Friday, November 19, 2010

You Are Alive, You Are Alive

James Bay
July 1607

Virginia Dare was standing on the hill above the house, weeding around the beans, and enjoying the sun and the breeze from the bay, when she happened to look up and see the ship coming through the gap in the hills. From here it looked almost like a toy, with handkerchief sails. She waved and screamed and ran down to the house.

So by the time the ship had dropped its sails and lowered its rowboats, the entire colony was gathered on the shore, cheering, laughing, and crying. It was a rare golden day: the sky as blue and decked with fleecy clouds, and the redwooded hills gleamed in the sun. John White was in the first rowboat, even though he was an old man now, and had to be helped out of it and onto the sand.

At first he didn't recognize his daughter, she was so tanned and thin, and her skin stretched and pinched with sun and age, but then he crushed her to him with all the strength left in his arms. Then he hugged Ananias, who had developed muscles like a horse; and then Eleanor dragged Virginia forward, saying "Your grandfather," and Virginia, who had been just a baby when he left, was twenty years old, a little shy but smiling, and John White did not hug her, but cried and fell to his knees and thanked God.

"You are alive, you are alive," he kept saying, until he could speak no more.

Then they walked up to the village -- a loose collection of a few dozen homes, some by the water, some up among the cultivated the slopes, a few deep among the redwoods.

"You have no stockade?" asked White.

Ananias shrugged. "The Muwekma are friendly," he said. "We had some trouble with them at first, but after the earthquake they came by to help us rebuild. We have a treaty with them now, for mutual protection."

"A treaty with savages?"

"We did what we had to," said Ananias. "You were -- you were gone a long time."

White bowed his head. "I came as soon as I could," he said. "Times have been bad. Raleigh died. There has been war..."

Eleanor waved her hand. "Tell us later," she said. "You are here, and we are alive, praise God. That is enough!"

Ananias had rebuilt their home after the earthquake, three times as large: it had two bedrooms, a living area, and a kitchen, and the exterior walls were huge sheets of redwood bark. The tiny home was decorated with woven mats and baskets, feathered and beaded hangings, and beautiful seashells. The kitchen fire was sweet with the mixed smells of burning redwood and roasting fish.

White said little, because Ananias and Eleanor were clearly proud of what they'd achieved; and rightly so. But he almost cried again when he thought of the primitive life his child and grandchild were enduring: almost no books except the Bible, no toys but what Ananias could whittle, no clothes but what Eleanor could sew...

He could help with that, a little. "We've brought gifts," he said.

Cloth was the greatest treasure -- cloth for dresses and blouses, shirts and trousers, sheets and curtains. And there were more goats and chickens and pigs, and cooking pots, and glassware, and furniture fittings, and blankets, and beer, and barrels of seeds for planting, and...

As the sun set behind the mountains, there was a sense of deep peace that settled over the waters of the Bay. The families and the seafarers lit fires along the beach and roasted pigs and drank and sang.

When the night was getting on a bit, but the song was still going, Ananias drew White aside. "My father," he said, "you remember what we spoke of when you left. The matter of the stream a few miles south of here."

"Yes," said White. He did not hold his liquor so well as when he was younger, but Ananias's tone snapped him immediately sober.

"Well, then," said Ananias, and he dropped a small leather pouch in White's hand. White reached in and felt some sort of powder inside. Pinching a bit of it between his fingers, he drew out his hand and allowed the firelight to fall on it. The gleam of gold was unmistakable.

"This changes everything," he whispered. "There is more?"

"Enough to fill your hold," said Ananias. "You and your descendants will be rich, Mr. White."

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