By Richard Wallace
It was cold, so cold at night, sleeping under my bush. It was so cold that some nights I couldn’t sleep at all. I would just lie there and shiver, shiver all night. Some nights I would be so cold that I would throw off my cover and let the cold take me because I knew that when I crawled back under my cover I would be warmer and I could go to sleep.
There were times when I would look up at the sky and wonder about what was out there. I would look at the millions of shining specks and wonder if somebody was out there looking at me. I wondered what those specks were and how they got there. There were so many and what was their reason for being there. Once in a while a speck would shoot across the sky and it was quite frightening. I wondered if one day one of them would be coming after me. Sometimes I would talk about these shooting specks with my friends and they didn’t know anymore about them that I did.
Strange things happened in the sky. Great flashes of fire would escape from darkened clouds followed by rolling thunderous sounds that would sometimes shake the earth. Rain would come in torrents soaking the earth and everything it touched. The rain was good even though at times there was too much. There were times when it washed away everything in its path but mostly it was good.
I wondered where these things came from, the specks in the sky, the flashes of fire and the great orange and yellow ball in the night sky that was constantly changing its shape. What was this ball we call the moon and why did it change so often and with such regularity? I found this very confusing. I couldn’t figure out the sun. Sometimes the earth would be hot and at other times it would be cold, all of this taking place with the same sun in the sky.
I wondered where I came from and why I was here. I wondered why and how I came into this world as a baby to grow into a child and now a man. Why did this happen and what was the purpose? I wondered.
Looking back, I guess I was in a period of transition; we all were, we just didn’t know it at the time. Transitioning is never easy. The journey from living a nomadic hunting gathering kind of life to one of more permanence was long and hard and so often misunderstood. I didn’t become something other than a hunter-gatherer overnight and I could not have done it alone. I don’t know how we came up with the idea that if we stayed in one place and took advantage of what the ground had to offer in the way of food and shelter our lives would be easier. I don’t know if it was the idea of just one person or that it just happened.
I didn’t understand the planting of seeds and how it came to be that they would grow into what they would become. I did understand that they needed water. I did enjoy the good things about not constantly foraging for food and I enjoyed my dog, a dog that used to be wild but now was a constant companion.
There was so much I didn’t know. I didn’t know about seasons, periods of warm and cold or why leaves fell from trees. I didn’t know where babies came from or where the sun went at night. There was so much to learn. I think we learned as a group. We learned from our mistakes and of deciding what would work and what wouldn’t.
This was not as easy as it sounds. As we became more permanent and lived in small groups the older folk within the group did not take kindly to younger people with new ideas; especially younger folk expressing themselves. This had not done in the past and they resented it.
I had a friend who really led the way. He made it easier for the rest of us. He used to call himself “the leader of the pack” and say things that would just enrage the elders. He was ridiculed unmercifully and called a radical. He became something of an outcast. They said that he was poisoning the minds of the youth of our group. I always thought he made sense.
He did change some things. He was tired of sleeping in the cold night air so he moved into a cave. It was much warmer and at night he put tree branches and animal hides in front of the door. The elders watched this and they had never seen anything like it before. Then one day he befriended two small wolf pups that had been abandoned and instead of eating them he made them his friends. He used to snuggle up beside them and at night they kept each other warm. Another time he caught some fire from a giant flash of light from the clouds and moved it into his cave. For a while it was pretty smoky but then the wind blew over a tree that was growing on top of his cave and when the roots were torn out of the ground they left a hole in the roof for the smoke to go out. He was proud of his cave and encouraged other to find shelters as well. Imagine, encouraging others to better their situations. This did not go over well with the elders, not at all.
My friend used to talk to others in our group about things that didn’t seen fair, things that affected everybody. He questioned the elders as to why the women were not given equal amounts of animal hides and meat when they worked just as hard as the men. The elders were very much against this and said that the women should learn how to make do with what they had even though they had to feed themselves and their children with lesser amounts of food. That’s just the way it was. This didn’t seem right to my friend and he made many enemies because of it.
To strike back he taught the younger folk of how to be more caring. Instead of dwelling on the ways of the past he told them to think about how they could prepare for a better tomorrow. The elders were beside themselves and declared his thinking to be illegal. This was a rather strange law that didn’t make any sense; making a law about how one should think.
Probably his biggest contribution was an idea that happened more or less by accident. He found that if he saved some seeds from some of the plants he was eating and planted them in the ground once the weather turned warmer and putting some water on them from time to time, they would grow. They would grow into an identical bush and in a couple on months time he would have food and even more seeds for the next growing season. This meant that he and his friends would not have to go chasing all over the country side looking for food. This was so much more than I had learned from my meager planting of seeds. What an idea!
I did wonder where all of these changes were taking us. When we were hunting-gathering all of our time was taken up by just looking for food. Back then it took all of our time and effort just to survive but that wasn’t necessary any more. Now we had time to wonder about things and it was the same for the women too but curiously we didn’t seem to be as happy as we were before. Small arguments would break out between people who had previously been best friends. It was the same for the women and there would be bad feelings and conflicts with others in small villages. There were times that these conflicts would turn physical and be quite violent. I wondered about this spare time and what would become of us.
I saw young people with nothing to do. At one time as soon as a young boy became old enough to walk all day he became a hunter but now we didn’t hunt the way we used to. I saw young people growing up without direction or expectations and this was not a good situation. I saw people who didn’t seem to care. Spare time was not turning out to be as good as I thought. I saw people who were not content with what they had even though their lives were so much better than before. I wondered why this was so.
I used to talk about this with my friend, the ‘leader of the pack’. He was as perplexed as I was but still, he was a force for change.
I think his best idea was his undoing. One day he was out collecting honey and it started to rain. Rain water filled the container and since he didn’t want to throw away the honey he decided to just let it sit in the sun and eventually the water would disappear. What happened next was a miracle. The honey got all bubbly and turned out to be a most unusual drink. He used to share it with me and after we would drink a goodly amount every thing in the world would start to make sense.
Unfortunately he used to spend a lot of time making his honey-water concoction and one day he drank too much. He fell asleep by the edge of the forest and was eaten by a saber toothed tiger. This was a sad end but he wasn’t missed by the elders; they were glad to be rid of him. I can’t speak for the women because he did spend a lot of time with a fair number of them and it seems that some of them missed him a lot. He did keep himself quite busy with the ladies but I don’t think we should talk about that right now.
I did take the liberty of moving into his cave and he did show me the secret of making honey-water. I think I’ll go have a little sip or two, get a little goofy and maybe then this world will start to make sense. I sure hope so…….The End
Richard – this is Most Excellent. As often with your writing, it takes a while to realise what’s happening.
A tale for our times.
Have you read ‘Galapagos’ by Kurt Vonnegut? It’s about ….whether our human ‘big brains’ are such a good idea, after all. Yes, we produce wonders from them, but, at the same time, we don’t appear to be equipped to cope with them. As things get more complicated, we get more snarled up. And, all that spare time? Hmmmmm
When I started reading this story, I thought the person was a tramp, sleeping rough, then the realisation, grew on me.
I see it as a tale for our time, as….the time that Richard writes of, was a big change, a ‘revolution’, then look what happened with the Industrial Revolution – what a mess! And now, in the last few decades, we’ve had, and are having, another ‘revolution’ in our way of living.
But, we are still people, we don’t change much, basically – we’re still the chap in his cave, when it comes down to it. Making mistakes, making wonderful things.
Well, well , well…this turned up on Kenny Brophy’s blog……….