Thursday, November 14, 2019

Wild Free and Happy Sample 26

[Note: This is the twenty-sixth sample from my rough draft of a far from finished new book, Wild, Free, & Happy.  I don’t plan on reviewing more books for a while.  My blog is home to reviews of 202 books, and you are very welcome to explore them.  The Search field on the right side will find words in the full contents of all rants and reviews, if you are interested in specific authors, titles, or subjects.] 

Animal Domestication

What is “domestication?”  With regard to animal domestication, there are two different meanings, and those who use the word don’t often reveal which one they mean.  James Scott distinguished between “domesticated,” meaning tamed (modified behavior), versus “fully domesticated,” meaning genetically different from their wild ancestors as a result of selective breeding (modified DNA), and dependent on humans for their survival.  Elephants in India have been tamed to do work for humans, but they remain genetically wild.  Poodles are obviously genetically different from their gray wolf ancestors.  The difference between wild humans and civilized ones seems to be far more cultural than genetic.

On the following pages, “domesticated” will refer to animals that have been held in captivity for many generations, selectively bred to encourage specific traits, and genetically different from their wild ancestors — manmade critters that had never existed before.  They look and behave differently.  Animals that have merely been tamed, like a friendly peanut loving squirrel, are not a matter for concern.  But the control and exploitation of domesticated critters has really rocked the ecological boat over the centuries.  The enslavement of animals enabled the growth of most civilizations, increased their environmental impacts, and frequently stimulated bloody conflicts.

Why Do It?

As we’ve learned, the success of hominins has been substantially boosted by our success at hunting and feasting on large wild herbivores — animals weighing more than 100 pounds (43 kg).  Herbivores did not compete with humans for the same wild foods.  They converted the solar energy that was stored in grass into a highly nutritious form that we could digest.  This enabled hominins to develop big brains (but not necessarily wise).

As we’ve learned, “the perfection of hunting” eventually moved our ancestors over a line.  We began taking some game a bit faster than they could replace their losses.  For a very long time, large game remained abundant in many lands, enabling local hominin tribes to live well, and grow in numbers.  As long as food was abundant and easy, there wouldn’t be much motivation to contemplate family planning strategies and wise taboos.  But growing numbers of mouths needed growing amounts of food in order to remain strong, healthy, and alive. 

While large game was abundant for a very long time, the delicious critters were not infinite in number.  Big Mama Nature was simply not in the mood to magically accelerate herbivore reproduction in order to keep the tropical primates fat, happy, and annoying.  It was long past time for the half-clever primates to learn some important lessons about life.  Because they lacked immaculate wisdom, acute foresight, or PhDs in wildlife management, they were forced to learn these lessons the hard way.  Big Mama fetched a paddle named scarcity.  Smack!  Ouch!  Stop it!  Smack!

As we’ve learned, climate change reconfigured the ecological playing field.  The last glacial period spanned from about 80,000 to 12,900 years ago.  The peak of this ice age was the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), which spanned from 26,500 to 19,000 years ago.  Barry Cunliffe said that at this time, much of Europe was buried under ice sheets up to one mile (1.6 km) thick (as was North America).  So much water was held frozen in glaciers that global sea levels were 410 feet (125 m) lower than today.  During the frigid LGM, forest country was pushed far to the south.  Trees survived along the Mediterranean Sea, the Atlantic coast of Portugal and Spain, and the south shore of the Black Sea.

Following the LGM, a warming trend began, which spanned from 19,000 to 12,900 years ago.  Then, the Younger Dryas cold snap chilled things down again for another 1,300 years, until 11,600 years ago.  Then began the warm climate period that we still enjoy today, which enabled the possibility of large scale agriculture, civilization, skyrocketing population, and the fantastic craziness of modernity.  This warm era has lasted an unusually long time.  Normally, we’d be overdue for a shift back to cold.  Instead, we’re sliding sideways at high speed into a much hotter era, and it seems likely to blindside life as we know it.  Clive Finlayson warns that the end of farming is just one climate change away.

The warm era that we’ve been living in for the last 11,600 years led to a sequence of big changes.  Glaciers shifted into retreat mode, and a tundra ecosystem eventually emerged on the newly exposed soil.  A bit later, steppe grasslands appeared, displacing some tundra.  Still later, increasing warmth enabled the expansion of forests.  As forests migrated northward, they began displacing the open tundra and grasslands that provided optimal habitat for the herds of large herbivores that our ancestors so deeply loved.  So, hunters had to devote more attention to forest critters, which were less abundant: elk, aurochs, red deer, roe deer, wild pigs, and small animals.

For centuries, the human diaspora enjoyed some freedom to roam and expand.  There were still frontiers, beyond which humans had never before set foot.  Eventually, uninhabited ecosystems became more and more scarce, and red neon No Vacancy lights became common.  Continued expansion ceased being free and easy.  The intrepid pioneers kept smacking into <bleeping> limits, which got very annoying (and sometimes bloody).

As we’ve learned, the increasing scarcity of large herbivores required that the menus at the diner had to be rewritten.  Expanding forest cover inspired folks to relocate to wetlands, or to the shorelines of seas, lakes, and streams.  A number of foods that used to be second class became regular mainstays — birds, small game, fish, shellfish, plant foods.  They had been second class because they were far more labor intensive than hunting large game.  Tedious hard work sucks.  Second class stuff had also provided a life insurance safety net, a reserve of food set aside for droughts, famine times, and so on.

Mark Nathan Cohen, Diana Muir, Craig Dilworth, James Scott, and others noted that there was a clear pattern in the archaeological record at many locations.  The older evidence indicated a diet in which large herbivores were core.  Above the old layers, evidence revealed the shift to labor intensive second class foods.  Above that, evidence of herding and horticulture begins to appear — food production that was even more labor intensive.  These shifts were motivated by a gradual process of growing scarcity. 

Scott pointed out that our hungry ancestors were not merely domesticating plants and animals, they were also domesticating ecosystems to promote this new and laborious experiment in weird living.  Forests were being swept aside, and replaced by open cropland and pasture.  Wild animals that might harm crops or livestock were no longer welcome to exist in these new domesticated ecosystems.

Long ago, overspecialization contributed to the extinction of the saber-tooth cats, as hominin hunters competed more and more for their primary prey.  Our ancestors avoided a similar fate.  They were omnivores, so they could consume a huge variety of stuff that wasn’t meat.  Because they had fire, and knew how to cook, they had far more food options than species that were restricted to a raw food diet.  At the same time, successful efforts at eliminating man-eating predators sharply reduced the vital assistance they had provided for discouraging population growth.

Scott summed up the pluses and minuses of animal domestication.  Both a deer and a steer provided meat, bones, hides, and tendons, but the deer required zero human assistance to grow from doe to adult.  The steer could require corrals, winter feed and shelter, herd dogs, salt licks, and a source of water.  As long as deer and other game was plentiful, labor intensive herding and farming would have been moronic.

On the plus side, enslaved female livestock could be milked.  Milk could be made into cheese, yogurt, and butter, and stored for later.  Herders have milked cattle, zebu, water buffalo, yak, goat, sheep, reindeer, dromedary, camels, horse, and ass.  Dairy foods provide vitamin D, an essential nutrient.  In winter months, folks living in snow country often could not acquire sufficient vitamin D via exposure to direct sunlight, so dairy foods could provide a beneficial supplement.

All infants can digest lactose, the sugar in milk.  Before animal domestication, kids would normally become lactose intolerant a few years down the road.  They could no longer digest milk.  Lactose intolerant people are able to digest cheese, yogurt, and butter.  In cultures with a tradition of dairy consumption, evolution eventually modified the gene pool for lactose tolerance in adults.  This shift was not universal in all humans.  In cultures where milk is not consumed, most folks become lactose intolerant after infancy.

Poultry and waterfowl produced meat and eggs.  Folks rode on the backs of horses, donkeys, yaks, reindeer, and camels.  Mounted cavalry radically redefined the rules for warfare and raiding.  Beasts of burden were used to pull plows, carts, and sleds, and to haul loads of cargo on their backs.  Animal manure could be used for fertilizer or burned as fuel.  Hairy critters, especially sheep, provided fibers that could be spun and woven into many useful products.  An animal can give up its hide just once, but a sheep can provide wool every year. 

Herders could also tap some nutritious blood from living animals from time to time.  Up to 80 percent of a wild human’s diet was plant based food, but animal products provided nutrients that were beneficial for a strenuous outdoor way of life.  I have found no evidence of wild cultures that were vegetarian.

From Aurochs to Cattle

On many fine days in years past, I have taken walks in grasslands where cattle were grazing.  I always felt safe, because the animals were not the slightest bit anxious or aggressive.  I walked, they grazed, all was good.  Let’s take a peek at the cattle family tree.

Aurochs were the wild ancestors of today’s herd of 1.3 billion domesticated cattle.  They were huge, strong, and fierce — the opposite of the passive cud-chewing manure makers of today.  In regions having ideal conditions, bulls could grow up to 6 feet (180 cm) tall at the shoulder, and weigh up to 3,300 pounds (1,500 kg).  Their horns were much longer than cattle, and pointed forward, aggressively.

Some believe that the species originally emerged in India between 1.5 and 2 million years ago.  They survived in a world along with similarly large, strong, and fierce predators.  Eventually their range spanned from England to China.  Aurochs’ preferred habitat was dense ancient forests with lakes, rivers, bogs, and fens.  They didn’t hang out in frigid tundra regions with woolly mammoths and horses.

In 51 B.C., Caesar wrote that aurochs were animals “a little smaller than elephants, having the appearance, color, and shape of bulls.  They are very strong and swift, and attack every man and beast they catch sight of.  The natives sedulously trap them in pits and kill them.  Young men engage in the sport, hardening their muscles by the exercise; and those who kill the largest head of game exhibit the horns as a trophy, and thereby earn high honor.  These animals, even when caught young, cannot be domesticated and tamed.”

Charles the Great, also known as Charlemagne (A.D. 747 – 814), once had a painful encounter while on a hunting trip.  When an aurochs appeared in the forest, his hunting buddies fled in terror.  Charlemagne was less intelligent.  He rode up to one, drew his sword, and pissed off the monster, who gored his leg.  From that day forward, the humbled king walked with a limp.

The famous explorer Marco Polo (1254 – 1324) also described them.  “There are wild cattle in that country as big as elephants, splendid creatures, covered everywhere but on the back with shaggy hair a good four palms long.  They are partly black, partly white, and really wonderfully fine creatures.”

Anton Schneeberger (1530 – 1581) was a Swiss botanist and doctor based in Poland.  He wrote that aurochs had no fear of humans, and did not flee from their approach.  When they were teased or hunted, they got very hot-tempered and dangerous, sometimes hurling idiots high into the air.

Cis van Vuure wrote the book on aurochs.  He thought that domestication began about 9,000 years ago, in the Middle East and Pakistan.  Over time, the mighty aurochs was reduced to countless variations of dimwitted cattle, fine-tuned for specific climates and uses (meat, hides, milk, draft).

As agriculture expanded, Europe’s ancient forests and wetlands shrank.  Grain farmers detested aurochs molesting their crops, and herders resented them dining on prime forage.  Aurochs stood in the path of progress.  The last aurochs died in 1627, in the Jaktoróv forest, in Warsaw province of Poland.

It’s hard to imagine such notoriously fierce animals being forced into slavery.  Alasdair Wilkins wrote about recent DNA research on cattle.  The ancestors of every domesticated cow in the world trace back to a tiny herd in the Middle East, a herd as small as 80 animals.  The process of domestication may have taken a thousand years, and it was likely done by sedentary people.  It would have been impossible for nomadic herders to confine huge powerful animals with a tremendous love of wildness and freedom.

Nobody ever hitched a wagon or plow to an aurochs.  Nobody put a saddle on one.  Nobody milked them, and made aurochs cheese.  They were wild, free, strong, and extremely dangerous.  And so, they no longer belonged in the heavily managed manmade societies we were creating.  Today, thanks to centuries of selective breeding, we can now dine on hamburgers made from the bovine equivalent of a dimwitted yappy poodle.

The Unlucky Losers

The vast majority of living plant and animal species have luckily remained wild and free.  Jared Diamond wrote a lot about domestication.  Of the world’s 148 species of large land-dwelling herbivores and omnivores, only 14 had been domesticated prior to the twentieth century.  Nine of the 14 only had regional significance, but five species soared to become multinational superstars — the cow, sheep, pig, goat, and horse.  All five were domesticated in Eurasia, before 4000 B.C.

Most of the unlucky 14 were native to Eurasia.  In the Americas, only the llama and alpaca were domesticated, and they lived in small herds.  People didn’t drink their milk.  They never spread to cultures beyond the Andes, so the Indian civilizations of Central and North America did not have pack animals beyond dogs.  In North and South America, the heavy toll of megafauna extinctions may have eliminated a number of potential domesticates.  In Australia, zero large animals were enslaved.  In Africa, no large mammals were domesticated south of the Sahara — in this region only the turkey-like guinea fowl was domesticated.

Diamond wrote that the large herbivores most vulnerable to enslavement were species that were easy to feed, rapid growing, disease resistant, and could be bred in captivity.  They did not panic in confinement, nor were they dangerously violent.  These unlucky species were herd animals that had follow-the-leader dominance hierarchies.

James Scott wrote that over the passage of generations, selective breeding produces slaves that are more passive, less alert, less intelligent, and more dependent on human care.  They reach reproductive age sooner, preserve some juvenile aspects, and produce more offspring.  The brains of domesticated sheep are 24 percent smaller than their wild ancestors, and pig brains are one third smaller.  Because they were dullards, Paul Shepard referred to domesticated livestock as “goofies.”

Domesticated animals are born in captivity, and many never experience wildness and freedom during their entire lives.  One perk of their enslavement is that their lives are, in some ways, luxurious.  They are provided with food, water, and salt licks.  Many are provided with shelter from the hot sun, and frigid weather.  They enjoy an unnatural level of personal security because predator eradication programs ensure they will usually be safe from deadly attacks, month after month, until their luck runs out, and their masters send them for a visit to the butcher.  Enjoying such an easy life, they don’t need energy guzzling big brains.  (As previously noted, human brains have shrunk about 10 percent in the last 20,000 years.)

Friday, November 1, 2019

Wild Free and Happy Sample 25

[Note: This is the twenty-fifth sample from my rough draft of a far from finished new book, Wild, Free, & Happy.  I don’t plan on reviewing more books for a while.  My blog is home to reviews of 202 books, and you are very welcome to explore them.  The Search field on the right side will find words in the full contents of all rants and reviews, if you are interested in specific authors, titles, or subjects.] 

Wandering Tree People

Imagine that you possessed a magic potion that provided super-human powers of vision.  If you dabbed a drop on each eyelid, your perception could soar high into the sky, where you could look down on an entire continent.  Imagine that this trance allowed you perceive, in fast forward mode, the appearance of this landscape over the passage of many thousands of years.  You would quickly notice that forests exist in a state of continuous change.  In ordinary reality, you can’t notice this, because the tree people live much more slowly than we do.  They almost appear to be frozen in time, as old as the mountains.

Grandmother oak was old and wise when I was born.  She was old when my mother was born, and my grandmother too.  She’ll be a bit older on the day when I cross to the other side, but she might not have yet reached the midpoint in her life journey.  Humans, on the other hand, zoom through life like hamsters frantically galloping on treadmills, and we blink out in just a few decades, like sparks floating away from a campfire on a starry night.

Over the centuries, as climate trends gradually zig and zag from warm, to cool, then warm again, the tree people are always on the move.  They expand into open lands during warm eras, and retreat with the return of ice ages — up and down, over and over, like the tides of the ocean.  Dinosaurs still exist today in the form of birds, winged creatures that can quickly escape to distant regions when changing conditions threaten their survival.  Trees can’t fly, but they can and do migrate — but far more slowly than winged dinosaurs.

Peter Wohlleben noted that a strong wind can carry some seeds a mile (1.6 km) away.  Birds can carry seeds several miles.  In ideal conditions, a tribe of beech tree people can advance about a quarter mile per year.  Compared to trees, the human genome has little variation.  We are like seven-point-something billion Barbie and Ken dolls.  Tree genomes are extremely diverse, and this is key for their survival.  Some trees are more drought tolerant, others are better with cold or moisture or fire.  So, change that kills some, is less likely to kill all.  Evolution has fine-tuned them to courageously endure the challenges of life.

Like the trees, animal species also ride the climate roller coaster.  Retreating glaciers exposed soil which then became tundra — high quality habitat for wooly mammoths, reindeer, horses, and hunters.  If the warming trend continued, tundra might transform into steppe grassland, and maybe later to forest.  The expansion of forest created challenges for both our ancestors, and large grazing animals.

Barry Cunliffe noted that there were far fewer food resources in woodlands.  The total biomass of forest herbivores was just 20 to 30 percent of the total biomass of tundra herbivores.  So, woodland hunters had to live in smaller groups, and more dispersed.  As forests recovered, growing larger and denser, folks likely migrated to where there was more adequate food, like sea coasts, streams, lakes, bogs, swamps, and river deltas.  In some regions, large areas of unbroken forest may have been uninhabited.

When the climate trend reversed, and ice ages returned, forests retreated, displaced by expanding steppe and tundra.  This open land was far better habitat for large herbivores and the folks who hunted them.  One day, a very clever person had a shocking revelation.  Wow!  It wasn’t necessary to patiently wait centuries for climate changes to diminish forests and make their hunting grounds more attractive to herds of game.  They could achieve the same results by killing some trees, creating openings in the forest where the grass people could expand and thrive.  So they did.  By creating more and larger grassy openings, hunting clans could attract more and larger game.

Later, when outsiders smuggled in domesticated livestock from other lands, traditions changed.  Herding had some advantages over hunting.  By milking the livestock they could, over time, extract four times more calories from their enslaved animals, compared to simply killing and eating them.  Milk was produced every day.  Nutrient dense cheese could be stored for later use.  Naturally, if some livestock is good, more is better.  Herders couldn’t eat trees, so they devoted more effort to encouraging stuff they could eat.  Of course, wolves and other livestock-loving predators had to go bye-bye.

In addition to smuggling in livestock, devious outsiders also brought the seeds for domesticated grasses, like wheat, oats, barley, millet, and so on.  These, of course, required open land, abundant sunlight, and fertile pulverized soil.  Consequently, tree people had to go bye-bye to make space for the plowmen.

So, over time, folks created manmade grasslands for three different objectives: (1) to encourage large game, (2) to benefit livestock herding, and (3) to enable grain production via soil mining.  Naturally, the expansion of manmade grasslands required deforestation projects.

Primordial Forest

In my first book, I included a section on the Norse story of Ragnarök, the twilight of the gods.  These powerful humanlike gods succeeded in temporarily subduing the four forces of nature.  Of course, nature violently broke loose, and gave the arrogant control freak gods their bloody just rewards.  And so, Earth was cleansed, healed, and renewed. 

One of the few deities that survived the great battle was a son of Odin, named Vidar, famous for being strong and silent.  Vidar’s home was surrounded by the solitude of a vast and impenetrable forest.  He lived apart from humans, and had no influence on them, beyond inspiring profound awe and reverence. 

Rasmus Björn Anderson wrote that Vidar was the god of the pathless forest, where neither the sound of the ax, nor the voice of man, was ever heard.  “Vidar is the imperishable, wild, original nature, the eternal matter …a force which man sees and reveres….”  It’s neat that my Norse ancestors, in the good old days, were filled with a deep respect and reverence for creation, in its wild and unspoiled form — combined with a deep distrust of control freak deities who got too big for their britches.

Primordial forests have never been an optimal habitat for hominin hunter-gatherers.  These ancient forests were far more common ten thousand years ago.  Since then, it’s staggering and heartbreaking to comprehend how much forest has been lost to the herders, farmers, miners, road builders, urban developers, industrialists, and the endlessly growing mobs of radicalized consumers.

Let’s take a little joyride, and visit Western Europe 1,900 years ago.  Caius Cornelius Tacitus was a Roman journalist.  He wrote Germania in A.D. 98.  It provided a brief overview of several dozen Germanic tribes of the era — the Batavi, Chatti, Usipii, Tencteri, Chauci, Fosi, Cimbri, Anglii, Varini, and so on.  [MAP]

Germania was a vast wild frontier of forest and marsh, “a land rude in its surface, rigorous in its climate, cheerless to every beholder and cultivator, except a native.”  Germanic tribes were isolated from the outer world by the Rhine, the Danube, the sea, mountain ranges, vast primeval tracts, and “mutual dread.”  Germania was a region of wild freedom and fiercely independent anarchist tribes.  They built no permanent settlements.  Their flocks and herds grazed in the openings and edges. 

Tribal warfare provided ongoing entertainment.  Fearless aggressive warriors, skilled at using spears with iron blades, preferred raiding to farming.  “They even think it base and spiritless to earn by sweat what they might purchase with blood.”  Raiding was a common pastime in herding societies, where personal status was determined by how many animals you owned (the origin of the “more is better” mindset).

Tacitus wrote a fascinating description of the vast Hercynian forest.  From the Rhine, it spanned east, across modern Germany, to the Carpathians, and all the way to Dacia (Romania).  A quick traveler could cross the forest north to south in nine days, but it was very long, from east to west.  Caesar noted, “There is no man in the Germany we know who can say that he has reached the edge of that forest, though he may have gone forward sixty days’ journey, or who has learnt in what place it begins.”  Pliny also mentioned it:  “The vast trees of the Hercynian forest, untouched for ages, and as old as the world, by their almost immortal destiny exceed common wonders.”  Remember that the Hercynian forest was just one of countless primeval forests that thrived all around the world.  Few still exist today, and the future for those looks bleak.

Forest People

Julius Caesar roamed Western Europe 150 years earlier than Tacitus, and wrote about his heroic adventures in 51 B.C.  He was the emperor of Rome, and his mission was to expand the Empire, and slap down uppity subjects.  His primary attention was focused on provinces of Celtic people in what is now France, Belgium, and England.

Caesar made a brief foolish attempt to conquer the super violent Germanic tribes, and he quickly realized the error of his ways and retreated.  In those days, armies didn’t haul caravans of supplies with them on their campaigns.  Instead, as they marched, they simply swiped food from the farms they passed.  The Germans were primarily herders who built no permanent settlements, and had no granaries loaded with food for invaders to swipe.  When danger threatened, the people and their herds vanished into the dark forest mists.

German tribes built no roads in their forest, and they invested much blood and fury to surround their homelands with a wide barrier of uninhabited wilderness.  In those days, raiding other tribes was a good way to improve warrior skills, grab booty, and cure boredom.  Life was more secure when outsiders lived nowhere close.  The best neighbors were those who lived far away, and were never seen. 

Caesar’s journal reveals an interesting situation.  The Rhine River was a large, treacherous, swift moving river, and there were no bridges in those days.  It took a lot of effort and luck to get from one side to the other, and once you set foot on the German side, a super violent welcoming party was eager to immediately cut you to bloody bits.  The German tribes were strong, proud, wild, free, and determined to remain so forever.

For the German herders, nothing would have been more stupid than eliminating the vast ancient forests that provided a valuable security buffer.  The Roman legions were fine-tuned for open battlefield combat, where heavily armored lads attacked in rigid formations.  Caesar learned that this approach was ridiculous when confronting the guerilla warfare tactics used in the forests of Germania, where there were no roads, no granaries to loot, and rage-crazed fanatics behind every tree.

Caesar had a similar problem in England, when he met the Britons, who did not warmly welcome the Roman thugs.  Few Britons grew grain.  They were herders and hunters who lived on milk and flesh.  The men had long hair and moustaches, and they applied woad to turn their skin blue, causing legionnaires to wet their pants with fear.  Britons were skilled at hit-and-run guerilla warfare.  They would swarm out of the forest, kill disorganized troops, and return to the forest, where Romans dared not follow.  There was only one place where the Thames River could be easily forded, and many sharp stakes were planted along the shore, and under the water.  Caesar failed to conquer them.

In Sweden, forests also provided freedom and security for the common folks.  Vilhelm Moberg celebrated the fact that peasant society in Sweden had remained stable and functional for 5,000 years.  In most of the regions of Europe, peasants suffered centuries of misery under the heavy fist of feudalism.  They were not free.  They lived in lands crisscrossed with roads, which enabled their oppressors to keep them under surveillance and control.  When the natives got uppity, soldiers could readily be brought in to smash them.

The big exceptions were Sweden, Norway, and Switzerland, where the peasants were largely able to remain free.  The Swiss, surrounded by powerful enemies, were protected by the Alps.  The Norse and Swedes were protected by their vast, dense, rugged, roadless forests.  It’s simply impossible to exterminate folks who cannot be found.  Moberg glowed with gratitude for his nation’s forests, which allowed the rustic peasants to preserve their freedom until the industrial era metastasized. 

From time to time, there were uprisings in Sweden, and kings summoned their troops.  In open country, the troops had absolute advantage, and could easily smash troublemakers.  In forests they found no roads, didn’t know where they were going, and soon became perfectly lost.  It was terrifying.  Behind every bush might be a man with a crossbow, ready and eager to send you away to Valhalla. 

The forest people knew every hill and rock in the woods.  They could pick the time and place to strike, leveraging their maximum advantage.  When it was not wise to strike, they vanished into the wilderness.  The forest was also a safe sanctuary.  When trouble was advancing, they gathered as many belongings as possible, and moved to locations where they would not be found.

In the future United States, Richard Lillard noted that early settlers from heavily deforested Europe were overwhelmed when they first laid eyes on the incredible abundance of enormous trees.  Back home, many had existed on a diet that majored in porridge, but in this new land they were free to hunt as much they pleased, with zero risk of punishment.  They were astonished to see settlements with wooden fences and sidewalks — an amazing luxury!  Common folks were free to cut as much firewood as they wished, and keep their homes warmer than royal palaces in the old country.  In America fish and fur were abundant and cheap.  Folks felt like they were lottery winners.

Forest Indians, on the other hand, did not celebrate the arrival of the freaky space aliens.  The natives were masters of guerilla warfare, and they took much pleasure in making life as miserable as possible for the hideous mutants.   When planning an assault, they carefully calculated the lay of the land, the weather, the morale of their enemy, and where they were weakest and most vulnerable.  They might silently crawl on their bellies across a mile of briars and thorns in order to strike from the most advantageous position.

Ambush was a favored tactic, according to Lillard.  At the ideal moment, attack suddenly with a burst of terrifying screams and whoops.  Retreat, ambush from another side, duel, retreat.  Pounce and maneuver like cats or wolves.  Make constant bewildering movements.  Terrified soldiers often fired blindly in surprise.  And then, when they were frantically reloading their muskets, natives with hatchets zipped in and euthanized the defenseless aliens.  In the end, the highly contagious diseases of civilization blindsided the Indian nations.

Colonized People

Caesar also described the Celtic tribes who lived under radically different conditions — the Gauls (France), Belgae (Belgians), and Britons (English).   The Celts lived west of the Rhine River, on the other side from the wild and free Germans to the east.  The Celts were the conquered, exploited, civilized subjects of an evil empire.  Obedience to their imperial masters was compulsory.  Naughty subjects were reduced to wolf chow or slavery (around 30 to 40 percent of the residents in Rome were slaves).  Obedient subjects had to regularly pay a generous tribute to the Romans.  Families were required to provide their sons to serve as conscripts for the Roman legions (most legionnaires were conscripts, not lads from Rome).

The Celtic tribes lived in permanent agriculture-based settlements.  They were chained to a place they had to defend, because the cottages, granaries, fields, and herds that they depended on for their survival were vulnerable to being confiscated or destroyed by invaders.  Their villages were linked together by road systems that enabled the Romans to promptly thrash rebels, and keep their subjects under strict control. 

Memorize this vital factoid: in several Western European languages, the words for “road” and “raid” evolved from a common root.  In Peru, the Incas controlled a vast empire via an excellent road system — but the same roads later made it extremely convenient for the horse-mounted Spanish invaders to quickly and easily conquer them.  More recently, nations have sharply increased their control via railroads, navies, superhighways, air forces, and electronic communications.  When railroads reached the western plains of the U.S., the buffalo and Indians were doomed.

Anyway, Caesar’s report gives us a glimpse of two cultures.  On one side of the Rhine were wild Germanic tribes that majored in herding.  On the other side, were the civilized Celtic tribes of farmers, herders, artisans, technicians, and bureaucrats — the colonial subjects of a powerful empire.  In earlier times, prior to conquest, the Celts were likely herders too.  Earlier still, both the Germans and the Celts had been wild anarchist hunter-gatherers.

The transition from hunting and foraging to herding, farming, and civilization marked a huge and terrible turning point in the human saga, and the saga of Big Mama Nature.  With sharp metal axes, they began a world war on the defenseless tree people.  These destructive cultures grew and became more and more unsustainable.  They kicked open the gate to a treacherous path that eventually led to the super high-impact way of life we suffer from today.