Kirby: Getting the point from the ancients
By Robert Kirby
Tribune ColumnistFirst published Aug 27 2013 01:01AM
A few days ago, I was slammed with an intervention. It’s been three weeks since my shoulder surgery. During that time I’ve complained nonstop about how miserable I am.
Three weeks of mind-numbing television, old movies, cheap novels and powerful drugs had turned me into a slovenly couch monster. I was surly and mean and filled with self pity.
My wife finally reached her limit. She called Sonny and told him to get me out of the house before she was no longer responsible for her actions.
Sunday morning, Sonny showed up and took me into the desert against my will. We drove west, out past the ghost towns of the Tintic range and off toward the Drum Mountains. We eventually ran out of road in a silent patch of wind-gnarled junipers.
Sonny shut off the ignition and took a pistol from under the seat. He checked to make sure it was loaded.
Him • "Get out."
Me • "OK, but don’t shoot me in the shoulder. Aim for a part that doesn’t already hurt."
The gun was for snakes.
While a thunderstorm menaced in the distance, we followed the shoreline of a long-vanished lake looking for evidence of ancient human inhabitation.
At first it was nowhere to be found. And then it was everywhere. All it took was seeing with a different set of eyes. Once you could picture the lake, it was possible to see where people might have lived.
At the end of a low ridge protruding onto an alkali flat, Sonny stopped and pointed at the ground. Scattered in the pale dirt were the contents of a prehistoric jewelry box.
Tiny flecks of stone in burgundy, pearl, jade, indigo and ebony littered the ground in a brilliant confetti of survival.
It was the floor of an ancient tool shop. Long before Rome, Greece, and the Pyramids, human beings had come to this spot and knapped flint into the crude tools that would feed and protect them.
We picked through the scatter of coin-sized scrapers, fleshers and blades struck from stone transported over long distances.
The site had been around for a long time. Ants carried smaller flakes of jasper, agate, basalt and obsidian from deep underground to the surface of their hills.
A bit of lavender caught my eye and I picked it up. It was a broken Humboldt projectile point, and according to Sonny made anywhere from 5,000 to 7,000 years ago.
That got me. Really. Before the ink was dry on the Book of Genesis, a man sat in the middle of what would one day be Juab County and knapped out a tool he hoped would help him feed his family.
He didn’t finish it. In the process of being formed, the point snapped in half. The man tossed it onto the scrap heap where it would be found half a dozen millennia later by a guy whose biggest complaint was nothing worth watching on TV.
I looked around for the other half and couldn’t find it. Maybe Mr. Ancient flung it away in disgust. Maybe he went back to his shelter and sulked for the rest of the day. It’s possible that he whined a lot and made his wife crazy.
I’m thinking he had more pressing things to do. More likely he cursed and immediately started working another piece of stone. Dinner sure as hell wasn’t going to hunt itself.
I put the broken point back on the ground and covered it with a little dirt. Maybe in a thousand years it will serve as an important object lesson to some other guy with no real problems.