Being Green

Chapter Eleven

Karma, the second-oldest male in the group, sits quietly on a rocky outcropping on the upper slopes of the eastern side of the valley. He reckons his location through the use of landmarks and geometry. He does not use geometry as a conscious tool; rather, his internal calculations are automatic, his mind like a sextant. Moreover, he has given his landmarks names, and has placed them within an internal map, a mandala into which named objects are placed and from which they can be retrieved.

Unlike the other members of his botanicus family, Karma’s right hemisphere is less active, rather than more; hence he is prone to making distinctions, giving names and constructing narratives. While all botanicus are self-conscious, such awareness rarely inflates sufficiently to generate delusions of autonomy, but in Karma’s case, his left hemisphere believes that he is uniquely in possession of truth about the nature of being. This produces a tendency towards self-isolation and hyperreflexivity; he periodically wanders off on his own, as he puts it, “to think.”

“What is my purpose,” he asks himself, “why am I here?” Such questions, questions without answers, obsess Karma. Consequently, his mind goes round and round in pursuit of a satisfaction that’s never to arrive. The others give Karma a wide berth, in recognition that in some fundamental way, he is different. They are not hostile or unfriendly, but most of them simply do not and cannot understand the way Karma thinks and behaves. His manner makes him inventive and a good problem solver, but botanicus does not have a great need for either. It’s as if he is simultaneously of the whole, and yet not, a psychological condition no other family members manifest.

For example, Karma created a way to convey water from the local creek to their encampment by splitting timber bamboo and rigging it together in a sort of “pipeline.” He spent the better part of a week planning and executing his project. All acknowledged the cleverness of his accomplishment, but did not use it, preferring to take the short walk to and from the creek bank instead. In attempting to explain the use and value of his pipeline, his arguments simply increased the confusion of the others; the whole idea of seeing the benefits of eliminating walking to the creek was lost on them. “Why would we not walk?” asked Pink Dawn, one of children of Jens and Saha. “We like the walk to the creek.”

“It will save time,” Karma replied. “We don’t know what that means,” asked Dawn. “How does it save time? Where is the saved time? Is it heavy to carry? Can we use it later? Why should we save something we cannot even touch or hold? This is not making sense, Karma. We’re sorry, we don’t understand.” Such conversations always ended this way, not with hostility but confusion.

Karma’s talent for abstraction was endless and produced voluminous explanations and justifications as he attempted to prompt others to understand his point of view. His explanations, to Karma, seemed rock-solid, adhering to the logic that parts make up the whole, and that by reducing things to its parts, utility can be revealed. The communication would always break down, however, over the matter of utility. To the rest of the family, no single object has utility, only an unbreakable relationship to the whole wherein its purpose is fulfilled.

“The eye requires a relationship with what it sees,” Jens would interject, “only a relationship, Karma. With nothing to see, the eye has no utility, as you call it. But utility, this is just an idea. Do we have utility? What does that mean? Utility is a definition, reduction to a thing. Are we things? No, we are not things, Karma.”

While this type of conversation took place, the group’s colors reflected discomfort. Deep browns, even spots of near black would scatter across their bodies, a sure sign of confusion and dismay. An unusual lack of synchrony and color matching, a departure from a more customary cohesion of skin affect between members of the clan, would manifest. Such signs of discord are rare, a contrast to the unifying waves of color that usually envelop the group, while chanting, for example. And it was at such difficult moments the family, including Karma, would chant, re-synchronize, and regain its composure.

Karma, from Pierre’s point of view, represents a kind of reversion to the mean, which is to say, primarily relying upon intellectual logic, reduction of the whole into parts, objectifying, creating distinctions and naming things; in short, Karma’s left hemisphere reconfigures the world in its own image, as did that of Homo sapiens over time. Within the container of the botanicus family, however, Karma’s ideas gain little purchase; his ideas feel foreign. And his own sense of connection to the group is strong, even if challenged by his particular, even peculiar, sense of self-identity. Karma, despite his inclinations, is loving and loved, and when his preoccupations are left behind, his self-absorption dissolves into coherence with the clan.

But one of Karma’s ideas takes hold: inscribing designs on the surface of rocks and pieces of wood. He first began this activity as a child using crayons and chalk; among the four raised in Pierre’s house, Karma was the only one who liked to color and draw and would spend hours engaged in it. At first, his pictures were just scribbles of colors and lines, but over time became more geometrical and regular. Certain motifs appeared and reappeared: circles, squares, triangles, spirals, and symmetrical mandalas. This was an early indication that his right hemisphere was not inhibiting the workings of his left in quite the same way as in the other children; Karma’s brain delineated space and carved it up into discrete segments.

But this activity, Pierre called it “making art,” also was an expression of emotion, and stimulated the activity of neurotransmitters across both brain hemispheres. As he drew, Karma’s skin colors changed, expressing his feelings of satisfaction or discomfort with his drawings. When asked to explain what his pictures meant, he would invent elaborate stories about entering doors and traveling to new places.

His art habit never ended, and wherever the family settled in the wild lands Karma would spend time inscribing and decorating rocks and wood with charcoal, colored pebbles and inscribed markings. He would then assemble these on the ground into circles, lines, or balanced stacks, which over time ended up among forest glades and grassy groundcover. When returning to a place of encampment, Karma’s stones often marked the spot.

His stone and wood marking activity eventually spread to the other, younger members of the group. None displayed the same continuous passion, one might say obsession, for it as Karma, but decorating objects became a process activity of group sharing. A stone or stick would be passed from hand-to-hand, during which each would add to a design. In this way, art became a way to join, collaborate, and cooperate in an act of creation without possession. Notably, Karma alone is right-handed and tightly grasps sticks and stones that attract his attention due to their shape or color. All the others reach with their left hands, and then carefully turn and explore the surface texture of stones with their sensitive fingertips and sometimes their tongues, fascinated by shape, temperature, color, and taste.

As the sun descends closer to the horizon, Karma lifts himself from the rocky ledge and heads back to the encampment to join the others and prepare for sleep. His agitated mind is filled with images and ideas, questions, speculations and theories. His examination of the sky, curiosity about clouds, stars and the moon incline him to fabricate meaning; his hyperreflexivity prompts him to invent and tell himself elaborate stories about imaginary, omnipotent beings who guide and control destiny. These stories both excite him and calm him down. For a while he obsessively talked about them, but he’s stopped sharing his stories with the others; they have absolutely no idea what he’s talking about and show little interest in finding out.

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