They Is “Us”
by Charles F. Blanchard
Twelve thousand years ago or more, the part of the North American continent that is now called Florida began to attract a large, dangerous, meddlesome, predatory and omnivorous animal to its coastal and inland environments. There it flourished from the very start and remains to this day, successfully adapted even to the harsh, resource-poor habitats of such barrier islands as Gasparilla, Costa, and Sanibel.
To the long-time residents of the region, such as the elephant, the bison, the deer, the rabbit, the camel, the grouse, the sloth, the whelk, the mullet, the catfish, and the cormorant, to cite a tiny few, the new animal was also noisy, smelly, pushy, clumsy, messy, and greedy, though certainly not, as this potential assemblage of demonic Disney dwarves might suggest, funny. We recognize ourselves immediately, lurking in words like “dangerous,” “meddlesome,” “pushy,” and “predatory.” These are sampled from a victim’s vocabulary. They are all adjectives used to describe an oppressor or an exploiter, or just an obnoxious presence that won’t go away.
It would be hard to get many creatures other than those of our own species and our pets to describe us as kind and considerate, or loving and patient, or funny and wise, as we know we can be. On this earth, only we describe ourselves in complimentary terms, and then, only when we recognize one another as “we.” The new animal of whose arrival we are speaking, is, of course, the human animal, Homo sapiens sapiens. What’s more, this newcomer is by no means any sort of primitive “them,” or vaguely inferior ancient “they.” This creature, blunt of tooth and claw, big of brain, glib of tongue, clever of paw, is unequivocally “we,” or, as we like to say, “Us.”
When “we” arrived at Little Salt Spring and at Warm Mineral Springs, in the valley of the Myakka River, or trekked over the high ground of what was to become Useppa Island on our way to the Gulf Coast 60 miles to the west, we did not look upon ourselves or our life styles or our technologies as primitive or backward. We saw ourselves as we see ourselves today when we are at our best: thoroughly up-to-date, masters of the good things in life, and, technologically, right on the cutting edge.
We loved our children then as we love them now and placed their welfare and education among the highest priorities for our own survival. We appreciated and worked to provide for the daily certainty of comfortable surroundings and, whenever possible, a little bit more than enough to eat. We recognized and rewarded mechanical, artistic, athletic, organizational, executive, medical, and musical talent.
We knew the relationship of days to years to lifetimes, but were seriously confused by mortality and spent much of our time consciously and unconsciously trying to resolve the confusion. By BP 12,000, wherever we lived on Earth, we were like this and had been for 50,000 to 60,000 years already. In Earth time, it is not that much later now, and we are still like this, especially when it comes to our children and our mortality.
This point needs to be belabored from time to time, because if the words “early human presence” automatically evoke in the reader a sense of backwardness or near-humanity, and that perception goes uncorrected, then all further discussion of people as people will be flawed. New technologies and changing arenas of human activity may have leant a little more metaphor to the characterization of people as hunters and gatherers, but that is what we were then and that is what we are now.
Twenty-first-century humans who have managed to become materially successful have what amounts almost to an entertainment relationship with the natural world around them. Woods and water are for play or for contemplative retreat, not for putting food on the table. Armed with the formidable weapons of currency or credit they venture confidently forth from their shelters to stalk the shops and markets of the malls where lie the things they need to make life good. The world of commerce is the jungle and they are successful hunter-gatherers in it.
The people who came to Lee and Charlotte Counties 12,000 years ago viewed the environment there with the same expectations and confidence that a modem, affluent shopper looks at a Publix or an Edison Mall. Everything they needed was there and they were superbly equipped to hunt for and gather it.
They were comfortable with mobility and very efficient at it, and their arrival was not the result of desperate flight from some other kind of life. There are sites in northern Florida that are a thousand years older than the more southerly ones, and sites abound all over both continents of the Western Hemisphere much older than that, all pointing to a highly evolved, highly successful mode of making a living on the move.
It was probably a combination of abundant coastal food supplies and the migration of remnant herds of grazing big game that drew them here 12,000 years ago, but it was the richness of the habitat they found here that made it possible for them to stay.
And here we remain, to this very day.