Jonathan’s Dream (An Adventure Novel)
(Copyright 1984, Mark D. Jones, All Rights Reserved)
Chapter Two, Part Four
Jonathan had dried out overnight beside the campfire and the old man gave him his spare cloak to wear over his clothing to protect him from the elements. The cloak hung down past Jonathan’s knees and although it was light to the touch, it kept out both wind and rain. The thin fabric was made from a tight weave of various shades of thread from light gray to dark green which mimicked both rocks and earth, as well as the shadows of the forest. The cloak had a short cape attached to it that covered his shoulders and torso in an additional layer for added protection from the elements, as well as a woven belt and a hood that fell loosely over his shoulders and down to the middle of his back. Jonathan put the cloak on, tied the belt, fastened the front edges of both cloak and cape together with buttons made of bone and pulled the hood up over his head. Not only did he blend perfectly into the woods around him, but Jonathan realized he could also sleep in it at night to stay warm.
Unbuttoning the garment to match the day’s weather and throwing the hood back over his shoulders, Jonathan said, “Thank you, Sir, for this coat, it’s just what I need when it rains. It reminds me of my long, yellow raincoat for school and my hooded bathrobe back home on the farm if I attached a beach towel over my robe like a superhero!”
The old man simply smiled and said, “Jonathan, this cloak won’t give you superpowers, but it will protect you on your journey. It’ll keep you warm and offer you protection in the shadows. It’s lightweight, so it won’t hinder your movement – and the inside of both cloak and cape is a light, silvery-gray color. When you’re in the mountains and snowfields you can reverse it and fade from view, appearing as a rock on the side of the mountain.”
They packed up the camp, placing furs, blankets, cooking utensils and the leather-bound volume into two coarsely-woven bags and hung them from a wide, fabric swath placed across Majeka’s back. The old man helped Jonathan mount Majeka – sitting on the fabric swath which served as a rudimentary saddle and provided a handhold for Jonathan to steady himself with. Majeka was a majestic horse – beautiful, strong, yet at the same time delicate, with the distinctive characteristics of purebred Arabian stallions – wide-spread, flared nostrils, ears that were always in motion, high spirited and always on alert. Jonathan knew this because he had an Arabian horse model on his bedroom shelf in his collection at home, as well as a picture book of every horse breed and their characteristics. The old man, staff in hand, then plunged into the forest with Majeka and Jonathan trailing behind him.
Although everything was still too confusing for Jonathan, he didn’t show it. In fact, he was actually starting to enjoy this adventure. He didn’t feel lost anymore now that he was with friends. Oh sure, he still missed Sammy and wondered if he was being missed back home on the farm, but the fact was, he was having fun. One quickly forgets the element of danger when it’s no longer staring you in the face. Jonathan was beginning to feel secure in this world that he didn’t really understand, but there would be time for him to ponder that thought later on.
They traveled for a long time through the woods – how long he didn’t really know – for his watch was broken from being soaked in the river and getting water inside. Jonathan took the watch off and put it into a pocket of his backpack. It had been a gift from Gramps and he couldn’t bare throwing it away. While he was at it, he couldn’t resist eating the last of his cookies – three to be exact. The only food he had left now were the dozen acorns he had collected from under the tree the day before.
The old man set a brisk pace as they made their way along an overgrown trail until it left the shadows of the forest and crossed an area of numerous, shallow creeks that quickly became a water meadow of spongy, marshy ground that drained into the river. Majeka’s hoofs made deep depressions in the damp earth that quickly filled with water. The area was thick with flies and mosquitoes, that bothered Jonathan to no end. He wrapped the cloak as tightly around him as he could and put up his hood to help avoid insect bites, but to no avail. Jonathan felt exposed among the reeds and tall grasses of the swampy ground – but the constant distraction of the biting insects kept him from dwelling on their vulnerability while crossing through the open marshlands.
They finally reached higher ground around mid-morning and followed alongside another stream, as it flowed out of the hills. In the distance, Jonathan could see mountains rising up before them whenever the trees and clouds thinned out up ahead. They were majestic, yet terribly imposing, like sharp daggers pointing into the sky – higher than Jonathan had ever before imagined – covered in snow and ice. He had never seen anything like it before. It was a formidable fortress of rock, snow and ice – causing Jonathan to shake and shiver just looking at it. Jonathan drew his hood tightly around his neck, as an ice rain began falling in the chill air of the foothills. Deep inside, however, Jonathan had a tiny spark of wonder about what it would really be like to climb up into the mountains. Even he had to admit it to himself that he wanted to do it – that is, if he first somehow found the courage!
The old man didn’t seem to mind the ice rain at all and simply let his hood drape back casually over his shoulders. He had short white hair that blended into his well-kept beard, sprinkled with streaks of gray and white. He wore small, round glasses that slid down to the end of his nose when he didn’t need them – often looking at Jonathan over the top of the lenses. Jonathan remembered the old man’s glasses reflecting the glow of the campfire the night before, while reading his book. The cloak he wore over his robe was made of the same light, woven fabric of grays and greens that Jonathan was wearing, creating a drab appearance in the rain that blended perfectly into the landscape around them. He wore a gold chain around his neck upon which hung a round, gold medallion in the image of the sun with an oak tree engraved within it. Although there were deep lines etched into the old man’s face – signs of his many years spent living on the land – he seemed as fit as Jonathan’s father ever was. Yet his eyes revealed an ageless depth and kindness that Jonathan had never seen before. The old man’s pace was swift as they journeyed deeper into the foothills, as if there was something unseen driving him to keep up his relentless pace. It finally occurred to Jonathan that he didn’t know the old man’s name, or where he was leading them to – or even when he could ever go back home.
The path rose before them as they continued winding their way into ever higher terrain. They kept up the relentless pace throughout the morning without pausing to rest. Jonathan’s mind drifted away with the sounds and familiar rhythm of Majeka’s hoofs and movements under him. They had long ago left the low, marshy country behind them, climbing higher into the foothills leading to the imposing mountains before them. The trees had begun to thin out and were replaced with jagged rock and boulders, breaking through the ground’s surface as if they were some kind of crop growing out of the earth. Moss, flowers and small mountain plants filled the spaces between the rocks and dwindling number of trees, as the landscape opened up around them. The wind blew stronger here, without the natural windbreak of the forest below and it was impossible to stay hidden within the shadows of the forest any longer. The large boulders and rock formations helped conceal their progress, as they made their way into the mountains, however, Jonathan felt uneasy about their exposure on the ridge line. He pulled his cloak tightly around him with a shiver, all the while worried they were being watched from afar.
Jonathan thought about many things along the way as their journey progressed into the mountains. He wondered how everyone was back home on the farm. He was sure his mother would be very worried by now and thought about how he would go about explaining his absence once he returned home. There was also the thought that he might not ever return home, but he simply didn’t want to dwell on that thought very much. However, it wasn’t easy for him to ignore this lingering thought in the back of his mind. He just couldn’t seem to resolve the situation he found himself in, because it didn’t make any sense. The mountains bothered him the most. He knew all about the Appalachian Mountains that were close to his home in southern Ohio, but these mountains weren’t anything like the pictures he had seen. Besides, Jonathan’s family had once taken a vacation to see the fall colors in the Appalachians and the massive wall of ice covered peaks that towered in front of him definitely wasn’t part of the Appalachian Mountains.
These mountains reminded Jonathan more of the Andes – tall, jagged and covered in ice and snow. They were also like the Alps, except wilder – more imposing, formidable and impenetrable. Jonathan had a picture book of the world’s mountains in his room and loved to looked at pictures of the Rockies, Andes, Alps and the massive Himalayan Mountain Range. These mountains rising before them showed no signs of civilization at all – no cities or villages anywhere in the area that he had seen. Jonathan saw nothing but wilderness everywhere he looked and as the path gained in elevation he saw no signs of civilization anywhere while scanning out to the far distant horizon behind them. Not even a power line in sight, thought Jonathan. The vastness of this wilderness and the complete lack of civilization gave Jonathan an unsettled and disheartening feeling, like treading water in the deep end of a swimming pool or in a lake knowing there’s nothing but deep water beneath you – and help isn’t close at hand. As Jonathan scanned across distant forests and rugged mountain slopes, he could only think that he was treading in very deep and dangerous waters indeed – and didn’t know what was hidden in the depths of the shadows around him.
The other problem he had reconciling his current situation was the river. Jonathan knew about the Ohio River. His father had taken him to see it many times before. There were great barges that seemed to float past him for miles carrying all kinds of goods and resources up and down the river. They had often leisurely fished along its banks on a Saturday afternoon and although they hadn’t caught very many fish, Jonathan always had a great time. Also, his Cub Scout Den went on a hike along the river once and camped out beside it over a weekend. Jonathan knew the Ohio River. The problem was, it wasn’t a simple day hike away from his house. It was a good hour long drive by car to reach the river, so there wasn’t any way he could have walked to the river in a day, or even a week. The river that he and Majeka were in yesterday was not the Ohio River – Jonathan knew that for sure. This river was bigger, deeper, rougher and more intense than the Ohio River – and there were no signs of civilization anywhere to be seen along its banks.
Another problem that concerned Jonathan was the whole atmosphere of the land that surrounded him. It was nothing like anything he had known before. The riders weren’t something he was familiar with in Ohio. The old man didn’t seem like he was from Hampton, or had ever been there before. In fact, he might not have even heard of Hampton. Jonathan was lost and confused and had no idea where he was. It was easily past midday by now and they hadn’t taken a single break since breaking camp beside the river. The terrain had become more rugged and the path narrower as it wound beyond the foothills and into the ominous mountains themselves – a massive wall of granite, snow and ice standing like a fortress before them. It was springtime and the stream they had been following lower in the valley was now a turbulent, rock filled torrent of melting snow pack as they followed along its right bank. Small patches of snow remained undisturbed in the shadows of rock walls alongside the trail as they made they way ever higher in elevation. Jonathan remained lost in the swirling thoughts of this wilderness he found himself in, when he first heard the distant echos of falling water.
At first there was only the faint sound of water in the distance that seemed to echo from all directions, but Jonathan couldn’t differentiate the sound from the rapids beside them. They had earlier crossed over a ridge line and had now started their way ascending higher into a canyon. The walls of the canyon quickly narrowed and steepened, with snow capped peaks rising high above the canyon walls. Jonathan looked up at the cloudy skies between the cliffs and sensed that the weather had begun clearing now that they were in the mountains. The ice rain had stopped and Jonathan threw back his hood to enjoy breathing in the fresh, crisp mountain air. An eagle soared effortlessly high above them on outstretched wings, riding unseen winds aloft. The eagle was a golden brown color and seemed to be quietly watching their travels, but the sight of the eagle did not frighten Jonathan as the crows had before. In fact, the presence of the eagle seemed to reassure him and it took his mind off the things that had been bothering him.
The path they were following was little more than bare rock and dirt as they made their way alongside the rapids, filled with the spring runoff from snow fields high above them in the mountains. They followed a bend around an outcrop of rocks in the canyon wall and started up a precarious, narrow ledge that clung to the side of the cliff wall beside them, while the other side dropped off to the rapids below. There wasn’t enough room for them to travel side-by-side on the ledge and the old man continued on without a second thought – only barely slowing the pace as they carefully followed along the ledge single-file. Jonathan tried not to look down over the edge of the ledge to the rocks and rapids that were now far below them and quietly patted Majeka on the side of the neck – more to soothe himself than then anything else. They continued following along the perilous rock ledge for awhile before Jonathan finally caught the first glimpse of the waterfall.
Jonathan thought the water seemed to be falling directly out of the sky, at the end of the canyon in the distance ahead of them. Actually, the waterfall poured over the edge of a high cliff, perhaps 300 feet above the ledge they were traversing. The waterfall fell in an unbroken stream to the jumble of rocks and boulders strewn beside a small pool in their midst – now some 100 feet or more below the level of the ledge. The pool of water looked like an oasis to Jonathan before overflowing its basin to create the turbulent rapids they had been following for miles through the foothills. The path, if one could even call it a path as there was no visible sign anyone had been foolish enough to follow this rocky ledge before – continued along the face of the rock wall beside them until it joined up with the cascading waterfall in front of them. Jonathan was sure the ledge was a dead end and wondered where the old man was taking them, as they wouldn’t even have enough room to turn around once they arrived at the waterfall.
The old man continued without pausing, albeit it very carefully as the rocks were slippery and dripping wet from the spray and mist coming off of the waterfall, until he reached the falling water and disappeared into the cascading stream of water itself. Majeka didn’t pause either and carefully followed behind the old man into the spray of the waterfall. It quickly became apparent to Jonathan that the path didn’t end at the waterfall, but in fact, continued behind the stream of falling water. He never thought about that possibility as they were approaching – even up to the point of entering into the spray of the waterfall itself. The sound of falling water hitting the rocks below was deafening while passing behind the waterfall. Jonathan’s eyes tried to adjust to the dim light behind the cascading water and he worried that Majeka might slip and lose his balance on the dripping rocks. The old man had literally disappeared into the cliff face the waterfall was pouring over, causing Jonathan to blink as if not believing what he had just seen – yet Majeka followed right behind him.
At first, Jonathan couldn’t see anything in the mist and darkness behind the waterfall and was sure the old man must have fallen to his end on the broken rocks far below. Majeka stepped with care on the wet rocks and Jonathan soon realized that there was a natural break in the rock wall that led into a narrow passageway only a few feet wide – just barely wide and tall enough for him to ride Majeka through the tunnel-like gap. It was like the two mountains had split and broken apart, creating a deep fissure and tunnel running under them. The passage wound through the darkness – piercing the bowels of the mountain as if spelunking in a cave deep underground – until Jonathan detected a faint light ahead of them. He could feel that the sides of the passageway were worn smooth as they undulated under the mountain like the movements of some great snake. The light became brighter as they approached the tunnel’s end and Jonathan had to shield his eyes once they exited.
The fissure had wound its way through hundreds of feet of rock and they emerged at the other end into brilliant sunshine. The old man stopped as Majeka and Jonathan came alongside him and Jonathan was spellbound at the sight he saw before him. This view was not new to the old man, but one he never tired of admiring. Jonathan had never seen anything like it before. In front of them was a very deep and narrow valley, as if a boot had stepped into thick mud and left the indentation of the boot print behind – pushing up the edges of the mud into towering mountains around it. Jonathan gazed at this deep valley completely ringed with towering, jagged, snow and ice covered peaks – piercing the sky with their tips like daggers. The floor of this isolated valley stood at their same level and created a hidden alpine world filled with lichen and wildflowers that covered it in soft hues of green and splashes of color. In the center of the valley was a large, crystal-clear, ice-blue lake that shimmered in the sunlight while standing in the midst of ancient woods that clung to distant mountain slopes as if trying to reach higher ground. Even without climbing to reach a higher perspective, Jonathan could see the lake reflecting the lower portions of the distant mountains at the end of the valley.
The melting snowpack in the mountains above them had created streams that flowed into the lake on the valley floor. A dry riverbed ran from the lake in the distance to where they were standing and Jonathan realized that when the early spring thaw first arrived and the snowpack began to melt, the lake overflowed through the fissure of rock they had just traversed through – creating a torrent of water that fed into the middle of the waterfall they had passed behind. Melting snow from higher up the side of the mountain fed the beginning of the waterfall, as it cascaded over the cliff into the canyon they had earlier traveled through. The sight of this remote and seemingly forgotten mountain valley looked like paradise to Jonathan – all the while, two eagles kept a silent vigil while silently riding the winds aloft high above them.