Saha awakens to the distant sound of thunder, a relatively rare experience in her life. While rainfall still falls on the wild lands of Nova Scotia, thunderstorms, with their lightening, hail and sometimes torrential downpours are infrequent. At the next clap, much louder, the entire clan sits upright, the electricity in the air palpable. Without a word, Saha leads the group off the hillock, down and across a small meadow and into the deep, green shelter of the forest. Normally, they would sit still for rain, mouths agape to capture and taste the sweet drops of rainwater, but exposure to a thunderstorm is a different matter.
As the wind and rain increase, the leaves of the forest in which they have taken protection begin to whip around, shedding drops of water as they flap from side to side. Within minutes, the ground is soaking wet, and living denizens of the earth begin to emerge as if in celebration. Ants and worms appear, crawling over fallen leaves and onto the bodies of the seated group of botanicus. It’s as if the earth itself has suddenly come alive and begun to move. This sudden expression of life keeps the group enthralled. Where the tiny creatures inch across their bodies, their chromatophores, tiny reservoirs of pigment expand and contract, producing a web-work of yellowish trails on their green skin that slowly fade. Giggles and gasps overtake take them, and like children they sit in wonder at the miracle of nature. Some of the smaller children pick up a worm and place it in their mouth, not to eat, but to sample, tasting of earthy minerals and decay; after a minute they remove them and place them back upon the ground.
The family has inadvertently and roughly assembled itself together in family groups, although a lack of monogamy has produced a thoroughly blended family. Jens and Saha lean against each other, the parents of the now adult female Laughing Creek and young male Pink Dawn, who sit by them. To their left Kaya and Karma are gathered with their adult daughters Distant Thunder and Clear Water and son Soft Moss. Scattered among these sit four children of various and uncertain couplings, young daughters Waving Grass, Warm Breeze, Morning Dew, and the nearly adult son Slanted Cliff. Because botanicus reach sexual maturity early, and there are no issues of morality or sexual shame, procreation in all its aspects is celebrated. The arrival of a new child prompts joy among the entire family.
Child rearing is shared; specific distinctions between which children are of which parents are not relevant, and youngsters are equally cared for by all adults. Even Karma, who among the group is the only one who tries to keep track of parentage, is a loving parent regardless of lineage. Except for those raised by Len and Pierre, names are chosen on the basis of the observation of nature at the moment of birth. When referring to each other by name, it’s usually just the last name that’s used. So evocative are their names, that saying each produces a quick flash of color, a connection to the embodied emotional experience that accompanied each birth.
As the storm passes and sunlight again begins to penetrate the forest canopy, Morning Dew lets out a sudden exclamation of delight. Approaching her is a small animal on four legs, about a foot long and like herself, hairless with green skin. Looking somewhat like a small pig, it slowly makes its way towards the group, settles in a bright patch of sunlight, and lies down peacefully. A product of Pierre’s earlier chimera experiments he released into the wild, this particular creature has successfully reproduced and expanded its territory during twenty years. An animal/plant hybrid like botanicus, it has no fear of predators, all of which have disappeared due the changes in earth’s climate in any event.
Dew slowly approaches the small beast and sitting next to it reaches out her left hand and gently strokes its body. Rather than reacting defensively, the little creature appears to relax further, closing its eyes in seeming enjoyment of Dew’s attention. The entire family is transfixed; while small insects still can be seen, larger animal life is so diminished that its appearance is surprising. Dew draws closer to it, and it comfortably crawls into her lap and promptly falls asleep.
The presence of such a life form marks a moment of restoration, and although unknown to Pierre, represents his tremendous success, the start of a reversal of the global collapse of animal populations and a new beginning in providing a diversity of life and the restoration of the health of the planet. As it is, the population of Homo sapiens and the commensurate stress, now largely eliminated, of supporting the appetites of seven billion-plus people placed on the natural world, has already given the earth a chance to recover. The planet’s adaptive, self-correcting system is complex; given enough time it has always recovered enough equilibrium to support life in a diversity of forms. Time will tell whether new hybrid plant/animal species like botanicus become dominant.
A rustling in the nearby bushes breaks the silence, and four much smaller, green-skinned, four-legged creatures emitting high-pitched, squealing sounds emerge into the clearing. Hopping off Dew’s lap, the larger greenish, “pig” makes its way to the smaller ones. They greet each other by pressing their snouts together, seat themselves in a sunny patch and proceed to lick the rain droplets off each other’s skin.
This is all new to the botanicus clan; they have never seen anything like this before, and they are fascinated, silently observing what they instinctually feel are green cousins, which of course they are, sharing some of the same genetic alterations developed by Pierre Gittleman.
Even Jens, the oldest of the group is deeply moved. Pierre and Len had informed him of the enormous changes being wrought by climate change, the world-wide animal extinctions and the loss of habitat, and once he left Halifax, he expected he’d inhabit a quiet world emptied of wildlife. Yet, sitting here before him was evidence that other beings, hybrid beings like himself, were already adapting and thriving in this changed world.
Saha breaks the silence. “I think we should welcome the new members of our family,” she suggests. Let’s sing.” They gather in a circle surrounding the green “pigs,” hold hands and begin to softly coo. “AhhhOooooB, AhhhOooooB,” they repeat, breaking into harmonies. Suddenly, as if on cue, the “pigs” join in with their squealing, and everyone breaks out into laughter, bright colors, and smiles. “Now that was something! We are one body!” Saha exclaims. “Please, let’s begin again.” They do, and within a few minutes the little creatures join in once more. Suddenly, more sounds are heard from within the bushes surrounding them, as if the forest itself has come alive. “AhhhOooooB,” they coo, “AhhhOooooB.”