One moment I lay coughing my lungs out. I had a crushed chest and was laying under a slowly collapsing high-rise, breathing flame and brick dust. The next I woke up, feeling healthy and breathing easily. The contrast locked me up as the little monkey at the back of my mind sucked on his fingers, pissed himself and gibbered helplessly. I knew that I was quickly dying then suddenly I wasn't! After I finished hyperventilating and screaming my guts out, I sat where I woke up and shivered, holding my legs tucked under my chin and rocking. Soon enough I relaxed enough to make sense of the land about me. I started out as about five feet five inches, and almost four hundred pounds. When I woke on a grassy plain I was at most a hundred and fifty pounds and maybe six feet six tall. I had on a knee-length leather jerkin, a knee-high pair of moccasins, a belt with a throwing stick thrust through it and several pouches attached to it. I wore a heavy rucksack, all fashioned of leather.
Somebody or some agent had set me up quite well as a primitive hunter. The problem was, I WASN'T a primitive hunter. I found several six-foot spears the size of my thumb with finely shaped stone heads laying next to where I woke up. I picked them up and at least I felt armed, if not dangerous. I knew that being caught out alone after dark on the plains meant I would be fair game so I trotted towards the near cliffs.
Several hours later I lucked into an unoccupied dry cave. I rolled up and spent a very uncomfortable but fairly safe night.
Somebody or something was keeping out an eye for me. The next morning I could picture in my mind how to build a reed bed, as well as how to cast my Atl-atl spears with a throwing stick. I sat in the sunlight at the mouth of the cave and inventoried what was in my pack. I found a long axe and two hand axes all with steel heads, a large waxed leather bag of salt that took up half the pack, another large waxed leather bag of cracked grain like oats or wheat, a huge spool of what must have been eighty- to one-hundred-pound braided fishing line, a small diamond point shovel, a fire starting kit, a brass bowl that filled my wide-spread hand, an eight inch wide brass bucket with a bail, a steel spoon and a large pack of heavy needles. After exiting the cave I did my business then looked around carefully. I'd want to find this place again.
I had no idea in which direction I should travel so I decided to go up--up the cliff. I needed a good viewpoint to canvass the area. The climb wasn't too tough, as there were ledges to work with and some sort of tough woody brush growing out of the cliff face I used to pull myself up. It was maybe a thirty-five to forty foot climb. I cautiously stuck my head up over the edge. It was clear of predators so I hoisted myself up over the edge then rolled a bit away from the edge. I didn't want to do anything really stupid like get myself killed by falling off a cliff. I'd gotten dizzy by standing quickly before.
I could see quite a ways out across the grasslands. There wasn't a lot there except for a cluster of trees so far away that they looked misty. I thought to myself, "Savannah. Big game and bigger predators. It's outside of my league without armed partners." Turning around I found myself at the verge of a hardwood forest with fairly heavy undergrowth. This was looking promising! I walked a short distance into the woods, then stood still to let my heartbeat slow. I cupped my hands to my ears, listening for water. I had no luck at first. I moved on, then did it again and yet again. Finally I caught the sound of water flowing over rocks. I was getting pretty dry so that was the direction I headed.
Ahh, it was beautiful. The water was flowing fast enough to make little pockets of white foam. I drank my fill and scrubbed my face. Hell, I needed a bath. I followed the stream down-current until I found a pool. There I stripped and plunged into the water. It was colder than I'd expected. Whoo, baby! As I stood in the water furiously scrubbing myself I felt something slide by my hip, then another past the inside of my calf. I looked down to see fish. Not little nibblers, either. These were big fucking fish! I didn't have any weapons with me so I tried the simplest thing I could think of--I shoved my hand up and under a fish's gill plate and threw it on the bank. I didn't know which of us was more surprised, me that it worked or the fish that was madly thrashing around trying to breathe air. I scrambled out of the water and picked up a hand axe. I quickly cut off its head just behind the gills, then opened it up along the belly to dig out the guts. I tossed the offal back into the water where a feeding frenzy occurred. After seeing the size of the teeth on that thing I wasn't going back into that water without a loincloth, in case one of them mistook my pisser for a worm.
I dressed, picked up my dinner and went looking for a place to make a fire. I found a big cavity where an old tree had fallen and levered over sideways, probably due to a big storm. It took its root-ball with it which still sheltered the hole. I took some dry grass, some small branches, some sheets of dried tree bark and a few green saplings to make my camp. I laid down some bark as a base over the damp soil, then made a small fire. While the coals were forming I wove a flat cooking basket for the fish, then propped it up at the side of the fire to slowly bake.
It was about noon by my figuring when the fish was done. I pulled it aside to cool and sprinkled a little salt on it. After at least a day without food it tasted beyond wonderful. Afterwards I burned all traces of dinner in the fire, then went looking for standing long grasses. I used the hand-axe to cut a big double-armful. I lined the cavity with more bark then laid grass over the top of it. I went hunting for firewood for the night, and cut a few more saplings, this time about twelve to fourteen feet long. I leaned them across the hole then covered them with more sheets of bark from the dead tree. I settled back into my bed for a comfortable sleep. I woke every couple of hours to feed the fire.
I woke up knowing how to knap flint and how to make grass mats with a mat loom. I looked over my little shelter with an eye towards longer use than one night. I used my hands and a stick to dig out a drainage path downhill so water wouldn't pool inside it, then wandered around cutting evergreen branches from the trees growing near the stream. I piled them deep in the lowest spot of the cavity, then improved the bark cover by shingling layers over the thing. Next I gathered a lot of long grass and made my first attempt at looming a mat. It worked pretty well! I made three before I ran out of material. I figured to sleep on one and under two to stay warm and dry since the night before my back got pretty cold. I did my fish-tickle thing again to get dinner. This time I walked the shore of the stream looking for a big flat rock. There were plenty there. It was all a matter of what you would settle for. I'd heard of river rocks exploding like bombs from water trapped within, so I heated my new griddle slowly. I didn't have any grease so the skin of the fish stuck to the rock when cooking but it was still fine eating when it was done. I cleaned my plate by turning the rock over next to the fire to let the flames burn it clean. The heat reflected by the rock felt nice so I gathered a few more flat stones to act as reflectors.
The next day it rained a little, but I was reasonably warm and dry in my hideout. The weather cleared in the afternoon, but it was definitely cooler. It made me think that I'd better get off my ass and find a place to lay over for the winter. If I couldn't find any place on top of the cliff I'd go back down to stay in that cave.
I spent most of the afternoon walking the stream-bed, looking for chert. I found a few likely specimens, and some metal too! It was placer copper, washed clear of its matrix. As soon as I found it, I pounded a stick into the bank close to where it showed up. I slowly waded up-stream, picking up more samples and marking where I found them. When I stopped finding metal I turned around and inspected the shorelines. I found a well-washed deposit in a feeder stream boasting a fourteen inch wide oval plate of copper about two inches thick. I moved as much metal as I could to a pile at the stream's shore. Altogether it probably weighed almost as much as I did. I looked up and yelled out, "I need a fucking basket!" For the mean time I laboriously carried the metal back to my hideout. I made a better reflecting wall behind the fire with more flat pieces of stone, then used a rough river rock to grind down one side of the large copper plaque to a reasonably flat surface. That became my griddle.
I took an adult buck deer that afternoon. It had come down to the stream to drink. I quickly dragged it away from the water so as not to spoil the site. It only made sense to cut part of the carcass into strips of flesh, pound salt into them and let them hang over green sticks, close to my fire. I needed them to smoke and dry out to preserve them. While dinner sizzled on my griddle I started slowly, gently scraping the flesh and fat off of the inside of the deerskin. I saved out the chunks of fat that I found as I butchered it. It was going to have to be my water proofing, butter, cooking oil and lard. It sure was a messy process. I tried washing off in the stream but the grease clung to my hands. I had to scrape it off with bunches of grass, then scrub my hands in the sand and gravel in the stream bed.
I didn't sleep much that night, worrying about scavengers that would want my kill. I stayed nicely warm that night with the rock plates reflecting the fire's warmth back over me.
I dozed off near dawn. I woke knowing how to make and use a two-pole drag, how to weave a basket and how to make and use a fat lamp. I looked at the offal pile from the deer and realized what a godsend I had. I salvaged out the heart, the kidneys, the stomach and the bladder. The last two I slit open and washed thoroughly in the stream, then scraped the interiors. The first two I split into steaks, washed, salted and grilled to eat. Using the dull side of a hand axe and a log I pounded the deer's leg tendons thin, then twisted them into useable lengths. I suspended the stomach on three sticks near the fire, but not too close. I filled the stomach half full of water and half full of raw fat. I used a pair of sticks to drop hot stones in the pouch to bring the contents to a simmer. The rendered grease floated to the top. I carefully poured it into the bladder then sewed the it closed when full. I discarded the tissue that rendering the fat left behind and started a new batch with freshly heated stones and more fat. I cut the large intestine free of the offal, washed it, turned it inside out and washed it again. I then sewed one end shut, rubbed it with raw fat and smoked it over the fire to preserve it and keep it supple. I wanted to use it to hold the rest of my rendered fat. Between smoking the meat, preparing the hide and rendering the fat it took six days to process the deer. I knew that I still lost a lot but I salvaged a lot more than I originally would have without my midnight instruction in stone-age skills.
I pounded some of the copper into a little bowl using the squared-off back of my axe as a hammer and a rounded rock to form it over. It fit into my palm and fingers nicely and had a flat bottom. I used a hard stick as another form and drew out a shallow spout on one side. This was to be my lamp. I knew that it would make living in a cave a lot more friendly.
I kept my eye out for more game. There was a furry animal with a flexible snout that had more curiosity than was good for it. Either that or they were damned stupid. I took one about every other day. I called it a 'grunter'. The meat was a little gamy but it smoked up all right, once the fat cooked out of it. Its fur wasn't bad either. Since they were the size of a working dog there was enough hide to make curing them worthwhile.
I screwed around with some of the copper and beat out a fish-hook. It was pretty ugly but a chunk of liver hid a lot of sins. Another piece of copper made a sinker and a piece of a dry tree branch servd as a float. I caught several honkin' big fish that way.
It took me a while to find the right tree, but I found a straight grained hardwood that would split like white oak. I made several sturdy baskets out of it. Eventually I hit on fastening thicker splits inside and outside the top rim with a tight winding to fasten the strips very tight together. It served to lock the whole basket into its shape and insure that the whole thing wouldn't unravel with a load in it as it shifted back and forth when I traveled. I made a batch of hide glue in my copper dish by simmering deer feet in water over several days. It helped with locking the split wood basket hoops.
I dug up the root ball of that tree and carved it into three long wedges. They were all I had to split trees for building a shelter or firewood.
My spears, or flights, had taken a beating by then. I made new ones out of a tough, water-loving bush with long straight woody shoots. I about cut myself stupid learning to knap flint. It took me a long time to make anything as pretty as the heads I'd been given when I woke up in this place. I wished that I had a pair of pliers to make forged metal arrowheads, but beggars can't be choosers.
I started travelling in a widening spiral looking for a place to lay over for the winter. I didn't find a damned thing in over a week's travels, so I packed everything up and headed back down the cliff. I used several very long saplings tied end-to-end to lower everything down to the cave level. I finally scrambled down the cliff myself, then gingerly inspected the cave in case new tenants had signed a lease without telling me. Once again I was in luck. This time I carefully inspected the cave with the use of my fat lamp. (First I had to braid up a dry grass wick, then doubled it and twisted the lengths together. Then I used knotted lengths of grass to wrap it and keep everything intact. That made it stout enough to serve.) The cave had a rough floor and angled up at the back but it was dry, safe and only had one entrance. When I started a fire in a trench near the opening the smoke drifted outside. This made me curious. Where was the draft coming from? I went around the whole cave again, this time carefully watching my lamp's flame as I examined each of the walls. I found a crack in one wall that let in copious amounts of cold air. I'd have to partially block that during the winter to stay warm. I found an elevated place to sleep and laid out my pallet. (sleeping at the lowest level would allow cold air to pool around me as the night grew colder.)
I wondered about how to find a close supply of water. That was what made me attempt to find a better home to begin with. I quartered the grasslands looking for free water. I didn't find anything. I knew water was there or the bushes and trees near the cliff wouldn't have flourished. I started digging in a depression not far from the cave's entrance. I hit water at nine feet. I dug it down to twelve feet. Boy, was I a wretched frozen mess by the time I finished. Still, I had a good sweet water well. I roofed it with a ring of stones and a doubled cover of split logs. I did my best to eliminate contamination. A ways away, against the cliff, I dug another hole, then used thin saplings and sheets of bark to tie together a shelter for an out-house. The cliff-side slightly over-hung it which gave me hopes of keeping a dry latrine.
The scent of food attracted a big bear. I took up my flights and spear thrower, then attacked. It wasn't long before the bear decided that it was in a battle that it couldn't win but by then it was too late. I was pretty messy by the time I finished butchering that thing. I was glad that I had taken my clothes off before going to work on the carcass. I sliced the flesh into flat plates rather than strips, then tied together a big set of hanging frames inside the cave to smoke the meat. I salted it pretty well before I hung it. I stuffed the air hole in the back of the cave full of grease-tanned hides from the little grunters then started a small fire in the cave. I dragged my sleeping pallet over to the cave mouth then covered the opening with grass mats tied to a standing frame. I could still lift them to get in and out as needed to get water, use the outhouse and to gather more firewood. I lived inside a smoke house for a couple weeks. In the mornings I took a bath in the dew on the grasses because I was sticky from the smoke residue.
I needed a bucket or two as well as more baskets. I wove them out of tightly twisted ropes of grasses. The savannah provided me with raw materials in the form of five and six foot long grass stems that were great to work with. The buckets weren't perfect, but they got water out of the bottom of the well! I tied a basket to a slender sapling to dip out water since I didn't have any lengths of rope that I'd trust. I stayed healthy and even gained some weight eating the grilled organ meat and flesh from my kills. I collected bear fat in a basket to boil into lard when I had the time. Instead of storing the preserved meat in baskets where worms and insects could prosper in the dark humid conditions I strung the preserved dry pieces on fishing line and hung them near, but not against the walls of the cave. It looked strange but it kept the meat dry.
I left the bear offal out to attract more game. I really wanted another bearskin for warmth before the ground froze. I got the bearskin scraped down and let it dry so that it wouldn't stink. I slowly rendered down the fat until I got oil floating on top. I let the batches cool, then removed the grease 'cakes'. They were stored in a grass bucket which was made for that purpose. I could eat rendered deer lard, but that bear grease was too strong for me to stomach. Instead it was used for waterproofing whatever needed it and for filling the lamp. The second bear taught me to crack open the jaw and take the tongue. When it was peeled and smoked it was pretty good eating. It was too much meat to waste. The bear's tongue was almost as large as my upper and lower arm together. I resolved to do the same to any deer I took from then on.
Once the bearskin was dried out I greased the skin side and rubbed it in with a blunted baton to soften the skin.
The snow had started flying and the ground was hard before I finished smoking the meat from the second bear. I needed firewood, so I used a pole with regular stubs of branches as a ladder to help me climb up the cliff, then started cutting wood. I threw it over the side into a large pile and just kept cutting. After four days the food I'd taken with me ran out, so I cut one more load of wood, threw it over the cliff edge and climbed back down. I cleaned up, ate and had a good night's rest before I attacked the trees, turning them into shorter cuts of firewood sized to fit my hearth. I stacked the cut wood inside where it would dry over time and be handy.
While the grass still stood I harvested it, day after day. When the rains came and I could no longer work in the field I wove more mats and if they were large enough, I beat the heads over a basket to harvest kernels of grain. I knew that the grain wouldn't grind itself just sitting there, so I walked around the cliff, watching for rocks that had split off and fallen. I could use those 'plates' as part of a fire reflector and maybe a good one as a grinding stone. I needed a flat stone with a groove down the center or even one with a flat "V" face to keep from scattering the kernels everywhere as I worked. I searched long enough to find what I wanted. Then I found a hand-stone to rub with. Before grinding my grain I searched through what I had gleaned to reserve the biggest heads with the biggest kernels. Those went into a dry bag which I set aside for spring.
Go ahead and laugh. Make it sound foolish. I believe that the basis of civilization has always been the husbandry of the best grain to improve the crop rather than acting like a greedy child and consuming the best. Grain always has been the staff of life. Man can live on wheat. It's what fed the Romans. The native Americans found that it took both corn and beans to provide a healthy diet.
The weather closed in for the winter. The winds were bitter and unrelenting.
Since I had some fine-grained stone around I dressed the edges of my axe and hand axes. I also pounded the tendons from the bears until I had some heavy sinew cord. I knew that I'd have to go outside during bad weather so I wove thick leggings out of grass, and an over-tunic with a high neck and long sleeves. I sewed up a hat out of a grunter skin with the hair on and ear flaps that tied under my chin. I sewed together a simple hide tunic to go under the grass over-tunic to stop any wind or moisture from leaking through. Besides, it was scratchy.
I took on some projects over the winter, such as carving out spoons and bowls. It was tricky work because I didn't have any small blades. I resorted to burning out bowls with live coals then scraping down the char with flakes of chert. The spoons were easy enough. I hollowed out the bowls with more splits of chert. Soap making was rough. I had to use hammer stones to chip out a hollow in the floor. I poured scalding water over a stomach-full of white ashes with a few holes poked in the bottom. I braced that above the floor dish with a tripod. When the dripping water stopped tasting real bitter even after kneading the paste I figured that I'd used up the ashes and started over. I cooked down the liquor with cooking stones, then added soft rendered animal grease from the grunters and more hot stones. Then I stirred. And I stirred. And I swapped hot rocks. And I stirred. Finally I had a heavy paste that I scraped into the bag I used to leach the ashes after I'd rinsed it out.
I was out hunting for fresh meat when I heard the cries. An older woman, a young woman and a noisy child were being pursued by a lioness. She was on a slow stalk, as if to build up the anticipation. I didn't think that big cats would hunt during winter, but that's what guessing will get you. It appeared as if they would pass right before me, as I was following the wind-swept area just before the cliff while looking for grass-eaters. I hid beneath a smoked deerskin up against the rocks. When the lion came close I rose and fired a spear into her fore-shoulder. That sure got her attention! I quickly readied another spear and cast it at the base of her throat as she charged. That changed the game because she stopped coming at me. Within ten minutes or so (It's hard to tell without a watch) she breathed her last. I put the finish to her by chopping through her neck, then took off her head and paws. I slit through the belly fur and peeled the hide off the carcass. I rolled up the skin and cleaned off in the snow. It was too damned cold and windy to go fooling around looking for the back or leg tendons so I left the rest where it lay. Personally I can't stomach cat meat. It wasn't worth butchering.
I got everyone back to the cave and inside out of the cold. The cat skin got relegated to the back of the cave where I threw it fur-side down. I was surprised that I could understand them, even though there was a heavy accent difference between us.