Our elders tell us many tales of our ancestors: how they flew in the sky and burned the heavens, how they ruled over the earth like gods and nearly snuffed out life itself, how they knew all things and slaughtered one another. Some among us revere them as gods. Others among us pity them as fools. We all see their legacy in the land and in ourselves.
Four hundred years have passed since the days of tribulation, when civilization consumed itself, when wars raged across the earth, when the heavens burned away and the storms descended upon us, when the oceans rose up and swept away the vast cities of the coasts. In that time, the earth has healed many wounds. Our ancestors worked tirelessly to coax the world back from the brink of oblivion. They left us with the paradise we have today — if we can keep it.
The elders say that long ago all of the human people spoke and shared with one another, like a village that spanned the whole earth, and they could speak of a single story. We cannot tell you a single story of our world, though. Every family has gone its own way, forged its own covenants, authored its own history. In the broadest terms, perhaps I can tell you of Hunters and Gardeners, but to tell you the truth even the most ardent Hunters garden and the most committed Gardeners hunt.
The stories the elders tell us of the past don’t always make sense. As silly as it sounds, our ancestors don’t always seem to think like people. The stories contradict each other, and sometimes seem too strange to believe. Who knows? Certainly not I. I know my family, and my land. We live at the center of the universe, with a sacred duty to protect it and care for it. Whatever else they might have done, whatever their follies, their genius, their sins, or their glories, they created the world we dwell in now, and for that I will honor them and give them thanks for that.
Four hundred years after the collapse of civilization, the earth has regenerated from many of today’s ecological disasters. Air quality bounced back almost as quickly as the pollution ended, when the industrialized economy started to falter and fall apart. As human expansion eased, forests regrew. In four centuries a weak second-growth woodland can become an old-growth forest. Some problems remain. Pharmaceuticals remain active for centuries, but they have pooled into low drainage areas where they exert a chaotic and unpredictable effect. Vulture Priests struggle to contain our nuclear legacy with mixed success. Climate change moved the earth out of its old equilibrium, and it moved very quickly towards a new one, closer to the climate of the Eocene. Those changes will continue for millennia to come, but the people have never known any world other than this hotter, wetter one, and have nothing else to compare it to.
With the end of civilization, humanity has returned to its normal state — small, less complex societies built around families where everything takes place in a larger social context. We can say little about them in general, because you’ll find far more diversity among them than among people in the modern world. Most of what we can say about them in general really comes down to ways in which they don’t live like us. We might mistake some of those things for human nature. They don’t always think like us. They generally make a living with some combination of hunting and gathering and gardening.