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Sunday, September 6, 2009


I spent a little time of this past vacation week watching "The Queen of Trees" a documentary about the Sycamore fig trees of Kenya. The documentary focused on the symbiotic relationship between the fig tree and fig wasp. A tiny little wasp whose whole life cycle is indelibly tied to the fig tree seasons. The fig tree has developed a unique relationship with the fig wasp, critical to either species' survival. Wikipedia states that the term symbiosis (from the Greek: σύν syn "with"; and βίωσις biosis "living") commonly describes close and often long-term interactions between different biological species. The term was first used in 1879 by the German mycologist Heinrich Anton de Bary, who defined it as "the living together of unlike organisms".

The fig wasp is tiny - neither threatening nor large enough to warrant concern. It is unique in that each species of fig wasp pollinates only one type of fig tree. This is a key aspect of the relationship, a co-evolution that has manifested itself to ensure that neither survives without the other. The fig wasp pollinates the fig tree and in turn, the tree provides a nesting ground and incubator for the fig wasp.

Watching this relationship, I understand more that as a species, we have lost our ability to live in any mutually beneficial relationship with other species. We have used dominion to increase our own conveniences at the expense of all other species. While on vacation, a knock on the door brought a warning from the neighbor's son that a bear was going through the trash at the dumpster (an example of how we interject negativity into natures concert). Our waste has become the bear's food source, circumventing his natural instinct to hunt and gather for himself, thus rendering him a garbage forager. Not built for this purpose but forced to adapt to this unnatural manipulation of the environment, he finds new ways to survive. Not to sound like a conservationist, but it is clear that we have crossed into natures 'no man's land'. The only symbiotic relationship we seem to nurture well is with bacteria, which we harbor as they, in turn, help us digest our food.

We have harnessed energy so as to extend daylight. This has given us more hours to manipulate our work day and created innovative ways for us to work harder. We are reaping fossil fuels at a rate faster than can be replenished. We have driven numerous species to extinction or near it and still fail to recognize that we were made to be a component and not a determinant.

Having spent some time in a serene environment, surrounded by God's beauty, one can't help but become acutely aware of each breath. The co-existence of everything as it is meant to live becomes clear. The deer grazing in the forest; the horse fly buzzing around the mare's flank; the hedgehog waddling his way up the slope; all part of a singular purpose. Nature expends its energy surviving for seasons to become energy for something else. We are the only species that has worked diligently to escape this reality. We build coffins to preserve our remains, and use chemicals to preserve our dead; as if the decomposition of our bodies does not have an ordained purpose.

The fig wasp pursues its life purpose with an unstoppable determination. Similarly, the fig tree provides nutritional support to a myriad of creatures that in turn attract and provide nutrition for others. This is all part of the connection and the symbiosis of life. Human inability to live in harmony with nature may be the cause of many of the things that we all say our grandparents never suffered from; Alzheimer's, stress, depression, anxiety, precocious puberty, Anxiety, ADHD, ADD, STD, DVD, CD, and MP3 - to name but a few. I may not have clinical evidence to support my conclusions, but looking around at what has become of a world void of a connection to nature should convince you of one thing - as a species, we're a mess.

The fig wasp has other parasitic wasps that take advantage of its labor and lay their eggs in its nest. Many of us have people in our lives who bring similar opportunistic negativity. They provide influences that detract, distract and detour us from our purpose. In the fig wasp's case, even these parasites serve a purpose in this grand symphony. They ensure that fig wasps don't overpopulate. Many fig wasp queens are born with these parasite larvae already eating them alive. Nevertheless, fig wasps pursue their purpose with resolve and single mindedness, even under sentence of death. Their reward, is the perpetuation of two species. The fig wasp has inspired me to rethink my walk with nature, to accept the negativity as a part of my personal growth. I am recognizing that the larvae of negativity from birth through youth sit ready to burst out and ultimately destroy me. However, every purposed life leaves a footprint. It is our choice to decide whether it will be positive or otherwise. I choose the former.

Like the fig wasp, I too want to achieve that singular purpose worth dying and risking my life for. I want what would - on the surface - appear to be a meaningless existence but, upon reflection and inspection, show itself to be a life filled with a small deposit in the birth of a great big tree that will live for hundreds of years.

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