Big Little Hawk, a short story by Randy Evans
On a limestone bluff in the late Copper Age, a woman lived alone in a hole by a crooked basswood tree. She sat in the cleared field looking out at the bay like a limestone figurine. The level of the lake had been rising for six thousand years before, as the ice sheets from the last ice age melted, and her hole home was a stone’s throw from the beach. Wigwams were for future people, not her. She was one of the last of the Underground People, the ancestors of the Algonquin tribes, remnants disappearing into nothingness like the glacial debris on the beach. Near dark, she rubbed two dry sticks together, and along with the fires of the nearby villagers, the sky turned reddish copper against a sky of low clouds. She lived on the bluff in the late Second Millennium BC, a place where ancient peoples conducted commerce.
The rise where she sat was already old. Formed out of a muddy sea floor in the Middle Devonian Era, the land formed from an accumulation of grayish brown crystalline limestone. Corals were abundant, including Hexagonaria percarinata, known by most people as the “Petoskey Stone.” The coral forming the stones existed in massive colonies over 350 million years ago, anchored to the bottom in deep-water mud flats and became petrified over geologic time. Scoured by glaciers during the last ice age, the stones were left as beach rubble along the shore. The woman traded these as well.
Her name was Big Little Hawk (Mi-she-pe-pe-quen), and she lived by trading. She traded seeds, nuts, fish, polished stone axeheads, hammered copper spearpoints, tools, decorated objects, and human skulls. She protected her hoard with a long, double-edged dagger. People also feared her, because she was said to have dark magical powers. In trade, she received food and beaver skins from hunters, fishermen, and growers of corn and other vegetables. The most brave of the young boys played near her—amusing themselves with footraces, wrestling, and shooting birds, chipmunks, and squirrels with their bow and arrows.
Az taught her trading. He was an Egyptian sailor who came ashore one day alone paddling a bark canoe. When they met, she was bathing at the water’s edge. She was fourteen, and unmated. Because of her large size, her mother and father could not find a partner for her. “Az” was the second half of his name. He never told her the first half. He stayed with her until she became pregnant, then paddled away one morning never to be seen again.
Az had been among the Egyptian sailors seeking the pure copper deposited in veins and nuggets of the area’s gravel beds, another product of glaciation. The sailors brought copper home to be hammered into axes, points, helmets, shields, breastplates, and to build temples, and statues. Az and his fellow Egyptian sailors were part of a vast trading network including Phoenicians, Trojans, Carthaginians, Greeks, Babylonians, Cretans, Cypriots, Aegean, Hebrews, Libyans, Arabs, Kelts, and Britons who shipped ore and ingots from over 5,000 copper mines in northern Michigan.
Big Little Hawk could not think about thinking, but her limbic brain stem operated in harmony with other parts of her brain and body. She could move her muscles and limbs in perfect balance and coordination, and her hormonal system could release adrenaline in times of stress, fear, excitement, or anger. She could also experience feelings of anger, sadness, joy, and exhilaration, and she could remember these feelings when memory aided her survival. The lobes for her senses were highly developed—smell, taste, touch, sight, and hearing.
Az came from a less primitive civilization in the Mediterranean, and could write the common language of the miners and sailors, a reformed Egyptian hieroglyphs system (Roots of this ancient language have been found in both the substance and inflections of the Algonquin languages, including both Odawa and Objibwe). Az left behind a copper tablet in this language, buried for the ages in Big Little Hawk’s hole in the ground, deep in the bluff overlooking Little Traverse Bay.
Big Little Hawk birthed a baby from Az. One day she went down to the beach to wash clothes. Her little son was strapped to a board, and she sat him down near the water while she worked. The water was very deep next to the shore. As she scrubbed in the water, she turned away from the baby for an instant, and when she turned back, the baby was gone. She ran up to the basswood tree and shouted for help. The Underground People looked far and wide, but the baby could not be found. The same day the baby was lost, an earthquake rocked the land. People in the village said they could hear a baby crying under the ground. They said it was Big Little Hawk’s baby. The magicians of the village met around a fire where they lit their pipes and rattled tambourines. They called upon spirits, and the spirits told them Big Little Hawk hid her baby in the ground and made the earth tremble. From then on, the villagers feared her as a monstrous baby killer with magical powers. They also feared going near what the villagers called “the hole.”
One day, Big Little Hawk plunged into Little Traverse Bay and disappeared. She entered the water to look for life. She grasped at the rocks on the lake bottom to hold herself down while looking for her son. For days afterwards, her wolf-bred dog searched for her with its nose close to the ground, running back and forth on the beach. Big Little Hawk could not liberate herself from the deep loss of her baby son. Only the copper tablet of Az remained, buried for thousands of years, now lying beneath a construction site in downtown Petoskey.