In the beginning it was cold and there was a need for fire.
By J.R. Kuwanski
In the beginning it was cold and there was a need for fire.
The tribe would gather before dispersing into the forest to collect wood. They would return to the meeting point and dump their collection. A fire was started.
As the tribe continued to collect wood the fire took on a small size. It produced little heat and the tribe knew that there was no time to rest. For if they delayed in collecting the wood, and neglected to continually feed the flame, it would falter and die and without the warmth
of the fire the tribe would not survive. It was a matter of life and death. As such the tribe worked constantly, sometimes throughout the night.
It was dark in the forest and bitterly cold, as they were far from the flame there. But they could see the fire growing and knew that one day soon they would be able to stop for a while and bask in the fruits of their labour, enjoying the warmth of the flame.
One morning the tribe awoke to the gleeful and excited squeals of one of the tribes’ members. When they had arisen they saw one tribesman holding an unusual contraption. Questions began to be asked and the tribesman explained his invention. It was shaped like a large bowl with a large handle on top. It was made of flax and seemed fairly sturdy in structure. At first the tribe couldn’t understand why the inventor was so excited. While the large flax bowl was intriguing, they couldn’t see the use. And then it became clear. The inventor began placing pieces of wood in the basket. After the second or third branch the tribe gasped. This was going to change everything.
With the new invention in use, wood was gathered at a drastically faster rate. And for the first time, one of the tribesmen was performing a new role. The inventor, for long periods, would sit resting in front of the fire, making his baskets. He was the first tribesman to ever really sit and enjoy the heat, the benefits of all the tribe’s hard work. But the tribe was happy enough with this, for while he sat and made more of the large flax bowls, the tribe could collect much more wood. They would all see the fire growing rapidly as a result.
As time went by the fire grew and the tribesmen could take small breaks in their labour and from the cold perilous journeys into the forest. But these were only small breaks and all the tribesman were still very fearful that if they hesitated for too long the fire may dwindle and die, putting their very existence would be in peril.
The tribesman worked so hard collecting the wood, most of the time entire nights were spent in the forest, in pitch black and biting cold. Several died from exhaustion and exposure. But the tribe knew that at this point the fire just wasn’t big enough. But someday in the near future, they figured, it would be and they would be able to join the large flax bowl maker by the fire, who was warm, sometimes even hot, throughout the day and the night.
Some time passed and a remarkable thing happened, an astounding event. The tribe awoke one morning to the unheard sound of stone grinding on stone. What they then saw was a tribesman leaning over a boulder scraping something furiously. When the tribe demanded the individual explain himself, the tribesman turned around presenting an object never before seen – seemingly something from the future. It appeared to be a large stick with a very sharp thin stone attached to the end. From the markings on the boulder it could be seen that the tribesman had been sharpening the edge of the stone all night and the result was an impressive blade. The tribe began considering what the use of such an usual object could be. Some thought it bore danger and could be used in attack. But the inventor protested that this was not the intended use and beckoned for the tribe to follow him. He took them to a tree at the edge of the forest and then performed an act that would change all their lives irrevocably. The inventor wielded the tool high and wide behind him and swung the object with great momentum. Crack! The blade of the stone stuck into the side of the trunk. Again the inventor pulled back and wielded the tool with great vigor at the trunk. Crack! The small tree began to teeter. The tribe caught on and began to murmur, some breaking out into hysteria.
As the large flax bowl inventor had done, the stone blade inventor sat by the fire and one after another produced more stone blades. With both new tools in use by the rest of the tribe, the fire was growing exponentially. By now it was indeed substantial and the two inventors remained warm day and night. It became clear that their health and general well–being was much greater than that of the rest of the tribe. But because it meant the fire was growing at such a rate the tribe were appeased and let the inventors get on with their work.
From time to time other tribesman would try and create inventions of their own or even imitate those of the large bowl or stone blade. But the two original inventors would not teach their skills with any accuracy and ensured that the location of their materials remained a secret. The flax and specific stone, required for the inventions, were not easy to find and many had observed the inventors in the middle of the night scurrying in the distance, hoarding the materials in secret locations. When one of the tribesmen spent too much time attempting to invent or reproduce the tools, the rest of the tribe would turn on him and demand that he return to work. For the fear was that if too many of them attempted to invent, as opposed to toil in the forest, there would be no one to collect the wood and the fire would die.
By now the fire was a formidable blaze, verging on inferno. The two inventors were experiencing great heat. The rest of the tribe however still were working almost constantly. They remained exhausted, often sick. Many were also experiencing ghastly injuries as a result of the new tools – deep gorging gashes from misplaced stone-blade swings and falling trees had left several tribesmen with devastating head injuries. And the forest, while always having been dangerous, was now looking haggard and hacked, robbed of much of its mystique.
Some more time passed and now the fire was almost overwhelming in size. The inventors having spent so much time next to the blaze became somewhat immune to the heat. And what was previously considered to be warm, was not enough for them now, they moved closer to the ferocious blaze, sometimes even burning themselves. The rest of the tribe had continued to work tirelessly and some began to ask at what point they would allow themselves to rest. How big, exactly, does the fire have to be before they can stop, rest and enjoy the fruits of their labour?
This debate was a sensitive topic but it began to grow. Those who were enjoying the fire the most, the inventors, were those who most vehemently opposed any notion of slowing the fire’s growth, despite its almost overwhelming size. They constructed elaborate fables of a distant tribe that slowed in feeding their fire and instead began to enjoy the heat. It was said that this almost immediately resulted in the fire dying, followed by mass starvation and death. Some of the other tribes’ people wondered why they couldn’t just collect enough wood to sustain the fire instead of continually growing it. To them it seemed to be much more than what was needed to keep the tribe warm and at no immediate risk of teetering. But most of the other tribesmen were so terrified from the inventors’ repeated stories that they continued on collecting wood, out of fear alone. They had become convinced of the fables and they too began reciting them to other tribesmen. The legends were so well ingrained by now that those who proposed otherwise were starting to be considered heretics and a threat to the tribe.
Some tribesmen however had managed to walk to other side of forest, as they were now forced to travel so far to get wood, most had been burnt. These tribesmen returned with witnessed accounts of other tribes. They told of how they saw, first-hand, smaller fires where most of the tribe enjoyed the warmth for vast parts of the day and night. These tribesmen were not frantically running back and forth to the forest and they observed no such hunger that the inventors had talked of. As the tribesmen recounted these discoveries the others listened but in the hectic pace of collecting they had little time to really hear and the disturbing fables of the inventors, retold so fervently over and over, tended to drown out these opposing accounts.
It was beginning to be the case now that the tribesmen were having to constantly trek vast distances to collect wood, through extensive wastelands of smouldering tree stumps and sharp hazardous blades amidst the debris. It became clear to them that they were collecting and cutting timber much faster than it could possibly grow. Some tribesman wondered what would happen when all the wood ran out. Surely it couldn’t last forever at this rate. When such concerns worked their way around to the inventors, the inventors quickly began accusing those who held such concerns of being lazy and simple-minded. They encouraged resentment within the tribe against such doubters. Although sometimes the inventors would adopt a different approach and invite the doubting tribesman to the fire where they would allow them to experience the joy of the warmth. This often took the doubters’ mind off the forest and they too, after a while, began to want more and more heat.
Many of the tribesmen now had to work harder than their parents did in their youth, despite the fire being twice as large. The forest was so much further away than it had been a generation ago and the tribesman were fighting mercilessly amongst themselves to salvage the remaining of what was left, so they could have their moment by the flame, in the hope that one day they could rest.