Gold Winner in Visionary Fiction of the COVR Visionary Awards
This magical story will guide our way through the changing times on the earth. Let the medicines of the rainforest and the spirit of chocolate show you the way home to your heart.
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.26(d)|
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I used every ounce of strength I had to push the raft upstream. River currents tugged against my legs. Gusts of wind blew me sideways. Sheets of rain blurred my vision. The thundering roar of the downpour was the only sound I could hear.
My body ached with sheer exhaustion. The fear of snakes and jaguars made my stomach clench. I was terrified of getting dragged under by the turbulent waters. I stopped to catch my breath, trying to muster up enough courage to take another step.
This was not at all what I had planned. This was supposed to be the adventure of a lifetime. A chance to start over. I'd left everyone and everything behind because something was missing. I thought I'd find it out here in the exotic lands of the rainforest, far away from home in unfamiliar terrain.
I pushed against the river currents, trying to recall what I'd been so certain I would find. Maybe happiness? Love? A sense of belonging? But all I had to show for my sacrifice and struggle was a long list of failures and a bunch of lost dreams.
I pulled the raft onto the riverbank and collapsed on the ground. The wet leaves offered a comforting softness. I couldn't hold back my grief. I didn't even try to stop the flood of tears. There was nobody there to hide from.
As the sky blazed red with the setting sun, my remaining hopes became quite singular. I simply wanted to fade away, riding the waves of disappointment into everlasting sleep.
Tree of Life
KàKao Tree lived in the center of the rainforest. She was a magical tree, a mystical tree. She knew the languages of those who walked on the land, swam in the waters, rooted in the soil, and soared on wings. She listened to the rocks and the winds, the rivers and the rain. She lived in rhythm with the cycles of the sun and the moon, with the galaxy and all that's beyond. She nourished and cherished the vast web of life. The love she shared had no bounds.
KàKao Tree watched over the changes on the earth. For many generations, the world had been spinning out of balance. Waters were poisoned. Animals and plants weren't allowed to naturally grow. People were at war against themselves and each other. The rainforest was being cut down.
KàKao understood this path of destruction could continue. Or the tide could be turned and harmony restored. It was up to the people of the earth to choose.
The sign KàKao had been waiting for had finally come. On this night, unlike any other night that had ever been, the tree frogs did not sing.
Keeper of the Fire
KàKao Tree called to the winds to blow blossoms from her branches and carry them all the way to the Old Woman by the River, the Keeper of the Fire.
Bright golden sparks lit up the night as the shower of kàkao blossoms fell into the flames. The Old Woman listened to the messages sent to her on the winds. The tree frogs were not singing.
The Old Woman rustled through her baskets and found the pouch of tree resin. She selected one amber nugget and held it out in the palm of her hand. Her heart filled with the promise she'd made long ago with KàKao. When the sign from the tree frogs indicated it was time, the Old Woman and KàKao Tree would help the people of the earth reclaim what had been lost and forgotten. Even if one person fell in love with life again, a river of change would begin to flow. Even if just one person chose to live in heart-centered ways, a powerful momentum would be set in motion for creating a heart-centered world.
The Old Woman dropped the amber nugget onto a smoldering coal. A sweet fragrance rose into the air, beckoning the Old Woman's friend to join her by the fire. With sleek elegance and grace, Jaguar leapt out of the darkness and into the glow of the firelight. The Old Woman and the wildcat warmly greeted each other and sat together by the fire.
The Old Woman pushed aside a heavy flat rock set in the ground near her feet. With her bare hands, she dug deeper into the soil. She uncovered the clay bowl that had been buried for safekeeping countless generations before. With tenderness and care, she lifted the ancient vessel out of the ground. She brushed away clumps of dirt to reveal the designs carved on the bowl. She traced her fingers along the symbols that described the turning of the times on the earth.
Gazing into the fire, the Old Woman told Jaguar the stories he'd heard her share many times before. About the people of the earth forgetting who they really are. About the world spinning out of balance. About the sign from the tree frogs, the silence of their songs. About the seeds holding new dreams for a heart-centered world.
The Old Woman pried open the sealed lid of the ancient clay bowl. She gently unfolded delicate layers of faded tapestry and lifted up the crystal that had been wrapped inside. She cradled the gemstone in her hands and reached out to show Jaguar. The crystal sparkled and glowed, catching the flickering light of the fire. The wildcat leaned in closer to examine the sacred stone.
The Old Woman held in her mind's eye a picture of KàKao Tree in the center of the rainforest. Jaguar immediately understood the Old Woman's request. With his powerful jaws, he plucked the crystal from the Old Woman's outstretched hands. He leapt over the fire and disappeared into the dark jungle night.
Come out of Hiding
I opened my eyes, jolted out of my dreamless sleep. Dazed and disoriented, I looked around trying to figure out where I was. I wasn't sure how long I'd been asleep — maybe hours, maybe minutes — but the darkness of nighttime had come. I strained to push myself up, groaning about the pain that flooded through my body. My heart sank when I saw my raft stranded on the riverbank. I was lost and alone, a long way from home. I wished I'd never woken up.
The smell of something burning caught my attention. A shiver of hope ran up my spine. Smoke meant there was fire. And fire meant there were people. And those people were my only hope for getting help.
The rush of these thoughts gave me enough strength to get on my feet. I followed the smoky scent up the riverbank, pushing my way through the branches, slipping and sliding through the mud.
Finally, I came upon the source of the smoke. There was a pile of glowing coals in a forest clearing. I hid behind the bushes and peeked through the tangle of vines. Time seemed to slow as I pieced together the incomprehensible sight.
An old woman. A jaguar. Together by the fire. Out here in the middle of nowhere.
None of this made any sense. I crouched lower behind the vines, barely daring to breathe. I saw the old woman hand the wildcat something that sparkled in the firelight. The jaguar grabbed the shiny object with his ferocious jaws and darted off into the rainforest.
My heart pounded. The jaguar was on the loose. He could easily hunt me down.
"What are you hiding from?" The voice startled me. The old woman was in the clearing, standing nearby, just on the other side of the vines. So peaceful and steady, she seemed rooted in the earth. Her eyes glistened like stars.
Looking directly at me, she held up a bowl that was cradled in the palms of her hands. The unwavering kindness in the old woman's eyes reached past my fears, touching me. She set the bowl on the ground just out of my reach. Then she turned and walked back to the fire.
I was starved for human companionship. I yearned to feel safe. This drove me to come out of my hiding place.
Time for Remembering
On high alert for any signs of danger, I stepped out from behind the tangle of vines. I knelt down and picked up the bowl the old woman had placed on the ground. The bowl was heavy and filled to the brim with a thick liquid. It smelled delicious, but I was hesitant to take a drink. I looked suspiciously at the old woman. She seemed completely unconcerned about me as she tended to the fire.
The alluring fragrance rising out of the bowl reminded me of chocolate delicacies baking in a warm, cozy kitchen. I couldn't resist and took a sip. Intrigued by the flavor, I drank more of the spicy, chocolatey brew. The tension in my body began melting away. I slowly inched closer to the fire. Eventually I sat down on a tree stump beside the old woman. I stared into the flames, not sure what else to do.
"Thank you," I whispered, glancing sideways at the old woman. She seemed perfectly content as she focused on the fire. She stirred the glowing embers with a gnarled tree branch and dropped twigs and bark into the flames.
"My name is Thea," I said, trying to make conversation. I wondered what she thought of me, showing up out of the blue. I hoped a polite introduction would make up for the intrusion.
The old woman smiled softly. She tossed a handful of leaves and berries onto a stone nestled in a bed of hot coals. She ground crunchy dried seeds between two heavy rocks, creating a thick, dark paste. She poured the velvety paste into a clay cooking pot and sprinkled in a few pinches of the fire-roasted spices.
Moving with quiet deliberation, the old woman was entirely engaged with her tasks. Her pure focus was unnerving. The silence between us was uncomfortable.
"I'm lost," I told the old woman. My words were swallowed up by the endless darkness of the jungle night.
The old woman kept stirring the concoction brewing over the fire. I wondered if she'd heard me. Maybe she didn't understand. I felt the panic rising in my throat.
"I'm lost," I pleaded, on the verge of tears, afraid my cry for help might never be heard.
The old woman finally turned and looked at me. "Feeling lost means something has been forgotten," she said. "It's time for remembering."
I frowned, puzzled by her words.
"Go to the center of the rainforest," the old woman said. "There's someone there waiting for you."
I stood up abruptly, scared and confused. The bowl slipped out of my hands and landed with a thud.
"Go now," the old woman said, her voice more insistent. She tossed an armful of sticks onto the fire, which roared to life with sky-reaching flames.
Startled, I stumbled backward. I looked frantically at the blazing fire, the spilled drink, the old woman. I turned away and ran into the dark jungle night.
To the Center of the Rainforest
I ran as fast as I could, stumbling through the darkness, desperate to get far away from the old woman. I tripped over rocks and slipped in the mud. Angrily, I swatted at the invisible swarms of buzzing, biting insects. Consumed by thoughts of the jaguar, I feared every step could be my last.
When daylight filtered through the rainforest canopy, I was surprised I had survived the long, lonely night. Exhausted, I found shelter beneath the branches of a tree. Thunder drummed overhead as torrential rains fell. I dropped into a heavy sleep.
In the steamy afternoon heat, I woke up into a vibrant world teeming with life. Despite the angst of my situation, I was struck by the beauty of my surroundings. The flowers were a rainbow of vivid blues, yellows, and reds. Towering trees and dense vines created a canopy high overhead. Bright shafts of sunlight trickled through the leaves. A loud clamor of unusual sounds echoed through the thick, humid air.
The tree that provided me shelter was unlike any other tree I'd ever seen. Clusters of tiny blossoms spiraled around the trunk and along the spindly branches. There was a surprising array of fruit pods of diverse colors, sizes, and shapes.
As I walked around the tree, admiring the quirky beauty, a brilliant flash of emerald green caught my attention. A little red-eyed tree frog was hopping from leaf to leaf. He landed on a golden pod, his sticky-toed orange feet gripping the wrinkled shell.
I noticed the golden pod had been chewed open. Curious, I leaned in to have a closer look. Drawn by the sweet smell, I reached inside the pod and scooped up a bit of fruity pulp. I tried a little bite. It tasted refreshing and delicious.
"You've come a long way, Thea." The voice drifted through the branches and rustled the leaves.
Bewildered, I stared at the tree. "How do you know me?" I asked. My mind raced with confusion and fear.
"My name is KàKao," she said. "We're happy you're here." Gentle waves of kindness rippled through the tree, washing over me. The distress of my journey suddenly welled up and poured out. I told KàKao about the horrible storm and how I got stranded on the riverbank. I described every detail of the scary encounter with the old woman and the jaguar. I went on and on about the other hardships I'd faced. KàKao didn't say a word, but I sensed she was listening.
"This was meant to be a fantastic new beginning," I explained. "I left everyone and everything behind." I told her about the freedom I craved, the happiness and love I'd hoped to find.
"But it's been a disaster," I said, stating the obvious, embarrassed by how miserably I'd failed. "I'm completely lost." My voice wavered as I choked back my tears. "I don't know where I am. I don't know which way to go. I don't know what I should do."
"You found your way here," said KàKao, "just as the Old Woman by the River trusted you could."
I stared wide-eyed at the tree. This is who the old woman had sent me off to meet?
"There's something I want to show you," KàKao said. "First, get some rest. Have something to eat."
Many unanswered questions lingered in the air. Yet KàKao's warm welcoming convinced me to stay, at least for awhile anyway. I harvested more fruit from the pods of the tree. After finishing my feast, I stretched out near KàKao's roots.
The next thing I knew I woke up in the pitch-blackness of the night. I held my breath, trying to see into the darkness, listening for any signs of danger. Howler monkeys howled. Owls hooted. Cicadas chirped. Lightning bugs flickered bright flashes of light.
When the sun finally rose, I realized something was missing. I could see tiny, colorful frogs crawling up the tree trunk, hopping from leaf to leaf, and lining up along the branches. The songs of the tree frogs usually filled the rainforest night. But I hadn't heard a single peep.
"Why aren't the tree frogs singing?" I asked.
"The silence of the tree frogs is a sign that our world is spinning out of balance. The fibers in the web of life are tattered and torn," KàKao explained. "The tree frogs are calling to the people of the earth to bring the harmony back."
I looked around at the gathering of the red-eyed tree frogs. They were small and delicate, yet their call to the people of the earth was quite bold.
"How can we bring the harmony back?" I asked KàKao, overwhelmed by the enormity of the task. "The silence of the tree frogs. The world spinning out of balance. This is all much bigger than me," I muttered, sinking into a familiar pit of despair. "I have more than enough problems of my own," I said, trying to defend myself. Who I was fighting against I really didn't know.
"You can bring the harmony back," KàKao said brightly. "Anyone can. Everyone can. In the everyday moments of everyday life."
"But I'm lost," I argued, not sure she understood my dire circumstances.
"It's time for remembering," said KàKao.
I slumped to the ground with a heavy sigh. The old woman by the river had told me this too. I shut my eyes, trying hard to listen.
"It's time to remember what lives in your heart," KàKao said. "This is where freedom and love have their roots. This is how happiness and harmony come alive."
I glanced at the tree, feeling a glimmer of hope.
"What you are searching for," said KàKao, "is ready and waiting to be found."
Dream a New Dream
Following KàKao's instructions, I dug a hole in the ground near her roots. Using stones and sticks, I scraped aside layers of wet leaves, faded blossoms, and crumpled pods. I knelt on the ground, widening and deepening the hole with my bare hands. The soil felt rich and smelled full of life. After I lined the bottom of the hole with broad, waxy leaves, I looked to KàKao, wondering what to do next.
"Harvest one of the pods," she said. "Find the seeds inside." I circled around KàKao Tree, trying to decide which fruit pod to choose. An emerald frog hopped up and down on a brown pod. Maybe I was imagining things, but I felt the red-eyed tree frog was helping me choose just the right one.
I twisted and turned the stem of the pod until it broke away from the branch. With a sharp-edged rock, I cut through the thick brown hull. Inside the pod, rows of almond-shaped seeds were buried in the soft, fruity pulp. One by one, I separated the seeds from the pulp. Amazed by the abundant harvest, I stacked the kàkao seeds in a pyramid on the ground.
So proud of my accomplishment, I selected two of the harvested seeds. I held one seed in each hand and reached out to show KàKao.
"What do you want?" she asked.
I stared at the tree, unsure what she meant.
Excerpted from "Spirit of Chocolate"
Copyright © 2017 JoAnne Dodgson.
Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Something's Missing, 1,
Chapter 2 Tree of Life, 5,
Chapter 3 Keeper of the Fire, 7,
Chapter 4 Come out of Hiding, 11,
Chapter 5 Time for Remembering, 15,
Chapter 6 To the Center of the Rainforest, 19,
Chapter 7 Dream a New Dream, 27,
Chapter 8 Crystal Tapestry, 33,
Chapter 9 Your Heart Is Your Guide, 39,
Chapter 10 Wind and Fire, 45,
Chapter 11 Guardian at the Gateway, 47,
Chapter 12 Belongs with You, 51,
Chapter 13 In the Circle, 57,
Chapter 14 Tracks in the Sand, 63,
Chapter 15 With Every Breath and Every Step, 67,
Chapter 16 Drink in Your Dreams, 71,
Chapter 17 Homecoming, 77,
Chapter 18 When Tree Frogs Sing, 81,