It was a bright, sunny morning. Many of the tribe wanted to enjoy the last few warm days before the colder winds started to blow in from the sea. Han found Gao wandering aimlessly outside the cave. He was too old to join in the childish games of his younger friends, but he didn’t have a job to do that day, either. Han looked at him with the careful eye of a hunter and decided Gao was old enough to start his training.

“Gao, come,” Han said simply. The boy slowly stood up and followed hesitantly. The hunter picked up a small bag and walked away from the cave. They traveled in the grasslands away from the sea as the sun rose high into the sky.

The trip was long, and the grassland offered little protection from the midday sun. Gao started to get a bit grumpy, but Han ignored this and continued walking. “Where we go?” Gao finally asked.

Han said the words that Gao had waited several weeks to hear: “You learn hunting.”

Gao fell quiet again, lost in the thoughts of one taking the first steps toward adulthood. Han watched him out of the corner of his eye, trying to remember what it was like all those seasons ago.

They walked toward a small group of trees. Gao snapped out of his thoughts and looked around, never straying this far from the cave before.

Han indicated a tree with small clusters of round, dark red fruits. “Remember this tree. Good fruit.” Gao nodded and looked around to try to remember it as he was told.

Han then pointed at the ground. “Find sticks. Some for fire. Find big one for spear.” The two spent much of the day collecting fallen branches and put them in a pile. Gao found a few larger sticks and brought them to Han, but was only frustrated when none of them had whatever it was Han was looking for.

Finally, after much searching one of the larger branches pleased Han. “This good. Now, find another like it.” Gao’s frustration returned as he went back to work gathering wood.

The sun was past the midpoint in the sky when Han called Gao for a break. They shared a small lunch from dried meat from the bag and some fruit they had found nearby. Han showed Gao how to spit the seeds as far as possible, a game he had learned when he was young. After a bit, Han told him it was time to continue working.

The sun was had gone halfway down the sky by the time Gao found another large stick that Han approved of. They gathered up the sticks into bundles and hauled them back to the cave.

“It late. I not learn to hunt?” Gao said with a frown, not hiding the disappointment in his voice.

“You learn first important lesson. I show you where food tree was. Food not always easy to find when hunting.”

Gao shrugged. Han kept walking, remembering his own youthful impatience.

“And, you learn to make spear. Your weapon very important.”

Gao was still grumpy the whole trip back, sulking as a child would. This worried Han, perhaps Gao wasn’t quite ready. This type of attitude might put the other hunters at risk.

By the time they returned they fire at the mouth of the cave was built high and bright, guiding them back home. After they put the firewood aside, Han took the two larger sticks and motioned Gao toward him.

“First, we make beast spear. For hunting in grassland. Watch.”

Han took the more tapered end of the large stick and rubbed against the rough cave walls to make more of a point. He then took a half-burnt piece of wood from the giant bonfire and started a smaller fire off to the side. After it died down to coals, he put the end over, but not touching, the glowing embers.

“No burn, just get warm. Here, you hold.”

Gao took the stick and held it. His arms got tired and he started to fidget, but Han kept a close eye on him and scolded the boy every time the end of the stick got too close to the embers.

“Now, rub on wall again,” Han instructed, helping Gao scrape off the charred bits, exposing the darker wood underneath. Han took a look at the point and said, “Needs fire little longer.”

Gao held the point over the flames and concentrated hard on keeping the wood away from the few flames that occasionally flickered up. Han noted that he was taking this more seriously, and then had him scrape the end against the wall again.

“See hard point? Good for hunting.”

Gao grinned proudly. He had made his first true hunter’s weapon!

“Now we make fishing spear. Watch.”

Han took the other stick and hit it hard against the floor of the cave. Crack! He pounded it fiercely until the stick started to split on the end.

“See crack? This good,” Han said has he pried his fingers into the crack, widening it. When the splits were big enough he gave the stick to Gao.

“Now, harden the points with the fire.”

Gao understood what to do this time. He concentrated on the task and held the points near the fire, then scraped them carefully against the rough wall after a while. When he was done, the end of the spear was suitable for catching fish.

Han looked over the work. “Very good,” he said. “Better than my first spears.”

Gao beamed with pride. Perhaps it wasn’t real hunting yet, but he had started the journey.

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