Small bodied and tense, the little girl sat next to her sister in the canoe holding onto the yoke tightly. Her older siblings took turns paddling while her father sat at the stern guiding them. They glided past sandbars and followed the bluffs that kissed the river’s edge. The little girl was terrified to let her eyes linger on the pores and creases of the bluffs fearing the rock would collapse on top of her. She took a quick glance and then steadied her eyes on the tree line on the opposite shore. Adventures made her anxious, but she couldn't imagine a worthwhile afternoon without one.
They paddled for a while longer. Her father described the kinds of monstrous fish that lived in the river and reminded them of the monsters their very own grandfather caught in those same waters. They spotted snakes and cranes, ducks and turtles. The little girl admired the cattails and the delicate lily pads that grew among the tangles of slimy seaweed. God has a habit of pairing the ugly and the beautiful together.
Stopping at a sandbar, everyone climbed out of the boat and the little girl tiptoed through the mucky shallows onto shore. The little girl, her three siblings, and their father walked along the water’s edge until they found a suitable place to swim. Their father ventured out first and dramatically and clumsily fell into the waves. The river created hills and valleys below the water’s surface. Where the river bottom deepened, just off shore, the little girl and her siblings would run full speed until the sand gave way to a drop-off and they splashed into the deep.Exhausted, with wrinkled fingers and toes, the little girl retreated back to the sand island. While being warmed by the sun, the little girl and her siblings began digging in the sand. She was impressed by her father. He too was digging, but so much more efficiently than her with his large hands and strong forearms. He struck water first. Then one by one, the little girl and her siblings stuck water as well. Before long they created canals and watched the water pass from one pool to the next.
Though finally relaxed enough to enjoy riding in the canoe, the little girl couldn't wait for their journey to be complete. The side of the canoe bumped and scraped against the dock. Waiting for them on the whitewashed planks was the little girl’s mother and grandmother. She was pleased to see them. Walking barefoot up the small hill, the little girl brushed the sand from her legs and feet.
The cottage stood atop the mounded earth, decorated with a scalloped-edged roof, red shutters,
and one simple red arrow. The cottage was a haven for the little girl on Sundays in the summertime. It was filled with antique dressers, lace curtains, old fishing nets, and arrowheads. And mounted on the walls were the monsters her grandfather and great-uncles had caught. The basement was musty and dark, and it housed tools and equipment the little girl had no business using. Even still, with the accompaniment of her brother, she loved to explore the murky space beneath the floorboards.
The little girl had been told stories about what the red arrow on the side of the cottage meant. It was a reminder of the brave men in her family who fought in great wars. She tried to discipline herself to remember that when looking at the arrow, but to the little girl the red arrow meant something different. It pointed her in the direction of future pilgrimages to the ever-changing islands and it pointed her in the direction of future adventures waiting to be conquered. It reminded the little girl that she too would be brave someday.