June 30, 2012 9:57:21 PM
Naturalist Pat Arinder's talk on the archeological history of local Indian culture presented at the Plymouth Bluff Center last Sunday brought back several quandaries I have pondered.
Awarding myself great license, I've arranged to time travel to speak to a meeting of local tribal chiefs on the banks of the Tombigbee River in the year 1400. We'll assume no language problems for our discussion.
I explain I have been sent to warn them of the coming white society apocalypse that will envelop their civilization in about 200 years. It will decimate them militarily, socially and bring diseases unknown to them that will kill 80 percent of their population.
The chiefs, of course, are incredulous that such a catastrophe is possible. "Are these whites smarter than we are," they challenge? "Are they physically stronger? Are they braver warriors? Do they know our forests better that we do? How can you be so certain they will best us in our own lands?"
"No," I answer, "they are not smarter, or stronger or braver, nor do they know your land nearly as well as you, but they will easily prevail."
I'll leave the reader for a moment to ponder what explanation you might offer that the Indians might comprehend for this race of supermen that approaches.
A second question could be asked of these Indian chiefs, or of the white settlers they will soon encounter, that will baffle them both in the year 1800.
"What will be the most lethal animal for humans in this land in 200 years," I ask? Both the chiefs and the settlement mayors guess perhaps the bear, cougar, or alligator. "No," I respond, "It is the white tail deer."
Presume you are an Indian or a settler with your contemporary knowledge of the 1800 world.
Could anyone possibly imagine how the "vicious" white tail deer could threaten humans beyond every wild carnivore they have ever seen?
My answer for the first question of white settler superiority would be an explanation of reading, writing, and arithmetic developed thousands of years before, which has allowed exponential leveraging of human knowledge and ingenuity in various societies around the world. That leverage ensures white settler dominance despite their having no physical superiority. (Yes, I'd then have to explain leverage).
Also, the settlers will carry European diseases to which they have substantial immunity but the Indians do not. This would probably devolve into an explanation of evil spirits (microbes) that the Indians would not believe.
The second question about killer deer would require explanations of metallurgy, internal combustion engines, electricity and automobiles whose velocity would allow the deer to penetrate the car windshield and kill the humans.
To reverse engineer the imponderable questions for the Indians, they might have one for us, as a member of the audience inquired of Mr. Arinder.
"How did the Indians figure out the advantage of putting feathers on the back end of an arrow to make it fly true?" Ouch! Now I was stumped, how the heck did they figure that out? I can't imagine I could solve the arrow problem, aside from asking the tribal aerodynamic engineer, of course.
Pondering this, my guess would be in observing falling leaves and winged seedlings such as the "helicopter" seeds of the maple or elm trees that spin slowly to the ground. Irregularly shaped leaves fall in random swirls or a rocking to-and-fro motion. However, the symmetrically winged seedlings fall steadily in a straight line except as they are blown by the wind. Hmmm, they fall straight and evenly. What if those three, fan-like blades were aligned with the wind instead of broadside to it?
Might this allow the seed to fall straight and true?
Having had fun with my human ancestors from 1400 or 1800, however, I again reverse engineer and ask what mysteries we do not know, that we would find as unfathomable as our ancestors would find the concept of electricity that was all around them but invisible, seemingly indecipherable and, therefore, incomprehensible. What other force might be invisibly all around us that we do not comprehend?
My final question would be: What advice could I give the Indians in 1400 to save themselves?
Jay Lacklen is a retired Air Force Reserve pilot, who flew missions in Vietnam and Iraq. Presently he is simulator instructor at CAFB and is writing a book about his experiences in the Air Force.