Florida’s First People - A short story by Anne James.
Kneeling on his right knee, the young boy winced as he dropped the sharp flint like stone made out of chert. He stuck his index finger in his mouth. He glanced up at the strong man next to him expecting to see a frown. Instead he saw a wide smile. Shining white teeth.
A soft breeze rustled the lush green fern leaves that provided a soft carpet for the boy’s knee. A gurgling sound of water came from the freshwater spring. Birds sang their different songs as the forest wrapped the hunters in a deceptive quiet.
In Florida, Paleo-people found fresh water where they would camp and ambush land animals. The people that lived 6,000 to 12,000 years ago are known as Paleoindian.
The man placed his finger over his lips as he made a motion for the boy to be quiet.
With careful slowness the boy lowered his other knee and braced his hands on his legs. Crouching he peered through the giant ferns looking at the gigantic furry mastodon.
The elephant-like creature was unaware of the danger lurking in the ferns as he sucked the crystal clear water up through his trunk. Long white tusks on either side of his trunk gleamed through the blue-green water. His eyes blinked as if he was half asleep while he flapped his large ears from the persistent buzz of the flies and mosquitoes.
Shifting his weight back on his right leg the man held the spear high above his head balancing the shaft with his left hand. Poised and graceful as a modern day tennis player about to serve the ball all his muscles were bunched and tight.
The boy’s head swiveled from the beast to the man. Holding his breath he waited for the spear to sail through the air. Excitement and anticipation made him tremble. If the mastodon was killed all the people would eat well. He could almost taste the delicious meat.
A different rustling sound disturbed the normal forest sounds.
The mastodon lifted his enormous head, blinking his eyes. He took a heavy step back. Swinging his trunk up out of the water he turned away from the springs.
Relaxing his grip on the spear a fraction the strong hunter turned his head to the sound. A twenty-four foot alligator was slipping from the moist green ferns and palmettos and sliding into the springs.
Shaking his head in disgust the hunter lowered his spear and motioned for the kneeling boy to get up. There would be no mastodon meat tonight.
Picking up the small spear with an ivory fore shaft from the tusk of a different mastodon, the boy stomped his feet in frustration.
The man grabbed his arm frowning. He pointed to a break in the forest of large oaks and hickory trees. On a small path, black hair glistening in the sun a girl the same age as the boy was filling a gourd with acorns.
The boy’s movement had caught her attention. She glanced up and saw the strong hunter holding a spear with the boy by his side. Hesitating for a moment she balanced the gourd on her hip and gave a shy wave of her hand, tucking her head down.
Taking short quick steps the two hunters, walked toward the girl on the path.
Swelling up his chest as they neared the girl, the boy seemed to strut like a turkey gobbler.
The girl giggled. She stepped back off the path as the two strode by with heads held high. With a gesture as quick as a snake, she stuck out her suntanned brown foot. The boy tripped and toppled headfirst onto the sandy path.
Jumping up, eyes shooting sparks, he shoved the gourd out of the laughing girls arm.
Acorns flew everywhere.
As quick as a flash the man jerked his spear sideways across the path in a gesture that demanded the children to be still.
The boy and the girl froze in position looking where the man was pointing. A huge eastern diamondback rattlesnake was stretched across the path about 20 feet from the group.
Like a streak of lightning the spear struck the enormous snake pinning its head to the ground. The four-pound body writhed and squirmed thumping back and forth across the path.
Another big smile slid across the face of the man as he looked at the open mouthed children.
Florida snakes were an important meat source. As the snake is almost all muscle the meat would provide a lot of protein.
After the twisting snake was quiet, the man walked toward it and grabbed his spear handle jerking it out of the ground. He motioned for the boy to come closer and reached for his smaller spear. Slicing off the rattles from the tail he handed them to the wide-eyed girl. Without hesitating she took them and dropped them in the acorn container.
The boy knelt down beside the girl and picked up all the spilled acorns.
Grasping the snake by the cut tail, the man followed the path dragging the snake without a look at the two children. Obediently, they fell into line behind him.
The path led them to a gentle flowing river. The river flowed from the springs where the mastodon had been drinking.
A large dugout canoe hollowed out of hard yellow pine waited for them in the dappled sun and shadows.
We have looked after our rivers and springs for the last 12,000 years. Let’s make sure they are protected and preserved for the many generations to come.