One day, after a particularly vivid truffle-dream, Zan announced that she wanted to make some "clothes." As far as I understood it, clothes were a kind of fur that humans could wear. Unlike my fur, however, clothes were removable. The idea of removable fur sent a chill up my spine, but the more I thought about it, the more sensible it seemed. Humans hardly had any fur at all, the poor things. If they were clever enough to make some, even of a bizarre, detachable sort, then that would have to do, and good for them. No one, I felt, should have to go through life without fur.
Her next revelation was surprising: before she could make clothes, we had to go find a herd of sheep, so she could get some of the sheeps' fur, which she called "wool." Then, when she had a pile of wool, she could make clothes out of it for her and Nar.
Well, that was clever. Sheep had a lot more fur than they needed -- some of the sheep that I had seen looked almost round because of all their fur -- and they probably wouldn't mind if the nearly naked humans borrowed some. In fact, the sheep probably wouldn't even notice that some of their fur had gone missing. They always had their heads down, munching on the grass, and they weren't the brightest creatures around. We had passed a herd of sheep on our long journey downriver, and they were probably still in the same general area where we had seen them. Sheep tended to stay in one spot if the grazing was good.
Zan gathered up her small baskets and dinner-bowls, and stacked them in the "tote bag" that she had woven out of rushes and vines. Nar picked up two of the larger baskets to put the wool in, and off we went, following the path along the river. Nar was a bit more cheerful than he had been on our last trip, because the baskets he was carrying didn't weigh nearly as much as the big clay jars had. The humans didn't bother to bring food with them, because there were lots of edibles near the river.
It felt good to be traveling again. We moved from calladia tree to calladia tree, until we arrived at the place where the sheep had been. They were still there, grazing in the sun, at one end of the meadow. I wondered how Zan was going to get the wool off them, but she had, as usual, planned ahead. She set her tote bag down and took a sharpened flint out of one of the baskets.
"So that's where my knife went!" Nar said when he saw the flint.
Zan shrugged and gave him a grin that was, well, sheepish. "I broke mine. I forgot to tell you."
I made a mental note, trying to keep the new terminology straight: flint with stick, axe. Flint without stick, knife. Wimsie and I had to learn the names of human-made things from the humans themselves, because that kind of stuff just didn't turn up in our Big Cosmic Dream. Wherever that Dream came from, and whatever it was, it didn't take human inventiveness into account.
Zan strolled over to one of the sheep. The plump, woolly animal glanced at her and went right back to grazing. She grabbed one of its long, curly strands of wool, and gently cut through it with the knife. The sheep didn't react at all, so she repeated the process, taking strands from different parts of the sheep so it wouldn't have one big bald spot. Then she moved on to another sheep, and that one was as cooperative, or as oblivious, as the first sheep had been. It was hard to tell what was going on in the mind of a sheep. Zan filled both large baskets and tied the lids on, and then we returned to the nearest calladia tree, where we spent the night. The next morning, after breakfast, we set out for home.
Since the house was our new den, Zan had turned the cave, which had a lot more space than the house did, into her work area. She took the wool out of the baskets, and spread the fluffy white strands out on several of the reed mats that were strewn around the floor of the cave. The mats had been one of her recent projects. When the baskets were empty, she put them away and stood for a few moments, deep in thought. Then she headed for the beach. Wimsie and I tagged along, eager to find out how she was going to turn the sheep fur into clothes.
Zan slowly zig-zagged along the beach, inspecting the piles of bric-a-brac that had been left behind when the tide went out, and it soon became evident that she was searching for small pieces of driftwood. She picked up and discarded several before she finally found one that she liked. It was short and thick, with a small fork at one end and a knot at the other. She kept looking until she found another piece that was long, thin, and flat, sort of like one of her digging-tools. Both pieces of wood had been smoothed and rounded by the waves. I had no idea what she wanted them for, but I was sure that it would provide considerable entertainment. The three of us went back to the cave, and shortly after we arrived, Nar wandered in to see what she was doing.
It was obvious that Zan enjoyed having an audience. She seated herself cross-legged on a mat, with a heap of wool in her lap. Holding a strand of wool in one hand, she pulled out a thin wisp of it from under her thumb and gave it a twist. Then she pulled out a bit more, and she kept pulling and twisting until most of the strand had been stretched out. It looked like a frizzy white vine, and she called it "yarn." She picked up another strand of wool, and as she pulled and twisted, she worked the beginning of the second strand into the end of the first. She kept going until she had turned all of the wool in her lap into one long piece of yarn. At that point, she stuck the end of the yarn into a notch on the short piece of driftwood, which she referred to as a "spindle". She stood up, grabbed the yarn close to the notch, and tapped the piece of wood so it started spinning. As it spun, she let the yarn slip through her fingers until the spindle, which was twisting the yarn, touched the floor and stopped spinning. She wrapped the spun yarn around the spindle to keep it from getting tangled, leaving the end of the yarn free so she could continue the process with another strand of wool.
It was fascinating to watch. I sat there for hours, staring at that damned spindle as it went round and round and down and down. By the time she was done, she had a big ball of yarn wrapped around the other piece of driftwood that she had found. She put the yarn in one of her baskets, and went to the beach for a pre-dinner swim.
"How is the yarn going to turn into fur?" Wimsie asked me that evening as we curled up to go to sleep.
"We'll have to wait and see," I replied. I tucked my nose into my brush in an exaggerated fashion and closed my eyes, hoping that she would take the hint.
But she wasn't ready to let the matter drop. "The sheep grew fur, and Zan made yarn out of it, and now it's not like fur at all."
Wimsie was right, of course. That yarn bore absolutely no resemblance to any kind of fur that I had ever seen. I was curious about it, too, but I tried to come up with an answer that would make her happy so I could go to sleep. "Humans like to do things the hard way," I explained. "They did all that work to build a bamboo house, when we already had a perfectly good cave to live in. They made a raft when they could have just practiced swimming so they could swim better, and now they're going to make fur by turning the fur they already had into something else first." Then I used the magic word: "They think it's fun to do that sort of thing."
That did it for Wimsie. As long as the humans thought it was fun, that was good enough for her, and no more questions were necessary. She turned around several times, plopped down, tucked her own nose in, and dropped off to sleep.
The following morning, Zan sprang yet another surprise on Nar. She wanted him to build a "loom," so she could use it to weave the yarn into "cloth." I didn't know what those words meant, but I added them to my mental list. It was practically a whole new language, and I knew that the language, and the ideas, were coming straight out of the humans' truffle-dreams. And both humans were determined to bring the things they saw in their dreams to the waking world.
Zan used a stick to draw a picture of the loom in the sand, and Nar frowned at the picture as she tried to explain how the contraption was put together. Apparently, a loom was a big, square thing with several moving parts, and yarn was strung across it in two directions and woven into a solid piece of cloth. I could hardly wait to see one of these marvels in action. When she had described it as well as she was able to, he went to the cave to get his "tool basket," in which he kept several different sizes and shapes of knives along with some other useful implements. Returning with his basket, he set it down near Zan's drawing of the loom. He stared at that drawing for a hell of a long time before shuffling away to try to make the damn thing.
I had suspected that many of the items that the humans had seen in their truffle-dreams were beyond their ability to construct -- and as I watched Nar struggle to build a loom, my suspicions were confirmed. He simply didn't have the tools and the skills that he needed to do the job properly, and the materials that he had to work with just weren't up to the task. At least, not the way he was using them. Zan saw that he was getting frustrated, and she settled for a much simpler design than the one that she had dreamed about. It had a frame made out of the trunks of four small beech trees, with a vertical support on each side and a crosspiece at the top and bottom. The top piece had a split stalk of bamboo resting on it, like a sort of clamp, to hold the cloth in place, and there was also a row of little notches cut into the frame, all the way around, to keep the strands of yarn spread out. The loom wouldn't stand up by itself, so Nar made triangle-shaped props and attached them to each side of the frame. It was a stripped-down version of Zan's dream loom, but it was good enough for her. With his day's work done, Nar picked up his tools and fled the scene, and I knew we weren't going to see him again until dinner.
Then it was Zan's turn to get frustrated as she tried various ways of stringing the yarn on the loom. It wasn't as easy as she had thought it would be. She wound up with a big tangle of yarn, and I could see that she was about ready to give up.
"Are you sure they're having fun?" Wimsie asked me. "It doesn't look like they're having fun."
"Oh, but they are," I assured her. "They're like monkeys, and you know how monkeys love a puzzle." It was obvious to me that the humans weren't having very much fun, but I didn't want Wimsie to make a fuss. I figured that Zan and Nar would come to terms with the idea that what they saw in their dreams would pretty much have to stay in their dreams -- after all, that's how it was for me and Wimsie -- and that, eventually, the humans would settle down. Then we could have our peace and quiet back. All that bashing and chopping and pounding made it sound as if we had a herd of elephants living on the beach. Actually, that wasn't quite true, because elephants were sensible creatures, and they wouldn't waste their time building looms and houses and rafts.
Zan finally did give up on her loom. She shoved it over to one side of the cave and hung baskets and mats on it. And then, several days later, inspiration struck her from an unexpected direction. Her comb. She had made the comb from the twig of a small tree that I couldn't remember the name of. The twigs on that tree were as straight as twigs could be, and they had short, stiff needles that were all lined up in rows. They were funny-looking things. Anyway, she had broken off all but one row of needles, and that's what she used to get the tangles out of her hair. It worked pretty well. And she was combing her hair, shortly after getting out of bed, and suddenly she stopped and stared at the comb. I figured there was a bug on it or something. She held the comb up and poked a finger at the strands of hair that were caught in it.
Then she had her Big Revelation. "That's how I can do it!" she yelled at Nar, who was still curled up in bed and half-asleep. He mumbled something and rolled over to face the wall. Clearly, he wasn't ready for conversation yet, so she tossed the comb into her little bedside basket and ran up the path to the river, with Wimsie and me right at her heels. We couldn't help ourselves -- we just had to see how Zan was going to do it, whatever "it" was. She stopped at the Comb-Twig Tree and broke five or six long, prickly twigs off it, and then she snapped off all of the needles on each twig except for one row. At that point, I started to wonder just what she intended to do with all those combs. Maybe she wanted one for each day of the week. I didn't know, but to me, it seemed like an excessive number of combs for a creature who hardly had any fur.
As it turned out, she had other plans for those ridiculously long combs. She didn't try to use them on her hair. Instead, she took them to the cave, and after dragging her loom to the middle of the floor, she fastened one comb to the top of the frame, one to the bottom, and one to each side, with the needles facing out. That's when I realized what the "combs" were actually for. The needles on the twigs made little slots that she could run the yarn through. It was a brilliant idea, even better than the notches, which hadn't worked very well. But she wasn't quite satisfied with it. When Nar finally stumbled in, she sent him right back out again to cut another small log, about the same size as the ones that made up the frame. She attached one of her two remaining combs to the log and put it on the floor in front of the loom, so it was about a foot away from the bottom of the frame. The last comb was, apparently, a spare, and she set it aside.
With her loom all ready to go, she took her yarn, which was a tangled-up mess, out of the basket where she had flung it, and patiently sorted it out. Once that chore was done, she hung strands of yarn, with knots on the ends, from the needle-slots across the top of the loom, and then she passed them under the comb at the bottom of the loom and over the comb on the log. The ends of the yarn were weighed down with small stones, which kept the strands in their slots.
Now the actual "weaving" began. Zan tied the end of one of her balls of yarn to a short, pointed piece of wood, which made it easy for her to pull the yarn back and forth between the strands that were hanging from the top of the loom. It took her several days to work her way down to the bottom of the frame, but she finally did it. She tied off the strands of yarn around the edges, and then she removed the finished item from the loom. It was supposed to be "cloth," but it looked like a mat to me. A big white mat made out of sheep fur. It seemed like a hell of a lot of trouble to go to, just for one mat, when she already had about a dozen reed mats in the cave and in the house.
Unfortunately, Zan had no idea how to turn the sheep-fur mat into clothes. Her dreams hadn't shown her that critical piece of information. Or maybe they had, and she didn't remember. It pissed her off either way. She called the mat a "blanket" and put it on their bed to sleep on. Later that day, when the humans were out gathering food, I sneaked into the house and tried out the blanket. It was soft and comfortable, and it kept the rushes from poking me. I started wishing that Wimsie and I had a blanket, but I got over it and jumped down off the bed before somebody saw me.
To be continued...