She looked too small to be a mother. Walking slowly across the African plain with a baby held on her hip by her left arm,
her head swung left and right constantly. She was looking for any signs of the plants that had edible tubers which made
up a large part of her family's diet. She was also on the lookout for any threats. Lions, leopards and cheetahs would
were most likely dozing in this part of the day, but it paid to avoid even sleeping cats by a wide margin. There were a
dozen other threats requiring constant alertness. Hyenas, and dogs would only hesitate a short while if they encountered
a lone hominid, particularly one handicapped by carrying a baby. Easy pickings. Some of the grazing animals should also
be given a wide berth. A startled buffalo or zebra would just as easily charge as run away from the diminutive being.
But she had learned of these dangers from her mother and knew how to traverse the open country with some safety. Her dark
eyes, deep set beneath a prominent brow ridge moved smoothly back and forth. With her snubby nose she delicately sniffed
the breeze for any scents it might bear. Her ears were alert for any noise other than that produced by the breeze gently
blowing through the vegetation. The short digging stick she carried in her right hand would be of little use as a weapon,
but with the baby, it was all she could comfortably manage.
Up in the sky she saw circling vultures, but they were high and widespread. No possibility of any carrion nearby. A big
bone or two would have been a welcome addition to the diet albeit extracting the marrow required using a suitable rock.
She continued on, looking, listening, smelling. A short distance away she saw the tops of some thickly leafed bushes
growing in a small hollow. This was an indication of water. It was unlikely to be a spring but a place where the ground
water was closer to the surface. The bushes had sent down their roots to the vital fluid and produced a more verdant crop
of leaves than the other plants not so fortunately placed. This small oasis was a likely spot to find the desired plants.
It was also a place where small burrowing animals might make their home, but digging them out of their deep burrows was
arduous and the digger was likely to attract attention and also be less able to see or hear approaching danger.
Maintaining her watchfulness, she walked cautiously to the hollow. At its edge she paused, scanned the surrounding area,
sniffed the breeze and listened. Satisfied there was no nearby threat, she descended into the hollow. At the bottom, at
the base of the largest bush was a dozen or more of the spiky leaves of the sweet tuber plant she had been hoping to find.
Carefully she laid the baby on the ground and commenced to dig out the plants. The tubers were located a foot or so down,
but the sandy soil made the digging relatively easy. Pausing occasionally to check for danger, she dug and extracted
sixteen of the plants. She was careful not to detach the stems. These would be easier to hold while returning to the rock
shelter where her small family would spend the night. When she had dug up all the plants she gathered them into a bundle.
She picked up her baby, settled him on her hip and knelt to pick up the bundle. It was then she found she was unable to
pick up all the plants she had laboriously unearthed. There were too many. There was also her digging stick that she was
unwilling to abandon. The obvious answer was to only pick up and carry as many plants as she reasonably could handle. She
could make the bundle smaller by removing the stems, but the tubers were lumpy and unwieldy and she would not be able to
carry even half of them. She was loathe to leave any behind as she knew that they would be devoured by foraging animals
and insects within a short period. Leaving them and returning for them later would be pointless. She considered the
Although her family were presently occupying a rock shelter during the night, it was the normal habit of her people to
spend it high in convenient trees where they couched in nests of foliage. The nest were built afresh each evening and were
composed of leafy boughs usually secured with the more pliable branches and stems being woven and knotted to hold them in
place. Her mother had shown her how to construct these elevated sanctuaries and she had adopted a particular way of
twisting two pliable lengths around each other and then repeating the process to form a secure fastening. Looking down at
the bundle of plants she slowly formed the idea of doing the same thing with the stems of the plants. She placed the baby
on the ground and picked up two of the plants. She quickly had the stems securely joined and was able to sling the pair
of plants around her neck. Repeating the action she soon had all the plants dangling on either side of her neck, leaving
her hands free to pick up the baby and the digging stick. So laden, she returned across the plain to the rock shelter.
F. Brown. ©