Keeping It Simple
In the zoology lab bubble at Long Lake Camp, a young, slender, brown-furred person looked up from the microscope . "Aiya!" said Anasu, "Your tools certainly are complicated!"
The man who had light-colored fur on his head, Deragu, made the gesture of agreement. "Most of the people here do not know how to live without complicated tools. I have lived both with them and without them."
"How did it happen that you are different?" Anasu asked.
"My people, the Angelinos, live simply," said Deragu. "When I was fifteen years old, I was bored with the things I knew. I wanted to see new things, and left my people to seek them. Most of the new things turned out to be complicated."
Anasu shifted his body restlessly. "I came here to see new things. Now I have seen many strange, new things, but they are not what I expected. It is hard to learn about them, especially when the people who know the tools do not know the language of gifts. When I am a man, I will tend the bowhorn herd and hunt for my food and make fine gifts to give in the time of mating, but I cannot imagine making tools like these."
Deragu showed his teeth in the way that Anasu had been told meant happiness, though the expression looked angry to him. "Men of the Iron People give gifts to women in the time of mating?"
Anasu made the gesture of assent. "Some men journey to the endless water to gather salt to give as mating gifts. Some men carve beautiful boxes, or do fine embroidery. Women give gifts to men, as well. They bring things from the village that men might need, like knives and cloth. Your people do not do this?"
Deragu tilted his head. "Gifts between men and women are common, and sometimes they have to do with mating, but sometimes not. Remember that mating is not limited to springtime, for us. Lust comes and goes, whether a man and a woman mate with each only a few times, or many times. Among your people, are the gifts given before mating, or after?"
"After," said Anasu. "When the mating is done."
"Interesting!" said Derek. "Among our people, gifts are sometimes given before mating, and sometimes after. Do you know, yet, what kinds of gifts you will give?"
"No." Anasu hunched his body slightly. "I would like to give something very fine--I want to be a big man in all ways! My embroidery is acceptable, but nothing special. I thought I might learn something about making unusually fine gifts here in your village." He made the gesture of resignation.
"Ah!" Deragu showed his teeth again. "Let us think about this. There is so much knowledge in this place--surely some part of it would be useful to you and to the women of the Iron People. Some things are still simple, even here!"
Anasu made the gesture of gratitude. "I would like to return to the village with gifts of some kind."
Deragu said, "We can ask other people for ideas, but let's start by thinking of the simplest things: food, clothing, and places to live. You know more about the kinds of food in this land than I do. The Voice of the Waterfall does not like the way our clothes fit, and perhaps clothing is not the best thing to offer to a woman at the time of mating." He showed his teeth again. "Women will also have their own shelters, but pehaps learning how our people make shelters might give you ideas about new ways to make other things. And when you are a man, living alone, you might sometimes want a better shelter than a tent."
Anasu said, "I am willing to learn about your shelters. Do you mean ones like these bubbles?"
Deragu made the strange "huh-huh-huh" sound that was the laughter of the hairless people. "No, these bubbles are complicated to make. Our people have used many kinds of shelters, depending on what the land is like. Shelters made of wood, or reeds, or hides, or dirt, or stones. We are at the edge of a forest, here. Let us go find someone who is skilled in working with wood, and ask to see his or her tools. Some of those tools will be simple, and you can see if any of them would be new to the Iron People. What do your people use to make trees into wood that can be used?"
"Axes for cutting down trees," said Anasu, making a chopping gesture, "and chisels for splitting tree-trunks into boards."
"No knives that have teeth on one side?" asked Deragu.
Anasu made the gesture of confusion. "Knives that have teeth?"
"I will show you!" said Deregu, laughing again. "It is certainly possible to cut wood with axes and chisels. Many of our people have done this. But our people also have tools called saws for making very fine things from wood. There are many kinds of saws. The simpler ones look like knives with small teeth along the edge of the blade. With an axe, a chisel, a saw and a little teaching, you could start building a shelter of wood tomorrow. Your first one might not look impressive, but making something new is one good way to learn."
"That sounds useful," said Anasu, moving toward the door of the bubble. "Have you showed saws to Nia or the Voice of the Waterfall?"
Deragu made the gesture that meant, "No."
Anasu made the gesture of satisfaction. "I will be the first of the Iron People to see and use knives with teeth. Hu! That will be something to tell, at least."
"Come with me," said Deragu. "By the time you go home, you will have many stories to tell. Let's go make you into a big man!"
Perhaps this journey would turn out well, after all.