FICTION CORNER: The Heart of the Forest: 10,000 Years Ago in Middle Georgia


What if you could see back in time - who would you find there? (Photo courtesy of Gaspar Zaldo on Pexels)

If you could look back through the murky mists of time, you might see a woman named Naida moving quietly and quickly through the lush forest in a place now known as Macon. 

In ancient times, Macon was a place vastly different than it is now. 

Small settlements of people were the norm. Large animals roamed the forests, hunting for food for their own families. People outside of your tribe were usually considered hostile until proven otherwise. 

There were often fewer second chances when everyone lived on the edge of survival, taking calculated actions to ensure they would live until the next day. While also enjoying life in ways we today can understand: swimming, walking through the woods, laughing, dancing, and sitting around fires, telling stories about origins and dreams.

Naida is seeking a plant with both eye-shaped and deer hoof-shaped leaves, a plant we now call Sassafrass. While also on the lookout for any other medicinal or edible plants, Naida fearfully thought about her husband at home.

Tadoda had been injured while out on a long hunt. The herd of deer they had tracked miles from the settlement led them to a section of the river that contained roaring rapids. As he crossed the water on what appeared to be a still-strong tree, an enormous mammoth appeared on the side he was almost to, and he lost his balance. 

Tadoda splashed into the cold and raging rapids. He was swiftly swept downstream. The water held a strength far beyond his own and he was unable to intervene as he was pushed into a few thick, downed tree branches, his legs meanwhile colliding with the hardness of unforgiving rocks hidden under the dark, roaring waters.

The other hunters stood still and watched as he floated out of sight, still safely on the opposite shore as the mammoth, who still snorted and stared menacingly. The great beast knew the fur-clothed people were a threat to his group and his newly born children. 

They knew better than to try to stop what had already happened. Tadoda was one of the strongest of their tribe and they knew his survival was dependent on not only his ability but on what creatures he might encounter on his journey to safety.

Tadoda kept his head above the water as best he could while he was swiftly moving downstream. He attempted to keep his gaze far enough ahead to find a place where he could crawl up on land again. 

Finally, he saw it, a small sandy beach covered with pine needles, on the opposite side of where the other hunters had been and almost what we would measure as a mile down the river.

The journey back would be constantly dangerous for Tadoda's health. The surprisingly stealthy mammoths were a lethal threat. But many faster creatures with sharper teeth could blend into the forest as if by magic. They would be searching for anything that would satisfy their need for fresh, warm food.

Tadoda limped through the forest, stopping and listening every twenty feet or so. He hid by trees and rocks that would obscure his shape from searching eyes. He kept the river's edge in sight but was far enough from the water that he could better watch for the dangerous alligators that often lurked just out of sight in the bubbling water. 

A rapidly flowing river can drag you underneath the water as you are pulled swiftly downstream (Photographer Nate Weeks)

Finally, his long walk brought him to a tree he was able to cross back to the other side. 

Now about three miles from where he had fallen in the river, Tadadoaho knew that making it back to the settlement was the most likely way he would ever see his wife and child again in this life.

He knew that darkness often brought death to those who didn't have a reinforced and hidden shelter with a fire whose flames never let complete darkness cover everything during the night. 

Tadoda would have to make it back before the setting sun or face great odds that tonight would be his last.

The forest was alive with sounds of movement and the ever-present song of the roaring water. 

Tadoda believed, just as his people believed, that everything around him was alive. The lives of the animals that might make him a meal were worthy of respect and honor, and sometimes fear, especially once the sun's light left the earth in inky darkness.


Naida knew the medicines Tadoda would need if he would ever get better. She had already gathered the inner bark of a tree now called Flowering Dogwood. From that bark, she would brew a hot tea to help reduce Tadoda's high fever. She was searching for the leaves of the Sassafrass plant because they would cure him of the food poisoning that left him heaving and squirming in agony.

The forest sang around Naida. The sounds told her stories about the forest and the being who shared the forest with her and her tribe. 

Pileated woodpeckers beat their hard beaks into rotten wood. Large rabbits ran and played under thick bushes, causing scurrying noises that often caused a quickening heartbeat if they were close. And big tortoises snapped small branches underneath their armored bodies as they searched for tasty insects. 

The song of everything combined to tell Naida that she was safe, for now. But the sun was soon to set. Naida knew she would need to return to her family's shelter before the forest became a much darker and much different place.

To be continued...

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