Pierre awakens early; it’s going to be a torrid day in Halifax, another in a long line of torrid days. The rise in ocean levels has already inundated the lower lying areas of the city, and the past few months of extremely high temperatures have only made matters worse. The desalinization plants located along the old harbor, in what were assumed to be safely dry locations, now are at risk of being flooded. A massive effort at constructing sea wall barriers and flood controls consumes the city, but everyone knows whatever efforts are made will only be temporary. The writing is on the wall.
Naturally hilly portions of Halifax are now islands, connected by make-shift pedestrian bridges, some floating. These pontoon structures double as energy generators, the action of the tides propelling turbines that convert kinetic energy to electricity. Combined with wind-driven turbines, energy in Halifax is sufficient to support its population, particularly since that population is shrinking. Birth rates have plummeted, partly out of caution, but also for reasons unknown. The average age of residents is getting higher with each passing year.
All this further convinces Pierre that he must hurry if he is to be successful in ensuring humanity, in some form, endures. Reports from the rest of the world are dire. Ecosystems hundreds of thousands of years in the making have collapsed or are collapsing. Insects, once the most numerous animals on earth, are disappearing, except for roaches, ants, and underground species. Combined with climate change, effects of the loss of bees, butterflies, and moths on agriculture are disastrous, leaving only self-pollinating plants, like grasses, to thrive; even those are stressed. The human population is less than half it was when Pierre was born, but four billion is still a very large number, too large for a now changed planet to support. Fantasies of colonizing Mars revealed as foolish, wasteful pipedreams, earth remains humankind’s only home and, Pierre believes, will remain so only for a short time unless his efforts pay off.
But Pierre’s work on botanicus has nearly halted. Since incinerating his chimeric “children” two years ago, he’s reluctant to waste his time, what little of it he may have left. The meaning of his vision of women with parasols in Belle Epoque Paris still eludes him but remains his fixation. Of course, he knows the parasol is one of Tibetan Buddhism’s Eight Auspicious Symbols, protecting all beings from suffering and fear, but he’s convinced it holds a deeper answer vital to his success. He’s anxious about running out of time and failing. Support for Pierre among his fellow scientists remains strong, out of gratitude; respect for his major contribution to creating a reliable food supply remains steady. He’s provided all the material resources he requests without question, but surreptitiously he has been siphoning off some excess to provide what he requires for his private, and still secret botanicus project.
To amuse and console himself, he’s taken to perusing the family library, an enormous volume of books collected by his father, Leonard Gittleman. A voracious reader curious about topics ranging from the mundane to the esoteric, Leonard collected books and filled shelves, built floor to ceiling in a large room in the grand Gittleman home. Even after digital technology made printed books impractical and unpopular, Leonard continued to find and add rare volumes. Pierre, more technologically inclined, displayed little interest in the library when he was young, but now the library has become a refuge.
It is here, among bound tomes smelling of great age, that Pierre comes across the massive, two volume work on hallucinogenic mushroom use in Mexico by ex-banker R. Gordon Wasson and his Russian wife Valentina, published in the late 1950s. Wasson’s research, which included ingesting mushrooms containing the hallucinogen psilocybin, was partially funded by America’s CIA project MK Ultra, which was focused on identifying techniques of mind control. The Wassons would go on to study and write about Soma, author a book with the father of LSD, Swiss chemist Albert Hoffman, and speculate upon the composition of Kukeon, the hallucinogenic concoction used in ancient Eleusinian Mystery initiation ceremonies dedicated to Demeter, the grain goddess. It is on grain, specifically rye, that the hallucinogenic ergot fungus grows.
Seated on a dusty couch and casually flipping through its pages, Pierre is suddenly stunned by a hand-drawn, watercolor illustration of a group of Panaeolus papilionaceus, psilocybin mushrooms, that in his father’s youth were popularly known as “magic mushrooms.” Staring up at him from the yellowed page is his vision of parasols held aloft on thin sticks.
“Of course! How could I not see it?” he cries out. “I am so fucking stupid!” Suddenly, it’s all very clear to him, the parasols, the mushrooms, the labrys, the path he has been seeking. In a flash he begins to read his vision as if a set of directions. The heavy book slips from his grasp and falls to the floor with a thud. A jolt of energy hits Pierre, thrusts him out of the chair and propels him to his lab, where he sits and begins to furiously type notes while consulting his DNA and brain chemistry databases.
Psilocybin acts on the mind by increasing the effects of serotonin, one of the brain’s primary neurotransmitter enzymes. This, in turn, reduces inhibitory functions, in effect removing sensory buffers that govern how much information reaches conscious awareness; under psilocybin’s effects, the mind is flooded with sensory input. Awareness of color, sound, movement, and tactile events all increase exponentially; the world is experienced as it is, declaring its raw presence and energy with overwhelming brightness and intensity. Pierre recalls the Heart Sutra his father taught him and chanted daily, which in part recounts the Samadhi of the Buddha called “Profound Illumination,” defined by Vajrayana Buddhists as “perception of the profound in the enumeration of phenomena.” Under this unmediated condition, maintaining ego becomes virtually impossible as the interconnectedness of all and everything floods the mind. In short, realization of great unity subdues individual ego, an act of perception Pierre views as essential to the success of Homo botanicus.
And the double parasols, the labrys, how do they fit in? What had felt labrythine suddenly makes sense too, for the double-headed labrys, root of the word labyrinth, is a perfect symbolic representation of the human brain’s two roughly symmetrical hemisphere’s, the right and the left, connected at the center by a thick bundle of neurons called the corpus colossum.
In his vision, the single and double parasols are all held aloft by women; that also carries essential information he’s needed, a redirection of emphasis from patrivalence to matrivalence. If botanicus is to survive, not fall into the same cognitive and behavioral traps as sapiens, then a realignment, a rebalancing, must take place. The competitive, testosterone-rich, left-hemisphere imperatives of objectified separation, competition, and aggression must be decidedly subordinate to oxytocin-rich, right-hemisphere imperatives of wholeness, interrelationship, and cooperation. Pierre’s vision is showing him that to survive, humanity must inherently tilt towards unity, not separation, towards empathy not conflict.
Thrilled, but exhausted, Pierre completes his notes and rolls in his desk chair across the room to his cot. He knows exactly how to proceed, can barely contain himself and his excitement, but also knows he needs at least some sleep before what he knows will be many weeks of intense work. He lies down on his back, begins his relaxation practice and, for the first time in many months, falls asleep like a baby in five minutes.