Jason Moriarty had a dream, and it was partly because of his surname. In Irish, it means expert navigator. He never told anyone about it, but he worked hard whenever he had free time from chores and school to make it real. He spent hours down in a secret cove by the river building a small sailboat that he could handle alone – his dream was to go on an Odyssey, like his hero Odysseus. At last, just after his fourteenth birthday, all was ready. His ship was finished; he had stored plenty of food and water, as well as all-weather clothing, and now it was summer, and school was out.
He said nothing to his parents, but told his little sister “I’m going on an Odyssey. I don’t know when, or if, I’ll be back. Wait for a week, and if I’m not home then, tell Mom and Dad. But promise you’ll wait that long, Ok? Just tell them you think I’ve gone camping fi they ask. ”He hugged her and gave her a dollar. “Be good, and when I come back, I’ll bring you a great surprise.”
Betsy looked at him, her eyes huge, and shining with tears. “Oh, Jason, I’ll miss you. Please don’t be gone too long. I promise, I’ll tell them you’re camping, like you say, and I’ll wait a week to tell them the truth. I hope they won’t be mad at me.“ She gave him another hug and stepped back.
“Don’t worry, sissy, they know me well enough, they’ll know it’s my fault. “ He ruffled her hair, picked up his back pack, and slipped quietly out of the room. Betsy went to the window and watched as he disappeared down the path to the river, a ghostly movement in the pale pre-dawn light.
Jason pulled his boat out of its hiding place and pushed it carefully over the pebbles to the water’s edge. There, he first tied it to a tree, then manoeuvred it into the water. H stood for a moment, watching it, to be sure there were no leaks, then he stepped in, raised the mast and took up the oars. After he had rowed out to the centre of the river, he shipped the oars and raised the sail, then sat back and took control of the rudder. He was very proud of the boat; it was well built, steered easily, and the sail was all he had hoped for. He settled comfortably in the stern, happy to be on his way at last.
He had lived by the river all his life, played in it, learned to swim in it, fished in it, but had never been able to go more than two days from home to explore it. Now he was determined that he would go as far as he could. He had food and water, what clothing he needed, to last for at least a week, and he knew he could catch fish, or take time to trap rabbits on shore, or use his sling to bring down an occasional duck. Food was no problem, and there were many fresh water streams where he could replenish his supply.
He sailed along all day, enjoying the scenery that moved past. There was a great variety of trees, and he saw wild berry bushes with ripening fruit on them. In the fall, he and Betsy often hiked out to gather nuts and berries for their Mother. He was surprised at how far the berry bushes spread in the forest. When the sun was getting near the horizon, Jason lowered the sail and rowed to shore, in a little, hidden cove he spotted. He had soon made a shelter for himself, cleared a fire pit and gathered a good supply of fallen branches. He carefully lit the fire, cleaned the fish he had caught and soon it was sizzling over the heat. By the time the sun had set, he was munching away on the tasty fish, with some fresh berries for desert. After cleaning up, he sat for a while by the fire, listening to the night wounds of the forest, and the quiet rustling of the river flowing by. Then he went into his shelter, settled in his sleeping bag, and slept, deeply and restfully, until the birds woke him at dawn.
For two more days Jason traveled along the river, sleeping on the bank and feeling more at peace than he had in a long time. Then, suddenly, he realised that the current was carrying him along faster and faster. He remembered that the river forked somewhere ahead, and one branch, soon after the fork, dropped over a steep cliff in a spectacular cataract. He hurriedly grabbed the oars and paddled desperately, aiming for the western bank. It was hard work, but he managed to cross the current until he was safely away from the fork to the falls. Gratefully, he found a quiet cove, and dropped his anchor. Stepping out of the boat, he tied it to a tree near the bank, and settled down on a rock to catch his breath and rest.
It was late afternoon, so he decided to make camp there. He was still shaken by his narrow escape, and needed the time to gather his wits, and his nerve. He cleared a spot and made a fire pit, then gathered wood. When all was ready, he got out his fishing rod, baited the hook, and sat on the rock again to catch his dinner. Half an hour later, he had a fire started and was cleaning a trout that must have weighed at least four pounds. He sat for some time after eating, just watching the water and thinking. At last he climbed into his sleeping bag, and lay there, staring up at the stars until his eyes closed and he slept.
He sat for some time in the morning after his breakfast, arguing with himself. “I don’t know where the river goes from here,” he thought. “I had a narrow escape yesterday – I could have gone over the falls and died. Maybe I should give up, and turn around and go home.” He stared at the embers of his fire for a moment. “But if I do that, I will always regret it. I’ll always wonder what I would have found, what wonders I missed. I don’t want to be a quitter! No, I’ll go on. I just know there is something wonderful waiting for me to discover somewhere ahead.” With that, he stood up, took a bucket of water and poured it over the remains of his fire, and untied the rope. Climbing into the boat, he lifted the anchor, took the oars, and paddled out into the current.
All that day the current and the sail took him swiftly ahead. The banks of the river flowed past, trees, bushes and flowers passing in flashes of greens, reds, blues, yellows and whites. And he saw animals, the red flash of a fox’s tail, or the tawny ears of a rabbit. He even saw a brown bear picking berries off a bush. And birds – blue jays, robins, crows, red-winged blackbirds, just flashes of colour, then gone. He was entranced by the life and colours he saw, so much so that he forgot to stop for lunch. So when he noticed that the sun was getting low in the west, he looked for a cove or small bay where he could anchor and spend the night. He found a quiet bay, but there was no place where he could go ashore. He shrugged, and fixed himself a place to sleep, then broke out one of his packets of sandwiches, and an apple. Soon after the sun disappeared, he snuggled down to sleep. The gentle rocking of the boat lulled him, and sleep came quickly.
He was off again soon after dawn the next day, drifting with the current, not using sail or oars, just the rudder to stay centered in the river. Once again he became entranced with the passing scenery, and it was some time before he realised that the current was getting faster. He looked ahead, and froze in astonishment. There, directly across the river, was a huge cliff, shaped like a cupped hand, thumb pointing to the sky. It was filled with a thin mist, but he could see the silhouette of a giant human shape, arms upraised, legs slightly spread, with a weapon in one hand. And he was headed right for it.
Frantically, he grabbed the oars and paddled as hard and fast as he could, trying to steer the boat across the current toward the shore. But try as he would, he couldn’t change course. The boat sped on. He shipped the oars and grabbed the sides of the boat in his hands, unable to move. All he could see was that huge figure, and all he could think of was the cliff that must be behind it. His fingers white with the intensity of his grip, he sat and stared. Then he was in the mist, and couldn’t see anything. “Goodbye, Mom, Dad, Betsy,” he whispered. “I didn’t mean to leave you forever. I love you!” He closed his eyes – he just couldn’t look. And he waited –waited for the crash that would end his life. But he couldn’t keep his eyes closed! When he opened them, he saw what had to be the cliff, just feet from the bow of his boat and rushing forward. “oh! NOoooooooo……”