Wednesday, October 10, 2007

A Few Last Tomatoes in the Handbasket

...and suddenly it's late Fall. Sunday morning I was walking along a beach, digging my toes into the warm sand and watching the seagulls soar on the southeast breeze. Yesterday it snowed in Thief River Falls, which is quite a ways north of here, but still close enough to get our attention so we spent the evening out in the garden, harvesting the last of the summer's tomatoes and peppers. The Romas will get made into sauce and canned. The Best Boys and Beefsteaks; maybe sauce, maybe salad, maybe chili. The Yellow Boys and jalapenos will wind up as salsa, and anything else that has a bit of a blush to it will wind up on the kitchen windowsill, ripening off the vine. The tomatoes that are too green even for that are my favorites, though; they'll wind up getting pickled with dill, garlic, and — here's the secret — one tiny red super hot chili pepper per pint. Mm-mmmm!

As we worked out in the garden in the rapidly advancing cold and dark, it occurred to me that our methods and means might have been puzzling, but this was a division of labor any paleolithic family would have understood. Mrs. Og was busy picking the fruits, vegetables, and herbs and making all the decisions as to what went into which basket and what would be done with it later. After she cleared an area, I ripped the dying vines out of the ground and hauled them off to the compost heap, Master Thistlewhacker collected the tomato cages and stacked them for winter storage, and Dimwit the Dog patrolled the perimeter, hoping we might scare up another bunny. During the lulls in the gross physical work, Thistlewhacker and I talked about our plans for the upcoming deer season.

As I said: a division of labor any band of Cro-Magnons would have understood.

The current thinking in anthropological circles, in case you missed it, is just that: that gender differentiation is why the Cro-Mags displaced the Neanderthals in such a relatively short span of time. From what we've been able to determine, the Neanderthals didn't have much specialization. All members of the band hunted; no one sewed, no one watched the kids. In contrast, our ancestors did specialize by gender, and it gave them a tremendous evolutionary advantage. A woman who is able to multitask around hearth and home, simultaneously tending the garden, cooking the food, sewing the clothing, and watching the kids so that they don't get eaten by jackals, is far more likely to be reproductively successful than one who just turns the brats loose like a bunch of apes and goes off to join the hunters. Likewise, a man who is able to monotask — to sit still, shut up, and really focus on one thing while trusting his mate to take care of the hearth and home stuff — is far more likely to be a successful provider and protector for his offspring than one who is simultaneously trying to watch the kids, clean the cave, and spear a mammoth.

This is us. This is the history of our species. This is who we are. This is also coming to be one of my main gripes with contemporary science fiction; that so many writers want to claim to be perfectly scientific and rational, and yet also want to ignore the entire history of hominid evolution up to this point, just because the results don't suit contemporary political prejudices. be continued...