I have a way with the obvious. A bad way. Wherever I go, I don’t see what is there, but what could be. Or more often yet, what was.
When the going gets good enough that I can spend most the day outdoors, I seize it. That’s not something to be taken for granted this far north. I explore the ancient burgh in which I live, and I try to figure out the land as it was for the longest stretch of time before civilisation emerged and reached us.
But all these journeys have one thing in common. I’m looking past what I actually see.
Out in the hills beyond the town, where I am often am in the daylit half of year, away from the urban and Victorian layers of what we’ve built and how we live our lives, there’s something else all the more important. It’s not the highways, not the power lines, the canals, the rails or the reservoirs, where I write this. The vital piece of the modern human puzzle lives out in the fields. It’s the high technology of ten thousand years ago: the cow, the pig, the bull!
Yali’s question lives behind every fence out here. The crops and animals our farmers raise are little different to those you’d find in Russia or Iran. And the same was true five centuries ago when the Earth’s two worlds met. The pace that new technologies, like horses for one critical example, could spread across the breadth of our great supercontinent was unknown in pre-Columbian America, Australia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Jared Diamond describes this in his book, whose implications I’m still yet to limit in my work. A great contrast to how we prospered here was the very different state of affairs between the Inca and the Aztecs. Those greatest civilisations of the New World separately invented writing and the wheel, but did not share them. Why not? Here’s the kicker. The neighbours didn’t even know of each other’s existence! Such was the world that narrow Panama, mountains and rain forests built. The Aztec wheel remained a children’s toy without Incan livestock to pull it.
The narratives of differential history are very strong on Earth. And, so to my inevitable question: what then for Andala?
For the longest time, I have shied from exploring the untold options of truly alien life. I have my reasons: my essential finity being the supreme. Good things come from changing as few fundamentals as you can, then riding the results as far as they’ll take you. So I’ve heard, more or less. The literal world of choices I have available to me is, I’m sure you’ve guessed, the primary brake on my progress. I recognised this long ago, and like to set my limits where I can. And at the back of my mind, like so many of them, has been one to keep the animal life of Andala just as similar to our own as they, its people. With few exceptions, based on whims, based on evolution’s.
But even within our confine, Earth’s history played out with Yali’s question writ so large as to be incomprehensible until recent times. How is this not to be the case on Andala too?
I’ve one excuse. You know it by now. Aner! And in this case flight in particular. Andala is not the globe of worlds apart that ours was until just a few chapters of our story ago, each whole human cosmos perfectly ignorant of the other. How could they know? And yet but how could Andalans not? On their world, there was no such difficulty in movement, of body or ideas, as has so defined the human experience until so very lately. Andala is but one world, from long ago.
So do they farm or not?
Before I read Guns, Germs and Steel, I really did wonder how we ever started. Surely agriculture was the greatest invention in all of history! As it enabled everything else. But how could the idea have ever arisen, intact, in the mind of some forgotten genius who had lived the old way as has every human being before? How did we ever make that quantum leap?
Diamond goes through the details of how he thinks, very credibly, the Neolithic revolution came about. Not by master plan but at a natural crawl. (I do suggest you check out the details, I surely hadn’t thought them through.) The fact that farming was invented, from scratch, several times in human prehistory was news to me. As were the domestications of the precious few species of animals we have ever turned to our use. Animals and plants we took with us to the new world, as essential to our survival as our mighty boats, if not quite as obvious to the modern mind.
So to answer: I think they do. Andala has a handful of urban centres, which need feeding. And fundamentally all food is either farmed or hunted. It’s the animal part I’m still in doubt about. As it and greater nature call around me, to the springtime’s precious sun.