Science for Fiction – Creator of the Universe

Science for Fiction – Creator of the Universe

The Fiction

The voices chimed quickly down the vine.

“Here he comes!”

“What do you think he’ll do?”

“Water?”

“Tending?”

“Do you think he’ll shiver the air?”

Then, “Sshhh, quiet!” and they hushed.

Mike Ladowski stepped barefoot onto the grass. The green blades were covered with beads of condensed water. They moistened his feet and chilled the summer dryness from his soles.

Raised garden beds lined the sides of his yard. In the mid-summer twilight, they burst with vegetables and foliage, as if the plants erupted from the earth.

He nodded at his creation, and the ecosystem he controlled. From his vantage, he admired the vegetables, and the fruits-that-people-call-vegetables, and the herbs, and even the trees in the middle of the yard, all thriving under his watchful eye. He had created this little planet, and he maintained it.

It was a living universe under his control.

In the lingering dusk, he slipped on his sunglasses and said, “How you all doin’ today?”

They shivered in the sonic waves of his voice, and then cheered in unison.

“He’s doing it!”

“Air shivers!” the young shoots cried excitedly.

“Twilight and air shivers,” the older plants reminded them, “often go together.”

The tomato plants triggered a tangy molecular fragrance to fly through the air and lure him over, while the pepper plants exuded a spicy musk to draw his attention. The strawberries pressed their sweetness to the surface and contributed to the breeze.

The thick grass tickled his toes and Mike wriggled them with a smile. He had gone a few extra days without mowing the lawn, but finally got around to it yesterday. It was nice and full now, but short and trimmed, and free from all the insects that had instantly moved in upon its growth.

“He likes it!” the voices chimed.

“Keep doing it!” they encouraged.

The grass recouped and reached for his toes, grateful to their tender for ridding them of the beetles, webworms, crickets, and other devourers of their tender shoots. Mike took a step. The crumpled footprint released a characteristic fresh-cut scent, adding to the already fresh air.

Crickets and cicadas and frogs and chirp-a-lots filled the air with their invisible songs. A few came directly from the vegetable patches. Those creatures lived a privileged life, under the watchful eye of the creator. So long as they did not disrupt the plant life, they could live in harmony with the garden. Otherwise, the creator would unleash his wrath. They had seen what he did to the insects – the beetles that tried to eat the plants. They were quickly disposed of. Dead beetle corpses lined the walls of the raised beds, crushed between the creator’s fingers before he dropped them to the ground, their bodies were hidden below the grass. But they were there.

Mike took a few steps to the nearby rain barrel. He grabbed the garden-hose nozzle with one hand and simultaneously opened the barrel tap with the other, a motion he performed hundreds of times in the past.

“Water!” the root system sang through its inter-connected underground tendrils.

It had been a hot few days, and while the cold front brought relief from the heat and extracted moisture from the air and put it onto the leaves, it hadn’t rained. Everyone was thirsty.

“Gonna be a little cooler tomorrow,” Mike said. “But lots of sun, so a drink’ll do you good.”

He aimed the nozzle at a nearby bed of tomatoes and pulled the handle. Streams of water flowed in an unbroken arc like a rainbow onto the tall green stalks. Thick leaves and strong vines, filled with bunches of young green tomatoes, pressed against the circular wire cages that supported them.

Mike saw a weed.

The tomato community quivered. “He sees it,” they said.

The foreign roots were snapped from the system, suddenly gone. They had been robbing the tomatoes of their nutrients anyway, and their roots gave off a foul odor. The tomato plants absorbed Mike’s water and immediately sent runners to fill the newly-found soil and reclaim their territory.

Mike tossed the weed aside and continued watering. It would get mulched beneath his mower next clipping.

He finished the row plants – the onions and radishes – and ate a few on the way. He watered the pepper plants, already branching like broad green umbrellas. He did the cucumbers and squash, the herbs and potatoes (just peeking out of the soil), and finally the sprawling watermelon plants, reaching like an octopus over the bed walls and onto the yard, where they received careful attention during mowing time, and for which they grew two melons already with a third on the way.

Mike watered them all and re-coiled the hose.

He checked the water level, and used nearly the whole barrel for a full saturation. He had two more barrels around the house, and each time it rained, they would fill.

He stood in nearly the same footprints as before, and the grass welcomed him back, but sighed underfoot, producing more compounds, signaling the damage.

“Take care,” the creator said.

He eyed his riding mower, remembering to fill a can of gas next time he was out. Then a grim smirk overtook him, and he wondered if he should let the grass overgrow again. Those bugs didn’t know what hit them when the planet-mower came riding through. It’s even more fun at night with the headlights, when they’re all hopping to get out of the way.

He turned to walk inside, but had he been looking, he would have seen a chorus of leaves salute his departure. The garden, the lawn, and even the fruit and nut trees in the center, all turned their attention toward the creator of their ecosystem, their living world.

Without the creator, the universe as they knew it would not exist.

“Thank you!” chimed the chorus.

Mike reached for the door and muttered, “You’re welcome.”

Then he crooked an eyebrow at his random statement and went inside.

 

The Science

Plants are alive, and they do weird things, like communicate and fly.

They respond to talking and touch.

They release chemicals when they are under attack by pests – sometimes as a poison, but also to call pest predators to gobble up the, well, pests.

That’s the chemical you smell in fresh-cut grass. When a mower cuts the grass, the chemical is released into the air and blown all over the place by that huge spinning propeller on the bottom of your mower (I know it’s not a propeller).

Normally, the grass stores that chemical, and then releases it when it’s under attack to call for help. Obviously, when grass blades are cut in half, there’s a huge rush of the GLV (green leaf volatiles). I wonder if pest-predators swarm the area only to be disappointed?

And it’s not all perfumes and bug repellents, they also have the ability to judge light patterns, and use them to anticipate seasonal or weekly stressors like pests, pathogens, and water supplies. Hence our older plants’ ability of basic association in the story above.

Plants are pretty smart. When plants die, they can’t be put back together again. They taste good, but let’s give them more credit than that. They are a diverse and essential part of our own ecosystem, and they’re a little more aware than your garden variety wood post (before it was a wood post).

2 thoughts on “Science for Fiction – Creator of the Universe

  1. Loud applause!!! This is fantastic. Tim, I won’t view gardening the same way again. Great story and interesting science with links (thank you). If I had an outdoor shed where I kept gardening tools, I might pull from this piece and paint your quotes along it. I really enjoyed this, can you tell?!

    1. Thank you! You’re too kind! I may have to open a garden supply site with hand-painted signs on Etsy or something! You’d get one for free, though!
      –Tim

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