©2007 Cheryl Kaye Tardif
I ONCE FEARED death.
It is said that death begins with the absence of life. And life begins when death is no longer feared. I have stared death in the face and survived. A survivor who has learned about unfailing love and forgiveness. I realize now that I am but a tiny fragment in an endless ocean of life, just as a killer whale is a speck in her immense underwater domain.
It’s been years since I’ve experienced the freedom of the ocean. And years since that one horrifying tragedy took away everything and everyone that I loved. I have spent my life fighting my fragmented memories, imprisoned by guilt and betrayal. I had stopped hoping, dreaming or loving.
I was barely alive.
Locked away in darkness, I struggled until I learned the lessons from Seagull, Whale and Wolf.
Now I am free.
I finally remember my youth. I recall the happy times, the excursions in the schooner and the sunlight reflecting off deep blue water. I can still visualize the mist of water spouting from the surface and a ripple opening to release the dorsal fin of a killer whale.
But what I remember most is the eerie, plaintive song of the whale, caught on the electronic sound equipment of the research schooner. Her song still lingers in my mind.
A long-forgotten memory…
Part One: Village of the Whales
IN THE SUMMER of 1977, my parents and I moved from our rambling ranch home in Wyoming to Vancouver Island , Canada . My father had been offered a position with Sea Corp, a company devoted to studying marine life. He would no longer be a marine biology professor at the university. Instead, he’d be studying killer whales and recording their vocalization.
My mother was ecstatic about the move. She couldn’t wait to return to Canada where her parents were living. She chatted nonstop about all the new things we would see and do.
But I was miserable. I didn’t want to move.
“You’ll make new friends, Sarah,” my parents told me.
But I, like most eleven-year-old girls, hated them for making me leave the friends I already had.
Since our new home was fully furnished, we were leaving almost everything behind. A few personal belongings, my mother’s art supplies and some household items would follow in a small moving van.
My father told us he had rented out our ranch to a nice elderly couple. I was quite happy that no children were going to be living in my bedroom, but I was miserable about leaving behind my prized possessions. I reluctantly said goodbye to my little bed, my Bay City Rollers wall posters, my bookshelf of Nancy Drew mysteries, my mismatched dresser and my swimming trophies. Then I sulked on the edge of the bed and watched my mother sift through my things.
“I know it’s hard,” she said, catching my sullen mood. “Think of this as an adventure.”
I let out an angry huff and flopped onto my back.
“I don’t want an adventure.”
THE FOLLOWING MORNING, we left Wyoming with my three-speed bike strapped to the roof of the car and our suitcases and my mother’s easel piled in the trunk. That night, I watched TV in a motel room while my parents talked about our new home in Canada .
“Time for bed, Sarah,” my father said after a while. “We have a long day ahead of us tomorrow.”
Unable to sleep, I tossed restlessly in the bed and stared at the ceiling, wondering what life would be like stuck on a tiny island.
How boring it’s going to be.
I thought of Amber-Lynn MacDonald, my best friend back in Wyoming . She was probably crying her eyes out, missing me. Who was I going to tell all my secrets to now?
I swallowed hard, fighting back the tears.
Life is so unfair.
Little did I know just how unfair life could be.
IT FELT LIKE days later when we finally arrived in Vancouver . We drove to the ferry terminal and waited in a long lineup of vehicles. We boarded the ferry and I rushed to the upper deck where I stood against the rails and watched the mainland disappear. The water was choppy and the ferry swayed side to side. When we saw Vancouver Island approaching, dismal gray clouds greeted us and I instantly missed the scorching dry heat of Wyoming .
The drive from the ferry terminal to our new house took hours and seemed relentlessly slow. After a while, we veered off the highway and headed along the main road to Bamfield. The narrow unpaved road was bumpy and pitted. It was swallowed up by massive, intimidating logging trucks that blasted their horns at us.
I watched them roll precariously close while my father steered our car until it hugged the side of the road. I held my breath, waiting for the huge bands that secured the logs to snap and release the lumber onto our car. And I was sure that we’d topple over into the ditch or onto the rocks below.
I released a long impatient breath.
“Where’s the ocean?”
“You just saw it,” my father chuckled. “From the ferry.”
“No, I mean the ocean ocean,” I muttered. “That was just like a big lake. I want to see the real ocean, where it stretches out for miles and you can’t see the end of it.”
My mother turned and smiled. “You just wait. You’ll see it soon enough.”
I settled into the back seat with my latest Nancy Drew book and tried to read. But my eyes kept wandering to the window. When we hit a huge pothole, my book dropped to the car floor. It stayed there for the remainder of the trip.
I pushed my face against the window and watched the scenery streak past. The forest that surrounded us was enormous and forbidding. Moss hung eerily from damp branches and a fog danced around the tree trunks.
Then the sun broke out from behind a cloud, free at last from its dark imprisonment. It quickly heated up the interior of the car. Unfortunately, the gravel road kicked up so much dust that I wasn’t allowed to roll down the window. And since we didn’t have air conditioning, my hair—my Italian mane as my mother called it—hung limply to my waist and my bangs stuck to my forehead.
I scowled. We’d been driving for days and I was tired of being cooped up in the car.
“Close your eyes, Sarah,” my father said, interrupting my thoughts. “And don’t open them till I say.”
I obeyed and held my breath in anticipation.
I’m finally going to see the ocean.
Minutes ticked by and I grew restless. Being a typical eleven-year-old, I had to sneak a peek.
“Okay, now you can look,” my father said.
He chuckled when he caught me with my eyes already open.
Pushing my damp bangs aside, I scrunched my face up close to the window. The ocean was spread out before me, interrupted only by a tiny island here and there. The water’s surface was choppy with whitecaps and it looked dark and mysterious.
I smiled, satisfied.
Back in Wyoming , we saw endless stretches of green hills and grass with mountains rising in the distance. That was all I’d ever known. I could go horseback riding and never see water bigger than our duck pond. Now before me, the ocean seemed to go on endlessly.
I couldn’t resist rolling down the window. As soon as I did, I heard waves crashing along the shoreline.
“Well, what do you think?” my father asked. “This road winds all along the shore. Every now and then, you’ll be able to see the ocean. And once we reach Bamfield, our house is just east of town, right on the water.”
He reached over and tugged at a piece of my mother’s long auburn hair. I laughed when she swatted his hand.
“The house will be ours for the next three years,” my mother said over her shoulder. “It belongs to an older couple, so we’ll have to take very good care of it.”
Twenty minutes later, we passed a sign. Welcome to Bamfield.
I breathed a sigh of relief. We were almost there.
As we drove unnoticed through the modest town, I realized that it was much smaller than Buffalo , the town nearest our ranch in Wyoming . After stopping at Myrtle’s Restaurant & Grill for a delicious supper of deep-fried halibut and greasy home-style French fries, we clambered back into the car and headed for our new home.
“The house is just up ahead,” my father said. “I know you’re going to love it, Dani.”
He gave my mother a long, tender look.
MY MOTHER, Daniella Andria Rossetti, was born and raised in San Diego , California . Her parents were immigrants from Italy who had moved to the United States after World War II.
When she was eighteen, her parents moved again, this time to Vancouver , Canada . My mother took advantage of the move, left home and struck out for Hollywood with hopes of becoming a famous actress. After numerous rejections and insulting offers from sleazy directors, she gave up her stalled acting career and studied art and oil painting instead. Within a few months, her work was shown at Visions, a popular art gallery in San Francisco .
It was there that she met my father.
Jack Richardson was a Canadian marine biology student who had wandered in off the street after being caught in a tempestuous downpour of rain. Six months later, my mother moved in with him, much to her parents’ disapproval. Four months went by and they were married in a small church with a few friends and family present.
During the next three years, my parents tried to have a child. They had almost given up hope when they discovered that my mother was pregnant. Six months into a perfect pregnancy, she miscarried. My parents were devastated.
Eight months later, my father’s stepfather and mother were killed in a car accident. During the reading of the will, my father discovered that he had inherited the family ranch in Wyoming .
But my mother was upset. She didn’t want to leave the bustling city of San Francisco for the wide-open plains near Buffalo . When the curator of Visions, Simon McAllister, promised that she could courier her paintings to the gallery, my mother agreed to the move.
After a year on the ranch, she couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. Her work thrived, reflecting images of country living, meadows and mountains. Then she was rewarded with unbelievable news. She was pregnant again.
Nine months plus a week later, Sarah Maria Richardson weighed in at eight pounds, four ounces. At three months old, I had thick black hair and dark brown eyes. My parents doted on me.
When I was about six, my mother told me how handsome my father had looked the moment she first saw him in the art gallery. Even though he was shivering and drenched, he had stared at one of her paintings for the longest time.
My mother had fallen in love with him that instant.
It sounded like a fairytale to me, but I believed that my parents loved each other and that they would be together.
NOW, YEARS LATER, we were driving along the rustic coast of Vancouver Island , anticipating the first glimpse of our new home. I felt restless and uneasy. I somehow knew that my life would change the second we drove into those trees.
Destiny… or fate?
As the sun began to set overhead, we reached a small, barely legible sign that read 231 Bayview Lane . A gravel driveway curved and disappeared into the trees. When the car followed it, we were plunged into darkness. Branches reached out to the car roof, caressing it like a thousand hungry fingers.
The tall cedar trees that surrounded the car opened to reveal a lush lawn carefully landscaped with small shrubs. At the end of the gravel driveway, a two-story cedar house stood just beyond the lawn. The shingles of the roof gleamed in the reddening sunlight. The main door into the house was solid wood with no window. In fact, there were only three small windows on that entire side of the house.
Our new home seemed forlorn, empty.
“Well, not much to look at from here,” my mother mumbled. “But I’m sure it’s much nicer inside. We could always punch out a window or two.”
My father grinned. “Dani, my love, looks can be deceiving. Just wait until you see inside.”
When he pulled the car onto a cement pad, my mother smirked. “The garage?” she asked sarcastically.
“You’re so funny,” he said, unfolding himself from the driver’s seat.
I clambered out, impatient to get inside and explore. Reaching for his hand, I tugged on it and pulled him toward the house while my mother followed behind.
At the door, we turned back and caught sight of her pale face.
“Are you okay?” my father asked.
“I’m just a bit carsick,” she said with a wry smile. “You two go in first, let me get some fresh air. I’ll be in shortly.”
She laughed. “Go inside, Jack. I’m okay.”
With a shrug, my father unlocked the door and gave it a gentle nudge. Then he turned to me, his mouth widening into the biggest smile I had ever seen.
“Welcome to your new home, Sarah,” he said.
I let go of his hand and eagerly stepped inside, a thrill of excitement racing through me. “I want to see my roo—”
I froze, dead in my tracks.
©2007 Cheryl Kaye Tardif
Note from Cheryl: This month I am giving away free books at some of my virtual book tour stops, so be sure to check my schedule and drop by. http://www.whalesongbook.com/virtual-tour-2007/
To order Whale Song, please order from Amazon.com this month. If you order on my birthday, August 12th, you may qualify to win one of 44 prize packages. For more info on this special contest, please see 44 Prizes. Also, if you order Whale Song plus two other Kunati titles, you can qualify to enter Kunati’s Great Summer Reads Contest.
~ Cheryl Kaye Tardif, author of Whale Song, The River and Divine Intervention