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 day; but their chief says nothing, just works faithfully on the new spear he is making.