The Eternal Song, Part Eighteen: Coda

The hiking trail was well maintained, wide and smoothly graded, where it led inland from the beachfront hotel. Elaine Dalton looked up from her brightly colored map of tourist attractions, noticed that her sister Cathy had gotten several steps ahead of her, and hurried to catch up. The exertion left her puffing a bit; she had gained some weight over the past year, and she was getting hot. The midday sun in this southern climate was quite a change, in the first week of February, from the gray skies and heaps of snow back home in upstate New York.

“Somewhere around here, the map says there’s an old fort.” Elaine glanced from one side to the other, seeing only a flat expanse of grass broken by occasional trees and bushes. Ahead the trail sloped gently into a valley terraced with grapevines. Farther down, the red-tiled roofs of neatly kept cottages could be seen among orange and lemon groves, heavy with fruit.

“Look, there’s the historical marker.” Cathy pointed. The marker, a narrow sign on a metal post, stood considerably higher than the few decayed timbers that outlined the rectangular shape of the long-fallen structure. Rusted scraps of iron were barely recognizable as having been cannons. A brighter gleam of metal in a corner came from a discarded soda pop can.

Elaine heard a high warbling whistle nearby, but she saw no birds when she turned around. Two teenage girls came into view, dressed in blue jeans and embroidered peasant blouses, walking up the path from the valley. One girl was tall and thin, with shoulder-length blonde hair. She carried a basket of oranges. Her companion, darker and stockier, was holding two pieces of handcrafted pottery. As they approached, both began speaking Spanish too fast for Elaine to follow.

The girl carrying the pottery held up a decorative plate, evidently a sample of her wares. In the center of the plate, a unicorn stood on a mountain slope, framed by the setting sun. A row of small symbols that looked like hieroglyphics had been painted above it. Elaine ran her fingers over one of them, which consisted of interlocking circles. She put together a few words in her limited Spanish.

“These pictures, they are pretty. Are they traditional?”

“Yes.” The blonde girl smiled, her gaze drifting away from her visitors and toward the volcanic peak in the center of the island. She looked as if she might have been about to say something else; but her companion cut in, speaking slowly enough to be understood this time.

“We have more! All very pretty, and cheaper than the hotel gift shop!”

After a tour of the village and its pottery works, Elaine came away an hour later carrying a plate decorated with a forest scene. Bright green leaves and multicolored tropical birds had been painted in vivid detail. Several indistinct figures could be seen in the background, their faces hidden by rain and fog.

“These people, they look like ghosts,” Elaine had remarked, as she took out her money to pay for her purchase.

The blonde girl had smiled again as she replied, “From very long ago. They bring us good fortune.”

Turning back toward the hotel, Elaine decided that she’d had enough of hiking for the day. It was time to relax on the beach with a cold drink.

She heard the whistling again as she left the valley, a clear joyful sound, as if life were singing to itself in a celebration without pause.

The End (of the story, but not the song)

Author’s note: Although the culture and beliefs of “The People” are completely fictional, this story is loosely based on the history of La Gomera in the Canary Islands. When Spanish settlers arrived in the 15th century, the island was inhabited by a tribe called the Guanches, who were tall, blond, and blue-eyed. They kept goats and spoke a whistled language known as silbo. Driven off their land, some fled into the rainforest that surrounds the island’s central mountain peak. Hunger soon forced them to surrender. Recent cultural preservation efforts have included teaching a modern version of silbo as part of the island’s school curriculum.

Part Seventeen: Nightfall.
Part Sixteen: Unicorn.
Part Fifteen: Ebb Tide.
Part Fourteen: Light.
Part Thirteen: Pilgrim.
Part Twelve: Priestess.
Part Eleven: Scout.
Part Ten: Lost.
Part Nine: Mountain.
Part Eight: Forest.
Part Seven: Shards and Dust.
Part Six: Warning.
Part Five: Gifts.
Part Four: Midsummer.
Part Three: Hunters or Hunted.
Part Two: Rehearsal.
Part One: Beauty.

on 08/24/11 in Art/Play/Myth, featured | 3 Comments | Read More

Comments (3)


  1. Mark Stairwalt says:

    Ah. Might have seen that coming; I’ve known the Guanches from Randy Newman’s “Great Nations of Europe.”

    The Grand Canary Islands, first land to which they came;
    They conquered all the canaries there which gave the land its name.
    There were natives there called Guanches, Guanches by the score;
    But bullets, disease, the Portuguese — and they weren’t there any more.

    Now they’re gone, they’re gone, they’re really gone.
    You never seen anyone so gone.
    There’s paintings in a museum, some lines written in a book,
    but you won’t find a live one, no matter where you look.

    “S’cuse me! Great Nations comin’ through!”

    It’s a great song; 400 years of Western Civ in two minutes and forty-eight tart seconds — and once the frontiers were gone, where else might we expect some of that genocidal momentum to turn but inwards?

  2. Gwen McKay says:

    Mark, you always find just the right song for every occasion. Thanks.

    The inspiration for this story came from Barbara Kingsolver’s book High Tide in Tucson, a collection of essays having to do with modern society and its various conflicts with the natural world. In one of the articles, she describes a trip to La Gomera in which she came across a small village of Guanche descendants making traditional pottery.

  3. Stephanie says:

    It was a good story and you fit it well into the blogging format. Good job!

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