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November 28, 2022

The Garden of Peed-In 13

By Paula Petruzzi

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Even though many of the trees and food-plants had survived the cold, there wasn't nearly as much food around as there had been. Now there were more animals looking for fewer edibles. To make matters worse, Zan was busy with the baby, which meant that the rest of us had to spend more time scouting around for food. It was fortunate that Zan had learned how to cook several kinds of food that we hadn't bothered with before, like corn, yams, and rice. She also made "flour" by grinding wheat between rocks, and then she made "flatbread" and "pretzels" out of the flour by baking it on a flat stone over the fire-place. And Nar had figured out how to get "syrup" out of maple trees by poking holes in the bark. Zan poured the syrup over the flatbread, and it made the bread taste a lot better. But it still wasn't enough, especially now that there were three humans to feed. Wimsie and I could live on very little, but Zan and Nar seemed to be considerably more vexed by hunger than we were.

And then, one day, over a meal of yams and crusty bread, Zan mentioned something that she had seen in one of her dreams. "We could have 'mutton' for dinner."

"What's mutton?" Nar asked with his mouth full, and crumbs fell down the front of his shirt.

Apparently having second thoughts, Zan didn't answer right away. But then, knowing that Nar wouldn't let any comment pass that had to do with food, she cleared her throat and said one word. "Sheep."

I had seen it coming. Sooner or later, the humans were bound to notice that some of the animals were eating other animals, and to conclude that animals should be added to our diet.

Nar stopped chewing. "What do you mean, 'sheep?'"

"I mean, we could eat a few of the sheep," Zan explained. "With all the new lambs that were born, there are too many sheep, and not quite enough grass for them."

"Wolves have eaten some of the sheep," Nar commented. "I found a dead sheep, or what was left of it, several days ago."

"Well, then, we might as well have one, now and then," Zan said briskly.

And that was how "meat" came to be added to our diet. Predictably, Wimsie was horrified at the idea of eating her animal friends, and I had to reassure her that they wanted us to eat them so we wouldn't be hungry. I also reminded her that we would be helping them to go to the Big Dream where they could be happy.

I was glad that we were still having the Big Dream, because it made lying a lot easier. And maybe dead animals did go to the Big Dream, and I was telling the truth without realizing it. I wouldn't know until I got there myself, if I ever did, so I wasn't going to twist my conscience into a pretzel over it. Making Wimsie happy, or at least a bit less miserable, was all that mattered.

I made sure that Wimsie and I were far away when Nar decided to try his hand at "butchering a sheep." I knew the scene would be ugly and messy, because Nar had never done such a thing before. Even the wolves hadn't been quite sure how to go about turning an animal into food. When we returned home, early in the evening, the deed was done, and there was a new smell coming from the stove that made my mouth water. Zan put a good-sized slab of "mutton" in our dishes. I chowed down, but Wimsie, as usual, took her time. I didn't tease her about being a slow, picky eater, like I usually did, because I knew she was still coming to terms with the idea of eating her animal friends. Hell, I was still coming to terms with it. But the mutton tasted so good that we soon got over it.

When our herd of sheep had dwindled to the point that Zan was worried about her supply of wool, Nar decided to start "hunting" for other animals so we could eat them instead of our sheep. The trouble was that all of the animals, except for the sheep, ran away when they saw us coming. Nar tried to think of a way to make them stop running, and he decided to make an item that he had seen in one of his dreams: a "bow."

He found a springy sapling and cut a section out of it that had a bit of a curve, and then he put notches in each end of it and strung a piece of vine from one end to the other. The vine was shorter than the piece of wood, which bent even more under the tension. Then he made some short, straight sticks called "arrows," that had sharp points on one end and feathers at the other.

The way Nar explained it, the idea was to use the vine to propel one of the sharp sticks, which would then fly through the air and hit an animal, presumably incapacitating the poor creature to the point where we could catch it and eat it. I was doubtful. I didn't think those flying sticks were going to hit anything, but it had been a while since I'd had the chance to Watch Nar Fuck Things Up, so I hung around while he practiced with his bow.

It was great. Arrows flew in all directions as Nar tried to work out a system for aiming the damn things. One of them even went almost sideways and stuck in the side of the house. It soon became apparent that the bow, a simple item made from a stick and a vine, was harder to use than it looked. And it was also too flimsy to send the arrows very far. The animal that Nar wanted to hit would have to be right in front of him, and if it was right in front of him, then he might as well just bash it over the head with the bow. To his credit, he figured that out not too long after I did, and he made another bow from a thicker piece of a harder kind of wood. I really thought he was on to something this time, and I could hardly wait to see him hit the house from further away. But when he tried to string the new bow with a section of vine, the wood was so strong that it broke the vine. He tried a thicker vine, and that one broke, too. Then he twisted two vines together, the way Zan twisted strands of wool, and that seemed to work. The twisted vine was strong enough to use with the harder wood.

Nar spent a lot of time practicing with the bow, and he finally got good enough to actually hit what he was aiming at. The first time he went hunting, I went with him, because he was going to try to hit moving targets and that would give him plenty of new ways to Fuck Things Up. Wimsie, of course, didn't want anything to do with it, so Nar and I took off by ourselves. We saw several deer, mainly along the streams. Nar tried to shoot them, but he wasn't able to get close enough to hit one, even with his improved bow. As the day wore on, he began to get frustrated. And both of us were getting hungry. We had eaten "mutton," and now we wanted to find out what "venison" tasted like.

We topped a ridge and started down into another valley. Ahead of us, yet another deer flipped its white tail at us and sprang into the brush. Nar sighed and kept walking, but I had finally decided to take matters into my own paws. I woofed at him, and he stopped and looked at me. When I had his attention, I circled around the thicket where the deer was hiding, and then I let loose with a volley of barking that scared the deer right out of the brush and back toward Nar.

With more smarts than I had given him credit for, or perhaps because he had remembered something from his "bow dream," Nar had crouched down by a stump to make himself less visible. I kept barking as I crashed through the brush, so the deer wouldn't turn around and run back into the thicket. Nar took a shot at it, and he hit it. It wasn't a good hit, but it was a start. The deer kept running, although not as fast, and I was able to circle around it again and chase it back to Nar. By the time the deer finally stopped, it had so many arrows sticking out of it that it reminded me of one of Zan's "pincushions." But it was our very first hunt, and we were proud of ourselves. And that night, when Zan put the broiled venison in our dishes, it tasted so good that nobody gave a shit about the holes in the meat.

Using her own dream-memories, Zan kept the deer's skin and "tanned" it, which turned it into "leather," and then she made "moccasins" and "gloves" from small pieces of the "leather." And when we ate more animals, she tanned their skins and made more things from them: "purses," which were small carry-bags with shoulder straps; warm, woolly "hats" that had flaps on the sides to protect the humans' ears from the cold; a "jumpsuit," which was a one-piece item of clothing for the toddler; a "sling," so she could carry the baby on her back; and also some "tunics" and "pants" for cold weather. I started to wonder what interesting dream-thing she would make out of my skin, if she had the chance -- maybe it would be a different kind of hat, and she could call it a "fez" -- but I kept those thoughts strictly to myself. I just hoped that if she did make a hat out of me, she would leave the tail on. I liked my tail. If it were stuck on a hat, it would look rather jaunty.

Shortly after Nar and I started hunting, Zan began another of her dream-inspired projects. One sunny day, she put Hala in her back-sling and took off into the woods, collecting seeds and dropping them into the purses that she had brought along. Wimsie accompanied her on the outing and helped her find the plants that she was looking for. They returned with purses full of corn, wheat, and sunflower seeds. But instead of taking the seeds into the house so they could be added to a meal, Zan dug a short furrow in the ground with a stick, and then she sprinkled some of the seeds in the furrow and covered them with dirt. When that furrow was done, she dug another one right next to it.

Nar happened to be outside, working on some arrows. "What are you doing?" he called over to her.

"Farming," she said, and she went back to digging furrows, with Wimsie helping her dig.

Nar and I went over to get a closer look at this new activity. "What is 'farming?'" Nar asked.

"I saw it in a dream," Zan said. "It's a way to keep food plants in one place, close to the house, instead of having to look all over the woods for them."

Nar looked at the furrow that she had just dug, and then at the sheep, which were grazing nearby. "So it's like a herd of sheep, only with plants instead of sheep."

"Exactly!" Zan said. "And the groups of plants are called 'crops' and not herds. The corn crop can be right here," she said, indicating the area that she was making furrows in, "and the wheat crop can be next to it, over there." She pointed at the ground off to her right. "I'll put the sunflowers close to the house. They'll be pretty there."

Nar immediately saw a problem. "The sheep will eat the plants."

"That's why we need a 'fence,'" Zan said cheerfully, and she smiled at him.

I could see that Nar was afraid to ask the next question, because the answer would probably involve more work. Especially if she was smiling at him like that. He had to ask it, though, because Zan was standing there with her arms crossed, waiting for him to ask it. "Okay. What's a 'fence?'"

"It's a row of logs, put end-to-end this way," she said, moving her hand horizontally, "and they're fastened to short pieces of log that stick out of the ground." She held her fingers up, indicating the log supports. "We can put the fence around a big part of the meadow, and then put the sheep inside the fence so they will eat their grass and not our crops. And it will keep the sheep from wandering away and getting eaten by wolves."

It all sounded perfectly reasonable, and when Nar was done with his arrows, he started on the fence. He dug a row of holes where one side of the fence would go. Then he cut a section of a log, put one end of the log in the hole, and filled the rest of the hole in with dirt so the log wouldn't fall over. When he had several support-logs in place, he cut some small trees down to make the horizontal sections. He couldn't quite figure out how to fasten the horizontal parts to the vertical ones. Finally, he chopped grooves in the tops of the supports and fastened the logs tightly in the grooves with wedges. Then he continued the process, building the fence around the sheep as they stood there feeding their faces, until he had completely enclosed the area where the sheep were going to live. They didn't care how the fence was made, as long as they had their grass.

When the fence was done, Nar decided to relax and try his hand at "fishing," which was another dream-activity. Fishing was sort of like hunting for fish, but with a "rod" instead of a bow. He found a long, flexible stick, tied a thin "line" of vine to it, and put a "hook" on the end of the line. Then he impaled a worm on the hook and dunked it in the water.

I didn't believe that the fish would be stupid enough to grab that worm, but they were. That night, we had trout for dinner. And the next time Nar caught some fish, Zan experimented with "smoking" the fish so it would keep for a long time without spoiling. She planned to have some fish stored away, in case the weather went to shit again. I thought that was a good idea.

Things were getting better, and I had the feeling that the worst of the Bad Things had happened.

I was wrong.






To be continued...

Article © Paula Petruzzi. All rights reserved.
Published on 2014-02-24
Image(s) are public domain.
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