From TODD WALTON
Under The Table Books
“Hemingway never grew out of adolescence. His scope and depth stayed shallow because he had no idea what women are for.” Rex Stout
Today I fit several important pieces into the jigsaw puzzle of life, having found the first of those pieces a few days ago while I was at Mendocino K-8 School on Little Lake Road, shooting hoops despite the biting chill in the air and…
Wait. Doesn’t it strike you as remarkable, even astonishing, that in Mendocino of all places, a town known the world over as a seething vortex of artists and poets and potheads, that our K-8 school doesn’t have at least a mildly groovy name? Fantasia Archetype School. Raven Big Tree Learning Center. Earthling Haven Academy. Middle Earth Education Fulcrum. Doppelganger Nine. Fields of Elysium Lyceum. Mind Body Spirit Cognition Node. But I digress.
So…I was shooting hoops despite the biting chill when down the steps from the school to the playground came two people, a shapely young woman with hair of spun gold and a boy some four inches shorter than the young woman, a skinny, dorky boy with drab brown hair wearing a blue Mendocino K-8 School sweatshirt. And though I was a hundred yards away, I knew this boy and woman were courting, that they were the same age, numerically speaking, and that they were headed for the swings where many Mendocino K-8 junior high couples go to swing and flirt and talk about whatever junior high kids talk about these days.
Seeing these two physically mismatched lovebirds, I journeyed back through my memory archives to when I was a drab dorky boy in Eighth Grade and madly in love with three shapely young women who were, in every conceivable way (and I do mean conceivable), ready to hook up with men but found themselves surrounded by boys. And remembering those uneasy days of biological imbalance, when Lucy and Hannah and Shari were so obviously women while I and my male classmates were still so obviously boys, and having just finished reading The Old Way by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas for the third time, I suddenly understood why so many girls today turn into women well in advance of their male age peers, which understanding was the aforementioned first of several pieces I just today fit into the jigsaw puzzle of life.
“We hope to find more pieces of the puzzle which will shed light on the connection between this upright, walking ape, our early ancestor, and modern man.” Richard Leakey
I love the many-times-proven fact that every human being on earth is a direct genetic descendant of the Ju/wasi (Bushmen) of southern Africa, and I am so grateful that Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, a keen observer and gifted writer, dwelt among some of the last Ju/wasi to live in the Old Way so we may know how our ancestors lived prior to the ruination of the African savannah and the decimation of the original Ju/wasi way of life.
To quote from The Old Way (with Ms. Thomas’s permission), “If you happen to see a contemporary film or photo showing Bushmen dressed in skins, perhaps beside a small grass shelter or following a line of antelope footprints or handling a bow and arrow, you are seeing a reenactment. Today, nobody lives in the Old Way. All Bushmen, unless they put on skins for a photographer, wear the clothing of the dominant cultures—invariably Western dress for men, and Western or African dress for women—and none live by hunting and gathering, although with these activities they sometimes supplement their meager diet, which today is often cornmeal provided by the Namibian government as a welfare ration. They have jobs if they can get them, although many cannot; they listen to popular music on the radio, dance the popular dances, are influenced to some degree by Christianity, and are aware of the larger world and national politics.”
The Old Way is a record of daily life among one of the very last groups of Ju/wasi living as their predecessors (our predecessors) lived for at least thirty-five thousand years. And guess what? The junior high biological gender divide of our modern times did not exist among our people for those thirty-five thousand years.
“N!ai reached the menarche (began to menstruate) when she was about seventeen years old. At this time an important ceremony was held for her with eland music and dancing—a much more important ceremony than her wedding. But she and /Gunda (her husband) had no child for three years, when she was almost twenty. This was a very normal age for a Ju/wa woman’s first pregnancy.
“In the Old Way, the human population, like most other populations who live in the Old Way, had it own regulation. The strenuous work and absence of body fat prevented hunter-gatherer women from menstruating at an early age…”
In harmony with this biological truth, a Ju/wa man was not allowed to wed until he had killed an antelope, no easy feat even for a strong and experienced hunter. Thus most Ju/wa men spent the years before marriage growing into their full size and strength while acquiring skills that would enable them to provide antelope meat for their families and relatives.
“Who in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle.” Lewis Carroll
When I was a little boy, my friends and I would pretend to be cowboys fighting Indians, the Indians being in the distance for us to shoot at with our pretend guns. When I was an older boy, my friends and I pretended to be American soldiers fighting Japanese and German soldiers, and these enemies, too, were in the distance for us to shoot at with our pretend guns. But when I played alone, I was always an Indian with a spear (fashioned from a grape stake or broom handle) and the bow and arrows I’d had since I was eight.
My childhood home stood on the edge of an abandoned estate, twenty acres of oaks and olive trees and overgrown vineyards and grasslands and ravines and chaparral teaming with wildlife—paradise. As far as I know, I was the only boy or girl in my neighborhood to habitually pretend to be an Indian; and there were certainly no other pretend Indians in our neck of the woods who took their pretending to the lengths I did. During those long summers when I was eight nine ten eleven and twelve, I lived for days on end in the wilds back of our house, barefoot and naked save for shorts, spending many a night camped out under the stars, with nuts and raisins and beef jerky for food, and a fire of twigs to keep me company as I gave voice to my invisible companions, wise old storytellers who knew everything there was to know about the animals and plants and spirits of that place.
I played tons of baseball with my friends and rode my bike all over the place, adventuring in the world of roads and stores, and I spent hours hunkered down in my bedroom with books, but no matter what else I might be doing, I longed to be in the woods, to follow a bird or butterfly to see where they might lead me; and to sit hidden and still for so long that the quail would forget I was there and resume their foraging around me, and a deer might appear close by, unaware of me, and I would be filled with wild joy knowing I might kill these animals if I needed to eat them to survive.
“I’d rather learn from one bird how to sing
than teach ten thousand stars how not to dance” e.e. cummings
I attended school and went insane with boredom, the teachings dead and useless, the only good parts of school being singing and drawing and recess and ball games and socializing with my friends and being secretly in love with girls. And until Sixth Grade all my classmates were boys and girls, and it was only midway through Sixth Grade and from then on that girls became women and boys remained boys, a division that reached a painful zenith in Seventh and Eighth Grade, otherwise known as junior high.
“and down they forgot as up they grew” e.e. cummings
The summer after Eighth Grade I was hired by a neighbor to move many tons of soil from his backyard to his front yard. I shoveled heavy brown dirt from a gently sloping hillside into a large wheelbarrow and wheeled that barrow a hundred yards up and over an incline to the dumping point. This labor—five hours a day—lasted two months and changed my fast-growing body from skinny boy to muscular young man. Then, with only a month remaining before I started high school, I spent two weeks camped in the woods with my spear and fires and beef jerky, knowing these were the last days of my childhood and never wanting them to end.
“and now you are and i am now and we’re
a mystery which will never happen again” e.e. cummings
The week before I started high school, I went to a party; and all the girls my age had become women. They saw I was no longer a boy; and Shari who had been a woman since Seventh Grade kissed me tenderly as we danced and led me outside into the moonlight and we kissed unto mindlessness, but beyond that I didn’t have a clue what to do and Shari was clearly frustrated and disappointed.
A few days later, the Saturday before high school began, I came home from my camp in the woods to find Hannah had come to visit, Hannah whom I had secretly loved since Fifth Grade, Hannah with womanly curves and beautiful breasts, Hannah with a deep musical laugh who always got my jokes when no one else did, Hannah who was my primary dream girl and fantasy lover.
We played ping-pong, and as we played I realized I was naked save for shorts, and Hannah was naked save for shorts and a negligible blouse. I had caught up to her, biologically speaking, and she had come to me—never having been to my house before—because she knew I had caught up to her, and because she liked me.
Somehow we went from playing ping-pong on the terrace to walking through the overgrown vineyard to a massive oak, and there we embraced and kissed and kissed some more until she whispered sweetly, “Hey, you wanna do it?”
“I know how,” she said, her eyes sparkling. “And I can show you.”
I was thirteen. Looking back, seeing myself with Hannah in those last moments of childhood, I may wish I had allowed her to show me, but now that I have found and fit enough pieces into the jigsaw puzzle of life, I understand that I was not yet fully a man, not yet a killer of antelopes or the modern equivalent, and therefore not allowed to take a wife.
(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser February 2012)