The hunter lies breathlessly poised, stone-tipped spear an extension of his hand, body coated in the ripe dung of his prey, the roe deer. The rich carpet of the boreal northern forest rustles. The hunter’s stomach lurches and grumbles. The deer pauses in her grazing. The bark of the tree quivers in her mouth.
The man is not young. He has not eaten anything in over a day. He and his mate have stayed in the tribe’s cave dwelling over the summer, guardians against bears and lions, while younger members of the clan range over summer to meet and celebrate shared humanity in elegiac song to the gods of the earth and sky, forest and lake.
The summer herds have disappeared. The man and his woman are close to starvation. Ranging in the woods the previous dawn for truffles and greens he has spied dried droppings. Through the sun’s waxing and waning he has stolen silently to within a spear’s cast of fresh meat. A bird chirps, almost as if to warn the deer of danger.
The hunter has not cast a spear since the early summer snagging of the salmon against watery diffraction. He pushes it from his mind. Stay in the hunt, he reproaches himself. Raising his head above a low-lying branch, he knows the deer is coiled like a spring, aware of danger, ready to erupt from the clearing.
Fluidly he rises, sends a prayer to the hunting god, draws back and releases. The deer bounds forward. The spear sails through the chasm between its life and the hunter’s death and drives into her flank. She gasps and runs instinctively, pain enveloping her. The hunter draws a stone knife and jogs behind her trail of blood.
The sun wanes. The hunter knows he is close. The hyenas also sense that fresh meat. The hunter enters a clearing lit by golden shards of fast receding light. The deer is ahead, her forelegs splayed, her head low in defeat. The troupe of hyenas emerge ahead, snarling and slavering. The hunter shouts, throws stones and drives them back.
He despatches the roe with his knife, rolls her, slits her from throat to anus, removes her steaming innards. He hauls the carcase upright, ropes her hind legs and heaves the rope over a branch to empty the blood from her veins. Another time he might save the stomach for his woman to fashion a water-bag. Now it distracts the scavengers.
The hunter makes fire by the magic of his flint stone. Its warm glow keeps predators away and cooks the rump. He wraps the remaining uncooked meat in the hide and suspends it above the fire with his rope. The hunter eats, giving thanks to the spirit of roe deer for her gift. He and his woman will prosper now, until the clan returns.
* * *
Once we connected with forest, river, lake, sea and earth. We took what we needed, were grateful and put something back. Now, the more we learn, the more we take. The primeval past is gone, but we ignore its lessons at our peril.