Hunters and Gatherers -February 6, 2003
The great hunter and his catch
Before we quit our jobs and went cruising, we considered ourselves to be fairly civilized. We lived in a big city. We spent several hours a day sitting at desks, exercising the grey matter between our ears. We attended various cultural events. We sometimes dined in fine restaurants with menus written in a foreign language. We admit that on the odd occasion we may have uttered a few hostile words when, say, someone cut us off on the freeway, but by and large we were civilized, the products of several millenniums of human evolution and a lifetime of social conditioning.
Now that we cruise full time, our lives are ruled more by the natural elements than man-made conventions and social strictures. We're often by ourselves in remote places. The cultural highlight of the day is listening to the evening news on the short wave radio. Sometimes we can go for weeks without conversing with other human beings. While we haven't lapsed entirely into a rude animal state, there are signs that the veneer of civilization is wearing thin.
Take, for example, basic sustenance. David feels he must forage for food. It's not that death by starvation is imminent. We still have meat from North American supermarkets in our freezer. There are lots of canned fruits and vegetables in our lockers. We're not about to run out of cooking oil, flour, rice or pasta. Despite these assurances, David wants to hunt. Before we left Florida for the Bahamas, he bought a new spear pole to supplement the two he already had, and two new tips. He's been itching to use these weapons ever since. It must be some kind of primordial urge, an urge he resisted when we lived in the centre of a metropolis of three or four million people. He never took the subway to work with his briefcase in one hand and a spear in the other.
Eileen does not feel the same drive. She's perfectly happy wheeling a shopping cart down the aisles of a supermarket, even if the stores are smaller and more limited here in the islands. Perhaps it's a gender thing. Eileen is really into collecting shells on the beach (see our May 23, 2002 log entry). She's a gatherer. David's a hunter.
The weather was rough for several days after we first arrived in George Town, too rough to take the dinghy out to go snorkelling beyond the shelter of the harbour. David grew restless. He picked listlessly at the food on his plate. Pasta primavera didn't interest him at all. The wind calmed down last week. David perked up and got out his snorkelling gear. "There's prey lurking in the reefs," he grunted. "I must find it and subdue it. Hand me my spear, woman, tonight we'll feast off the sea!"
Eileen sighed. "I'll thaw out some pork chops, just in case," she said.
The sad fact is that we would have expired long ago if we relied solely on David's hunting skills for nourishment. His foraging forays pose no immediate threat of extinction to Bahamian marine life. To the contrary, David claims he's making an important contribution to the local ecology by furthering the process of natural selection. "The only fish I get are the really stupid ones. The bright ones don't let me get anywhere near them."
David took off with our friend Derek in Derek's dinghy. Derek's dinghy is a lot faster than our dinghy, and the prime hunting grounds are three or four miles from where "Little Gidding" and Derek's sailboat "Unity" are anchored. After a few hours and a few gallons of fuel, they returned with their bounty. Derek had a lobster. David had a four pound grouper, a blunted spear tip, bleeding hands and a partly shredded wetsuit.
Eileen surveyed the damage. "It must have been a tough fight to the finish," she commented.
"He wedged himself in this hole in the coral, surrounded by spiny sea urchins," David explained. "It took me about half an hour to wrestle him out."
"Pork chops seem a lot easier," Eileen said. But then again, she's a gatherer, not a hunter.