Book II _ Chapter 1

The Secret of the Uliaks

This is the beginning of my seventh journal book. Iím not quite sure why I keep this record except that I need to tell someone about all the things I see and all the wonderful stuff Iím learning. I guess that someone is you my faithful journal. 

To recap, I am Sandy and I started this journal after my first great adventure in the wilderness, over two years ago. I live in a wonder-filled cave at the foot of a high rocky mountain peak with my mother and grandfather. Outside our cave is a secret valley in which my Grandfather keeps his llama herd. At this writing it is mid-January. Over the past two years Iíve learned to live in the wilderness, shared adventures with danger, intrigue, and had a whole bunch of fun. My adventures have always included my llama, Moche, who is my good friend and hero. It's been quiet lately. Our friends, Jack and Annie Perch, have recently arrived for visit and Iím sure new adventures will soon be upon us. . . . . . . . .

"Moche!"

Plop, Plop, Plop. The snow drifts are four to five feet thick and Moche loves to hop into and out of them. He sinks clear up to his belly,  then he hops, hops-up and out. Every so often  hopping over to the log entrance of Grandfather's cave to make sure I'm watching. Itís about eight o'clock now and Iíve raised the shutter of the log entrance's one window to watch the Aurora rise and fall in the northern sky. Thereís a light cloud cover in the southern part of the sky that glows crimson as the Northern Lights reached up to the apex of the welkin.

Welkin is the word Annie uses when she talks about the sky. As Iím writing, the Aurora will rise so high and then shrink back toward the north pole in a silent dance thatís just too pretty to leave. Plop, plop, plop Ė thatís Moche acting like a snowshoe rabbit out in the snow drifts.

"Hi Sandy." Annie has just come up to sit with me.

The log entrance to the cave has a small fireplace in the corner by the window. Itís a cozy, quiet place to watch the sky and think.

"There's a pretty Aurora tonight, Annie." Annie was wearing a nice wool tunic with the long sleeves and a fur collar. She often wears it around the cave when she and Jack visit in the winter.

"Yes, it is nice tonight. Is that Moche going to hop around like a jackrabbit all night?" She always smiles when she talks to or about Moche. Of all our llamas, sheís particularly fond of him.

"He's been out there for a half hour now, just chasing around and having a good time." I leaned back against the door jam and watched Annie's face in the soft firelight; it's so strong, gentle and understanding.

"What do the Northern Lights remind you of, Sandy?" Annie had sat down just inside the doorway with her arms around her knees. I joined her and we both sat there watching the silent Aurora pulse against the northern sky.

After a short time, I said: "A forest, a tall pine forest from the past that shines high in the heavens to remind us of other times and places."

She reached over and ruffled my hair, "That's what the Uliaks say, your going to turn into a Parent Tree if you don't watch out."

"You really think so?" That's a compliment, the legend of the Parent Trees is a story about the beginning of the world.

"Mmmm."

"What do you see in the Aurora, Annie?"

"Siberia."

"What?" Annie always had a surprise answer for a lot of my questions.

"Siberia. When there's a temperature inversion above the Arctic Circle and it coincides with the solar flares - the Siberian forests reflect off the polar ice cap and we see them in our sky."

"Really?"

"No, but that's the way I like to think of it. What do you say if we talk your Mom and Grandfather into an adventure for tomorrow?"

"Sure, what'll we do?" It had been pretty dull since the deep snow had come. Every now and then, Mom and I would take treks to the outer wall of the valley so I would have practice walking in snowshoes. During her last several visits, Annie had been teaching me how to make boots, mittens, buttons and everything else you need in the forest during the winter. The only frustrating part has been that Annie's and Mom's are always so pretty in the end with designs and pictures while mine seemed so plain. They both smile and say "Function first - the designs will come along naturally, soon enough."

Annie sat thinking, then she smiled and said, "I think Jack and I will be leaving soon. I thought we'd explore the deep tunnels of this old mountain before we go."

"Your leaving?" I knew they were scheduled to leave soon but I had been putting it out of my mind.

Annie smiled, "Jack's starting to get cabin fever; he spent all day today rearranging the mangers in the stable and in the end they were all in their original positions."

I laughed, "I know, he's done that before."

"Well it means that it's time for us to find a new trail for awhile. There are a few other projects we need to do for Laural Mountain and some folks to visit before we start north in the spring."

"I sure do hate to see you go."

"We'll see you next year about this time and maybe you'll want to go north with us that following  spring?"

"I will."

We started to get up and fix the fire. The fire up here didn't really keep the cave warm, Grandfather used it to keep the snow drifts away from the cave entrance. Annie was poking the coals with the iron rod and I threw on a few new chunks so the fire would keep for the rest of the night. There wasn't any wood to burn up here so we used dung cakes. Before I came here it would have sounded horrible but the dried chunks of llama manure are an efficient source of fuel that's superior to wood in many ways and you don't have to kill a tree to stay warm. Sometime I'll explain how the little fuel chunks are made. Grandfather's look like flat bricks but there are many possible shapes and sizes used by people all over the world.

Annie looked out the door, "You better call the Mad Hatter"

"Huh? Oh!" I smiled, "Moche."

Plop, plop, plop - SWISH. Annie and I were covered with snow as Moche leaped through the doorway and shook the snow off his coat before all four feet hit the floor. We laughed as we closed the door and headed down into the cave with Moche.

Moche had become quite the little cave rat this winter. None of the other llamas ever seemed interested in our part of the cave, only Moche. He'd sleep in my room some nights, nose around in the kitchen during breakfast and at anytime during the day you might find him out playing with the other llamas or up sitting with Mom as she'd spin or weave the llama wool. I'd even found him in Grandfather's workshop once, watching as Grandfather cut the crystals that came from the deep shafts of the cave. In all, I figure, he spent about a third of his time with the other llamas, a third with us people and the rest of the time just playing or wandering by himself. Annie always has said that he's a very special llama and I agree.

"Annie?"

"Hmmm?" She was on her favorite chair in the main room working on another button. I couldn't even guess the number of buttons she had carved since she and Jack had first come into my life two years ago. She carved buttons with llamas on them, others with the view from the cave and all sorts of other scenes from our little world. We had more than enough buttons for all our clothes and then some.

"Who are the Uliaks?" I had heard the adults speak of them many times but mostly at night when they thought I was asleep. I had practiced saying the word but I still couldn't figure out how it should be spelled.

She looked up and smiled, "The night people. They're an ancient culture that live all over this continent, probably all over the world. They keep to the forests and are very shy but that doesn't mean they're simple or stupid. Long ago they elected to live with stone and forest in a natural lifestyle."

"Are there a lot of them?"

"Actually I don't know, but I doubt it. Young adults have a choice among the Uliaks. They can stay in their community or go out into the world. If they go, they can never return to their family group. There have always been friends of the Uliak people who help those who choose to leave."

"Like Randy and the people at Laurel Mountain."

"Yes, like Randy or Eric."

"Do you and Jack know people who are Uliaks?" I thought I had the word sounding better.

"Yes, on our trek north there are several community groups that we visit and in the eastern part of the continent we've met groups using our thirl."

"They use thirls too?"

I was just getting use to the thirl code. Mom, and Annie too when she and Jack are visiting, will go to the far end of the valley, Iíll sit by the outer wall, and weíll practice talking with the thirls. Grandfather has quite a few of the brass sounding sheets on the wall of the tunnel that leads to the llamaís area of the cave. For some reason I had never really noticed them until after my first great adventure. I know now that they are for communication over long distances using low frequency sound. To hear a thirl at great distances you need a special electronic receiver in your ear that changes the frequency of the sound to our hearing range. Mom and Annie can make their thirls sing the prettiest melodies. Low sweet songs with long blending notes. Iím working on it but canít do that well yet.

Annie looked up from the work on her button, "No, but they seem to be able to hear very low frequency sounds like the larger animals of the forest. They use other devices to transmit low frequency sounds that are normally out of our hearing range. Jack and I have found they like the thirls and are usually attracted to them."

"Hi." Mom had just come down from her wool room.

"Weíve been talking about the Uliaks, Mom."

Mom smiled and sat down next to Annie, "They're a very different culture. It was years and years ago that Dave and I met a group with Eric and Mary just north of the rapids where we watched those bears fishing in the river. I remember they had the most beautiful art work on their clothing. If I'm not mistaken, Annie's buttons show a pretty heavy Uliak influence."

Annie laughed and sat up in her chair, "There's never been anything that slipped past your scrutiny Dawn Stanford. Sandy and I were going to talk you into an adventure tomorrow."

"Our promised tour of the deep shaft?"

"Yes!" I was getting excited but I also jumped up to catch the glow crystal that Moche had just nosed right off a table.

"What do you think?" Annie had folded her knife and both the knife and the button-in-making disappeared somewhere inside her tunic.

Mom said, "Yes, Eric's been getting ready for some weeks now. It's probably time. You and Jack must be thinking of leaving soon. It'll be nice to have an adventure with you this season. Sandy, we'll have to lock Moche out of the shaft. I haven't been down there in fifteen years and Eric only goes to the crystal garden from time to time for gems."

Annie jumped up, "Well lets go tell the gentlemen. Where are they?"

Mom smiled again, "Eric's teaching Jack how to cut crystals. We'll have to pry them away from that project."

"I better get my Jack sidetracked from that trade before we end up living in a cave for the rest of our lives."

Mom and Annie both laughed again as we headed down to Grandfather's shop. Down the left hand tunnel, taking the first fork to the right and then the second fork in the tunnel to the right. Moche was going to follow us but then at the last minute scampered off to the stable to see the other llamas.

Glow crystals that were mounted in little hollows of the rock wall increased the light in the tunnels at night and the way was quite clear in the soft blue-green light even though we didn't carry a lantern with us. The two men were concentrating on their work and we seemed to surprise them when we reached the shop. Though I can't imagine that they didn't hear us the way Mom and Annie were giggling all the way down the tunnel.

The shop was a big room, the size of the main room or Mom's wool room, with tools and hand driven machines of different sorts spread around. The room was pretty full now with two men, six dogs and us three girls.

They both looked up and Jack said, "Three ladies at once Eric, looks like trouble to me."

Grandfather smiled, "Hmmm? I have a feeling we're going exploring tomorrow."

Mom walked over to a medium size chest and opened the lid, "I think it's time, Eric."

The chest was full of oval glow crystals that just sparkled when the lid was opened. They were about the size of belt buckles but a little thicker. There were different kinds of crystals that Grandfather worked with in his shop. Some made distinctive sounds after they had been sized and cut on his workbench. Others were like diamonds. The most interesting were the glow crystals. They don't shine by their own light but they can take just the tiniest amount of light and multiply the effect so that a whole room is lighted.

Grandfather had explained to me that they were a type of opal but I wasn't sure what an opal was.

"What will we use the glow crystals for?"

Grandfather sat back in his chair, "They'll mark the way for our return to the surface."

"What way?"

"The deep shafts of our cave have many tunnels on lots of different levels, it's easy to loose track of the path you used to get to the lower levels and this is the only way back to the surface that I know."

"I see, like the glow crystals in our tunnel walls these small ones will shine when we come back if we mark the tunnel junctions with them."

"Right, years ago we used long ropes but now we move around with a lot more freedom."

"When will we go?"

"Tomorrow, we'll have breakfast, take care of our llamas and then go exploring."

I fell asleep early that night, it had been a full day and I knew I should be rested for our adventure. I was up with the very first sunlight. I did the llama chores, milked the two goats (I'll write about the goats sometime) and closed the gate to the waterfall stairs so Moche would stay with the llamas today. Then I ran up to the main entrance of the cave and added enough chips to the fire so it would keep for the day. Looking out the window in the log walls I could see our view of the lower mountains and their forest. I loved the sea when we lived by it but I know now that I'd never leave the wilderness. I put my hair up in a ponytail and was ready. As far as Iím concerned thatís how I'll wear my hair forever.

"Hi hon."

"Hi Mom! Isn't the view pretty this time of the morning?"

"You better not use "isn't" in front of Eric, he's a stickler for grammar."

"Ok. I don't mind being grammatically correct with all those languages I'm learning but English sounds better with a few words rounded off."

Mom smiled, "I'll let Eric argue that point with you. Can I help you with any of your chores?"

"No, I'm all finished. See I've even milked the goats. Can we have pancakes this morning?"

"Sure, Annie and Jack are up, I'll get started in the kitchen and they should be along in a few minutes."

"Is that one pregnant llama still wandering out into the snow drifts."

"Yep. Sophie has trails made in the snow all around the front of the llama cave entrance. It makes cleaning the stable a lot easier with those nice trails through the drifts. I don't know why she's doing it though."

"That's ok, the exercise is good for her. I think her baby might be due before the others and she's looking for a place to have it alone."

"Should we make a special pen for her?" Sophie was one of younger females that were pregnant for the first time.

"Maybe, but she's still a few weeks away from the time. We'll just keep watching for awhile."

Mom went off to make breakfast and I found Jack and Annie in the shop with Grandfather. There were four big backpacks that they were filling with glow crystals and a smaller one for me that would hold our lunch and a few glow crystals. We went up to the kitchen, had breakfast, packed the lunch in my backpack and then we all headed back down to the shop.

Grandfather and Jack each carried a metal kerosine lantern while Mom and Annie each had a lantern that was extra on their packs. Grandfather opened the door to the deep tunnels that he called the "shaft" and I felt the cool moist air of the mountain's interior.

"Does it get colder or warmer as we go deeper into the mountain?" I had my sweater and vest on over a wool shirt, I had figured that would be plenty enough if it was cold and I could always shed a few layers if it got warmer as we went into the mountain.

Grandfather said, "It's this temperature all through the shaft in both winter and summer. The mountain insulates the interior so that it has its own climate of sorts."

"Are all mountains hollow?"

"Not all but many are."

For some reason I had thought that the passages in the shaft would be narrow with a low ceiling but they were wide, much wider than the tunnels in our part of the cave. We had left the door to the shop open and as we passed farther and farther, down the strait passage, the light in the doorway became smaller and smaller until we turned toward the right and started down a gradual slope into a dark unknown land.

 

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