Through dense, leafy underbrush, Jens and his troop quietly make their way to a clearing where a break in the tree canopy allows streams of light to fill the area; ferns and moss thrive among slabs of stone warmed by the midday sun. Forming a circle, the group sits atop the warm stones, and they grasp each other’s hands, beginning a daily ritual marking deep bonds of kinship and reinforcing feelings of safety within the group.
Four children join the ceremony, seemingly as relaxed and unhurried as the older members. Visually, it’s difficult to differentiate males from females in the gathering. All their bodies are green-skinned, of course, but not uniformly. Some are a lighter shade of green than others, but this is not a characteristic of sexual differentiation, simply the result of chance. Lean, hairless and without secondary sexual characteristics typical of Homo sapiens, the gender differences of Homo botanicus are more subtle, primarily relying upon chromatophore displays, odor and pheromones. This too, was by design.
Pierre’s bioengineering included a reduction in the factors contributing to social conflict, of which sexual competition plays a major part in the lives of Homo sapiens. Although reproductive drives remain, Homo botanicus is matrivalent rather than patrivalent, autonomy subordinate to the bonds of relationship. Sexual coupling, when it happens, is initiated by the females, not the males, and accompanied by feelings of great unity, not conquest or territoriality. Males do not compete for the affections of females, nor do the females compete for the affections of the males; rather, when it occurs, sexual intercourse is a function of the urge of unity and resonance, not dominance. Non-sexual, soothing physical contact takes place between all members of the tribe, irrespective of gender.
Physically, botanicus males are not larger or stronger than females, further removing a distinction that fuels conflict and domination among sapiens. This equality of strength and stature invests botanicus culture with a natural sense of balance and equity. Individualism, so highly prized among sapiens, is a minor element in botanicus life; the welfare of each other and the group occupies the centerpiece of daily life. In this way, their lives are truly tribal.
The group sits in silence for a while, holding hands, and then together begins singing a soft, cooing sound. This is accompanied by increasingly visible waves of skin color changes, passing from one individual to the next, moving around the circle with increasing speed. At first the color change is subtle, green skin shifting darker as each successive wave passes through the group. As their vocalizations increase in volume and pitch, the color changes become faster and more dramatic. Within minutes, the group breaks into harmonies, and their skin displays become more colorful, with flashes of yellow, ochre, tan, brown and red. Their eyes, which have been closed, suddenly open in unison and as the dynamics of sound and color reach a fevered climax, they break their grip on each other and they fall silent, the only sound that of labored breathing. A sheen of moisture covers their bodies, and they each recline on to the ground’s mossy cushion, spent with exhilaration.
This behavior, akin to the patterned and synchronized murmuration of starlings, now extinct, or the way in which schools of herring, also long gone from changed oceans, would turn as one and, catching sunlight, flash their silvery bodies, acts to reinforce their closeness and coherence as a family, but also signals their attention interconnected relationship to the world. As the seasons change, although seasonal change is far less dramatic than it had been in earth’s past, their ritual songs and color displays change, too. Botanicus has returned humanity to the explicit embrace of nature.
Sitting up once again, the group begins to chant. “We are one body,” they intone together, “We are one body.” They repeat it, emphasizing a different word with each repetition. “WE are one body,” then, “we ARE one body,” then, “we are ONE body,” and finally, “we are one BODY.” They perform this cycle over and over, once again breaking into harmony. The green glade surrounding them brightens, sunlight now streaming down upon them from directly above. Feeding on sunlight, expressions of relaxed pleasure crossing their upturned faces, their skin color settles into a constant, vibrant green, and their chanting stops. They sit in silence this way for an hour, until the sun again begins to dip behind the foliage around them. Softly, Jens begins to speak.
“We will cross our way to other side of the valley, today. The days are now shorter, and the nights cooler once again. So begins the new cycle, and with it the wonderful prospect of new members of our family. We anticipate this with joy and gratitude. We accept what we are given with humility. We dedicate our efforts and intention to each other and to the beautiful world around us. We are one body.” “We are one body,” the group repeats.
“Are there questions, today?” Jens asks. The youngest of the group, four-year-old Waving Grass, flashes ochre. “Yes, Grass?” “Why does our skin change color the way it does when we chant together?” she asks. “It seems to happen all by itself, even if we try to stop it. The feelings that we have confuse me.” The group smiles. “Can we explain this to Waving Grass?” Jens inquires.
Kaya’s color deepens, and she speaks. “Dear one, we experience this, are confused by it when young. The experience of great unity is built into us, is part of us, inseparable from us, joins us with the world from which we are not separate. It is our nature, who we are. Like a breeze stirs all leaves, gently bending them it to its will, so the great unity stirs us all, without exception. Accepting this, we enter into a mutual relationship with nature, a sharing, a deep resonance. In time, we fall in love this way; this is our path, dear one. We are one body.” “We are one body,” the group repeats.
They rise and begin walking through the undergrowth to the well-worn trail crossing the valley. Without hunger, they crave nothing, carry nothing – no possessions, clothing, food, water or shelter. Everything they need is provided by their bodies and their world, a changed world for which they have been created.