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 canoe, but she watches the stars through the crack in the ceiling all night. Though she knows the figures are her ancestors, she is “sleepless and afraid.” At first light, Karana paddles quickly out of the cave without looking at the figures on the ledge and without looking back.
The Aleuts have not come in the past two summers, but Karana still looks for the red sails every day this summer and is cautious about going too far from her home. It is the last time they go to Tall Rock that the Aleuts come. She has hidden the canoe and stands at the top of the cliff gazing at the sea. Several small clouds are on the water, but soon the smallest one begins to look different. It is a ship. Eventually she can see two sails, though she cannot tell what color they are. She wonders if it might be the white man’s ship, though she seldom looks for it anymore. As the sun sets and she continues watching, she remembers that the rescue ship would come from the east; this one is coming from the...
(The entire section is 1,001 words.)