The atmosphere within the ARK seemed to improve after Ham’s declaration. While it was hard to be patient, the opening of the ARK was drawing closer. Noah and Shem, with Miriam supervising due to her advanced pregnancy, began to look at the sealed doorway in the side of the ARK. Shem reckoned that the drying wood would possibly shrink enough to let them push open the door when the time came, the bigger challenge would be building a new ramp to offload all of the animals. Another challenge was the increasing heat within the ARK as searing sun and whistling winds continued to dry up the floods. They all got a fright a fortnight after Ham had seen the other mountain tops, when a heavy shower of rain fell from the sky. There were cries of dismay from some, until Japheth explained that some of the water drying up into the heavens must surely fall again as the cycle of life reasserted itself. He also reported that it was not just the humans who were expecting new life; nearly all of the animals had been productive over the long months of floating above the waters.
Meanwhile the family gatherings in the evening were livelier and more positive than they had been for months. Even Noah and Ham were getting on better, although there was still a simmering shadow across Ham’s eyes when his father would say anything negative. Naamah fussed over her daughters, and insisted that they rest more and leave the hard labour to the men. Noah and his sons spent hours as they worked long into the evenings discussing how best to know when it would be safe to leave the ARK. It was Deborah, Japheth’s wife, who came up with the solution one evening. ‘Father Noah,’ she said shyly, ‘would not the birds be best to determine whether it is safe to leave the ARK, they can travel further, faster.’ It was a stroke of genius. While the fallen structure on the upper level made accessing the birds difficult, they could open the trapdoor enough to feed them by flinging seeds across the floor of the canopied deck. Japheth manged to catch a raven the next morning and so, 40 days after the mountain tops were first seen, Noah opened the window high above their living space, and balancing carefully on a ladder Shem had made, he released the bird into the unknown. Hours later the raven returned, hungry and tired, but they quickly learned that the raven wasn’t so interested in travelling miles for no reward and they could hear him tramping above the canopy, calling for his mate. A day or two later Japheth managed to snag a dove as he was feeding the birds. Again Noah climbed the ladder and released the quivering bird through the window. At least this one returned to the window, but it was tired and hungry. They would have to wait longer. As the food reserves continued to deplete alarmingly, Noah waited only seven days to try again. This time the dove flew all day, and a thrill of hope filled the exhausted hearts of those aboard, when it landed lightly on the window ledge, a fresh twig from an olive tree in its beak. Surely soon; some urged Noah to open the door, but an instinctive caution filled him and he waited. He warned the others that even when they opened the ARK they would have to build a new ramp and gather fresh food for the increasingly anxious animals. Seven days later, he released the dove once more, but this time it did not return. Noah knew the bird had found a place to nest and that the waters were sinking fast. But still not fast enough. He agreed to try to open the door in the side of the ARK, but every effort failed them until Japheth, laughing loudly, disappeared back to where the giant beasts of burden were living. It was a sight to behold with Japheth sitting atop the bull elephant, running down the floor of the middle level and hitting the lodged door with its giant tusks. There was a moment of pure wonder as the door fell loudly down the side of the ARK and crashed upon the rocks far below. A blast of fresh warm air filled the ARK, stirring the animals to call and cry loudly to one another, as if showing thanks to the giant beast and to the God they instinctively knew for ending their journey. However, Noah noted that none of them yet made to try and leave. It was as if they knew that it wasn’t their time.
Using ropes and pulleys they lowered the young men down to the earth below. The women and Noah drinking in the sight of verdant green pastures and life sustaining trees. Shem and Ham set about constructing a new ramp to release the animals while Japheth travelled through the nearby fields, gathering grass and fresh fruit to feed the family and the now starving animals. After ten and a half months aboard the ARK, the store of food finally ran out on the very day that the door was pushed out of the wall of the ARK. Using that door as a platform, Shem and Ham stretched aching muscles to haul themselves up and down to dismantle the upper parts of the ARK, providing wood for the ramp. Meanwhile Noah and Naamah fed and cleaned as many of the animals they could in daylight. Some of the salvaged wood had to be used to strengthen the enclosures of the meat eaters who grew more and more restless, until Noah took the difficult but necessary decision to slaughter some of the extra clean animals to sate the hunger of the wild beasts.
When the makeshift ramp was finally finished some two months after the door into the ARK was opened, Noah and his family gathered at the top of the ramp as evening was drawing in. They were all exhausted beyond words, but the view of a golden sunset lighting up a green and fresh world, lifted their spirits. ‘Tomorrow, my beloved family,’ said Noah, his voice thick with emotion, ‘tomorrow we release the animals. The grass eaters first to give them some distance before the meat eaters are released.’ Shem added, ‘I would also suggest we leave the heavier animals til last, I’m not exactly sure how strong this ramp really is!’ Noah led them in a prayer of heartfelt thankfulness for their safe delivery, then they took themselves to their beds, for what each one of them fervently hoped, would be their last night upon the ARK.