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 more. She stands facing the rock but over her shoulder she can see the wave coming. It does not come fast, for the other wave is still running out. For a while she thinks the second wave may not come at all.
The two waves meet—one going out, one coming in—“like two giants” crashing into one another. They meet high in the air, twisting and turning as if engaged in a great battle. The second wave slowly forces the first wave back and moves in toward the island. The wave strikes the cliff, dragging at Karana’s hands and feet as she grips the ledge. The waves rise high above her along the face of the rock and then fall back down to join the water rushing toward the cove. Suddenly everything is quiet, everything but the sound of her heart pounding so that she knows she is still alive. Night comes and she is afraid to leave the cliffs,...
(The entire section is 982 words.)