Andersen: Discovering a lost ‘hut’ tribe
Last weekend, on a long and difficult expedition into the backcountry, our party of three discovered a primitive, lost tribe celebrating autumnal rites at a log cabin high in the mountains.
Gazing down from the aerie-like mountain pass we had labored over, we could see smoke from their fires rising in a hazy cloud from the dark forest at treeline.
“Are you sure you want to go down there — and meet them?” I asked my wife, who wore a look of trepidation. “Many of them come from the other side of the range, from that place where strange rituals are held. These are the people who burn the Grump.”
“They obviously need us,” she said stoically. “Someone must bring them a reminder of civilization. If not us, then who?”
We turned to our son, a wisp of a boy whose innocence shows on his every feature. His mother and I knew that this experience could change him forever. We hoped it would be for the good. But one never knows how the savage heart and mind can corrupt a sensitive young lad.
“Do you suppose they have beer?” he asked, peering down at the clearing from where the faint sound of chanting filtered through the thin mountain air.
“It’s time we find out,” I said, shouldering my pack and setting off down across a precipitous cirque where only mountain goats and eagles dare. We all realized that our fate was no longer in our hands.
This particular tribe is known as “The Friends.” They, like other hut people, gather in rustic log cabins at secret settings in only the most remote locations, far from the refinements of polite society. They are a curious lot, living a crude and earthy existence.
Arriving undetected, we hid our packs and tiptoed into the clearing, where we observed an unearthly scene. The Friends were gathered behind the hut, seated on tree stumps around a blazing fire, communicating in their own mysterious ways.
These Druid-like anthropomorphs appeared primitive, and yet they were in council on matters of apparently grave import. Topics included procurements of toilet paper, dish soap and old newspapers.
A vessel of an amber-colored liquid was passed around, and each of them took a healthy draught before proffering it to the next. It was evidently a ceremonial liquor with inebriant qualities, because they became more and more animated with each gulp. Some swallowed the tonic with a wince of pain, followed by a sigh of relief, as if the liquid burned the delicate tissues of the lips and throat. And yet they drank with the appearance of pleasure.
Our presence was quickly noticed. But rather than a hostile reaction, we were welcomed into their circle, even encouraged to sip the amber liquid. Surprisingly, it produced a pleasant sense of euphoria and only a mild burn that warmed our very bowels.
We soon learned, however, that their friendly welcome was part of a plan to ensnare us into forced labor. Only moments after sipping the amber elixir, we were confronted by the old and grizzled leader, a man who seemed to rule the others with an iron fist.
With hand gestures and inarticulate grunts, he directed us to carry heavy logs to a work area where the male members of the culture were soon swinging primitive steel malls, brutally rendering rounds into kindling to fuel their winter fires. Labor we must or face the wrath of this gnarly patriarch.
The hours passed slowly into evening, when one of the men set out a bucket of ice water in which floated two dozen beers. This signaled a reprieve, and soon a festive atmosphere reigned over the forest glade.
Seeing our chance to escape, we quaffed our brews, made a pretense to irrigate a nearby bush, and met secretively behind the hut, where we had left our packs. Hefting our loads, we struck out for high ground before our absences were noted.
Looking back from the pass, the smoke had dissipated, the hut had all but vanished, and The Friends had disappeared into the mists of myth, bizarre apparitions from a paradise lost.
Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays if he’s not too busy splitting firewood. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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