tempus fugit

By ceridwen

Women's work

Foraging. Always has been. While they stayed close to base, looking after children and grandchildren, keeping the fire alive,  alert to danger with keen eyes, sensitive noses and sharp ears, they spotted  plants and trees, fungi, seasonal roots, shoots and fruits, eggs, bugs and grubs, all adding variety and nutrition to the diet in times of plenty or in want.

They needed something to put stuff in. Pockets! Every time I pass this dead tree  stump with its flush of turkey tail fungi I stuff my pockets with  a few more of its leathery flaps to use to make tea - it has proven medicinal benefits. What I need is a kuspuk. This, I recently discovered, is a traditional garment worn by women of the Yup'ik and Inupiat tribes of Alaska and still being made today.  Once they would have been fashioned from animal skin but for the past hundred years or so have been made  of fabric. The kuspuk looks something like a cross between a smock and an anorak.   It has a big hood for protection from biting insects and huge pockets in which to carry the berries, eggs and mushrooms you collect as you walk the trails.

~~~ Taking this a step further on (and I know that not everyone has the time or inclination to read my wordy offerings - that's OK), here's a poem written by Neil Gaiman for an evening devoted to poetry in praise of science, The Universe in Verse, that took place last year in New York.

It's called The Mushroom Hunters and it celebrates women as the first scientists.
(You can find it here, and if you can I strongly recommend following the link to it read by Neil Gaiman's wife, the inimitable Amanda Palmer, singer song-writer extraordinaire who I had the good fortune to see right here in West Wales last year.)

Science, as you know, my little one, is the study
of the nature and behaviour of the universe.
It’s based on observation, on experiment, and measurement,
and the formulation of laws to describe the facts revealed.

In the old times, they say, the men came already fitted with brains
designed to follow flesh-beasts at a run,
to hurdle blindly into the unknown,
and then to find their way back home when lost
with a slain antelope to carry between them.
Or, on bad hunting days, nothing.

The women, who did not need to run down prey,
had brains that spotted landmarks and made paths between them
left at the thorn bush and across the scree
and look down in the bole of the half-fallen tree,
because sometimes there are mushrooms.

Before the flint club, or flint butcher’s tools,
The first tool of all was a sling for the baby
to keep our hands free
and something to put the berries and the mushrooms in,
the roots and the good leaves, the seeds and the crawlers.
Then a flint pestle to smash, to crush, to grind or break.

And sometimes men chased the beasts
into the deep woods,
and never came back.

Some mushrooms will kill you,
while some will show you gods
and some will feed the hunger in our bellies. Identify.

Others will kill us if we eat them raw,
and kill us again if we cook them once,
but if we boil them up in spring water, and pour the water away,
and then boil them once more, and pour the water away,
only then can we eat them safely.

Observe childbirth, measure the swell of bellies and the shape of breasts,
and through experience discover how to bring babies safely into the world.
Observe everything.

And the mushroom hunters walk the ways they walk
and watch the world, and see what they observe.
And some of them would thrive and lick their lips,
While others clutched their stomachs and expired.
So laws are made and handed down on what is safe.

The tools we make to build our lives:
our clothes, our food, our path home…
all these things we base on observation,
on experiment, on measurement, on truth.

And science, you remember, is the study
of the nature and behaviour of the universe,
based on observation, experiment, and measurement,
and the formulation of laws to describe these facts.

The race continues. An early scientist
drew beasts upon the walls of caves
to show her children, now all fat on mushrooms
and on berries, what would be safe to hunt.

The men go running on after beasts.

The scientists walk more slowly, over to the brow of the hill
and down to the water’s edge and past the place where the red clay runs.
They are carrying their babies in the slings they made,
freeing their hands to pick the mushrooms.

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