Hidden

Treetop came home. Staghorn saw her dart furtively into the burrow under their leaf-tent, and lay down on the bed of leaves with her back to him. He knew she was hiding something. He did not want to talk to her though.

He sighed in frustration: Gods, she drives me crazy! Well, there’s no avoiding it. So he went over to where she was and squatted down.

Then he saw it. The tiny wolf cub latching on to her breast, suckling.

“What are you doing!” he spat, reaching for the cub. She slapped him away.

“Shhh!” she hushed. “If they see her, they’ll try to kill her.”

“I want to kill it too! Give it to me!” Staghorn demanded.

“No!” She pushed him away. “The cub is mine. I have lost my baby now. I love her, and I want to keep her.”

Staghorn could not believe what Treetop was saying. His mind spun. Has anyone ever tried to keep a wolf cub? He could not remember anyone doing that.

“Are you insane? No one has ever kept a wolf cub. No one ever will. The wolf is our enemy. The wolf kills our people. We have to kill them. If you raise this wolf, it will simply turn on us and kill us too.” Staghorn shook his head.

“I don’t care. I want to keep it and I will. If you love me, you will help me hide her.” She kept her back to him.

He thought to himself: “That’s it. I cannot stand her any longer.” He turned to walk away.

But he knew: He could not live without her. This was just another one of those things that drove him crazy about her. But when he thought about it, how she would not bend to his will, how he wanted to mate with her then!!

Gods! It was annoying. But if it wasn’t Treetop, it would be some other cross woman.

“Alright. You can keep it. For now. But how will you hide it?” he asked.

“Stop calling her ‘it’!” She insisted. “I don’t know. I need you to help me. Say that I am sick. Bring me food. I will keep her here with me and feed her. After a few days, maybe we will think of something.”

And so it was. They kept the little thing, who eventually he started to call “her”. And then an amazing thing happened. When he lay in the burrow with Treetop, spooning with her, watching her feed that tiny cub, he began to hate her a bit less. Gradually, she opened her eyes and began to gaze into his. He saw his soul in there, sometimes.

He found himself after a few days hopelessly in love with her too. He knew, crazy as it sounded, that if someone tried to kill this cub, he would have to kill him.

Hated

ClosedFist hated wolves.

Everyone he had ever known, ever cared about, had been killed by wolves. He knew they would kill him eventually. The moment the wolves took him often haunted his dreams. He feared that moment more than anything.

This is the way he thought: The people of the tribe did fine, mostly. We could find food very well. The land where we live is good and keeps us fed. We make our leaf tents, and burrow under them. We sleep with our women and make our babies.

Life is good, mostly.

If it wasn’t for the wolves. The wolves are always there. So many! Impossible to escape from them, either. They run much faster than we do.

Often he wondered why it was that the gods decided to make people walk and run on two legs, when the wolves and other beasts have four. It is so much faster to run on four legs!

But then we would not have hands. And hands are wonderful! We make our spears, our flint tools. Sometimes if the year is good, and we take some game, we can make leather. We take the skin, dry it by the fire, and all the men take turns pissing on it. Then we take the fat from the meat and rub it on the skin until it becomes soft.

BuckHoof had taken some leather and cut it with the flint tools into long strips. Then he twisted it together. He was trying tangling the pieces together in all sorts of ways. ClosedFist did not understand the purpose of the thing that BuckHoof was trying to do, but it was interesting. BuckHoof called it rope.

So, maybe hands are good. We get to make things, do things which other beasts cannot.

But wolves still kill us all, eventually. Except Oroco. The people kept him alive. He remembers the old stories, from the priest who came before him. That was important to the village. We need to remember the old stories to know how we should live now.

So we keep Oroco in the center of the village, away from where wolves would come.

But Oroco was the only one. Everyone else always died from wolves. There were no exceptions that ClosedFist could remember.

ClosedFist

ClosedFist was Staghorn’s friend. He knew this was his function.

He was there with Staghorn, always. What Staghorn wanted, that was what they got.

Staghorn was simply the most important man in the village.

But, of course, Oroco was the chief. He always would be, until he died.

He was old now, though. Although hale and in good health, he was stiff and tired a lot. He slept, mostly.

They brought him food. All of the tribe looked after him.

He was the most respected man in the village, and obviously he was still the priest.

But he was not the most important. That was Staghorn.

Staghorn was simply the most useful man in the village. He was the best at everything. He was always catching game. They would be out on a stalk together, just the too of them, daring the wolves to attack, driving them off with spear thrusts until they tired of the chase.

Then, they would hunt together.

But always, it was Staghorn who would find the food. Sometimes even a pig! They had been the chiefs together that night. They had brought back a male boar – with tusks! How they had feasted!

They ate the cooked pig flesh, roasted right in the fire, until their bellies bulged.

He was Staghorn’s friend. He was OK with that. He was the second most important man in the village that way.

Staghorn

Staghorn was enraged.

He sat in front of his tent, where he and Treetop slept, with is closest friend, ally, and second-in-command, ClosedFist. His head in his hands, between his knees, he trembled.

ClosedFist knew not to try to touch him now.

It was the wolf, he knew that. The wolf had taken MonkeyHand, his son. So many people they had lost to wolves!

He remembered them all. AngryMan had gone into the forest. He had not returned. They found his gnawed corpse later, strewn through the forest.

He had wept. He wished he could weep now. Maybe later he would grieve.

Too many. Too many gone. Always, it was wolves.

But Treetop! He could not help himself: He hated her, a bit, for her betrayal, her disobedience in following the hunting party earlier tonight.

But he knew. His problem was simple: He loved her. It was the true love, the once-in-a-lifetime love. And his love for her was because of this very thing.

He loved her because she disobeyed. He could not imagine being with a woman who would obey him. He would not respect her! She needed to have her own mind, to tell him what she wanted.

He knew it was not a good thing, that he was like this. But there it was. He could not help it. He loved her.

He remembered when he first saw her, when she was just a small child. He was a very young man then, only fourteen summers or so. He was smitten with her. He noticed quickly how strong willed she was. She was always in trouble.

Later, when her breast began to form, he found himself staring at her. She soon noticed his attention. It turned out that she loved him too. Once she understood, finally, that she was the kind of woman he wanted, they had mated, and had been together ever since.

Now he knew that small hatred, the hatred of betrayal, for his beloved. Treetop would always bear some shame for this. He would never mention it to her again. He knew it would only anger her, and he had nothing to say. There was nothing to say that would change anything.

The problems is wolves. What to do about the wolves.

Treetop

Treetop was pissed. Her man, Staghorn, had snubbed her, shouting at her to stay put. Going on and on about the prattle that Oroco spouts: Protect the open womb. Protect the baby.

So it’s too dangerous for her to go out with the hunting party? We’ll see about that.

She picked up her baby, MonkeyHand, and stuffed him brusquely into the leathers her mother had given her, and strapped him on her back. By now, MonkeyHand knew not to cry: She would simply smother him if he did. He hated that, so he stayed quiet as she left the tent, and started following the men.

Such noise they were making! She sniffed derisively as she followed silently behind them. They were completely unaware of her, of course. No one could move through the forest better than Treetop, with her long, gangly legs. She was a woman of 19 summers with a man of her own now. Likely to be chief someday too!

Staghorn spotted the wolf as it began its kill run. It was moving in from the North, coming fast, hunting something, but not them. Then suddenly his heart was filled with fear as he saw Treetop take off running with MonkeyHand, their baby son, strapped to her back. He shouted for the men to follow, and took off after her.

Stupid! Treetop knew she was stupid! She was so busy in her own mind criticizing the men, that she had missed the wolf, and now she was being hunted. And she had the baby!

She felt more than saw the wolf pounce on her and MonkeyHand. She went down hard. She heard the sickening sound of the crunch of bone, as the wolf grabbed MonkeyHand by the head and shook him.

She heard Staghorn come in with his spear and end the wolf with a thrust through the heart. Then she reached down and picked up her dying infant son. She held him and watched as he struggled to breath, but she knew it was no good. Broken neck. Within a few seconds, he was gone.

He was gone. She felt the blow physically, as she fell to her knees sobbing hysterically. She looked up and met the eyes of her man, as she held her infant son’s body.

That moment was searing. She saw in Staghorn’s face the rage, the fury, at her defiance. And she knew that it was her fault that MonkeyHand was dead. She was wrong all along, and should have obeyed. Yet she also knew that is was not her nature to obey.

Desperately she looked into her man’s eyes and searched for some love, some forgiveness. And then she found it there. She knew that Staghorn was beyond anger, beyond words, for her stupidity. But she also knew that he still loved her. In that she found some small comfort.

And that was when they heard it: A soft scuffling, scratching and whimpering sound. Nearby they found the den, filled with five newborn cubs.

She reached out and grabbed Staghorn’s arm and said: “She was defending her cubs. We would have done the same.”

Staghorn turned and gazed at the female mother wolf, lying dead on the ground with his spear through her heart. He walked over and roughly pulled out his spear. Grinding his teeth he said: “We have lost enough of our people to wolves. I am not in the mood to forgive this one. Pebble! Kill those cubs. Let’s get out of here.”

She collapsed onto the forest ground and began to grieve. Dimly she heard the men’s spears pounding as they beat the cubs to death. And then the men, sensing that she needed to be alone with her son, began to withdraw.

She lay there on the ground alone for a long time, how long she did not know. She was lost in grief, self pity, remorse, and guilt. She wanted to undo what she had done. She wanted her son back. But she knew there was no going back now. What was done was done.

Gradually, she became aware of another sound, coming from the den. Reluctantly, she went to the den, and there she found a sixth cub, a female, lying hidden in the back, behind a rock. She was quite unharmed and helpless, her eyes still closed.

She hated this cub. With all her might she wanted to rip her throat out with her own teeth. Or she could simply leave her there to starve. That would be crueler anyway.

But as she looked at the small, tiny, newborn cub, she began to pity her. She realized, again, that the mother wolf was protecting her den. She understood that. Finally, she found that she could not bring herself to kill the tiny creature.

But what to do? Without a mother to feed and protect her, this cub would die very quickly. The solution was right there on Treetop’s chest: Her breasts were still full of milk.

Impulsively, not realizing what she was doing, she put the cub on her breast. The cub nuzzled, latched on and began to feed hungrily. Holding the cub in her arms as she fed, she made her way back to the tribe.

Treetop never knew it, but that one decision, the choice to nurture and feed that wolf cub, was the most important single thing that had ever happened on this world.

Like-A-Wolf

I am beginning a series of blog posts that will read much like a novel, with each blog post reading like a chapter. I call this book “Like-A-Wolf”.

The basic subject is the domestication of the dog. I regard the invention of the dog (I use the term “invention” very carefully – more on that later), as the most important single event in the evolution of human culture, for reasons which will become clear.

Sooo, why do I say “invent”?

First, many of the organisms which we consume as agricultural products are human inventions. Wheat for example. The ancestor of wheat is very different from the organism which we know today. We selective bred wheat to be what we wanted: A sweet, large seed grain with specific properties.

In a similar manner, dogs were effectively selectively bred by paleolithic humans. The mutation which makes dogs different from wolves is known as empathy. As Jeremy Rifkin points out in his post The Empathic Civilization, empathy, is the most powerful aspect of our consciousness, and really defines us as humans. We have a form of hardware in our brains which enables empathy, called mirror neurons. This causes our brain neurons to fire when we see suffering in exactly the same manner as the organism which is experiencing the suffering. Hence we “feel the pain” of an organism we observe suffering.

Other organisms on the planet do not generally have empathy. Wolves, for example, have a psychology which is very similar to what in human psychology is referred to as a psychopath: Basically an insatiable killing machine. Wolves normally have empathy during the period up to adolescence. (All mammals have some form of empathy when being suckled by their mother, as that is required in order to live effectively in a den of other cubs. An insatiable killing machine would not work in that context.) Once a wolf goes through adolescence, however, the psychopath mentality eventually takes over, and the wolf ceases to make eye contact, and becomes devoid of empathy.

Once in a while, though, a wolf is born with an interesting mutation: It is permanently capable of empathy. We refer to this as “tame”. The normal fate for this cub would be to be killed by the other wolves in the pack after it goes through puberty. Empathy is definitely not an adaptive trait for surviving in a wolf pack.

What happened then is very interesting: A woman made the choice to suckle a wolf cub. (I weave this idea into the story, in which a 19 year old girl who recently lost a baby and has full breasts finds a wolf cub and decides to suckle it.)

Hence the “invention” term: Many human inventions are not intentional, but rather accidental. What makes them inventions is the human aspect. Undoubtedly, there were wolves being  born with this mutation. But a human never decided to nurture one until this point.

Once that happened, the paleolithic tribe where that occurred would quickly discover that they had a devastating weapon. Not only could a pack of domesticate wolves be used by a human hunting party against all kinds of game. (Paleolithic humans after the invention of the dog were able to bring down all kinds of big game, up to and including wooly mammoth, and at that point become the dominant species on the planet.) Dogs enabled humans to capture and domesticate the goat, sheep, horse, cow, donkey, and so forth. The dog was first, though. Effectively the neolithic experiment (i.e. the invention of agriculture) begins with the dog, which was the first domesticated animal.

Eventually, the dog was used as a weapon against neighboring tribes, with devastating effect. That resulted in the rise of the first neolithic empire, the invention of slavery, and all the rest.

We are who we are  because of the domestication of the dog.

Diane Rehm has a Bad Day

As many of my faithful readers know, I am an avid NPR listener. One of my favorites has always been the Diane Rehm show. Lately, I was listening and happened to hear her show entitled Trends in Teenage Drug Use, on the recent study by NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse). Her guest was Dr. Nora Volkow, the director of NIDA.

Generally, Diane makes a valiant attempt to provide balanced reporting of her subject. Alas, on this day, from what I could tell, Diane did not show up. The guest was allowed to make a lot of hay, with no adult supervision to be found.

There were so many poor examples of bias on this guest, that I kind of don’t know where to start, so I’ll just jump in. Let’s start with the NIDA study itself. I have searched for the NIDA study which is discussed on the show, but cannot find it on the web. If any readers have access to this, please send me a link. I would love to read the actual study itself instead of relying on what Dr. Volkow says about it. But I’ll start there. The gist of the study is that the following trends exist among teens in the US:

  • Consumption of cannabis (commonly referred to as marijuana) is increasing.
  • Consumption of alcohol is declining.
  • Consumption of prescription drugs is declining.
  • Consumption of nicotine is declining.

Now, first of all, I could have told the NIDA folks that! Cannabis is in the process of exploding in our culture. 20 states have now legalized cannabis, and several more are poised to do so shortly. We are quickly going to be in a situation where the majority of the US states have legalized cannabis.

Given that, yes, of course cannabis consumption is increasing in our culture. That’s not just happening among teens, though. It is happening across all age groups other than small children (even some of whom are consuming cannabinoids to treat some severe medical problems: more on this later).

As so well documented by Martin Lee in his excellent book Smoke Signals, in jurisdiction after jurisdiction in which cannabis becomes legal, the experience is very consistent: when the population switches to cannabis, the consumption of other inebriants drops dramatically.

Now, you may be asking, why is that good news? Simple. Cannabis is by far the least dangerous and least harmful inebriant we have access to in our culture. Far safer than either alcohol or nicotine. The dirty little secret among the drug folks is that alcohol and nicotine are both far more dangerous than either opiates or cocaine in terms of long term health effects! But cannabis is the benchmark for a safe inebriant. It has no fatal overdose level. No one has ever been killed as a result of overdosing on cannabis.

Likewise, the long-term effects of cannabis use are arguably relatively benign, especially compared to other inebriants.

Which gets back to Diane’s guest, Dr. Volkow, who spent copious amounts of time decrying the increase in cannabis use among teens, while never even mentioning the decline in the other inebriants. And Diane let her get away with it! What about discussing comparative risk? Dr. Volkow argued that long term cannabis use is associated with lower IQ in teens. (I seriously doubt the credibility of that study, as indicated by my own local NPR station’s coverage of it: Another item which Dr. Volkow conveniently failed to mention.) Even then, what about the effect on IQ, cognitive function, etc., of long term alcohol use among teens (which is depressingly common in our culture)?

Again, comparative risk. Compared to alcohol and nicotine, cannabis is far less dangerous, in so many ways.

Take driving. In many areas of the world where cannabis has become legal, the rate of traffic fatalities declined. (Yes you are safer driving high on pot, than you are driving drunk. No kidding. Arguably, you may be safer driving slightly high than you are driving straight. More on that later as well.)

Another one: Domestic violence. Yeah, no kidding. Folks get along better and quit fighting so much when they switch from alcohol (which ignites and inflames violent tendencies) to cannabis (which calms them down).

Another one: Crime. Yes, oddly, the folks who opposed legalizing cannabis did so partially on the basis of an argument that cannabis use would cause crime to increase. Not so. All forms of violent crime decline when cannabis becomes legal in a particular area.

You get the idea: Alcohol is much worse for you and for society than cannabis. Yes, that should be no surprise. Dr. Joyclyn Elders (former Surgeon General under President Clinton) knew that and said so on the record way back in the 1990′s. There have been so many studies on that score that it should be no longer controversial at all.

Ok, I’ll hit you with one more example of Dr. Volkow’s bias and then we’ll call it good: The idea that cannabis of today is so much worse for you, because it’s so much stronger.

This one is just patently ridiculous. Anyone who has tried cannabis knows how silly this is. Cannabis simply does not work that way.

Technically, cannabis is a bi-phasic drug. That means it has two distinctly different effects: One at a low dose, and one at a high dose. It is similar in this respect to nicotine. We don’t usually deal with folks who overdose on nicotine, though. (And trust me, that ain’t pretty!)

At low doses, THC produces the following effects:

  • Euphoria
  • Increased appetite
  • Increased sex drive
  • Senses are more pronounced
  • Reaction time is faster
  • All cognitive functions are better, other than the time sense
  • Increased energy

When someone overdoses on THC, the effects are quite different:

  • Severe anxiety
  • Vertigo
  • Nausea
  • Passing out

Unlike nicotine (which can absolutely kill you if you overdose), THC will not kill you at any dose. However, anyone who has experienced a THC overdose (and this is very common early in someone’s consumption of the drug) will tell you how unpleasant a THC overdose is. Certainly, no one in their right mind would intentionally overdose on THC. It is simply too unpleasant.

Which gets back to the idea that it is somehow evil and bad that folks selectively bred cannabis to produce larger amounts of relevant cannabinoids (one of which is THC). Nonsense. That simply means that you would need to consume less cannabis to produce an appropriate dose. That does not mean (as Dr. Volkow obviously implied) that the new stuff will blast you into the stratosphere. Cannabis is self-regulating in that manner, which may be one of the reasons it is so much safer than alcohol. Alcohol has only one effect, and that effect continues to operate, quite well thank you very much, until you succumb to the sedating effects and simply pass out.

I did attempt to post these comments on Diane’s website, but annoyingly, she decided to moderate me. So here you go, Diane. I will not be silent.