“Attack of the Plants”

Jenny True Parise

All rights reserved by the author

 

            Plants, from the tallest trees in the rainforest to the little lichen and moss in the tundra, are nature’s gift to humans to help them survive.  Everybody knows from general science class as early as elementary school that through the process of photosynthesis a plant takes in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and converts it into oxygen which is released in the atmosphere for humans to breathe.  But what if one day, in the not so distant future, when the global mean temperature has been on the rise, a new plant comes into existence?   This plant, unlike the other plants, can thrive in the increasingly warmer weather.  It also takes in the increasing amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that act like a strong fertilizer for the plant and rapidly grows.  Finally, and of most concern, the plant is a host for a poisonous new pathogen that also thrives in the warmer weather and enters the bodies of animals that eat the plant, killing them instantly.

***

            It is Sunday morning around 8:00 some time in the not so distant future.  A husband calls to his wife, “Come now Melinda, we do not want to miss our only son graduate from St. Lawrence University with Honors.”

            “I am coming dear.  I just have to put on my last bit of makeup.  Do you have the camera?”

            “I have the camera and the five roles of film you bought for it.  Now all I need is my lovely wife.”

            Ten minutes later the two are in the car on their way to Newell Field House where the Commencement is being held.  As they pull into the parking lot they see the mass of graduates walking towards them in the distance with their brown robes.  “Come quick Melinda.  We have to get to our seats so we can take pictures of our son as he enters.”

            The two run into the building, walk briskly to their assigned row, and climb over the people already there before taking their seats.  They make it just in the nick of time.  Not just two seconds after Mr. Brooks takes off his jacket does the music play and the graduates start filing in.

            Including all the graduates, their friends, families, extended families, and the entire faculty, there are thousands of people there, which adds to the already exceedingly warm weather.  But as their sons and daughters walk by with smiles on their faces that glow radiantly, the parents forget how hot it is and take multiple pictures of them as they pass by.  At last after many long speeches from the President and guest speakers it is time for each of the graduates from their respected departments to stand up.  At this point Melinda, who has been quietly dozing off, sits upright in her seat.  They go through each of the departments alphabetically, asking all the graduates to stand when their department is called and to be seated when the next is called.  After ten minutes go by the Health Department is asked to stand.  When Melinda hears this she grabs Mr. Brooks’ hand and holds it tight.  Their son’s department would be next.  As the Geology Department stands, Melinda and Mr. Brooks look proudly at their son with tears gently falling down their faces.  Half an hour later the last department is called and the President says those words that every graduate, their family, friends, extended family, and professors long to hear: “It is my honor to present to you the class of 2030.”

***

            It is now five years later on a Saturday evening.  The President and his Joint Chiefs of Staff are involved in an intense meeting.  The Vice President addresses the group.  “Mr. President, there have been numerous reports of animals that have been found dead right next to a species of plant that has recently come into existence with the warmer weather.  Worse, the plant seems to thrive because of this weather.  Also the vast amounts of carbon dioxide that have entered the atmosphere that we have been providing with our consumption of fossil fuels are acting like a natural fertilizer for the plants.  They are growing rapidly.  Our scientists who have been sent to the death scenes have taken samples from the plants as well as the dead animals and found out that the plants are hosting a new species of pathogen that are poisonous and deadly to animals that eat the plant.”

            There is five minutes of silence as the President and the rest of the staff digest the terrible news from the Vice President.  After coming out of his slight case of shock the President exclaims, “This could not have come at a worse time.  Here I am trying to calm down the American public who are already in hysteria as a result of the ski resorts closing in the lowlands of Austria and Italy because the villages have been cut off from their surrounding slopes as the snowline has moved further up the mountains.  Not to mention the increase in sea level as the icecaps in Antarctica continue to melt from the increasing temperature.  If the melting of the icecaps keeps up at the rate it is going, we here in Washington, along with the others in major coastal cities, will be greatly affected as vast amounts of water consume our beloved cities.  Now on top of all these other problems the impacts of global warming have become a reality and finally hit us at home.  I have to worry about a rapidly growing plant species that is a host to a deadly pathogen that is instantly killing any animal that eats it.  It is times like these that make me wonder why I ever wanted to become President.”

            Before anyone could respond to the President’s remarks, the President’s secretary comes into the packed room.  “Excuse me Sir.  I am sorry to interrupt but there is a Mr. Jared Brooks on the phone saying he graduated from St. Lawrence with the Vice President.”

            “Tell him that we are in the middle of a very important meeting Linda and that I will call him back later.”

            “Sir, he knows that you are in a meeting and he even knows that it is about the new plant that has been causing havoc in our country.  He says that he could help.”

            The Vice President excuses himself from the others and picks up the phone.  A minute later he returns to the room.  Everyone is looking at him and anxiously waiting for him to speak.  After the suspense in the room dies down a little, the Vice President tells the President to pack his bags and have Air Force One ready in twenty minutes.  They are going to the Paleontological Museum in Ithaca, New York. 

            As the President and Vice President travel aboard Air Force One on their way to Ithaca, the President demands that the Vice President tell him why they are on their way to some museum in a little town in Upstate New York.  The Vice President tries to calm him down.  However, all he can tell him about the situation is that Jared just said it was imperative that the two come see him at his place of work, the Paleontological Museum, immediately. 

            Ten minutes away from the Ithaca airport the Vice President radios the tower and alerts them that they are on their way.  The tower controller answers back that they are ready for them.  When the President and Vice President land they are immediately taken to a limo that would take them to the museum.  At the museum the President and Vice President are cordially greeted by Jared.  Afterwards the Vice President introduces Jared to the President.  “Mr. President, this is Jared Brooks, an old friend of mine who also is a graduate of the class of 2030 at St. Lawrence University.  He graduated with Honors from the Geology Department specializing in paleontology.”

            At this Jared shakes the President’s hand saying how it is an honor to meet him.  The President tells him likewise and then asks why Mr. Brooks has invited them here.  Jared fills them in on how he has heard about the reports of the dead animals next to the plants and did some research on his own.  He tells them that the best way to find out about recent events, especially from a geologist’s view, is to look at past events.  And fossils are great records of past events.  When he looked at the database of fossil records he came across a species of plants that lived before the last Ice Age that were the exact same species as the one causing mayhem today.  He then tells them the best news.  He tells them how he researched and came across a species of caterpillars that ate the plants. 

            The President looks at him blankly.  He could not understand how the news about the caterpillar could be helpful because the caterpillar is extinct.  Jared, reading the President’s mind, asks the President if he had ever seen the movie Jurassic Park.  Suddenly a light bulb goes off in the President’s head.  He says to Jared, “You mean to tell me that you were able to replicate a caterpillar that could destroy these plants.”

            Jared smiles and picks up a Petri dish from his desk.  Crawling around inside it and chewing on samples of the plant that Jared had collected is a fuzzy little caterpillar.         

             

                                            

             

           

  

             

           

© 2003 by the author

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