Once, in the early ancestral light, before humans had grown afraid, a man left his tribe one day and walked to the nearby edge of a canyon. He often went here to watch the eagles circle above in the cold blue sky, and to dangle his legs over the edge and look down, down, down at the tiny ribbon of blue so far beneath him.
As he was walking one bright morning, he noticed a large, heavy tree growing crooked, out into the air on the edge of the cliff. One limb, heavy with thin, elongated leaves and sweet green nuts, swung out over the edge of the canyon, just out of reach. The man had never seen such a tree, so he looked at those dangling, tantalizing morsels and scrambled right up the trunk and out onto the branch, edging out onto the limb and over into the long drop down to the canyon floor.
As the man knelt down on the thinning branch and extended his fingertips out towards the nearest nut, a loud crack struck through the morning air, vibrations echoing over again from the walls of the canyons. Without a yell, the man plummeted through the air, feet flailing, hair akimbo, clutching at the branch he had been standing on moments before, green nuts falling around him like rain.
The man fell, and fell, and fell, and in that fall he learned of Fear. That primal emotion, full of chest-clenching stomach rocks, of whip-cord tightness in every muscle fiber, of sharpened vision, escaped from him and fled towards his tribe as his body hit the ground near the ribbon of river so far below. Blood leaked from his broken limbs and head and the nuts that had fallen with him soaked it in, turning from green to black. In that moment, his whole tribe looked up from their games and turned their heads towards the canyon. They were too distant to have heard the crack of the breaking tree branch, but as the man crashed into the earth they all received, with perfect clarity, a vision of his fall--the sound and feel of the wind rushing past his outstretched limbs, the sight of the ground rushing up to meet him, the metallic taste of blood in his mouth, the smell of the green nuts as they whistled down through the air with him, the rippled tightness of his every muscle as he sought in vain to escape the press of gravity.
As one, the tribe stood and silently loped towards the canyon. Many of them had walked along the edge before, sometimes throwing rocks out into the vast chasm, sometimes shouting out their joy just to hear it echoed back. Today, though, a terrible sense of dread gripped them. They knew that a part of themselves had died, and died in a different way than anyone had ever died before. When they saw the edge of the canyon, and the tree with its broken branch, they all drew back as one, now, afraid, for the first time, to approach the edge. No one wanted to see what had happened to the man.
After many hours passed with the people huddled within sight of the edge, a partner who loved the man with her whole soul scrunched up her face, balled up her fists, and crawled over to the edge to peer down the canyon wall. Far, far below, lying on her belly with just her head sticking over the edge, she saw a little piece of red and tan puddle on the green near the ribbon river.
The woman's body went limp and loose, her silent scream trapped behind glazed eyes. She breathed, but did not stir, did not moan, did not cry. After much debate among themselves, some members of the tribe crept up to the edge and dragged the woman back a few feet by the ankle until they could pick her up and carry her home. They allowed her to rest in the shade of a great cedar, with baskets of fruit and nuts around her, and little children playing nearby. Old women sat by her body and sang her songs of love, but even their songs caught in their throat, roughened, for the first time, with that new sense of fear that they did not understand. The people woke up the next morning to find the woman's body gone without a trace.
From that time on, every year as the stars approached the same place in the sky as they had been when the man died and the woman disappeared, the tribe shuffled, single-file, towards the edge of the canyon. They did not go near it--nobody, now, dared go near that long drop of death. The days of carefree singing and shouting and leg-swinging over the edge were long past. No, they did not go near. But they stood, huddled in a little group, fear clouding above their heads like black mist, and they knelt near the tree with the green nuts, which grew, over the years, spreading out into the canyon, its sweet, green nuts forever out of reach. The people bowed their heads. They did not sing. They honored the woman and the man, they thought, by allowing the fear to grow inside themselves. They grew the fear so that no one else, no child, no man, no woman, would ever fall victim to the canyon again.