Recent rains transform the landscape. Wildflowers suddenly cover the hillsides of the valley and grasses surge in the meadows; dormant during the dry weather but now come back to life, fresh green shoots emerge by inches everyday day. Growth is not limited to plants only, however; a new addition to the Botanicus family is born, a male. His mother is Clear Water, his father possibly one of several. The baby is named New Shoots.
The sexual life of Homo Botanicus, dictated by the estrus cycle of the females, is not monogamous; females will mate with several males until the cycle, lasting three or four days, ends. Unlike the sexual habits of Homo sapiens, these sexual cycles are not accompanied by episodes of male aggression, jealousy, possessiveness, or competition. Rather, mating is essentially communal; intercourse is not hidden, nor does it prompt shame. During the brief periods of sexual activity, there are smiles all around and an almost festive atmosphere filled with singing, cooing, and ritual.
Color changes are an important part of the botanicus sex life, and this is particularly true during intercourse, when both receptivity and mutuality are expressed visually. The mating ritual begins with pheromones emitted by the females that arouse the males. Increased production of oxytocin, the “parenting” hormone, engenders feelings of tenderness and warmth in both males and females, and coupling takes place over several hours. As the mating cycle begins, waves of color change are expressed, moving slowly from head to toe. At first, these colors are shades of green, but when coupling occurs the colors change to become more vivid, and shades of yellow, and even red are displayed. During coupling, the wave patterns increase in frequency, both partners ultimately so well synchronized that the patterns appear to move seamlessly through one to the other. To observers, two bodies nearly appear as one.
Birth is a celebratory event as well. After nine months gestation, a botanicus baby emerges, it’s skin a very pale green which must be protected from direct sunlight for few weeks to allow the chlorophyll to fully develop, depending upon the season. Birth rituals, which include naming the child, group singing and chanting, and passing the baby from hand-to-hand forge bonds between the newest member and the rest of the family. Although botanicus babies’ photosynthetic skin is not fully developed at birth, chromatophores are, and newborns display emotional color changes almost at once. This provides early signaling of comfort or distress, well before any other communication skills develops. And color change synchrony between babies and adults is also all but immediate.
The youngest children of the clan immediately show great interest in New Shoots, take turns holding him and singing to him. While doing so, their own colors brighten and shift, and at the slightest indication of happiness from the baby the children laugh and giggle with excitement. As a group, the youngest children are already developing their own unique mode of communication, one relying primarily on sound and color, not words. They are wonderful mimics, and can reproduce a variety of sounds of nature; babbling brooks, wind in the leaves, cracking branches, falling rocks, and pig squeals are among their growing repertoires. Combined with color change, its intensity and frequency, their vocalizations are complete transmissions, eliminating the need for words entirely. Even their names and the names of others are reduced to sounds and colors, facilitating communication over long distances where voices alone won’t carry. Rather than relying on the speed of sound, botanicus rely on the speed of light.
For example, the sound of a babbling brook combined with five rapid flashes of yellow signal interest in heading towards the creek at the valley bottom. The response of others, another five rapid flashes of yellow, is an indication of consent. Increasingly, the adults notice, the children wordlessly communicate with each other, and the adults begin to employ the same system, adding their own lexical nuance. The pace or tempo of the flash response indicates a temporal element; a slower tempo meaning ‘not just now, but soon’ and a faster one indicating ‘yes, now!” The introduction of added color, such as red or dark brown, emphasizes interest or caution. In their own way, the botanicus children, and progressively the adults, subordinate words and replace them with a complex, multi-sensory way of communicating of far greater depth of feeling and subtlety.
What has been the crowning glory of Homo sapiens, namely spoken and written language – phonetic and visual systems of metaphors – slides into into obscurity as botanicus moves to a more direct and sophisticated way of communicating. In this new modality, a slow, second-order use of phonetic symbols reverts to an immediate, first-order, sense-based way of sharing the world with others. It represents both moving forward and stepping back, a simultaneous progression and regression in communication, something that Pierre Gittleman would completely understand if he knew about it, and ultimately a fulfillment of his vision for a better integrated and more interrelated humanity.
Jens, Saha, Kaya, and Karma, the oldest of the group, realize that something new and different is happening; having been raised by Pierre and Len in a highly verbal environment, their attachment to language is deeply held. For them, making sense of the world is in large part linguistic, and their reaction to the way in which the smallest children interact makes them feel somewhat child-like themselves. Suddenly, they are forced to adopt new methods of communicating. They have always used color and sound, of course, and responded to it strongly, but the idea of leaving words behind is difficult for them. Partly, it’s a matter of frames of reference. Raised in a private home in a city, isolated from others and educated using words and books, the four are grounded in vocabulary. In raising their own children, using words has been an essential ingredient of parenting. Now their grandchildren, raised entirely in the world of nature and a full two generations apart from Homo sapiens’ society, seem to have leapfrogged over a word-based, left hemisphere, cognitive mode of interaction, placing the four oldest in the challenging position of having to catch up with the youngest.
Of the four, Karma has the greatest difficulty. His hyper-reflexivity, obsessive thinking, and penchant for telling himself stories, has always somewhat isolated him from the others, and the idea of having phonetic vocabulary disappear entirely disturbs him. If he cannot transmit the words of the Great Beings that talk to him, he’s unsure how he will ultimately reveal to others what he knows to be truth. And yet, he too is forced to adapt, and does. The clan as whole has no choice but to adopt the communication methods of the youngest among them, Karma included.
“At least,” Karma says to himself, “we still chant and sing. Perhaps I can develop a way to tell the truth using sound and color.” What he really means, however, is that he hopes he can convince the others that great beings control all they see and do. “These young ones have been given these tools for their use by the great beings,” he tells himself. “They don’t know it, but I will find a way to tell them.” He wanders off into the brush to be by himself, the only time the great beings talk to him directly.
Suddenly, the usual chatter emanating from the children stops; noticing the silence the others turn their gaze and attention to the little ones and are transfixed by what they observe. The young ones sit in a tight circle, facing each other; the newest baby lies in the center. In a furious blaze of color change and accelerated cascade of utterances, they and the baby exchange ideas and information at a rate so fast none of the older botanicus can follow it. With their quantum leap in transmission rate and methodology, the botanicus youngsters vividly demonstrate the next phase in the evolution of their species: a radical departure from any vestige of communicating like Homo sapiens whatsoever. In that moment, the trajectory of intelligent life on planet earth alters its future course dramatically.