Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Caveman and the State of the Art Fishing Rod

He was very good with his spear, which he had fashioned carefully from a fallen tree -- a groaning fall he had heard personally one gloomy night long ago, when there had been flashing lights and a terrible battle atop the clouds. It had groaned very heavily, the tree, as they listened, huddled in their cave, and had then loudly thumped upon the dampening earth. And it had been he who first walked bravely out, after all the defeated cloud warriors stopped pissing over the land, and searched through the leaves and twigs for it.

When he finally found it, he had grown still. It was in a clearing, surrounded by smoky grass and the crispy ash skeletons of flowers. The sight of it, of this great fall, had seeded into his mind even as the clouds whitened above and parted to reveal their blue mother. He slowly approached -- not in fear, but as one may approach a tiny star if it were to fall to the earth -- beguiled and working his eyes over the whole trunk. The seared end had only crumbled away when he finally touched it, but as he ran his right hand over the deep grooves and nets of wrinkles, his open mouth had slowly turned into a glorious smile. This was when his wife ran into the clearing.

He never had noticed one bit, of course, how she looked from him to this tree he was beaming proudly upon. Never noticed the jealous sideways twitch of the mouth. "They are all asking what it is," she said from behind him, hand perched over pelvis. The oldest among them had decreed as they huddled last night that it may have been one of the giant warriors above, felled in war.

"It is a new tree for us," he replied, and then turning only slightly, said, "Run and tell my brother to bring me my tools." That was all, and he turned back to his new tree, his mind ripening with thoughts about which *ways* to cut, which directions, what lengths and widths. Many of these thoughts were running into him -- the prayers of the tree -- it was having a deep conversation with him about the best ways to use it, how it wanted to be used. At that time, of course, he never noticed how his wife had turned and stomped away angrily.


Now, yes, he was very good with that same spear he had carved all those years ago. Those days he'd used it to hunt, to find enough food for the whole family, and those days there surely had been a lot of food for everyone, from his spear. After they all left him, however, mumbling something he did not understand about him going too far, unreachable, he had pondered for a long time what use the spear could be for, now. It was like this, sitting by himself at the fire in deep thought, that he had remembered about fish. Until then, it was only the children, who had a lot of time to waste on their hands, that tried to catch fish from the sea. They would run into the cave proudly on days they had been lucky, displaying a small little thing to everyone, and their mothers would praise them. It was not a bad thing for a child -- he had done it himself when he was tiny -- it helped to make you a better hunter. Men could also fish, of course, but it would never feed everyone. It was a very difficult process -- you had to stand for a very long time, and, if you were quick and lucky enough, you may be able to grab one long enough so it did not slip away. This was what he had been remembering, when he suddenly wondered, at that lonely fire, if it may be possible to hunt fish with his spear. The next day, he began to try it, and then again the next. Now, then, he was an expert fisherman, and deadly with his spear, the same spear from the wonderful tree so many years ago. He could catch far more fish than he would by simply standing there with his hands, and while it was no wild boar, it would be enough for just him. And he could paint, too.

This was still relatively new to him, but fascinating, relaxing. He had taught himself how to make his paints, from some funny looking earths found a little higher in the nearby mountain. Being an examiner of all things, one day, while on his treks, he had carried some of the earths back with him to his cave, to peruse. He tried a few things with them, like adding water, or some juices from some plants. Perhaps he could harden the materials somehow, he had thought, and fashion an instrument stronger than the stone tied to the end of his spear. Something that would not turn blunt so often. He had tried this several nights -- perhaps even years -- with the strange earths and various other things he found from all over. He would try all night, mixing and moulding, churning, till he would nod off to sleep. He would wake with his body covered in several colors, different shapes each time, but never a material strong enough. It was then, on such a night, nodding off now, starting awake again, and then continuing his work, that the futility of it wore upon him. A feeling he had never before felt crept into his mind, sneaking in like a mother rat and its young ones. He began to remember the family that had left him, remember his wife. How she had looked. His children, grown fine men and women the last time he had seen them. He remembered fights and arguments, and he recalled his great unkindness to them. He had never meant any of it, of course -- he had only said all those things because he'd thought that was the most effective way to shut them up and leave him to his devices. Well, it had been very effective indeed. The unknown, indescribable feeling crept even deeper that night, from his mind and into his chest, growing itself. He cried, in pain, not knowing what was happening to him. But soon, realizing he was behaving like a small child, he became very, very angry, and he picked up the lump of mud he had been working with in his hands, and flung it with terrific rage at the cave wall.

It had seemed as though the fire suddenly bloomed in the cave, and his tears stopped. He stared at what was on the wall. There were people in there now, from his mud. The same wonder he had felt before -- when he had come across that great tree in the clearing -- began to fill up inside his head, squeezing the dark, unknown feeling down, then filling up his heart and completely destroying it. He pulled his transfixed legs, and slowly approached the cave wall -- not in fear, but as one may approach a tiny star if it were to fall to the earth -- and ran his fingers around the people, around the shapes. As he did this, they began to tell him their stories, and he listened, and began crying again -- but this time in joy -- to everything they had to say. They were the same stories -- the stories of his past, the people of his past. These were the light specks of children that had been at their cave, who ran here and there, bringing little silver fishes to their mothers. Here were the old people, sitting as close as they could to the red fire and reminding each other of the giants in the sky. This one -- she was just as his wife had been, standing in the blue breeze in her flapping deep green clothes and staring right back at him!

The next day, forgetting completely about fishing, he had run to the hill for more of the strange muds. Gathering as much as he could, he took them back to his cave, and had then tried hard to remember exactly how he had mixed them the previous night. After only a few attempts, he felt he had got it right, and he scooped some of his new -- paint -- into his fist. Then he turned around at threw it as hard as he could at the cave wall.


He laughed, now, at his silliness that first time. It had been so disappointing, that his throw did not result in any new people, or stories, this time. The splatters of mud did not speak to him as the ones from the previous night had. He'd sat, crestfallen at the fire. But he had not given up, and slowly, he had learned. He knew now, of course, that you could carefully sculpt the stories, but when he had first realized this, it had taken a long time to master. He'd had to focus for a long time on the old painting, tracing the shapes gently with his fingers, then go to his new piece and recreate the motions. It took a long time, of course, and he tried and failed again and again, but it had never become dull, or frustrating. In fact, for a number of those initial days, he had completely forgotten about eating. Only when he was finally pleased with his first real likeness, did the pangs of hunger set in. Thus it was, then, that as he sat at the cave, biting hungrily into some fish, that both the paintings, old and new, spoke to him, sending him more of their prayers. He began to wonder what may happen, if instead of copying the old painting, he tried to make something new. He thought very hard, as he ate, about it -- about what he could paint -- and then he had realized. He knew about hunting. He could paint a picture of one of his old hunts, and ... and ... he could even try to make a bison!


And he had. His cave was now full of all sorts of things. Bison. Fish. People, dancing. He thought about this happily, now, as he walked up the mountain for more paints. His catch in the morning had been plentiful -- he could spend at least three days with his paints without worrying for food. He looked up into the marvelous blue sky and burst into song, scaring birds away and making all the animals look at him in wonder. Then, he tripped, and fell on his face. A natural hunter, he immediately rose, and turned to see what was happening. Then he froze. It was a ... stick. But not a stick like any he had seen. He had never seen silver trees. Slowly, he picked himself up, and as he dusted himself off, began to realize where he was. It was a huge clearing, with smoky grass and the crispy ash skeletons of flowers. He looked around him, but there was no fallen tree as there had been that night long ago, when the cloud warriors had been battling with flashes and huge drums, the defeated ones pissing all over the earth in fear. There was only this stick -- this strangest silver stick. He stared at the stick for a long time, walking around it, to see from all directions. He held firmly to his excellent fishing spear, but eventually realized this was not an animal. He squatted then, still peering at the thing. There was a shiny, very thin vine flowing from it's nose, and at the end of that vine, some kind of strange curved tooth from some animal he had never seen. Even the tooth was shiny. Finally, after staring for a long time, he got up, and slowly approached -- not as one may approach a tiny star if it were to fall to the earth -- but in fear. Then he quickly snatched it from the ground. The stick did not fight back, although the thin vine did try to attack him with its tooth for a short while. He was able to subdue it however. He thought for a moment, still staring at it. The stick frightened him to death, because he did not know what it was, or where it had come from -- he had been by this place many times for strange earths, but he had never seen the tree it could have come from growing anywhere nearby. Being, however, an examiner of all things, he tucked the stick under his arm, and walked on up the mountain, for more paints.

When he returned, he was not sure what to do. Half his mind begged to paint a new picture he had thought of, of a fearsome shark he had once speared. He had never really speared a shark, of course, but after a few paintings he had realized that it was fine to paint even dreams. If somebody ever came over to visit, he could take their shoulders in his hand and show them this great shark he had once caught, simply with his trusty fishing spear. They would think he must be a great man, then, they surely would. But the other half of his mind wanted to study the new stick.

Finally, he sat, with a plate of smoked fish, and studied the thing. There was something about it that he didn't like, he could tell. He was starting to realize that this stick had not simply fallen off a tree -- a man had carved this -- but how crazy had this man been? He reached over and picked it up. It was quite long, and thin, except at the bottom, which had a strange, soft kind of bark. There was a round plate with holes near that bark, with a small branch growing out of it. It made absolutely no sense. He tried to unfasten the plate, but was unsuccessful. Well, anyway, who would want to eat from a plate with holes, he thought to himself, rolling his eyes. And what is the point of the little branch? He smelled it, a little, and then tasted it. It was something like the smell and taste of stones, but much more sour, he found, making a face. Finally, he bent it a little, and it was very bendable. "Hah," he laughed to himself, and pulled his sturdy fishing spear into his other hand. "Well, you are certainly not a very good fishing spear," he told the strange stick. He cast the thing aside.

But he stared at it for a little longer. At this point he wanted to simply know why it was that he did not seem to like it very much. Why did it incur this ... sense of disgust in him? Then he found the ridge in the soft bark. It was coming off, but not, clearly, out of any careful design or sculpting. Suspiciously, he began to study the length of the rod, and there he found several places where the finish was grooved into, torn into, from misuse. He even saw, then, that the color of the stick, in some parts, was peeling off. Below the tiny flakes of silver was the sickly yellow color of the actual stick itself, its true nature. And then of course, there was the plate with bloody holes in it. Laughing, he finally stood up and kicked the damn thing aside. "Shiny as you may be," he mocked it, "whoever it was that made you has taken no care in it, and no care of you. Why should I, then, worry with you? I am a man who takes great care in making. I create, you understand, spending time and effort, and great care? I make all of the things I use for making all of even more things I make for my use. Witness," he said, gesturing to his excellent spear, "how smooth she is? How carefully honed and kept sharp." He turned, and gestured again, this time to his wall. "Witness -- I even make all my own paints. I walk up, every afternoon after fishing with my spear, to the plain on the mountain to gather the colored earths. These paints here -- " he said, gesturing again, " -- my paints -- will never come off those walls. Not in a thousand years!" Still laughing, he turned around to his wall, took some paints into his hand, and walked over to do his piece about how he had bravely speared the fearsome shark.


He never took the strange stick fishing with him. But we must excuse him for, after all, he was only a caveman who happened upon a state of the art fishing rod.

1 comment:

  1. I like the details in this... the care you took in developing the caveman.
    Nice allegory. Insightful.