arrows, though not the leader, and they do not return. On the sixth day the storm ends and Karana goes to the place by the cliffs where the canoes are kept, a place which had been sheltered from the storm. The dried food is still edible, but she has to get fresh water. During the worst days of the storm, she had decided to take a canoe and go to the country to the east.
Before Kimki left the island, he asked the other wise men for advice; she has no one to ask, yet she is not afraid. Her ancestors and others had crossed the sea, and whatever might happen to her on the voyage is less frightening than staying on the island alone, pursued by wild dogs, where everything reminds her of those who are dead or have gone. She chooses the smallest canoe, the one which holds only six people, and she struggles to get it into the water.
The sun is in the west when she begins her journey, and she is able to quickly paddle around the southern part of the island; however, as soon as she rounds that curve the wind picks up and she must battle to make any progress. She perseveres and soon she is in the rolling waves of the open water. All day she watches her island grow smaller; at dusk, she can no longer see The Island of the Blue Dolphins, and for the first time she is afraid. It is so dark the sea and sky look the same until the stars begin to appear. She keeps her eyes fixed on the one which shines green, the one she knows will guide her east. Always to her left she keeps the North Star, the one her tribe calls “the star that does not move.”
The wind dies down, which it always does halfway through the night, so she knows how long it will be before dawn....
(The entire section is 891 words.)
Chapter 11 Summary
Karana wakes up when the waves begin dragging at her feet. It is night but she is too tired to go to the rock, so she crawls higher on the beach to avoid the tide and sleeps again. In the morning she unloads her provisions and turns the canoe over so the tide cannot take it before she walks to her headland home. It feels as if she has been gone a long time, and everything she sees around her fills her with happiness. It is a surprising feeling, since just days ago she had stood on this rock and felt as if she could not stand to live here one more day.
As she looks at the vast expanse of blue ocean, all of the fear she felt while on her voyage comes sweeping over her. Yesterday when she saw the island, she had been hopeful of trying to make the journey again; today she knows she will never go again. The Island of the Blue Dolphins is her home; she will have no other until the white man’s ship comes to get her. Even if it comes soon, Karana realizes she must build a house for shelter and for storing food.
That night she sleeps on the rock, but the next day she begins the search for the site of her new home. Storms are certain to come, so she must not waste any time. There are two places on the island which meet her requirements: sheltered from the wind, close to Coral Cove, and close to a good spring. The headland, where she is now, is one of those places; the other she has not been to for some time, so she goes to explore it. This place is closer to the dogs’ lair than she remembered; as soon as Karana gets near the cave, the leader comes out and watches her. If she were to build here, she would have to kill him and his pack. Though she intends to do that anyway, it will take more time than she has; however, the spring here is better and easier to access and there is better shelter for any house she builds.
The sea elephants help her decide where to build her house. Below her is a rock shelf on which they can shelter from storms or bathe in the sun. The creatures are big and the females scream and bark nearly all day and sometimes at night; even the babies are noisy. This morning the tide is low and about a hundred of them are far out in the waves, and still their noise is deafening. Karana stays there through that day and night, exploring the area; when the noise begins again at dawn, she goes back to the headland.
Rain comes for two days and she sleeps without a fire in a shelter made of brush...
(The entire section is 581 words.)
Chapter 12 Summary
Two whales had washed up on the sands many years before, and Karana finds some of the rib bones to use in making her fence. She has to dig them out and carry them to the headland. They are long and curved, and after she places them in the holes she digs, they stand taller than she does. The girl puts the ribs close together with the curve facing out, making them impossible to climb, and weaves them together with many strands of bull kelp which will shrink tight when it dries.
The fence takes her a long time to build; it would have taken her longer if the rock were not one end and part of one side of the fence. As an entrance and exit, she digs a hole under the fence just big enough for her to slide through and lines it with smooth rocks. Over the outside entrance she places a woven mat to keep out the rain; on the inside she covers the hole with a large, flat rock. Inside the fence, she is able to walk eight paces from one side to the other, which is plenty of room for her to store the things she gathers and wants to protect.
She built the fence first because it is now too cold to sleep on the rock and she needs protection from the dogs. The house takes longer to build because it rains again and because wood is scarce on the island. The few trees on the island are in the ravines and are small and crooked. It takes her many trips before she has enough wood to complete her house. After setting the four corner poles and creating a roof from eight more poles, she binds it all together with seal sinew and covers it with the broad-leaved female kelp.
It takes her half of the winter to finish building, but she is secure as she works and sleeps. The foxes come when she is cooking and wait outside the fence; the dogs also come, growling and gnawing at the whale ribs in their frustration. Karana kills two more of the dogs but not the leader. During the building time, she eats shellfish and perch which she cooks on a flat rock. Once her house is built, she begins making her cooking vessels and utensils.
She finds two stones with hollows in the middle that she sands into deeper depressions for cooking bowls; with these she can save the juices of the fish rather than wasting them. She weaves a tight basket for cooking roots and seeds. After it dries, she coats the inside with softened pitch from the shore and makes it watertight. She will drop small heated stones into the basket with water and seeds to make a...
(The entire section is 850 words.)
Chapter 13 Summary
The night before she plans to go the place of the sea elephants, Karana does not sleep much. She worries about what might happen since she broke the tribal law and made a weapon, and she worries about getting injured by the huge creature and then falling prey to the dogs in her weakened position. She worries all night, but when the sun comes up she is on her way to the place where the sea elephants live.
By the time she arrives, the animals have gathered on the shore. The bulls, like giant gray boulders, are sitting on the pebbly shore while the cows and their babies, below them, play in the waves. Even the babies are as big as a man, though they do all the things babies do. The bulls are bad-tempered and jealous, so they sit some distance apart from one another, each one “like a great chief, watching his herd of cows and babies.”
Karana looks at the six bulls sitting along the beach and tries to determine which is her best choice. Five are virtually the same size and shape, but the one at the farthest end of the beach is a bit smaller. It is evident he does not have his own herd, and she thinks he might be less alert and less angry. The girl lowers herself down the cliff and prepares to walk behind them across the beach. While they are not afraid of anything and will not move if they see her, she prefers not to put them on their guard too soon. She carries her new bow, which is nearly as tall as she is, and five arrows.
She walks carefully across the stones, trying not to alert the cows to her presence, and settles behind a big rock near her target. As she fits the arrow to the bow, she remembers her father’s warning that any bow made by a woman is against the law and will break when she uses it. The distance between the animal and the girl is short, but she is not sure where it is best to place the first arrow—shoulders or head. Its skin is rough but thin, covering many layers of fat; though his body is large, his head is small, making it a more difficult target.
As she stands in indecision, the young bull begins to move. At first Karana thinks he has somehow heard her; however, she sees now he is moving toward the cows belonging to the old bull next to him. Though large, sea elephants move quickly. As the bull nears the water, Karana shoots her arrow at it. The arrow does not break and goes straight, but at the last instant the animal changes direction and the arrow flies harmlessly past...
(The entire section is 882 words.)
Chapter 14 Summary
Karana’s leg hurts so much by the time she arrives at her home that she is barely able to crawl under the fence and move the heavy rock on the inside of the fence. For five days she cannot leave because her leg is swollen and she has no herbs with which to treat it. She has plenty of food to eat, but after two days the water is getting low, and two days later her water basket is empty. Today she must go to the ravine to get water.
She leaves at dawn, taking her spear and her bow and arrows. The journey takes her a long time, for she has to crawl on her hands and knees with her food tied to her back and dragging her weapons. The short way to the spring is over many rocks, so she has to travel the longer way through the brush. While she rests, the girl sees the gray dog with the yellow eyes, the leader of the pack, in the brush above her. His head is down as he sniffs her tracks, and as soon as he sees her he stops. The rest of the pack is behind him, and they stop, too.
Just as Karana picks up her bow and fits an arrow, the leader of the pack fades away into the brush and the others follow. It happens so quickly, it as if they had never been there at all. She cannot hear them, but she is sure they will try to surround her. Slowly she crawls the rest of the way to the spring. Her leg hurts but she continues to the water, dragging her spear. The mouth of the spring is surrounded on three sides by high rock walls, so she lies on the ground and drinks for a long time before filling her basket. Feeling better, she crawls toward the mouth of a cave with a ledge of rock jutting out above it. A few bushes grow there, and she can see the head of the gray dog through them.
He does not move, but his yellow eyes follow her. As she gets nearer to the cave entrance, she sees several more dogs behind him, but they are too far away for her to reach them with her spear. Suddenly the brush on the other side of the ravine begins to move; the pack has divided and is waiting for her to pass between them. As she crawls into the cave, she hears the crackling of the brush above her, then silence. She is safe for now, though she is sure they will return at nightfall. They do, but they simply stalk around the brush until daylight.
The entrance to the cave is small, but beyond the entrance the room spreads out and is big enough for the girl to stand up. It is cold and a bit damp, but Karana stays here for six days while her...
(The entire section is 741 words.)
Chapter 15 Summary
As long as Karana can remember, there have been wild dogs on the Island of the Blue Dolphins; after the Aleuts killed most of the men, their dogs joined the others and the pack grew much bolder. Even before the ship came, the dogs were raiding and prowling through Ghalas-at, but then the ship came. The girl is sure the pack is as bold as they are because of their leader, the one with the gray fur and the yellow eyes.
No one had ever seen this dog before the Aleuts arrived, so they must have left him behind; he is much larger than the others, who all have short hair and brown eyes. She has killed four of the dogs, but the pack has grown because new dogs have been born; the young dogs are even wilder than the old ones.
She gathers armloads of brush to put in front of their cave once they have come back to sleep after a night of prowling. She has her bow and five arrows and two of the spears; she circles quietly around the mouth of the cave and leaves all her weapons except one spear. She sets fire to the brush and pushes it into the cave. There is no sound from inside as she climbs onto a nearby rock ledge with her weapons to watch and wait. The fire burns high, but most of the smoke stays in the cave. She determines to save her arrows for the leader.
None of the dogs emerge from the cave until the fire dies. Several dozen come trotting out, but many more are still in the cave. The next dog out is the leader. Unlike the others, he does not run away; instead he stands sniffing the air. Karana is close enough to him to see his nose quivering, but he does not see her until she raises her bow, a move that does not frighten him. He is facing her, ready to spring, when the arrow pierces his chest. He turns away, takes one step, and falls. More dogs exit the cave, and she kills two of them.
Karana jumps from the ledge carrying both her spears and discovers the gray dog has moved while she was killing the other two. He cannot have gone far due to his wound, yet she cannot find him anywhere near the cave. After waiting a long time, she enters the cave. It is deep, but she can see clearly. Far back in a corner she sees a half-eaten fox carcass and a black dog with four gray pups. One of the tiny balls of fur walks toward her; she would like to hold it, but the mother leaps to her feet, baring her teeth. Karana raises her spear and backs out of the cave. The gray dog is not here.
Night is approaching,...
(The entire section is 1000 words.)
Chapter 16 Summary
The white man’s ship does not come for her that spring or that summer, but every day Karana watches for it. She also watches for the red ship of the Aleuts. If the hunters come back, she will probably hide in the cave she has provisioned, for it is near water, surrounded by brush, and unapproachable except by way of the sea. The Aleuts did not use the spring near this cave, so they would only find her by accident. In case she has to flee, she begins working on the canoe she abandoned after her failed voyage.
It takes her two days to unbury the canoe, and she camps on the sands while she works. To make the canoe smaller, she cuts the sinews, heats the pitch to loosen it, and removes the planks. She shapes the planks to half their length and rebinds them with sinews and pitch. Though it is not beautiful, she can lift one end of it and carry it to the water. This takes her most of the summer, and all the time she works Rontu is with her. He sleeps in the shade or chases the roosting pelicans; he never catches one of the birds, but he tries until his tongue hangs out of his mouth. He has learned his name as well as a few words, and Karana talks to him often, just as if he were a human companion. Because of this, she is not lonely; only now does she realize how lonely she had been.
After the canoe is finished, the girl and the dog take the canoe on a test voyage around the island, a journey which takes them an entire day. There are many sea caves on the island; one of them is near the headland where her house is. The opening is narrow, but inside it spreads out and is quite large. This cave opens to a smaller cave, and it is so dark she can see nothing except, far ahead, a spot of light. Though she feels like turning back, she paddles forward into another large cave. In it she finds a wide shelf of rock which is dry even now, at high tide. Karana decides this is a good place to hide a canoe, but Rontu is not paying attention. He is quiet as he watches a large, black devilfish (octopus) in the water below them. The girl is about to throw her spear, and as she leans out the creature emits an inky spray, clouding the water to protect himself.
She does not throw her spear, knowing the devilfish had moved, and when she sees it again it is too far away for her to follow. The dog is puzzled when he now sees only clear water below, and the girl wishes she had speared the fish, for it is “the best food in the seas.”...
(The entire section is 557 words.)
Chapter 17 Summary
Winter rain and wind storms come early to the island, and Karana stays busy making herself another dress and fashioning another spear, one which will help her catch the giant devilfish. She has seen her father make the spear and knows what it looks like and how it is used, so she is eventually able to recreate one of the spears after many errors and much work. Four of the sea elephant teeth are left, and she breaks all but one in her attempts to make the spear. That one she works down to a barbed point; it is connected to the shaft in such a way that when the spear is thrown and strikes the devilfish, the head comes loose from the shaft. It floats while the sharp point remains attached by a string to the thrower’s wrist. It is an especially good spear because it can be thrown from a distance.
The first day of spring on the island is always marked by the arrival of a flock of small black birds which come every year and hunt for food in the ravines for two days before flying off. Karana goes to the beach without Rontu; she had let him out of the fence earlier, and he has not returned. The wild dogs came to the fence many times during the winter, but Rontu had paid no attention to them; however, they came last night and he had started whining and pacing. It worried her to see him act so strangely, and when he would not eat she finally just let him out of the fence.
Alone, she pushes the canoe into the water and makes her way to the cave where the devilfish lives. The water is quite clear, and the sea ferns below her are moving as if a breeze is blowing through them. Among them hide the devilfish with their long arms. It feels good for her to be back on the sea after a long winter, but all she can think about is Rontu, wondering if he will come back or if he will once again become part of the enemy. She knows she can never kill him, now that he has been her friend.
When the sun is high, she hides the canoe on the rock ledge, for it is once again the time when the Aleuts might return. She carries the two small bass she speared—no devilfish—and starts the steep climb up the cliff. At the top she pauses to catch her breath and hears the sound of dogs fighting. The noise comes from far off, so she takes her bow and arrows and hurries in that direction. On the way to the spring, she sees the tracks of many wild dogs along with Rontu’s bigger tracks. Again she hears the sound of distant fighting.
(The entire section is 993 words.)
Chapter 18 Summary
It is a beautiful spring on the island, and flowers of all kinds are blooming everywhere. Many kinds of birds also visit the island, including black-and-white birds which peck holes in the poles of the girl’s roof and in the whale-bone fence. Karana even sees birds she has never seen before on the island. A pair of birds made a nest in one of the crippled trees near her house, a nest shaped like a pouch. The birds have yellow bodies and scarlet heads, and soon there are two eggs in the nest. Once they hatch, Karana leaves small pieces of abalone under the tree, and the parents feed the bits to their babies. The young birds are gray and ugly, but she takes them from their nest and puts them in a cage made out reeds which she made for them. Later, when the parents leave, these two birds will stay and be her friends.
Soon they begin to develop beautiful feathers like their parents, and before summer comes they are too big for their cage. Instead of building a larger one, the girl clips one wing on each bird so they cannot fly and allows them to fly loose in the house. By the time their wings grow out, they have learned to eat from her hand and perch on her arm. She cuts their wings again and lets them loose in the yard, and now they perch on Rontu, as well. When their feathers grow out again, she does not clip them but they never fly farther than the ravine and always come back at night to ask for food—no matter how much they have already eaten.
The larger one she calls Tainor after a young man she liked but was killed by the Aleuts. The smaller one she names Lurai, the name Karana wishes she had been called. In the time she is taming the birds, she also makes another skirt made of yucca fibers, open on both sides and hanging to her knees. Her belt she makes of sealskin so it can be tied in a knot. She also makes a pair of sealskin sandals for walking on the hot sand or just to feel dressed up in when she wears her new clothes.
She and Rontu often walk along the cliff, and Karana sometimes puts a wreath of flowers in her hair. When the Aleuts killed all their men, the women all singed their hair short as a sign of mourning. The girl’s hair is long now, down to her waist. She wears it parted and falling down her back except when she wears the flower wreath; then she makes two braids and fastens them with long whalebone pins. She also makes a wreath for Rontu’s neck, but he does not like wearing it. Together...
(The entire section is 515 words.)
Chapter 19 Summary
Every day during the spring, Karana and Rontu paddled through the sea caves looking for the giant devilfish; they found several others, but never the giant one. When summer comes she quits searching for him and begins to gather abalones for winter. She also gathers a few shellfish near the rocks at Coral Cove. Today the tide is low and the reef rises far above the water. Her canoe is nearly full and the day is windless, so she ties the canoe and climbs onto the reef, Rontu following, to find a fish to spear for their dinner.
With a sinew line and a hook made of abalone shell, she catches two large fish, gives one to Rontu, and gathers several purple urchins for dying as they walk back to the canoe. Rontu suddenly drops his fish and stands looking down over the edge of the reef. In the clear water, Karana sees the giant devilfish they had hunted for all spring. Rontu stands unmoving as Karana prepares her special spear and ties the shaft to her wrist.
The fish is only half a spear length away, and when he reaches out one of his tentacles to catch a fish, the girl rises to one knee and drives the spear into the devilfish. Though the head of the giant fish is larger than both fish she had already speared, Karana misses the head and immediately the creature emits its black ink into the water. She can still see the arm holding onto the fish he had been hunting, and she hurries to pull the spear back so she can take a second shot. The shaft has floated to the surface; as she begins to pull in the line, it tightens. She realizes that the giant fish is on her line—she hit it. Immediately she drops the coils of sinew string she has in her hands so she will not get burns from the line flying too quickly through her hands.
The devilfish, unlike other fish, moves by propelling itself through the water. The coil of string on the ground quickly unwinds, and Karana leaps forward on the reef in the direction the fish is moving to avoid cutting her hands. She braces herself against the slippery rocks and leans backwards as the string begins to tighten and stretch. Because she fears the line might break, she moves forward several steps, though the fish must work for its forward progress. The fish is obviously moving toward the cave, and she knows she will lose him if she lets him get that far. The canoe is in front of her, and if she could have spared a hand to untie it, she could have let the fish drag the canoe until it got...
(The entire section is 990 words.)
Chapter 20 Summary
Karana gathers two more canoes full of abalones and dries them for winter on her fence. The children used to be responsible for keeping the gulls away as the abalones dry, for in one morning, they can carry away a month’s harvest. At first, she leaves Rontu behind to chase off the gulls; however, he shows his unhappiness by howling the entire time she is gone. Finally she ties strings to the abalone shells and hangs them from poles. They are shiny as they catch the sun in the wind, and they keep the gulls away.
She also catches the small fish she uses for light in the winter and dries them on the shelves of her house. With all the fish and the abalone and the flashing shells, it appears that an entire village lives on the headland rather than just one girl and her dog. After the winter stores have been gathered and prepared, Karana and Rontu go out to sea every day. They visit many places on and around the island.
On Tall Rock, she kills ten shiny, black cormorants. At home, she skins and fleshes them, putting the meat out to dry and saving the feathers so she can make a skirt this winter. Near Black Cave they notice a sea hawk fly out, and they go inside to explore. There is little to see, though the sun peers in through a jagged crack in the ceiling. Rontu sees shadows on the walls of the cave and begins to bark, and eerie and disturbing sound as it echoes in the cave. Karana tells him to be quiet and places her hand over his jaws.
She turns the canoe around and paddles toward the opening. Above it, on a deep ledge which runs the length of the room, she sees “a row of strange figures,” perhaps two dozen of them. They are standing against the back wall and are as tall as she is; they have long arms and legs with short bodies made of reeds and clothed in gull feathers. Each one of them has eyes made of abalone shells, but the rest of their faces are blank. The light reflects off the shells and makes them seem “more alive than the eyes of those who live.”
In the middle of the group sits a skeleton, leaning against the wall with its knees drawn up and playing a flute made of pelican bone. Other things are on the ledge, but she has forgotten to watch the tide and now the opening is too small for them to leave the cave. They will have to spend the night here. Karana paddles to the far end of the cave without looking back at the figures on the ledge. She tries to sleep in the bottom of the...
(The entire section is 1001 words.)
Chapter 21 Summary
The first night the Aleuts are on the island, Karana leaves her new home but leaves Rontu behind, since he would be sure to smell out any dogs the Aleuts might have brought. The hunters’ campfires are bright against the dark of the mesa, the same place they camped last time—and less than half a league from her cave. She considers moving to another part of the island. She is not afraid the men will see her, as they hunt all day; it is the girl she is afraid will see her. She stands on the rock until the fires die. After considering all her options, she decides to stay in the ravine.
Karana goes back to the cave and stays there until the next full moon and she has little food left. She and Rontu climbed to the headland and she sees three of the whale ribs have been taken from her fence. When the tide is low, she fills a basket with sea water and abalones and they return to the cave before dawn. The sea water helps keep the abalones fresh, but the next night she has to find food it is too dark to go to the reef. Instead she gathers roots every morning until the next full moon, when she is able to go back to the reef for abalones.
In all of her journeying, she never sees an Aleut and the girl does not come near her cave, though her footprints are at the bottom of the ravine where she has obviously been digging for roots. The Aleuts have no dog with them. These are long, inactive days for both girl and dog, though Rontu does learn to be patient. It is dark in the cave, so Karana uses the tiny fish she had dried to make light as she begins to make her cormorant skirt. It is much more challenging to sew with skins than with yucca fibers. It is a beautiful skirt, but it takes her more days to make than she has fish for light, so she begins working on it during the day.
Though Karana has twice seen footprints near the ravine, she has begun to feel safe. The winter storms will soon be here, and the Aleuts will leave before another moon has gone. She has not seen her skirt in the daylight, and she is quite proud of how it looks. “It is more beautiful than she had thought it would be,” and she is nearly giddy in her joy. Karana is standing in the sunlight, holding the shimmering skirt to her waist, when Rontu suddenly leaps to his feet. She hears steps coming from the spring, and as she turns around, Karana sees a girl looking down at her from the brush.
Her spear is in easy reach and the girl is close...
(The entire section is 939 words.)
Chapter 22 Summary
That night Karana sleeps on the headland near her five baskets of belongings. She did not go back into her cave, and she did not take the necklace from the rocks. At dawn she hides on a brushy ledge near the spring and where she can observe the mouth of her cave. The sun is shining on the black necklace and Karana wants to go see if they will make two loops around her neck, but she stays where she is. She watches all morning; when the sun is high, Rontu barks and she hears steps below her. Tutok comes out of the brush, singing as she walks toward the cave. She stops and grows quiet when she notices the beads still lying on the rock.
As she is about to leave, Karana jumps to her feet and calls the girl’s name. She comes out of the brush so quickly that she must have been hiding to see if Karana would return. Karana runs to the rock and puts the necklace on before turning around to let the giver admire her. The beads make three loops around her neck and are oval instead of round, a shape which takes much skill to make. Both girls speak the word “pretty” in their native languages, and then they laugh.
They point to things and each of them speaks the name for them, trading names and laughing until the sun is in the west. Tutok says she must go and asks her new friend’s name before she leaves. Karana does not reveal her secret name; she gives her other name, Won-a-pa-lei, The Girl with the Long Black Hair. After Tutok’s footsteps have faded completely away, Karana brings her baskets back to the cave to live.
Tutok comes again the next day, and they again play the game of naming and laughing together. On the third day of her coming, Karana reveals her secret name, though Tutok does not understand what Karana is telling her. That night, Karana begins to make a gift for her new friend in exchange for the necklace. She has many abalone shells already flaked into thin disks and decides to make a circlet for Tutok’s hair. It takes her five nights, and when she finally places it on her head, Tutok hugs her. Karana forgets how sore her fingers are from boring holes in the hard shells.
Many times the girl comes to the cave, but one morning she does not come. Karana waits for her all day and at dusk moves to the ledge for the night, wondering if the men have discovered she lives here. It is a cold night, for winter is coming. In the morning she thinks that perhaps the Aleut ship and hunters have left...
(The entire section is 658 words.)
Chapter 23 Summary
The Aleut hunters have left many wounded otters behind them. Some float to land and die there; others Karana kills because they are obviously suffering. She finds one young otter that has not been badly hurt. It is lying in a bed of bull kelp, and she would have paddled right past it if Rontu did not bark. A strand of kelp is wound around its body, something otters do when they want to sleep; however, this one has a deep gash across his back. The otter does not try to escape when she reaches for it, and his normally large eyes are open so wide in pain and fear that she can see herself reflected in them.
She cuts the strands of kelp and takes the animal to a sheltered tide pool by a reef. Karana catches two fish and is careful to keep them alive, for otters will not eat anything dead, and places them in the pool. She returns later in the afternoon; the fish are gone and the otter is floating on his back, asleep. Salt water is a good healing property for the gash, so she does not try any other treatment.
Every day Karana brings him two fish, but he will not eat when she is watching. Soon she brings four fish, then six, which appears to be the correct number for a healing young otter. She brings them to him no matter what the weather. The otter grows and its wound is healing, but the animal does not leave the pool. Now he is waiting for her when she comes and will eat the fish out of her hand. The pool is small and he could easily get away, yet he stays.
The young otter is now the length of her arm and his coat is growing quite glossy. Whenever she is there, he follows her with his big eyes. When she speaks, his eyes move in “a very funny way,” a way which makes her throat ache because his eyes reflect both happiness and sadness. For a long time she does not name him, then she calls him Mon-a-nee, which means Little Boy with Large Eyes. Catching so many fish in every kind of weather is difficult, and when she has fewer than six fish to give him, he swims in circles and looks at her reproachfully.
One day the waves are too high to fish; since she has no fish for him, Karana does not go to the tide pool. It is three more days before she can catch fish, and when she gets there the pool is deserted. She knows he would have left some day, but she is sad because she does not think she will recognize him in the kelp beds. Now that he has healed and has grown, he will look like all the other otters....
(The entire section is 701 words.)
Chapter 24 Summary
Spring on the island is beautiful once again. Tainor and Lurai build a nest in the tree where they are born, and when they hatch two ugly fledglings, Karana knows they will one day be as beautiful as their parents. She names them and clips their wings, as well, and soon they are also tame. A gull with a broken leg also becomes part of her family, and her yard seems like a happy place. Yet she thinks about Tutok and Ulape, wondering if they have real children, so different from Karana’s children and not what she had always hoped to have.
Karana decides to start early collecting abalones in case the Aleuts come again, and one day she sees a herd of otter frolicking in the kelp bed, playing much like the Ghalas-at children used to play. She looks for Mon-a-nee, but all the otters look alike to her and she continues filling her canoe with abalones. One of the otters follows her as she paddles to shore. When she stops, he dives and comes up on the other side of her. She had been sure she would not know him, but she is so sure this in Mon-a-nee that she feeds him one of the fish she caught.
For two moons she does not see the otter again, and then one morning when she is fishing he appears out of the kelp—followed by two baby otters the size of puppies. They are slow because they cannot swim and have to hold on to their mother until she can teach them to swim. When Karana offers Mon-a-nee a fish, he waits to see what the baby otter will do; they are more interested in the girl than the fish, so he grabs the fish and places it in front of them. She throws him another fish, and he does the same thing; still the babies are not interested in the food and come to nuzzle Mon-a-nee. It is then that Karana realizes the otter she saved is a female and the mother of these two babies. She looks at the animal and changes her name to Won-a-nee, which means Girl with the Large Eyes.
The young otters grow fast and are soon eating fish from Karana’s hand, but their mother likes abalones better. They make a game of the feeding and she teaches her babies to do the same tricks with Karana. After this summer with Wan-a-nee and her children, the girl never kills another otter. She wears her otter cape until it wears out, but she never makes a new one. She kills no more cormorants, seals, or wild dogs, and she never tries to kill another sea elephant. Ulape and her father would have laughed at her for feeling this way, but after she...
(The entire section is 493 words.)
Chapter 25 Summary
Never again do the Aleuts come to the Island of the Blue Dolphins, but every summer Karana watches for them and every spring she gathers shellfish, which she dries and stores in the cave along with her canoe. Two winters after the hunters left, she makes more weapons to store with the food and her canoe. In case they ever do return, she will always be ready to go to another part of the island, or even move from cave to cave if she must.
For many summers after the hunters left, the herd of otters leaves Coral Cove. The oldest otters in the herd remember the time of year when the danger comes, and they lead the herd away from the island to stay at Tall Rock until the first winter storms arrive. Sometimes Karana and Rontu go there for several days, catching fish and feeding them to the otters she knows.
One summer the otters do not leave. It is the summer Rontu dies, and then Karana knows that the otters old enough to remember the hunters have all died. Even she no longer thinks of them often, not the Aleuts and not the white men who had promised to come so long ago. Until this summer, she kept track by making notches in a pole of all the moons since she and her brother were left alone on the island. There are many marks, but she no longer counts because counting no longer has meaning.
Rontu dies late in the summer. Since spring, he does not want to go fishing with Karana; he prefers to lie in the sun in front of her house, and she lets him. One night he stands at the fence, barking for her to let him out; he often does this on the night of a full moon, but he always comes back. Tonight there is no moon and he does not come back. She waits for him all day and then goes looking for him. She follows his tracks to the lair in which he once lived. She finds him there, alone in the back of the cave.
At first, she thinks he has been hurt, but there are no wounds on him. He licks her hand once and then he is quiet, barely breathing. Night has fallen and it is too dark for her to take Rontu back home, so she stays and talks to him through the night. At dawn she picks him up and takes him from the cave. He is light, as if “something about him had already gone.” They walk along the cliff, and when the gulls screech Rontu raises his ears. She puts him down, thinking he would like to bark at the birds like he used to; he watches with his eyes but is silent. He slowly walks toward her and falls at her feet. She...
(The entire section is 543 words.)
Chapter 26 Summary
That winter Karana does not ever go to the reef. She eats the food she has stored and leaves the house only to get water from the spring. Even if Rontu had been with her, she would not have left the house often because the winter storms and winds were strong. She does make four snares from notched branches.
Once during the summer she saw a young dog that looked like Rontu. Though he was running with one of the packs of wild dogs, she was sure he must be Rontu’s son. He was larger than the other dogs, had heavier fur and yellow eyes, and ran gracefully like Rontu. During the winter, she makes the snares so she can catch him in the spring. Now that Rontu is gone, the wild dogs come to her house often. Once the worst of the storms are over, she baits the snares with fish and sets them outside the fence. She catches several dogs the first time, but not the one with the yellow eyes. She sets them free because she is afraid to “handle them.”
She makes more snares and resets them, but though the wild dogs come close, they will not touch the fish. She does catch a little red fox. It bites her when she takes it out of the snare, but soon it follows her around the yard and begs her for abalone. The fox is a thief, and every time Karana is away the resourceful creature finds a way to get into the food, no matter how well she has it hidden. Finally she has to let the fox go back to the ravine. Often she still comes scratching at the fence at night, begging for food.
Karana is about to give up on trying to catch the young dog when she thinks about the toluche weed which the villagers sometimes used to catch fish in the tide pools. It is not actually a poison, but when it is added to the water the fish turn over on their backs and float. She digs some of the root and drops it into the spring where the wild dogs drink. She waits all day, and the pack finally arrives at dusk and drinks thirstily. Nothing happens. They frisk around as always then trot away.
Then she remembers xuchal, something the old men of her tribe used to use. It is made from ground-up shells and wild tobacco. She makes a big bowl of it and pours it into the spring, once again hiding in the brush to wait. The dogs arrive at dusk. They sniff the water, recognizing something unusual, but soon they drink. They begin to walk in circles until suddenly all nine of them lie down and go to sleep. It is difficult for Karana to find him, but she...
(The entire section is 685 words.)
Chapter 27 Summary
After the fierce winter storms come days with no wind, and it is hot and sultry on the island. On the final day of this weather, Karana takes the canoe and paddles around the reef to the sandy beach. It is a good thing she does not bring Rontu-Aru with her, as he does not like the heat and this day is the hottest of all. The air is shimmering with heat, and the sea shimmers with a red light. The gulls are not flying, the little crabs are deep in their holes, and the otters are quiet in the kelp. The wet sand is steaming in the heat.
Each spring, Karana must spread fresh pitch in the cracks in her canoe, so she drags it up the beach and works on this task all morning. When the sun is high, she crawls under her canoe for shade and goes to sleep. A short time later she is awakened by what she thinks is thunder, but when she looks she sees there are no clouds in the sky. The rumbling continues from the south, and as she listens the sound grows louder. Karana jumps to her feet and sees the enormous stretch of beach in front of her. In all her time on the island, she has never seen the tide so low. Rocks and reefs, normally hidden by the water, are now glistening as they stand in the blinding light. It is as if she had awakened to another island. Suddenly the air is tight around her and she hears a sound like a giant animal sucking air in and out through its teeth. The rumbling continues though the sky is empty, and suddenly she sees—more than a league beyond the sand, rocks, and reefs—a huge white crest moving inexorably toward the island.
Though it seems to move slowly, it is as if the entire sea were moving. In terror, Karana begins to run as the sand shudders beneath her and the first wave strikes. Spray hits her like rain, full of kelp bits and small fish. Water is now rushing around her knees, pulling at her from every direction. The cliff is directly in front of her and she manages to find a hold first for a hand and then for a foot on the slippery rocks. Slowly, one step at a time, she drags herself upward as the crest of the waves roars below her and on toward Coral Cove.
There is no sound for a short time as the sea begins “too seek its old place, running backward in long, foaming currents.” Before equilibrium is reached, another great wave comes from the south. Karana thinks it might be even bigger than the first one; but when she looks up at the steep face of the cliff, she knows she can climb no...
(The entire section is 982 words.)
Chapter 28 Summary
The earthquake did little damage. The spring stopped running for several days but is now flowing stronger than ever. The worst is the loss of all the food and weapons Karana had stored in the caves and the loss of the canoe she had been working on and the others hidden under the south cliffs. With the scarcity of wood on the island, the canoes will be the most difficult to replace. On the first fair morning after the event, she goes to look for any wreckage washed up by the storm on the shore.
In the rocks near the island’s southern cliffs, she finds part of a canoe. She digs all morning to extricate it and must then decide whether to dismantle it and take it piece by piece back to Coral Cove (which would take her many days) or rebuild it here and risk another storm washing it away before she has finished it. In the end, she does neither. She floats the wrecked canoe and walks it around to Coral Cove where she drags it to safety beyond the place where the great waves reached.
She does find the canoe she had been working on, but it is inaccessible to her and she has to abandon it. Karana goes back to the southern cliffs and hunts for any loose wood with which she can build another canoe. It is late spring and the weather is often uncomfortable, but she needs the canoe to gather shellfish. Though she no longer thinks about the Aleuts, it makes her uneasy to be trapped on the island without a canoe. The planks are uneven and hard to work with, but they already have the holes bored into them, which will save her much labor. The storm also deposited great strings of the black pitch she needs, something which is usually difficult to find.
In the late spring, after doing the tedious work of shaping the planks, Karana is finally ready to finish the seams. She makes a fire to heat the pitch. It is a windy morning, so she goes to the beach to gather dry seaweed with which to feed her fire. Her arms are full as she begins to walk back to the fire, and she sees banks of gray clouds in the east, the direction from which storms often come this time of year. As she looks at the clouds, she sees something else. Forgetting her arms are full of seaweed, she throws up her hands at the sight of a ship, halfway between the horizon and the shore.
By the time she reaches the headland and looks again, the ship is much closer. It does not have the red sails of the Aleuts, nor does it look like the white man’s ship which...
(The entire section is 769 words.)
Chapter 29 Summary
After two more springs have come and gone, the ship comes back. Karana sees it at dawn from the headland on a clear, calm morning. By the time the sun is high, the ship is anchored in Coral Cove. She watches until the sun goes down while the men make camp on the shore and build a fire. She goes back to her house and tries to sleep but cannot; all she can think of is the man who once called to her. She has thought of his voice many times since that day. Every day of the spring and summer since then, she has gone to the headland and watched—always at dawn and at dusk.
In the morning she smells smoke from their fire. She goes to the ravine and bathes before putting on her otter cape and her cormorant skirt. She wears her necklace made of black stones and the earrings she made to match. With blue clay, she puts the mark of her tribe across her nose. Then she does something which makes her smile as she thinks of Ulape before she left the Island of the Blue Dolphins. Below the mark of her tribe, she carefully makes the sign which indicates that she is still unmarried, even though she is no longer a girl.
She goes back to her house, builds a fire, and cooks food for herself and for Rontu-Aru. She is not hungry, and the dog eats all the food. She tells him they will be going away from their island; he moves his head to one side, as his father used to do, but when she says no more he finds a sunny spot to lie down and take a nap. Now that the white men have come for her, Karana has trouble imagining what she will do when she arrives in their land. She can no longer see the faces of her own people since it has been so long; “they are all one.”
It is a beautiful morning, and she sees the three men long before they see her house. Two of the men are tall, and the short one is wearing a gray robe. They see the smoke from her house and follow it until they reach her. The man in the robe has a string of beads around his neck; at the end of it hangs an ornament of polished wood. He raises his hand and makes a motion at her in the shape of the ornament he wears. One of the other men speaks and she wants to laugh, for his words are “the strangest sounds she has ever heard.” She wants to laugh but does not.
She shakes her head and smiles at him, and he speaks more slowly; though his words still mean nothing to her, she now thinks they sound sweet. The sound of a human voice is precious to her. Through a series...
(The entire section is 891 words.)