In the middle of the night, when the late owl flew across the velvet skies, I took my paddle and pushed the little canoe out on to the cool night waves. My paddling wasn’t very good but I knew a bit or two about how to keep the canoe upright. The moon’s silvery light glazed my slender arms as I started to paddle. The canoe seemed to stay in one place so I dug in my paddle and pulled and pushed until the canoe edged forward an inch.
I looked down over the side of my canoe and saw that the waves were going in the opposite direction. They pulled at the canoe with their silent tugging and whispers, trying to drag the foreign creature back to the land and out of the sea.
The splashing of waves sounded further out and I strained my eyes to gaze into the darkness. My eyes saw nothing, only the vast sea before me past the little island my grandmother told me about. She told me tales of great birds of flight with silvery wings that sparkled in the moonlight, but especially at full moon. There were trees the size of houses with knee-high people who lived in them wearing nothing but the leaves and grass. Little rivers ran here and there with golden fish as long as your arm swimming beneath the surface, while a singing tree stood beside the river with a swing that goes high up to the skies. My grandmother always mentions a little red bridge that spans the river with the golden fish. She said that if you miss the bridge, you cannot come back home. It appears only when the moon is full.
My canoe was now moving over the silent and dark reef, the sea didn’t try to pull my canoe back to the land. A school of silvery jumping fish skimmed over the surface of the sea, they steal glances at me before jumping and gliding away over the sea. My canoe landed with a little bump into the channel between the mainland and grandmother’s island. I could see the current as it pulled and pushed my canoe like a soccer ball being played on the field, my paddle was almost useless in the angry sea. My eyes looked with longing at the island in the distance, I was so near and yet so far. I lost all hope as my canoe refused to obey me and turned back towards the land.
My spirits sank and I lay down in the canoe, tears of sadness and disappointment rolling down the sides of my face. The canoe rocked on the rolling waves, lulling off to sleep. I didn’t care now if my canoe got swept out to sea past the island, because I had come out to see the island and the full moon was only for tonight.
I woke up when the canoe bumped hard to something. I looked down expecting to see a large shark or whale, instead I saw sand in the soft light of the moon. The sea lapped at the edge of the beach, as if wanting a show of gratitude for bringing me here. I climb out of the boat and stand on the sand digging my toes in, feeling the grains rub and cleanse every pore.
I hear the sudden the sound of flapping wings and turn toward the trees. My grandmother used to tell me that no human soul lives on this island, just the little people and the silvery birds. I look and see a tiny path lined with dark stones that glimmered and reflected the soft light of the moon. My hand leaves the canoe and I look out to sea, look back to my homeland just across the channel. Then I walk into the trees, following the obsidian lined path, that was small enough for perhaps a leprechaun carrying a pot of gold to hide at the end of a rainbow.
The wind blows eerie and soft, touching the leaves in the tall trees above my head. The leaves fall in a dance pattern, two by two they swirl and twirl, till they reach the hard dirt at the end of their dance. A branch, as thick as my small finger, tickles my ear so I reach out and take if using it as a sword to swish away the mosquitoes that swarmed in for my face. The trees get thicker and the place very dark as I go deeper into the island. My heart beats faster and my pores flood with sweat as I began to question if my quest was for nothing.
More flapping erupts and breaks the still night air. I try to stare past the tall dark trees but my eyes turn up nothing. So with a steely mind and determined heart, I pick up the pace and walk toward the tall dark sentries standing in the way.
The obsidian path goes dim as I enter the dark trees, my eyes go dim briefly before adjusting quickly to the darkly lit forest. There’s nothing but trees and undergrowth of creeping vines, clover grass and sweet smelling Jasmine, but the obsidian path cuts through like a knife through butter. I follow the path enjoying the sweet smell of my childhood, while the creeping vines weave and intertwine each other on the dark forest floor. I stop and pick up a Jasmine running my fingers over its tiny white petals. A tiny forest mice rummaging around in the clover grass also stops and turns it’s tiny head up to stare at me.
“Hello,” I said before giving it a little wave. The mice flinches and moves back with a jump. I freeze so that I don’t scare him further then turn and continue walking. A gentle breeze blows into my frame cleansing my entire being with the island aroma of grass, Jasmine and sea.
My ears prick up as I hear another flapping of wings and this time I hear the slight honking of birds. My heart races in my excitement and I run now, eager to see the great, silvery birds my grandmother talked about. I run past a small berry bush, startling a few bats who shrieked in anger and confusion to see a human girl running in this quiet island. My left foot trips on a branch in the path and I land with a shout on the dirt scraping a knee and scooping up a mouthful of fresh, powdery earth and damp leaves.
With a sigh I sit up and rub my burning knee, trying not to cry and then I see the small ground mice running up behind me on the obsidian path. It was carrying two clovers in its mouth, it’s whiskers twitched when it’s black eyes spotted me. It grounded to a halt and stood on its hind feet, still watching me with its tiny black eyes. It put both paws up, and in that little tiny moment I thought it was going to grab the blades of clover grass from its mouth. It rubbed and tickled it’s tiny nose and I giggle at my silly notion. It jumped back again, like it did before, and dropped the blades of grass onto the path. It lay low on the path watching me so I froze and pretended not to look at it. From the corner of my eyes I saw it creep and pick up the two blades of grass. It scampered quietly toward my outstretched left leg and dropped the blades of grass. Stood up on its hind legs for a second before running off without a sound. I turn and look for the mice but it has disappeared into the darkest forest.
My right knee is still burning from my fall so I tap the tightening flesh to try and ease the tension. My eyes wander back to the clover grass and I wonder if I could use them to cleanse my scrape. Picking up the clover I notice that they are both wet, bile warms my throat with the thought that it is saliva from the little mice mouth. I look closely and see that it is possibly water.
Sure enough, I hear the slightest gurgle of a little creek splashing and tumbling just beyond somewhere. I use one of the cloves to clean away the dirt from my scrape, the skin hot and burning made the grass wilt and soften. I used the other blade to cover it, pressing it in to the skin to keep it from falling out. I stand up and walk, following the path once more. This time the sound of splashing water sounded more prominent in my ears and I remembered the little red bridge in my grandmother’s stories. The splashing became louder and my steps quickened as I stared harder into the dark spaces between the trees, that creek has to be here somewhere.
A huge dark log lay across the path in the near distance, so I slowed my pace as I neared it. It was big enough for an adult to lay inside it, so I crept up toward the log and gingerly peered inside the hollow end. Silence and a few cobwebs greeted me so I walked away following the path once more. The path became less visible now as only a few obsidian stones lined the path here. I hoped it was because I am nearing my destination, and sure enough the trees opened up to a large clearing in the middle of the island. I hear the loud flapping from somewhere close by and I turn to see a shimmering apparition flying out from the line of trees, over my head and into the clearing beyond. The flapping grew louder as more of its shimmering friends joined it in the clearing.
My mouth hung open and I swallowed the knot in my throat, my eyes glistening with emotion, while I stood wondering what to do. I put one foot forward and it struck something solid in the shrub before me. Lifting and twisting the bush away, I discovered a little red plank, the width of which was my two small feet placed side by side. I clear the bush away with my small hands and discover a small dry Creek bed.
My breath catches in my throat as I realise I have found my grandmother’s little red bridge, and maybe the great silver birds. I stand up and look beyond the little Creek into the large clearing and behold a pond the size of two standard size swimming pools. The moonlight reflected on its glassy surface, rippling across its expanse as the slightest of breezes moved in from the tree lines. The smell of feathers, dried grass and mud reached my nose, like a toxic potion, along with the breeze and I wrinkle my nose at the unfamiliar smell. I step closer to the large pond and look closer at the large silver birds gliding across the moonlit pond. Their long, arched necks moved and intertwined as they honked and chattered in the eerie quiet of the island.
My eyes count at least six large silvery birds honking and laughing at the moon. They didn’t have a care in the world and their wings opened gracefully, showing their sinewy strength beneath their beauty. They were swans! And they were the most beautiful sight in the world, right now, as they lifted and lowered their royal heads as if bowing to a large adoring crowd of fans.
I pick a quiet spot beside the lake and sit cross legged to watch earth’s most beautifully winged creatures as they bathe and laughed in their natural haven. I was an outsider looking in and I felt an unusual calm envelope my body as I realise that I must protect this haven and most importantly, I must protect this birds.
A slight movement to my right made me turn and stare at the grass beside me. As I stare into the grass a tiny pair of bright eyes open and look back at me. I gasp and look for a weapon but only a little ground mice steps out from the grass carefully. It’s nose twitched a bit then the little fellow stood up on its hind legs as it remembered my scent. It moved toward me and I held my breath so that I do not scared it away. It neared my right arm before scurrying nimbly towards my right knee where I had fallen and bruised it. It sniffs at the hardened and swollen bump on my knee before scurrying off towards the bush again. It returned a second later with a small clover grass. I was now breathing in tiny gasps , eager to see what the little creature intended to do. The little mice ran up to my right knee and gently placed the clover grass on my bruise. I had seen stranger things before but this was definitely one that may stick to my memory the longest.
The mice climbed down and then sat on its hind legs on the egg before letting out a large squeaking. The groans from the bending trees behind me became silenced with the loud speaking as a large group of mice came out from the cover of the trees and shrubs surrounding the pond. I see them stand on their hind legs as they wash their little furs and talk in that high sneaky voice. Then they all run, as one, back in the darkness of the trees. A moment later they emerge from the trees pulling a big Bilum (woven bag) full of flowers, sweet berries and some biscuits. My tummy growls and I smile at the little ground mice knowing that these are the little people in the woods my grandmother was talking about.
I sat there beside the large pond, pondering on what may or should have been, but then I knew that my life has meaning and coming to this secret place restored my view of the world and how it should be – beautiful, natural and full of love, hopes and dreams. My grandmother probably came here as a child and I was now looking at her same vision with the eyes of a grown up. A view seen with two different lenses.
I lay back on the grass and stared up at the indigo sky that was starting to glitter with the first sparkles of the stars. My ears were filled with the weirdly comforting sound of the swans honking, followed by the swaying grass and shrubs as the wind blew through them embracing my sense of smell with the haunting sweet smell of jasmine and memories in black and white that still brought tears to my eyes. I knew that I could come back to this place anytime I wanted, on the canoe that followed the moon that showed the way to the island of the great silvery birds, the little people and the red bridge.