Being Green

Chapter 21

When the days begin to lengthen once again, the botanicus tribe prepares to return to the other side of the valley. The void created by the death of Karma is quickly filled by three new infants, two females who are named Crisp Leaf and Shiny Pebble and one male named Hot Wind. The smallest children, in particular, are excited by the new arrivals, and their joy is doubled by the birth of several green piglets. An overall mood of excitement fills the encampment, and hours are spent together singing, chanting, and communicating in colors.

Jens, Saha and Kaya, the oldest in the group, find themselves naturally deferring to the others, as the botanicus leadership model changes from a rough hierarchy of age to one of non-verbal consensus. Rituals, once regular, become more spontaneous and discourse by the elders less relevant. Just as leaves emerge on trees and shrubs without distinct leadership, so the style of the tribe evolves to leaderless. The emergence of color-based communication combined with gesture and vocalizations makes the use of words secondary. Everything that’s needed to be known is conveyed, often silently.

Most facile at the new mode of communication are the children, who playfully use color and gesture. Their games, subtle yet sophisticated, often center on double-meaning and humor, and the other members of the group are the butt of jokes and riddles, never mean-spirited, but clearly tinged with irony. A series of sounds, gestures and color pattern changes by Dew roughly translates as “Who’s breath smells like a rotting log after it rains?” The answer, provided by Dawn, is “Moss!”

Jens and Saha, unable to resist playing, use the opportunity to share their greater experience and create riddles that teach. A color shift from green to almost pale white, accompanied by hands held aloft, a deep rumbling sound and quick flashes of red on the right side of the body conveys the imminence of an approaching thunder and lightening storm from the east. These communications take place at a super-rapid pace, and with repetition, even become abbreviated. In this way, an underlying grammatical lexicon emerges, which simultaneously informs others about events, dangers, actions, and feelings. Nothing about Pierre’s work has made botanicus less intelligent than Homo sapiens, and a lack of preoccupation with consuming food has freed their time for observation and creatively provocative expression.

Curiously, the pigs too are becoming more sophisticated, and can understand varied elements of botanicus communication. As the tribe begins to make its way to the alternate side of the valley, the pigs join, some in the arms of the children and others simply trotting along. As they walk, they chant. “AaaaaaOoooooBbbb, AaaaaaOoooooBbbb, AaaaaaOoooooBbbb,” they sing, their sounds carrying across the valley and echoing back, as if another tribe welcomes them.

As they walk, their attention falls to the ridge of a hilltop, where it appears a lone figure is standing. The idea of another does not frighten them, but Jens, in particular, feels cautious. Pierre has told him of his concerns that any Homo sapiens that comes across botanicus is likely to be frightened, and such fear usually results in either a fight or flight response. Jens knows more about the history of the world than the others in his family, how Homo sapiens turned on each other and the natural world. He is both curious and cautious.

Using words, Jens states, “I think we should stop here, but I am going to go on with Saha for a bit to see if the figure of another is real or not. Please do not follow us, but wait until we return.” As he says this, his colors indicate the strongest of warnings, like those used to signal an impending storm. The rest of the group stares at him, their own colors shifting into tones of uncertainty. He signals that he and Saha will be back tomorrow, using his hands to draw an arc before him and shifting from light green to dark. The group, having seen the death of Karma, knows that life can end, but Jens’ age and wisdom reassures them. He looks at Saha, they both flash yellow, turn towards the hillside and slowly walk away from the group.

As Jens and Saha approach the hilltop, the figure they’ve seen is sitting. Behind is a tent, something Jens has heard of but has never seen. Their natural green coloration camouflages their appearance as they get closer to whoever is in their valley, and they observe quietly without being seen. Their plan is to wait until dusk to reveal themselves, when its harder to see color, and they sit within a leafy area, all but invisible to anyone.

“Do you think it will be safe?” asks Saha of Jens, reverting to spoken language. “I don’t really know,” Jens replies. “The only Homo sapiens I have ever known is Pierre.” “What is it doing here? I thought the wild lands were not someplace sapiens could survive,” says Saha. “That’s my understanding, but Pierre said there have always been individuals who were willing to risk their lives to explore new places. If he is alone, which I think he is, I don’t expect trouble. But our presence may scare him, and according to Pierre a scared Homo sapiens cannot be trusted. Let’s wait a while longer, and we’ll call out to him without revealing ourselves.” Saha takes Jens’ hand. “What if he becomes aggressive and physically attacks us?” “We run away,” Jens answers, and squeezes Saha’s hand tighter.

The stranger lights a lantern, revealing his face and appearance. His head is covered in red hair, long strands hanging down past his neck. His face is bearded, a thick mat nearly touching his bare chest. His arms are stocky and covered in dirt, as are his legs, which are bare. He wears a pair of dark green shorts. While sitting he appears to be using a knife to carve a point on a stake about two feet in length and a couple of inches thick. He softly hums to himself.

Jens and Saha stand. They are about 100 yards distant from the red headed man. Jens coughs loudly a couple of times, the man stands up and turns in their direction. Jens coughs again. “Hello! Is someone?” there the man calls out. “Hello?”

“You stay here,” Jens tells Saha. “Hello,” he says in the direction of the interloper. “Who are you?” “Who are you?” is the response. “My name is Jens,” Jens replies. “I’m Jim; Jim Cooper. Can you show yourself?” Jens walks forward a few yards until he is in clear view of Cooper. The growing darkness hides his color, just as he’d planned. Cooper holds his pointed stake tightly in his right hand. “Come closer,” he says, “I thought I was completely alone out here.”

“No, you are not alone, Cooper. Far from it, Jens answers. What are you doing here so far from the city?” “I could ask you the same question,” Cooper replies, adding, “I’m exploring. Things have gotten too wild in Halifax, and I figured I’d try to make it out here on my own. Not easy, I might add. Do you live here?” “Yes, we live here, says Jens. “We have lived here for a long time. We’ve never met a stranger.” “Come closer. I wouldn’t mind some company,” Cooper replies.

Jens walks closer to Cooper, still distant but close enough to be seen clearly. “You’re naked,” exclaims Cooper, “frankly I’ve been tempted to go naked myself. Are you hungry? I have things to eat.” “No, not hungry, Jens answers, walking even closer, trying to suppress his excited skin color changes. Cooper sits back down, but continues to hold his pointed stake. “Put down your pointed stake and I will show myself to you, Cooper,” Jens directs. But I must tell you, we are not alike.” Cooper sets his stake on the ground. Jens walks into the light, which now reveals the green color of his hairless body.

“My god, man, you’re green!” Cooper shouts. “What’s happened to you? Are you sick? Don’t get too close!” He picks up his stake, again. “Don’t be afraid,” Jens replies, “I told you we are not alike. I mean you no harm.” Jens skin flashes yellow in a wave from head to toe. Seeing it, Cooper skittles backwards. “Stay away!” he shouts, and getting up he turns and runs blindly into the brush yelling “Oh my God” over and over again.

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