Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Cave Where God Was Born

The boy is wandering through the grass feeling a little bored. His father and brother are gone with the men to the other side of the river with their weapons and there’s nothing to do.

He stops to look at things and smell the air which is also full of life and full of sounds. He hears his mother talking beside the fire pit at the edge of the grass. His mother is sitting naked with his baby sister sucking at her limp teat. The baby is starting to doze, but mother is talking to another woman who is also almost naked because it’s a hot time of the year. The tribe has been awake from before dawn but everyone seems to be falling asleep on their feet from the heat. A few men with stick spears are standing together keeping an eye on the trees for any long nosed lions prowling the shadows.

His mother is talking to the woman, her cousin. She’s telling her a story of what her sister’s girl did this morning that annoyed her. The air is full of little stinging flies and stories. She looks up at him as he passes. “Hey – he’s looking for you.”

He listens to her voice go back to telling the story and then goes down to the great flowing river. She no longer tells him to be careful or worries much over him so he knows he is becoming a man. He stands about four feet and a few inches in his tied over moccasins, and wears a chewed animal hide around his waist, tied with a simple rope. His hairless skin is clean and his thick head of hair is brushed back neatly by his mother and reaches to his shoulders. There are itchy little bugs in his hair which sometimes she picks out for him while telling him stories.

Down by the water in the taller reeds he hears the heavy rhythmic panting of a man and the urgent meat slap sounds his loins make against the woman. The boy is used to hearing these sounds any old day. As he passes by he sees them on their knees together, the woman in front with her face pressed down in the grass as the man kneels behind her with his hairy knees between her knees. The man glances up and seeing its only the boy and not an animal goes back to working the woman, wrapping his arms tightly under her belly as he works her.

The naked woman with her butt pressed up tight against the man’s groin is his aunt. The handsome young man was cut badly by a big pig last month on the leg just above the ankle and his aunt took care of the wound so the leg didn’t go bad. She saved his leg. He’s giving her back for the leg.

By the water’s edge the boy kneels down and peers down into the water weeds. A few inches below are the water people, the tiny round tailed things that live in eggs like eyeballs and then burst first and sometimes the fish eat them, but there are too many to eat all of them. Even so, a good big fish is watching them to see if any stray. The water people are too smart for him and stay together where he can’t get at them. If he had a sharp stick he would try for the fish.

No one strays. To be alone is to become prey. The worst thing is to be alone, the direst punishment is to be cast out by your people which in a world full of lions and panthers and cave bears and evil spirits is like a death sentence. The most important thing is to take care of each other’s spirit. No one strays.

Kneeling by the water the boy watches the water people loafing, moving their tails. Across the great river he sees the men with their weapons circling the edge of the bison herd. Watching for a stray. Watching for one alone.

In the weeds he hears the meat skin slap! Slap! slapping speed up until the man makes a desperate grunt. Everything turns still and then woman moans and then laughs hysterically. The weeds wobble as the two bodies tumble down with rough panting sounds.

He watches the animals across the river. The world is so full of big animals. Animals with horns on their nose. Big bison with horns over their ears to fight off the big cats and the bears. And then the horses, long nosed, long legged, fast and full of dignity.

He tosses a leaf at the big fish to see if it will eat it. The fish goes on watching the water people. The leaf goes down stream and the boy follows it with his eyes, wondering if the leaf is lonely and where it goes off all alone and far from the tree.

As he begins to leave he passes his aunt and the man laying in a heap on the ground. The man’s thing is still standing up, wet and sticky purple in the sun. His aunt is gently holding the man’s thing in her fist. It worries the boy. He can’t make his thing stand up when he wants it to. His older sister is curious why men make their things stand up when they like someone and why the women say it feels good. She tried to make it stand up for him so she could see how it feels inside but his thing is still too small and soft and it didn’t work and it all seemed strange somehow so she said something mean and they stopped. He knows it works because he woke up one morning when he had to pee bad and it was standing straight up but then it went back down so he could pee. It wouldn’t come back. The men won’t tell him how to make it stand up hard and straight when he wants it to. They say don’t worry.

“He was by here,” says his aunt. “He was looking for you.”

The boy nods and glances at the man’s big hard thing in her hand and worries again. He waves to his aunt and goes back to where the cave is.

The cave is full of spirits. The people don’t live in the cave. They only go there to hear the spirit stories and dance in the dark with fire. Only the spirits live in the cave. He takes off his leather shoes and leaves them at the cave entrance. There are other shoes here too. By the shoes there’s a fire going and thick sticks in the fire. He takes one for the light and goes in.

Far inside the man who talks to the spirits is working. He has a seashell with animal fat mixed with flowers and berry juice. He has a special stick burned black by the fire and he’s making pictures of the horses on the wall. The boy holds his torch up higher but it goes out. He picks up a sharp rock and scrapes off the burned part. The man stops and watches him.

“I was talking to the water people,” says the boy.

“What do they say?”

“They say the horse people will be leaving soon, moving down where the grass is better. I’m worried.”

“Why?” says the man with the charcoal stick and the dish of paint.

“My thing doesn’t stand.”

“When you’re older,” says the man, “the spirit of the Bison Woman will enter you and your thing will stand.” The man puts down the dish and pulls a torch from the wall. “Come see.”

The boy follows the man to a small place off the side of the cave and the man lifts the light higher so he can see. “There.”

He had painted the Bison Woman Spirit on a white rock. She was a woman from the waist down and a Bison from the waist up. The boy feels his thing stir and become heavy as he looks at her. “I feel her inside me.” he says

“The Bison Woman will come to you soon,” says the man. “Give me your stick.” The boy hands him the clean torch and he lights it from his own. The boy moves forward to take the stick and his foot sinks in the soft squelchy mud.

Together they hear the sound of heavy wet breathing and the soft padding of feet in the dirt. The breathing is beside him in the dark and he lifts his torch.

Standing next to the boy is a huge Dire Wolf as tall as his shoulder. The wolf’s long tongue is hanging out between its teeth. The boy holds his hand out in easy reach of the animals jaws as a sign of trust and the great wolf sniffs it and looks at the man. His tongue zips inside his teeth with a slurp. He takes a step and his paw sinks in the wet mud.

“He was here looking for you,” says the man.


In the Chauvet caves by the Ardeche river in France are the oldest works of human art ever found. The cave paintings were made over a period of 32,000 to 20,000 years ago during which time the cave was intermittently inhabited by Man, before a landslide sealed off the cave mouth, preserving the paintings like a time capsule until their discovery in 1994. Beyond their scientific value, they are considered of themselves among the greatest artworks in the world.

Among the paintings is an image of a nude woman from the waist down, and a Bison from the waist up. The Minotaur image may have been an object of shamanic worship and the most ancient evidence ever found of spiritual activity by early hominids. It is the first and oldest image of a human being ever found. It may be the beginning of Man's earliest religious yearnings.

Near the image of the Bison Woman is the single footprint of a very young adolescent boy. Next to, and parallel to the boy’s footprint is the footprint of a gigantic wolf. No one can explain if the animal was hunting the boy, or if the huge wolf was the boy’s companion.

C. Sanchez-Garcia


  1. Reminds me of "Quest for Fire," which, it is, of course. Keep on keepin' on kemosabe.

  2. I remember that movie from a while back. I think Darryl Hanna was in it.


  3. Sorry to be coming by so late - a very vivid evocation of the past. Thanks for the explanation, too! ;^)

    What happened to the time when there were "horse people" and "fish people" and "wolf people" - before we got the notion that we alone deserved to be considered "human"?

  4. I suspect when my cat looks at us he sees us a big cats, like an extention of himself. People speculate that the shamanistic cave paintings illustrate that in those days people didn;t distinguish between human beings and the animal spirit around them, but saw living creatures as much more interchangable, and that the worlds of spirit and flesh mingled freely back and forth.

    We need to noodle some more.



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