6 Apr 2009

We Creatures of Trees: Shepard, Coming Home to the Pleistocene, Ch.3, subsection 4

Paul Shepard

Coming Home to the Pleistocene

Chapter III: How We Once Lived

Subsection 4

We Creatures of Trees

Primitive cultures often use certain biological markers to indicate when the child is ready to take on adult roles and responsibilities. For example, when a child loses his milk teeth, that means he is ready to accompany adults to help forage for food.
The boy learns the rudiments of the hunter/tracker skills and the girl the intricacies of the digging stick and the subtleties of plant distribution. (42c)
Yet they are just at play. And they learn "a vast store of cultural information" by listing to hunting stories. And their playful explorations teach them how to identify countless plants and animals.

Children also are naturally in touch with the ecosystem.
Children at age six are typically anthropomorphic: they perceive other forms of animal life as motivated and feeling like themselves, which is the basis of kinship with the natural world. This feeling extends to plants as well. (42c)
Like other primates, we love trees. Hence they are perhaps the most important plants for our childhood.
They are on the one hand like great, protective, benign adults whose whispering and lightly percussive tremolo is like the humming of a kindly aunt or uncle. On the other hand trees structure space as though it were a labyrinthine underworld, where hiding is like survival itself. (42-43)
As well, dense forests have their "gothic side and smell of danger."

Before our species migrated to the savannas, we were creatures of the trees. "Its roots go much deeper into our past, as though the forest were part of our brain." (43c)

Shepard, Paul. Coming Home to the Pleistocene. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 1998.

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