Helge Lapchuk, a young man, interested in Biology is given the opportunity (thanks to his Aunt Alyena who is a reputable and well known professor in archeology who suggests her nephew to take her place on a trip to the Amazon Jungle to try to make contact with a hitherto un-contacted tribe called the Aw?). Helge discovers that the tribe, hidden from the outside world, is actually more aware of their environment than the so called sophisticated people of the West.
Rubber tappers, sent in by large companies generally are disturbing and threatening to the Aw? and with the rubber company's use of powerful rifles, kill and drive off the tribe.
Helge and his three other professionals are attacked and the tribe has in the main been slaughtered. Only a handful of women and small children were fortunate enough to escape along with Helge and the Shaman who have been out collecting plant samples.
The story relates how the small number of Aw? who still remained alive were able to plan for the tribe's survival and how Helge's view of the Western world left an indelible impression on his thinking and his attitude.
It had been a terribly long and frigid winter and now the summer was indescribably hot – hotter than he could remember and even hotter than anyone else could remember. The newspapers and the weather reports on TV kept mentioning that we were in climate-change worldwide due in greater part to a larger population. Yet, there were still voices opposed and saying this was a normal climatic change that occurs every 10,000 years or so. Of course, the naysayers had vested interests that would have been threatened if they agreed that higher population-densities was a big part of the reason for the increased heat.
Even as a boy of 10 or 12, he recalled how the white birch tree, (there was only one he knew of) had no saplings nearby. Of course, he knew of no such connection nor for that matter had he ever heard of climate change. Nevertheless, since his heroes at the time were the Matinicock Indians who lived in the woods long ago, he wondered how they would have been able to make their birch bark canoes. For some reason, he found this very troubling. His wish of living in the wild like the native Indians was his own secret fantasy. He never told anyone what his secret dreams were; it was not so much that they would laugh or tease him about it but because he felt it was a breaking of a sacred vow he had made in his imagination. It was the Indian warrior, freezing in the winter snow who knew how to trap a rabbit or a squirrel; the warrior who knew how to build fires without matches and who could make his clothes out of the animals he trapped and who, in the summer could use his birch bark canoe and fish in the middle of the lake.
As he grew older, he noticed that even the birds were not the same. Some were totally new to his recollection and some that he remembered were no longer around to be seen. He did not think these things all the time but there would be a sudden awareness that kept gnawing at him, which he could not trace. He did not know it but his path was being chosen for him by that series of simple “likes” or “dislikes” that either drew him to them or pushed him away. The changes were subtle but each time he had to make a decision, he kept moving to the path that felt comfortable to him. When it was time to study at a University, he was firmly resolved that it would be some study of nature or plants. He decided on biology as his major and because his aunt had been such an influence on anthropology, he took it as his minor course of study. Recommended by his Aunt Yelena, he also studied under Margaret Mead. Because he enjoyed the subject, studying became pleasurable and he absorbed his subject easily.
His name was Helge Lapchuk and he was at this time, 33 years of age. Like his Russian father, he was fair skinned and his hair was blond. Nearly 6 feet tall, he towered over his father’s modest 5’-9” height. Thin framed, he could wear clothes that enhanced his figure and although not overly outgoing, he managed well enough with the girls. When asked when he was going to start looking for a wife, he always jokingly replied, I’m going to find myself a nice native girl who knows how to live in the wild and who will let me write my books while she digs for roots and gathers nuts.”
His father Boris was from Russia and had emigrated to the United States during the time Stalin was coming into power. The family had been involved in farming and agronomy for countless years and Boris Lapchuk, felt threatened by the direction politics was taking and decided to make his break since it was difficult to survive by farming any more. When the small farms were joined together as large combines, Boris knew that he would never be able to work as part of a large ensemble. Boris emigrated to the United States, he travelled with his wife Svetlana and his sister, Alyena Lapchuk. Alyena which was the diminutive for Helen, was, like her older brother Boris, interested in the land and that which lived upon it. Alyena, became an Archaeologist /Anthropologist; had studied under Margaret Mead at Columbia University in New York, and had gone on many “digs”. She filled Helge’s mind with stories about how they were able to determine the way people lived; the houses they built; the tools they used; the religious rites and how they buried their dead and much about their social life . All this they learned by carefully digging on sites where they once lived and by unearthing the everyday utensils they found. Much was speculative but the archaeologist coupled with the anthropologist could get very close. There was an inner excitement as though one could go for a visit and be invisible to the people you were visiting.