The Isle of Virtue (part 4):

The next morning both rose early and made preparations for their journey to the mountain. The sun had not yet risen, so in the half-dark Pieter packed the rowboat with blankets and extra clothing which were stuffed into water-proof bags, and a small tent, several jugs of water, along with some tools for fire-starting, digging, and chopping. In the gathering light Isabel walked down the trail from the house, with a backpack and carrying a small cooler, both filled with a variety of food items. She handed them to Pieter who packed them in around the other things and then the two pulled the boat into the water. As Isabel climbed inside, he gave a final shove to free the hull from the shore, and then pulled himself into the boat as well.  

Pieter took the first shift, and rowed across the tiny bay and out the mouth, into the open waters of the strait, just as the sun was peaking over the eastern mountains. Bright rays greeted them, blinding them for a brief moment, and as their vision oriented once again, the waters spread out before them, shimmering hypnotically like a giant sequined dress. The day was calm, with a slight breeze blowing across the water from the west, which would help their journey eastward. After an hour or so of rowing they were already a good distance from shore, and Pieter stopped to let the boat drift for a few minutes to test the tides and the currents.

“Yep, it definitely wants to pull us southward,” he noted, as the small craft drifted slightly across the sun’s path. “We’ll need to aim further north…hopefully we can make up for it.” He pointed towards their destination, and then about thirty degrees north of it: “I may be wrong, but let’s shoot for that little slope up there on the horizon…if we’re lucky we’ll end up where we want to be.”

Pieter picked up the oars and began rowing again. The couple sat without speaking for a time, enjoying the sound of the waves, the oars as they cut through the water, and the seabirds as they called out to one another. By mid-morning Isabel finally asked Pieter: “So are you going to let me row? Or, am I just along for the ride?”

“I wanted to row, while I felt fit,” Pieter answered her. “And I’m doing pretty well, so far. But now that you mention it, I could use a break.” And as they switched places, a pod of porpoises came alongside, slowing their progress in order to get a good look at the two old bipeds. Before continuing on their way, several in the pod remarked to one another, how glad they were not to be confined to a small wooden box like those old folks; and how happy they were to be porpoises, free to roam where they pleased.

Isabel took the oars and rowed until just past noon, while Pieter lay in the bottom of the boat, trying to rest his back. She worked hard to keep the boat aimed north of the mountain—their destination. But despite her efforts they continued to drift to the south, carried along by the current. By the time she called to Pieter to get up, they had drifted a mile, perhaps further, south of the mountain.

“We’ve lost some ground…looks like,” Pieter said nonchalantly, as he lifted himself to gaze out over the rail of the boat.

“I think the current is too strong for me,” Isabel confirmed.

“Hmmm…let me give it another go,” Pieter suggested. And Isabel got up off the seat and moved to the stern, as Pieter hauled himself up off the floor and into position where Isabel had just vacated. He pulled hard on the oars and soon the rowboat made up a little ground, but it was too difficult for him to keep advancing, and he also began to drift further south again. “Tell you what, my dear, come up here next to me, and you take the right oar, I’ll take the left and let’s pull together. Maybe we can do it that way.” So Isabel sat next to her husband, and with both hands each placed upon their oar, they pulled in tandem, and the dinghy cut across the waves and back north in the direction of the mountain.

“Hah, ha! We’re doing it!” Pieter exclaimed. “Just needed a little team-work, that’s all!”

But again, after a short success, their efforts began to fail. Even so, they did continue to advance towards the eastern shore, so all was not completely lost, though they were dismally far to the south of their destination by mid-afternoon. And they had both grown very tired, but they continued to row, despite their disappointment. After another hour of rowing they took a break. They had a small meal of salted fish and drank some water to replace what they had sweat out of their bodies throughout the day. As they ate and drank, and enjoyed a rest, Isabel was first to notice a subtle change in the movement of their boat.

“Darling, I believe we’ve stopped drifting south,” she stated cautiously.

Pieter stopped chewing and held his breath momentarily, to help himself focus on the waves. After this pause, he agreed: “Yes! I believe the tides are turning, my dear! Soon, they’ll be on our side! We’ll make it there today after all!”

Within a half hour, they began to discern a new drift northward; their boat was now moving on its own, without any coaxing, and in the proper course. And with the wind at their back, they made quick progress towards their goal. Towards evening they came within a mile of shore and again, it was Isabel who first noticed something unusual: a thin coil of smoke rose from the beach. But they were still too far out to see clearly.

“Looks like a welcoming party,” Pieter decided.

“Maybe so,” Isabel agreed.

“I’m hoping the island is populated by masseuses,” Pieter quipped.

“Good thinking…and manicurists!” Isabel added. And they both laughed, as they continued to row.

As they approached the beach, the sun dipped below the western horizon, and in the dimming light they could now discern a small camp-fire built amidst the larger rocks, not far up from the water’s edge. A short while later they finally reached the shore and Pieter climbed out of the rowboat and pulled it up out of the water; the hull scraped against the rocky beach. Isabel climbed out onto the rocks and observed:

“There’s nobody here…I wonder who could have started that campfire?”

“Good question,” Pieter agreed. “And look at that…what’s that on the fire? Looks like some fish…and is that bread?”

Isabel peered intently at the campfire. “Yes, I believe so. How strange! Cooked fish and several small loaves of bread.”

They both glanced up and down the rocky shore but could see nobody. Just then the breeze picked up and between that and the recently setting sun; they became cold. So they climbed up the rocks and sat close to the fire to warm themselves. Pieter looked at the fish longingly.

“Those fish look like they are ready to be eaten. That one right over there is looking at me. He’s definitely asking me to eat him; I can see it in his eyes. I wonder if it would be alright though. I don’t want to eat someone else’s dinner, but I’m starving!”

“And what’s that?” Isabel noticed a sheet of paper tucked under a rock across the fire from where they were sitting. She stood and reached across to pull it out; and then she read the note out loud:

“Welcome friends. Please eat and enjoy. Afterwards, make your beds at the shelter up in the trees. It is prepared for you. I apologize that I am unable to greet you in person tonight, but I will come to you in the morning. And then we can ascend the mountain together. I’ll be your guide. Be at peace.” 

                                                                                 ~Brother Herman

And with that assurance, Pieter sighed with relief and pounced on the fish, and broke a large piece off a loaf of bread—devouring both instantly. Isabel joined him and they had a fine meal and warmed themselves delightfully by the fire, before making the short hike up to the tree line, where they found a simple wood platform with a large mosquito net suspended over it, hung from the branches up above. Pieter went to the rowboat and got their bedding and returned to the shelter, where Isabel had already fallen asleep on the bare wood floor. He woke her just enough so they could spread out the blankets together, and then they both retired for the night.


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