Past-tense panacea: that is to say, sunlight dripping through tall savanna grasses of northern Africa. Two and a half million years ago, a face that was not so different from your face smiled through golden stalks. The earth was already older than there are atoms in your body, and it smelled thick and sweet with dew. The face had already learned to walk, to eat, to listen, to watch the sun rise and set. Somewhere between the grasses, her child cries out. The face directs the child’s gaze from the burning sun to the stirring plain.
Maybe, somewhere within her, an atom of carbon hums.
1984: a man of science stares out his window too long. He has been collecting evidence: sick men growing strong in hospital rooms that give onto dappled forest shade, fat-wristed children drawn to savannas instead of cityscapes, cortisol levels plummeting after midday meadow strolls. His manuscript is dead weight in his hands, his eyes dry and sore from strain. Graphs and diagrams spin through his head. When he blinks, his eyelids feel like paper. Outside, a breeze blows through the maple trees, sending seeds spinning to the pavement.
Springtime, not too long ago: I am happy for the first time in eighteen months. The air is sweet in my lungs. A sparrow shakes its head at me, blinking its beady eye. Shortleaf pines puff blooms of yellow pollen into the air. In the gutter by my feet, a thin green film is collecting, half hidden by the sparkle of sun on running water. Everything is startling green. In my brain, a brain not so different from her brain or his brain or yours, neurons fire. This buoyancy, like helium in my chest, is evolutionary. I do not think of these things. I breathe in the morning.
“absract: biophilia hypothesis” is the first of six pieces in ROOTED, which won the Gold Medal Portfolio Award for writing sponsored by the New York Times in the 2023 Scholastic Arts & Writing Awards.