It begins with a seed.
A sticky seed at that.
I’m talking about the Strangler Fig – a tree that I have taken an interest in with while studying abroad in Costa Rica.
From a distance the it looks like a lattice of large thick vines. The “thick vines” are the roots of the beautifully destructive Strangler Fig tree. This tree’s seed is sticky and gets distributed by the birds and tree-dwelling animals of Costa Rica. The result of this sticky seed that travels by air is its distribution in the uppermost branches of other trees. In the topmost branch of the seed’s landing place, it latches to the host tree where its roots make the descent down the host tree and into the soil.
Since that first sighting, I have been researching the life of the Strangler Fig tree and the nature of what I am calling a “beautiful destruction.” I have found that the evolutionary survival of the Strangler Fig is it’s rooting in the bark of a host tree. This position allows the seed to receive sunlight within the branches rather than the forest floor where there is fierce competition for the few rays of sunlight that reach the soil.
As the roots of the seed reach the ground, they graft together to create a latticed sheath that covers most of the original tree’s trunk. As the Strangler Fig absorbs the sunlight that would have gone to the host tree the host tree dies and falls away from the inside of the roots of the Strangler Fig.
Part of my (still) developing interest with Strangler Figs have been understanding their “beautiful destruction” as a metaphor for humans—and humanity. Strangler Figs use host trees as support for their own growth while killing the host in the process. Likewise, might Humanity as a whole be using the Earth to support its growth –all the while killing the planet that gave it birth and sustenance?
On a silent night hike recently, I felt a sense of connection with these trees and the forest they are in. I also felt a sense of powerlessness. I realized that in the dark we have no natural advantages over the wildlife and that we are at the mercy of whatever lies beyond the rays of our flashlights. The tables were turned, since during the day, I felt that nature was at the mercy of Humanity during the day. The fears that lie within our subconscious minds that demands total control of our environment damage both the Earth and in the long-run Humanity’s continued existence.
As I continue to explore the trails of this campus I hope I can find a middle ground. A place where we can live in a place of sustainability. When I find that middle ground, I will begin small: with my family and friends.
I will plant that seed when the time is right.
And it won’t be sticky.