When Harr returned to his cabin, he breathed a sigh of relief to find that the search party had left the forest. All would return to normal, he thought. He hadn’t eaten for more than a day, but he had hope, now that the searchers were gone, that the deer and rabbit would come out of hiding. They would fall into the traps, or become victims to a javelin.
Harr moved to the corner of the cabin where the wooden box lay. He crouched under the bed and pulled it out. When he opened the box he found nothing. He closed his eyes and squeezed his hands into fists. He looked in the cabin for places he might have put the book. He tipped over his bed, and upended his table, looked behind his coyote pelt. It was gone. He felt hollowness inside, like part of him had shrunken up and gone. He wanted to give up. He had been entrusted. He was the keeper, the one with strategy. He looked for patterns and connections, and carefully plotted them on the map. But now that was gone, and he despaired.
Although Harr felt despair, it was less about losing the book than what the other clan members would do to Harr once they found out. Harr’s people lived strictly in the woods. They were known for their hunting, but not because of a particular physical skill or prowess with bows or arrows, or some other weapon. Harr’s people hunted through a careful science, an animal tracking system derived from record-keeping. Because Harr’s people could not sprint any faster than regular humans, nor could they wrestle or jump or see in the dark with any special ability, they had instead developed an extensive record keeping system.
They knew they could not always find prey in the forest roaming around on their own, relying on instincts to know where to go. Sure they might have some chance encounters from coincidence, because they happen to be in the right place at the right time. But if they could know where the animals would be, and in what state, at just the right times, they could outsmart them. They would be there before the animals suspected them, and without knowing it they would walk into traps and javelins.
The records, then, were primarily hunting records. To diversify the tracking, different sets of records were kept for different types of animals. The main animals tracked included rabbits, squirrels, foxes, deer, and bear. Records of every spotting, the location, time, weather, and any other details were carefully noted.
To understand the records you have to understand the clan. The division of labor among the clan involved four main roles: observers, record keepers, interpreters, and hunters. The observer’s role was to find to find and track the animals. If you were an observer, you observed any type of animal, because coming across an animal in the wilderness wasn’t easy, and if you encountered a fox, for example, you were to consider yourself lucky and track its path. The observer’s target wasn’t to kill the animal, but to watch and observe it. Where did you first see the animal, at what time? What direction did it travel? Where did it stop? For how long? What weather did the area have? Was the animal feeding? You were not supposed to hunt the animal but instead to watch it, tracking its path along the forest with incredible detail and precision. Where did it lay down at night, at what time, when did it wake in the morning, what direction did it take?
Of course it was not always possible to track animals with such precision in the wild, so these observations relied on the cumulative tracking notes that had been noted down for decades. Since Harr’s people had come to the Wabash forest a century years ago, they kept precise tracking records based on the reports of the observers.
Now, the observers were extremely cunning at finding and watching animals, but their skill did not extend to the map making. This is where the record keeper came in. The record keeper’s role was to take the information from the observer and record all the information with precision and accuracy in the record books. This usually involved drawing the animals’ path in the forest in a small quadrant map, and noting the general times above each path point. If the same animal, or even a different animal, followed the same path, the record-keeper added another line in the same place. The more lines you had in the record books, the more useful the records would be in predicting future animal locations.
The record keepers also noted the times of day when each animal was spotted — this is what the tilted angle represented, the angle of the sun. Until you gathered a critical mass of paths, the maps just looked like scattered lines, but over time the lines formed patterns. They outlined similar paths along the forest, and in fact the average lines began to be so predictable you could graph them with mathematical equations. However, the record keeper’s job was not to interpret the map data, because it was too easy for their interpretations to distort their drawings, so that instead of keeping to the facts, record keepers might actually depict the paths as they envisioned them in their minds. Objectivity and accuracy were all that was expected of the record keeper.
The job of prediction was for the interpreters. The interpreters would look at the maps and try to predict the locations of animals at specific points in the day based on the trackin. The interpreter had to consider all the tracking histories and account for the differences of animal states, weather, and time to determine the most likely paths for the animals. Their predictions weren’t always right — somewhat like predicting the weather, really, sometimes it was spot on, and other times it was simply off. Some interpreters were more successful than others, but all interpreters liked to overplay the importance of their role. Many embraced a know-it-all attitude as they examined and analyzed the maps at length. Sometimes the interpreters smoked a pipe as they studied the maps. Some would look at the maps for two hours, turning over calculations and scenarios in their minds as they assessed what the maps meant.
The final clan role was hunter. The hunters received instruction from the interpreters about the optimum times and locations for locating the animals. Hunters weren’t necessarily the strongest and most athletic of the clan, though undoubtedly some were strong. Hunters instead had a tremendous sense of patience and stillness. If they needed to be in a certain patch of the wilderness at the break of dawn, they were there, frozen in a tree, or absolutely still inside brush, so still you would think them dead. They remained that way until the exactly right moment, and they either speared their javelin, pulled a trap, or let fly an arrow from a bow. It was all about the timing and location.
As you can imagine, this system of observers, record keepers, interpreters, and hunters required a high degree of collaboration and trust. If one of the roles failed, the rest suffered. If the observers didn’t communicate data to the record keepers, it frustrated the interpreters and hunters as well. If the record keepers were sloppy in their maps, it would fowl up the interpretations, and without good interpretations, the hunters’ efforts would be frustrated. Everyone had to rely on each other or the whole system failed. This is why it was particularly painful for Harr to have lost the records, because this would result in a significant blow to their food supply. More painfully, since Harr kept the records of the deer, their main food supply, it meant the hunters would now have to rely on smaller game, or hope for luck in bringing down a bear, which almost never happened.
Harr’s father was a record keeper, so naturally this is the role Harr had assumed this role throughout his youth. Most youth in the clan followed their father’s role, because it allowed them to be taught from childhood in the art of their role. Just like his father, every few days Harr would meet with the observers and carefully record notes of where they found deer and whatever other details they could gather. Harr then drew the animal’s path in the forest and made note of their locations at different times. Above the paths he would draw arrows indicating the time of day, and would make other notations to capture the observer’s information. Harr had an excellent topographical and geological knowledge of the forest, having listened to the descriptions of so many observers.
Although this societal organization worked well, it didn’t allow for much individual freedom. Harr wasn’t so interested in keeping records or making sure the maps were up-to-date and precise. He found it rather boring; the record keeper spent the majority of his time listening to reports of observers. He heard them describe the locations they traveled — “Just above the waterfall, I spotted a pair of deer moving against the wind,” an observer would say. And Harr wanted to them for more details about the waterfall, rather than the path of the deer.
“Where the forest opens up into a spring meadow surrounded by flowers, I saw an elk standing nobly and eating grass,” an observer would say. And Harr wanted to ask for more details about the meadow, the flowers, and the color of the sky, not about the elk’s exact position and the time of day. Harr wanted to be out there, running the forest, observing the life in all of its radiance.
The night Harr was supposed to be at home keeping records, he instead had wandered out into the woods to explore the scene that others had described so often for him. He wasn’t a very good observer, though. He was clumsy, and wasn’t nimble in movement. He tried to pay attention to the direction of the wind, but animals always seemed to spot him and would immediately run off.
Harr was 15, and already had 7 years of training as a record keeper. He had learned to draw maps with precision; he could convey topography and scale almost without thinking. His father had already invested so much in him, everyone agreed that he needed to keep his record keeping role. In a matter of seconds, he could sketch out a landscape and trace the animal’s trajectory based on the observer’s description. He was like Mozart with a pencil. His trails weren’t merely gross lines stretching across the page. They included all the twists and turns, the zigzags and turns that reflected the real detail. Sometimes he even added shading to the maps, to emphasize the topographical markings. His lines maintained a near perfect proportion to the map’s scale.
Harr sat down at his table. The candle he often lit to draw maps was half burned down. Now that the book was gone, he thought about his options. He could run away from the clan, but he felt this move would be too cowardly. He could create a fake copy of the records. No one knew the forest better than Harr. But even Harr couldn’t remember all the paths and times and directions. There were hundreds, maybe thousands, and it was complicated. He could retrieve the book, but how? The search party and girl were gone. He had no way of ever reclaiming it. They could start over, but without a stable incoming of deer meat, many of the clan would starve.
Every month the clan gathered in a council meeting to discuss issues and clan strategies. Because the search party had been such a disruption to the forest, the clan decided to hold a council meeting sooner rather than later. Clan meetings were held in a section of the woods where the underbrush had been dug away, but a canopy of tree leaves still extended overhead to ensure privacy. In the council meeting, as they were accounting for everyone, making sure no one had been spotted or taken, the clan leader, a bearded fellow with a fake laugh kept patting everyone on the back and cracking jokes to try to regain the general good feeling and spirits they had before the search party. It was during this time that Harr made a confession. He confessed that in fact something had been stolen — the deer tracking records. The lost girl had taken them. he had been out wandering the woods and left his dwelling, left his assignment. He hadn’t been drawing maps that evening. He had been out observing, he said.
“And the records of the deer are now gone?” the bearded leader asked. He lost the jovial tone in his voice.
“Gone,” said Harr. The rest of the clan looked at him in shock. They groaned and murmured. One shouted “How will we eat!” Another threw a rock at Harr and missed.
“But wait,” said Harr. “I will get the book back. I will retrieve the book.” He hardly knew how he would retrieve it, only that he must get it back.
“And how will you do that? The searchers have all gone,” said one of the clan.
Harr didn’t respond. He couldn’t. There was no way, no plan. Everyone stared at him, waiting for an answer. He was about to open his mouth and say something, pretend that he had a strategy, or that he would figure it out. Although it was a peaceable clan, they did need to assure order. They had to enforce the roles, which were the reason for their livelihood. No one could change roles unless he proved extremely proficient in the other roles. Losing the records was a major setback. He wouldn’t be executed for it, but he could likely be kicked out of the clan, forced to go it alone.
Breaking the silence, from the far edges of the gathering, a young observer raised his hand.
“I know I was supposed to be hiding,” the young observer said. “But while trailing the search party, I found this.” He held up a piece of paper. It had the lost girl’s picture and name. It showed a phone number and a few other details, such as where she had last been seen, and who to contact if found. The searchers must have made the fliers to hand out to hikers and campers in the area.
“But there’s no address on it,” another one shouted. “So you’ll never find her.”
“Well, it’s not all I found,” he replied. “While the searchers scoured the woods, I explored their cars. I thought I might be able to help, since I know the woods well. I thought I could perhaps retrieve the girl. So I looked for more info about her in the car. I looked under the seats and in the trunk. I found a few letters on the dash. The letters have an address on them. The address tells us where they live. Maybe Harr can go there and night and get the book back.”
It was bold, but workable. Harr didn’t want to look timid. Now was his time to show that he could be an observer, that he could track this simple address and, just like observing an animal, observe the whereabouts of a missing records book. He asked the observer for the letter, and carefully put it in his pocket.