Valley of the Trees
This is a short story written as an assignment in Cultural Anthropology. The issue presented was to describe as if we were there the abandonment of foraging for food production. So I have tried to share my idea of how man might have left the life of foraging nomad for farming.
Valley of the Trees
I woke as the light struck the opening of our small shelter. The fire had died out during the night and my old bones ache with the cold of the night. As I pull the fur closer and rise to stir the embers, Lia enters and adds wood to the glow that quickly flames. Lia was the wife of my son and has three children. We live together and take care of each other since my son was killed in a hunt four moons ago. Lia wakes the children and feeds them the nuts that we gathered yesterday from beneath the big trees by the river. Today we will go there again and let the children gather more nuts while we search the bushes for birds and their eggs for the season of the eggs is here at last. Perhaps we will be lucky enough to trap some fish in our trap as well. I would love some smoked fish. I walk outside and look to the East and greet the golden orb that will warm our day. “Great Sunna, bless our day and keep us together.” I pick up my basket as the children and Lia join me taking up theirs as well and as Sunna breaks above the trees we set off for the river and the big trees to hunt for food to add to our meager stores for the winter has been long and cold and with no man to hunt for us these last months we have only the meat that our kin, my brothers can spare and that has not been much.
As we approach the river I notice that the bushes are flowering with the small white blossoms that herald the coming warmth of summer and the abundance of black berries that will replace the flowers. I stoop to dig in the earth at the foot of one of the trees and find the small white roots of the green shoots that taste so pungent. Lia and the children are scouring the bushes for birds nest; a few eggs would be a delicacy. Suddenly Ri, my 9 year old grandson lets fly a stone from his sling, and runs to pick up the hare that he has slain. A hare will mean a good meal tonight and a piece of fur for a garment. The girls are gathering the greens from the meadow now, boiled over the fire with the hare and the white roots they will be a feast tonight. Ri has found a turtle on the river bank and adds it to his kill. He is becoming quite the little hunter, soon my brother will take him on a hunt for big game and we will have a hunter again for the family. All of our baskets are full now and the sun has risen so that the shadow from it falls directly toward where it is traveling, west. We head back toward our camp.
Lia is busy cooking the meal for this evening and sorting and preparing for storage the extra. It is close to the time of the spring goddess but still the birds are not laying and the animals are just beginning to have their young. I scrape the hide from the hare with a flint tool and will rub it with the ash from the fire pit and then the brains of the hare itself. I take from my roll a skin from a goat my son killed on his last hunt and begin to work on softening it. It has been worked with the flint tool several times and now it is ready to rub. I work for the rest of the day on the hides that we have to cure, as well as cleaning the turtle shell and preparing it for a bowl. There were eggs in the turtle so they were added to the night’s meal. The hare Lia decided to smoke and save for later. She ground some of the nuts that we had gathered and made a pan cake.
During the afternoon others in the group stopped by to visit and make sure that we had found enough to feed ourselves. My brother’s wife had found a clutch of birds near the waterfalls below where we had spent the morning gathering. She had brought home many eggs but was sharing them with the old shaman as he had not been able to leave his hut since we had come to this valley 6 nights ago. There was talk among the old ones that he was perhaps close to going to join the ancestors for good. This worried the people for the shaman was our healer and our connection to the ancestors and the gods. After the meal I took a bowl of broth to the shaman, he was too weak to feed himself so I fed him and then covered him with some extra furs and went to talk with my brothers and the other Elders. There was concern about the fact that the shaman was near death for he had outlived two apprentice shamans and no one else had shown the inclination recently. I reminded them that we did have a few of the women among us who knew how to use the herbs and plants for healing. In the end we all decided that the gods would provide when the time came, so I left and went back to my hut to sleep. The chill of the night was already beginning to fall on the valley as I looked toward the west and bid Sunna good night and swift journey back.
The morning came as surely as Sunna rose over the trees and I stood to greet the golden orb of life. “Great Sunna, Bless our day and keep us together.” Lia and the children went to gather eggs below the falls and I went back up the river toward the cliffs to hunt for mushrooms and roots. I saw a small animal wandering among the bush and went toward it, a baby goat, perhaps not more than a week old. I easily caught it and then I saw the mother lying on the rocks below with a pack of wolves feeding, she had led them away from her baby. I took the young goat and headed back toward camp. I did not want to be caught by the wolves. I caught up with some of the other women and when they saw that I had the goat they began to talk of how good the gods had been to give my family a goat that would make a few meals and some nice skin for garments. I held the little goat close and then I knew she would not feed us just a meal or two she would feed us many times. I tried to explain to the women but that night as I set with the group and talked of this to my brothers I knew that they were beginning to understand. If we kept the goat and added more and let them have young and kept them safe from the wolves and other dangers we would have a meat we did not have to hunt, and we would be able to have milk if we milked the she goats. As I thought of this I also saw us planting the wild grasses and harvesting and not having to live in stick huts but being able to build permanent dwelling and not move about so much. In my old bones all of this made sense to me. As I talked I heard the old shaman chuckling,”There you have your new shaman. Now bury me beside the big tree at the river and listen to Little Woman, she will do as the ancestors and gods tell her.” The people turned from the voice and looked at me, and so my life began as Little Woman, shaman and we came to live and build in Valley of the Trees.