Med Cruise

Some archaeologists believe pre-humans sailed to Crete

As usual with Uncle Tok’s projects, our Mediterranean cruise vacation came to a bad end. It was my fault. I was complaining to him about what a terrible time I’d had at summer camp in Beringia, and about logging on the lake with birch logs. As usual, he completely ignored my complaints about the cold and the narrow logs and getting my legs all scraped by the bark. Instead, also as usual, he homed in on one point and let it drive a whole new line of thought.

“Birchbark! Of course!” He cried. “It’s tough and it doesn’t soften in water!” He started stamping around the cave, waving his arms, the way he did when he got a new idea. “Instead of using birch logs with the bark still wrapped around them, why not carefully peel off the bark, and lay it out in sheets? Then you can use the smooth logs out on the lake, and they won’t scratch your legs! Plus, once the bark dries, you can use it to start fires with!” Then he dashed out to register his barkless birch water transport system with the tribal elders.

Uncle Tok calls himself an inventor. This is from an Anatomically Modern Human word, meaning to make a list of everything in a cave. Only, Uncle Tok would make a list of all the ideas in his head, and bang them together to see if they made him any sharper.

Uncle Tok wanted to start a barkless birch business right then and there, but Aunt Ja wouldn’t think of it. “For one thing, fool of a Tok, there’s no birch growing within 2.7 thousands of many sprints of here. For another, the last time we went north, you froze your toe off in Denisova. So you can’t build it here, and we’re not moving north. I like it here.”

Here, by the way, was our old ancestral refugia in south slavia. My family had hung out there since they found it during a pre-Eburonian excursion. It was warm and karsty and had a nice view of the sea. But it didn’t have a lot of trees. That’s why Uncle Tok decided we needed to move south for the summer, and look at some opportunities on the Costa del Neand.

The body of water that the AMHs call the “Mediterranean” and we call “The Sea”, ebbs and flows with a really long tide, which our weather-shamans say is because of its astral linkage to the world-covering glacier that the AMHs call “The Ice”, and we call “The Ice”. I think they borrowed the term from us. Actually, we have threemany terms for “The Ice”, but most of them are considered obscene in any language. This year the sea was smaller than the lore-holders remembered it, but it was still too far to see across, and there were many stories of undiscovered islands and the strange continent to the south that our mythology said we were driven out of. Who drove us out, the myths don’t say.

We moved as far south as we could, and then Uncle Tok started looking for trees. Or A tree. He was very particular about the kind of tree he wanted. Not just any tree, but a tree big enough for the whole family, with bark that could be easily stripped off. We finally found a kind of oak tree, with bark that you could pull off with your hand, even though it was three fingers thick. That bark floated very well, too, which got Uncle Tok all excited. “If the bark floats that well, think of what the tree will do.” So we pulled all the bark off, and left it there. Well, we did use some of it to plug the holes in our water bags.

Finally, we finished it. A family-sized tree, with a smooth trunk, ready to be cut down and dragged down the mountain and up the other mountain and down that mountain to the coast. Aunt Ja said she’d have been happier with a smaller tree that was one mountain over, but Uncle Tok said she was just being critical. Despite Aunt Ja’s grumbling, it was only three days later that we were at the coast, packed and off on our first cruise. Everyone sat in their appointed places, with their legs wrapped around the trunk as Uncle Tok and I pushed it into the water. The sky was looking a little grey and thundery, but Uncle Tok said we’d only be out for three hours or so, to see how she did, and that the real cruise would come tomorrow.

The sky continued to get dark, the rain came down, and the wind lashed the oak (which didn’t float nearly as well as Uncle Tok thought it would). Finally, after only two hours of this, Uncle Tok lifted his head above the water and suggested we return to port. Everybody agreed. Everybody, that is, except the sea. We kept rolling and sliding further south, despite our best attempts at rowing. The sun went down, the night went black, and the waves got bigger than the mountain we pulled the oak over; Aunt Ja got really mad and spent some time explaining that to Uncle Tok.

About midnight, the branch she was using to help with her explanation broke off and floated away on the gigantic waves the storm had kicked up. That’s when we realized the storm had passed and the moon was rising. Straight ahead, which meant straight south, was an island. We all gave a cheer and started rowing. It was much easier to row now that we were going the way the wind and the waves wanted us to. We’d dig in going down a wave, then take a deep breath and hang on as the log plowed into the wave in front of us. Then it was time to row again. After some hours we could see the beach, OK, the rocks, and shortly thereafter we landed. That is to say, the log dug its nose into the sand at the foot of a submerged rock, and we were all catapulted onto the shore.

The next month was the worst vacation of my life. The island was big, but uninhabited. There were many manys of seabirds, and lots of bee nests, and we ate lots of honeyed seagull. Lots and lots of honeyed seagull. I looked around for barley and such, so I could make beer, but I couldn’t find any. The rocks on the island weren’t good enough to make tools with, but I’d brought my beermaking collection in a bag around my neck, which is why we had knives and scrapers and the edged object of indeterminate purpose that I’d stolen off an AMH. We had just come to the realization that we were never going to be able to build another log get off of the island, and we had started arguing about how we could survive until the long tide gave us a chance to walk home, when some AMHs came to our rescue.

Well, they didn’t think of it that way. They didn’t even know we were there. They came paddling around the point in a big white thing that looked like a folded sheet of birchbark filled with little round cylinders of oak bark. They had paddles that weren’t their hands. They brought their big white boat in close, paralleling the coast. They sang, they pointed at things. They ran into the end of our submerged log, tipped over, and fell into the water. They were amazing.

Aunt Ja immediately got us to our feet, and we ran down to the beach. We ran past our campsite with our cooking fire and my collection of tools. We ran past the sandy cove where the AMHs were dragging themselves ashore. We ran out along the rocks. We jumped into the water, grabbed the white boat, and pulled it off the log. It filled with water, but the oak bark cylinders kept us afloat. We started paddling with those paddle-things (Uncle Tok hit himself in the head twice, and went back to using his hands). We were soon off the coast and into the current and headed back to the Costa del Neand. Behind us, the AMHs stood on the beach and shook their fists and shouted things that sounded like “Ice”.

I felt bad about it afterwards, leaving all my tools like that. Plus, leaving the AMHs. But Aunt Ja said I shouldn’t worry. Nobody but a cretin would want to stay on that island, so they’d soon figure a way off. AMHs were smart, she said. They had our tools. They had seabirds and honeybees, and if she knew them, they’d just stick feathers to their arms with beeswax, and fly home.

Still, we decided not to go on another Med cruise for a while.


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6 Responses to “Med Cruise”

  1. Kurt Says:

    You’re the Pratchett of the Paleo-Systems Science set. We’re going to Barcelona in the Fall–is it likely that Tok’s clan provided the seed for Catalan culture on their way to Crete?

  2. Kurt Says:

    BTW, in modern proj mgmt parlance, a sprint is a length of time agreed upon by the group (to get from here to there, task oriented whether it’s a travel or work goal.) Which still works with Auntie Ja’s statement.

  3. FoundOnWeb Says:

    I am going to have to work that in to my next one. Whenever that is.

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