We’re heading back to the Chiloé Islands today, where the more things change, the more they stay the same. “Everything changes…” echoes a folksong I referenced in Destiny at Dolphin Bay. And I realize it’s true: You just can’t keep time in a bottle.
My husband and I have spent the day in Rilán, a coastal village I fictionalized as Trilán in Legacy of the Linnebrink Light and the First Mate’s Log series. Though the place looked different than I’d expected, I’d never been there before so couldn’t say what, if anything, had changed in twenty years. But we’ve also visited the market town of Dalcahue, where we lived and called home through the ’80’s and early ’90’s, and… everything has changed. Time didn’t stay in a bottle, for sure.
So we stop for supper in the island capital of Castro at a restaurant we’ve never seen before, let alone checked out. To our surprise, the two-story Café and Grill of the Firemen’s Brigade takes the prize as the best new food test of the trip. The menu offers fresh variations on familiar classic sandwiches. We sample a version of chacareros—Chile’s green-bean-and-shaved-beef special—while studying the décor of firefighting equipment on the fire-engine-red walls.
Then we drive the twenty minutes south of Castro to the town of Chonchi, where we’ll spend the night at the Treng-Treng Cabins. It’s dark by the time we arrive, so we don’t appreciate the quaint tangerine wood cottages overlooking the Fiord of Castro until sunrise the next morning.
But we can snuggle in next to the Bosca stove for an evening of reading. The rustic resort’s manager comes to light the fire for us and chats for a few minutes. Turns out he’s a Christian from Santiago, and he not only knows of the church we plan to visit tomorrow, he and his family also attend there every other weekend when he’s not on duty. With the constant influx of newcomers to Chiloé now, the population doesn’t stay stuck in a bottle either.
We have little time for savoring Sunday leisure and coffee the next morning. The services in Dalcahue start early and we have nearly an hour’s drive to get north and east of Castro. But we pull into the grassy church yard just in time.
“Nostalgia can lend us much needed context, perspective, and direction, reminding and reassuring us that our life (and that of others) is not as banal as it may seem, that it is rooted in a narrative, and that there have been, and will once again be, meaningful moments and experiences.” –Neel Burton, Heaven and Hell
And of course, it’s different. What else did we expect? The street front fence displays a row of elegant iron stakes instead of painted pickets these days. Inside, a partition has disappeared, leaving a single spacious room, and the walls now wear my favorite shade of sky blue.
But after I take a second look, I notice the wooden floors still gleam with an impeccable Chilote wax job. The mullioned windows hold the same exquisite, pebbled glass. And those golden pews? My husband made them with his own hands and varnished them while he hobbled on crutches following a chainsaw accident in 1984.
The exterior is the same pale yellow and black. The overgrown lawn is still greener than emeralds. And the mañío trees we planted have grown taller than the church building. Not that much has changed.
And we’re okay with what has. It’s wonderful to see our former Chilean co-workers, M. & M. and R. & P. I recognize M.’s daughters. I’ve known them since they were born—now they’re young women. I don’t realize that’s R. & P.’s youngest son leading the service. He’s the kid who burned the house down a few years ago. No indeed, neither time nor tragedies remain in a bottle.
Then there’s Señora L. and Señora E., both their husbands drunken bullies back then…and now. But their families are grown up. My oldest daughter used to wander the school halls with L.’s son during religion class (the only other canuto, or evangelical). Now the once-chubby boy stands tall and handsome and brings his own son to Sunday school.
E.’s son, who pinched whatever he could get away with from our home as a teenager, is now an elder of the church and the happiest man in town. Oh, thank God time doesn’t stay in a bottle for thirty years! The Dalcahue church has blossomed with a vibrant missionary vision for outreach to the outer islands.
R. & P. invite us home for lunch. Of course, they do. Even though they’re not expecting us and have nothing prepared. We’ve known them long enough to consider them like our own kids. In fact, R. came to us as a single Bible college intern our last year in Chiloé, preparing to replace us when the time was right.
He’s the pastor now. Goose-pimply strange, he could’ve been—done—studied anything he desired. He’s a gifted leader, whip smart, once had potential. And yet he’s poured it all out in the “godforsaken” islands of Chiloé.
She used to glitter in Santiago, the life of every party. Sparked riots and rebellions. Now she’s one of the funniest but sweetest and godliest women I know. Nope, God doesn’t keep any of us in a bottle.
“When you feel connected to everything, you also feel responsible for everything… You must grow strong enough to love the world, yet…sit down at the same table with its worst horrors.” –Andrew Boyd, Daily Afflictions: The Agony of Being Connected to Everything in the Universe
We are delighted to tour their new house, a white island-style Cape Cod constructed on the charred foundation of the old and still a work in progress. Cantaloupe-colored walls surround the ubiquitous wood-burning stove. Which feels perfect as P. pulls out all the stops for a meal of baked chicken and ice cream with wafer cookies.
We sit around the table talking and drinking mate from a gourd and straw all afternoon. And enjoying the same window view of the town that shows up in Destiny at Dolphin Bay and in a watercolor hanging in my home to this day.
Time in a bottle, for a few hours at least.
Just before dark, we say our good-byes and make a final tour of Dalcahue. Sigh… Even the jewel-box mansion that I made the character Delicia’s house in Destiny and Pursuit of the Pudú Deer has changed. As surely it does in the story when Angélica moves in and transforms it into a homey castle. Its varnished timbers used to glow, but the once-monochromatic wood flaunts a cloak of colonial red trimmed with sage green today. Fleur-de-lis finials crown the iron fence.
As we pass the ferry slip for the neighboring island of Quinchao, I ask myself, Why did we decide not to go over there on this trip? Years ago, we crossed to the towns of Curaco de Velez and Achao at least once a week. Almost a second home to us.
The excuse of familiarity rings hollow. Of course, our time is short, and we want to focus on places we know less well. On the other hand, I have a feeling I’m evading some of the stormy memories there. (And not just the 1984 attempt on Pinochet.)
It’s the parsonage swindle and the stolen church offerings. The cool reception from some high school students. A lovely Christian teen’s affair with a married man. Her brother’s crumbled university dreams. The bickering among believers. So many disappointments…
Yet now that it’s too late, I wish we’d made the effort. Because, though Achao dragged more than its share of missionaries down a sinkhole… though a missionary baby as well as a bleeding army of missionary ideals lie buried and forgotten there… though untold tears spilled into that bitter bottle, it’s still the town of Calle Delicias. The Street of Delicious Things.
Where every sour worm can be made sweet, every sorrow turned into joy. I need to remember the picnics, the tea parties, the summer clambakes and the winter hog slaughters. The music, the scenery, the laughter to the bottom of my belly. And the time I stood at the tip of Quinchao Island, stunned and certain I’d discovered the most beautiful spot on earth.
“Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.” –Theodore Seuss Giesel
A place where every impoverished heart can be made rich and full. Where around every bend you find another story, another character, another snippet for the storehouse of the soul.
I regret I missed out on this chance to revisit Achao. To dump out the old bottles and refill them with new experiences. Because time heals all hurts, they say. I wonder, but…
Time Will Tell
And if time doesn’t heal, God surely will.
Sometimes He teaches us through time, too. Upon arrival back in Castro, we check into our hotel room. And wow, time’s corked up in a bottle here. Back in the ’80’s, the Hostería meant big bucks, the classy place to stay in town. I always admired the huge windows in the steep-sloped black roof. But we should have suspected something had changed—or not changed with the times—when it was so affordable.
A wannabe-elite ambience still lingers in the lobby and lounge, the vintage charm of a country estate gone to seed. But our room hasn’t seen an update in decades and definitely lacks appeal. Lesson learned: Don’t chase the good memories, don’t run from the bad. Make new ones.
“By trying to grab fulfillment everywhere, we find it nowhere.” –Elisabeth Elliot
Do you ever wish the world would stop and the wonderful things in our lives would remain always the same? The children would stay small and cute, the romance would continue to burn bright, the good times roll on forever? But you can’t keep time in a bottle. You can’t live like a genie in a bottle, either.
And even if you could save your days in a bottle, would you? Maybe it’s enough to know that God catches our tears in His bottle and sprinkles them out in the sacrifice of praise. We can’t bottle our happy moments or keep our cracked vessels from leaking. But He can fill us again and again.
And He does tonight, as we return to the Firemen’s Grill. We try another fancy sandwich and drink coffee with milk-foam hearts. I’m so inspired here that eventually this snack shop winds its way into the climax of The Sea-Silk Banner, the finale of Melissa Travis’s saga begun in Destiny at Dolphin Bay.
The message in our bottle reads: Everything changes. Hold time loosely, eternity’s coming. I recall my surprise when I learned “Everything Changes” was an Argentine song that my Chilote teens sang. Lots of things blow across the pampas and over the Andes. Songs don’t stay in a bottle any more than time and change.
But God transforms broken bottles to sea glass.