“But green’s the color of Spring
And green can be cool and friendly-like
And green can be big like an ocean, or important
Like a mountain, or tall like a tree
When green is all there is to be
It could make you wonder why, but why wonder why
Wonder, I am green and it’ll do fine, it’s beautiful
And I think it’s what I want to be”
-from “It’s Not Easy Being Green” – Lyrics by Joe Raposo for Jim Henson’s Muppets
40,000 years have passed since Pierre first released Homo botanicus and his other photosynthetic animal/plant hybrids into the world. Seen from space, the earth looks very much like it did in the early-twentieth century: a watery, blue sphere patterned with white cloud formations and land masses tinged with areas of greens and browns that change with the seasons. Missing from that visage are city lights illuminating the darkness; in what is the year 42,432, although no creatures on the planet reckon time in that or any other way, neither technology nor industrialization exist. Civilization on planet earth – large, organized population centers located in sprawling cities – disappeared alongside Homo sapiens society many distant ages ago.
The seas are brimming with life; plant, animal, and microbial species all flourish in various combinations. Predation among animals, both water-borne and land-based, has returned, but not in nearly the same abundance as it had been before. The sixth extinction, brought on by climate change, wiped out 95% of the planet’s animal life, and its return has been slow and limited. Small plant-and-insect-eating rodents diversified into several distinctive forms, but none grow larger than twenty pounds in size. Bird populations reestablished themselves, but are limited to some seed-foragers, carrion eaters and raptors. Of all the animals, insects fare best by comparison. Ground-living beetles, centipedes, ants and termites, always the most populous of animals, colonized earth’s increased, warm forest lands, which for centuries were filled with downed and rotting trunks of herbaceous trees doomed by climate change. Mycological diversity, mushrooms and fungus, has exploded.
Offshoots of Pierre Gittleman’s photosynthetic botanicus species have diversified as well, filling niches left empty by extinction. As such, they comprise a unique ecosystem of the their own: non-predatory, non-aggressive, non-consumptive, long-living and, in the case of Homo botanicus, highly intelligent. That intelligence, released from the previous animal-world imperative of finding and consuming flesh or plant material and all the activities associated with it, and combined with a sophisticated array of visual and auditory communication tools, has produced a remarkably sensitive culture of observation, information transmission, and retrieval. The earlier generations of now extinct Homo sapiens fulfilled a similar purpose, but hobbled by desire – for food, safety, and security – that purpose never reached its full potential, lost as it was in suffering.
In a way Pierre Gittleman could only imagine but never witness, Homo botanicus spread across the planet in a non-destructive manner. Wherever sunlight bathed the surface of the earth, botanicus found refuge. Pierre’s genius revealed itself in ways both subtle and grand. The plant side of botanicus included a variety of soft defenses, such as body chemicals distasteful to predatory animal life. Even in the event that large, predatory, meat-eating animals might someday evolve, botanicus would remain aloof. And just as various species plants can successfully reduce their energy consumption during prolonged periods or seasons of darkness, so too botanicus could successfully enter prolonged states of dormancy, a form of hibernation.
In re-forested parts of the world, botanicus returned intelligence to living in trees. The opposable thumb, long considered one of the drivers of Homo sapiens evolution, conveyed a survival advantage to botanicus as well, making them adept climbers. At the same time, the use of tools among botanicus never emerged as significant. Accordingly, the identification of tools as sacred objects and the cultural habits associated with such totems, such as symbolic objects with tabooed or elevated meaning, never developed, nor did fixed institutions of authority and power. A natural sense of belonging in the world filled the space of botanicus social interaction rather than the widespread sense of separation which had plagued Homo sapiens and inclined them to compulsively compete with each other over conceptions of truth and beauty. With all their emotions on colorful display, subterfuge and dissemblance are unknown to botanicus; all they know and can know is truth.
To the casual outside observer, although such no longer exists, botanicus appear as a prolific, low-impact, and outwardly passive species, seemingly filling the ecological niches that herds of grazers, flocks of birds, and loose troops of primates once filled. Such observation might easily miss the depth and variety of observational habits and communication modes indicating their high intelligence.
The same sort of mistake was made in the latter years of Homo sapiens culture; the belief at that time was that sapiens were the only species capable of intelligent self-consciousness. This way of thinking dismissed sentient creatures such as cephalopod octopi and squid, cetacean dolphin and whales, and even animals as common as fish, pigs, dogs, cats, and birds. This dismissal, exacerbated by the Cartesian ontological idea of thought-as-being, and combined with the biological and social imperatives of satisfying continuous daily hunger, fueled industrial-style animal slaughter on global scale, setting up a psychological system of emotional compartmentalism in Homo sapiens that promoted objectification and exploitation of others; these forces produced unresolvable subconscious conflicts, and set the stage for the sixth extinction. Botanicus, unburdened by such painful psychological complexes, while outwardly appearing passive, is actually fully present, non-judgmental, relational, and selfless; in short, entirely fulfilling the dharmic, ecological vision of Pierre Gittleman.
As the sun rises and its rays brush the tops of the forest canopy, what might have once passed for birdsong begins to fill the air, but the growing chorus is botanicus, not avian. At the same time, as the golden dawn illuminates the trees, quick flashes of color appear, as the twinkling of lantern flies or lightening bugs might have looked before they disappeared. Scattered among the branches, the flashes of color begin to synchronize with the musical sounds, and on a planet entirely devoid of the whirring and chugging of machines, industry, engines or technology – a quiet planet filled with the sounds of wind and water – a unique symphony of intelligent life unfolds in playful harmony with the oneness with nature.