This is an excerpt from the (fictional) Journal of Jarn. In my science fiction world, Jarn was an alien who was stranded on earth in Africa during the penultimate interglacial, roughly 125,000 years ago. He has rescued a prehuman child, Songbird.

Day 490

My calendar is coming along – slowly, but I am now fairly certain that this planet has nearly the same rotation rate and year length as Kentra. The year length is no surprise, as both the sun and the climate are very similar to what I am used to. The rotation rate, and thus the day length, are a pleasant surprise, but not really unexpected – the climate would not be nearly as much like Kentra’s if the coriolis force differed much.

It is now about 90 days past the northern solstice, and it should be near the equinox. It is not as easy to determine the equinox as the solstice, but the day is as nearly as I can measure it the same length as the night, and the sun appears to be rising directly to the east, counting east as being at right angles to the pole around which the stars seem to revolve.

This should mean the sun is directly over the equator, and the rains should be at a maximum there. They will move southward now, and should be here in around thirty to sixty more days—sixty, if I go by last year. So far, the sky is cloudless, and the grass is very dry. Songbird keeps insisting that I watch for fire, and she is so concerned that I have burned off the ground near out shelter.

She has reason, I have found. Several years ago – her counting skills are not quite good enough to tell how many years ago – her people attempted to stay in the area later than usual. The herds had started their migration, but many animals remained to eat the tall, dry grass. Songbird told me what she remembered, but she could not have been more than seven at the time. Nevertheless, she gave me a very clear image of a wall of smoke and flame that very nearly wiped out her group, and in fact killed several who panicked and tried to outrun the fire. Only the shaman saved them, insisting that they lie down in the waters of a narrow creek, covered with wet hides, and let the fire burn over them.

“It was very hard to breathe,” she said, “but most of those who obeyed the shaman lived.”

I am getting more and more intrigued by this shaman.