Strangle or embrace?

( – promoted by buhdydharma )

sfigcosta rica

crossposted at Wild Wild Left and also antemedius

Take this as a gift, this metaphor….  Run with it, if you like.

Which way do you read this? Are we … Strangler or Embracer?  

In Santa Elena, a small town near Monte Verde, is one of the coolest attractions in all of Costa Rica. The best part about this super secret adventure, its free. This “attraction” isn’t so much of an attraction as it is a dead tree.

Just outside of town, down a dirt road, is a small trail leading off into the forest. About 15 minutes down this trail is an extremely old tree that has been fully consumed by what is known as the Strangler Fig Parasite.

The Strangler Fig Parasite comes when an infected bird poops on top of a tree. The parasite then forms vines that grow down the tree to the trees root system. Once at the tree’s roots, the parasite takes over the tree’s root system and slowly kills off the tree. To make a long story short, the parasite eventually kills the tree, but the vines are left in it’s place. This leaves you with one very, Lord of the Rings looking, hollowed out tree.

The vines of the parasite become very large and very strong, almost tree like. They are so strong in fact, that you can actually climb inside of the tree and use the vines as a “ladder” all the way to the top of the tree. After about 60+ feet of climbing inside the hollowed out tree, you come to a small opening where you can stick your head out and see right at the top of the forests canopy line.



Of course, the knee-jerk first instinct is to read this as a metaphor for the big corporate meanies who are strangling our democratic union into oblivion. Of course.  And all they will leave behind is an empty gaping hollow hole. Like a lost tooth… but there’s no tooth fairy, no unicorns, no magic pixie dust to save us all from a woeful demise. The original tree is left for dead. Buh bye, America.

But… what if we look at this another way?

Strangler fig begins its life as a parasite as its seed lodges in the cracks and crevices of the bark of a host. The seed germinates and sends out air roots. These air roots take in nutrients and water from the air and host tree. Eventually the air roots grow to reach the ground and develop their own underground root system, independent of the host tree. Often during this process, the strangler fig may cover the host tree with its own trunk and strangle the host tree, hence the common name. New branches grow and if these reach the ground, they will send out new shoots and roots. Over time, this can create a compound structure of trees that covers a large area.


I’ve been simultaneously inspired and stuck on this imagery/metaphor for about a week now.

Im not big on an adversarial, competitive world way.  Yet our system is totally set up that way, by design. Everything, it seems, is either / or, us / them.  Binary. All the way down the line, its win or lose, with very little in between. Look at the court system. The legal system, the electoral process, the legislative process. All of it.

You or Me.

Live or Die.

I hate that.

I wish the founders would’ve borrowed a whole lot more from the Haudenosaunee and employed more of a council-web or consensus frame up. But they didn’t.

Well. So. Here we are.

The corporates, the oligarchy, whatever you want to call it, has a stranglehold on it. The Greeders. The One Percenters. Verucans. They are it.

Our tendency is think of It, the gov’t, as the absolute end all be all, and that we are dependent upon it/them for our very survival.  That we are the subjects, or serfs, or users, or followers. Beggars.

We are not. We are the citizens, and we should be more the makers and less the takers.

The strangler fig is generally considered a parasitic plant by botanists because it entwines around a host plant and eventually kills it. The fig needs the host plant for support. But we might consider the fig a benign parasite because it kills its host so slowly and there is some evidence that the host plant may acquire some benefit from the fig. Ecologists recognize that all creatures exist in a kind of mutual interdependence with others.

We humans think of ourselves as independent creatures, yet more cells in our bodies are microbial than are our own. Every plant and every animal has microbial symbients or other higher organisms as mutualistic partners. I use the strangler fig as a metaphor for all life’s interdependence.

~Mary A. Hood, Author

str fig 1

The whole thing, this “grand experiment” of democracy, has been turned upside down and inside out.  Hijacked. Usurped.

If The People could make the shift, the leap, in our thinking, it could be … more. It could be better, it could be different. We could maybe even get it right.

So… which are we … the parasite or the host?  There’s an  immediate negative connotation with those words, I realize. We think of it like an invasive disease, parasite, ewyugh. Get it off me! But if you look at some of these photo’s, maybe you can see a Third Way … of seeing, or feeling, in this context.

Are we on the cusp of building something strong anew, the “parasite”;  or are we clinging to and defending the old failed structure, the  “host”, in the Hope that it will better itself, that it’s even  somehow fixable?

Are we bold enough to grow and reach out and seek new toeholds until we can climb the ladder of vine-rungs to the top and see the sky? Do we dare…?


Like most of the others, I was a seeker, a mover, a malcontent, and at times a stupid hell-raiser. I was never idle long enough to do much thinking, but I felt somehow that my instincts were right. I shared a vagrant optimism that some of us were making real progress, that we had taken an honest road, and that the best of us would inevitably make it over the top.

At the same time, I shared a dark suspicion that the life we were leading was a lost cause, that we were all actors, kidding ourselves along on a senseless odyssey. It was the tension between these two poles — a restless idealism on one hand and a sense of impending doom on the other-that kept me going.

~Hunter S. Thompson, The Rum Diary




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  1. Photobucket

    • Inky99 on November 20, 2009 at 22:15

    I had no idea these things existed!    This falls into the “learn something new every day” category.  And that Buddha pictures is awesome.

  2. lemme go get some music to go with this! I couldnt decide…lol.

  3. This is a great essay. I compliment you on the integration of metaphor with politics. For me, this is an added dimension, requiring one to look deeper.

    Is the entanglement that we are presented with antagonistic or constructive? Unfortunately, we cannot see the slow, subtle changes over time. We are born into seeing the structure as it is presently, and we can understand it through our own language and perspectives.

    But others may see it differently. However, I think we can all grasp the interrelation of the different parts, and this is where the metaphor comes in. You have captured it well.

    I believe that to seek toeholds in order to rise to new perspectives, we must recognize that to answer the question I pose above requires a joint effort, sharing different perspectives. You mention binary thinking. I agree with that and now reject my question as a binary dead end. I can do this because you present your ideas in a constructive manner, inviting a constructive response.

    Thus, I find answering the question as one or the other as unproductive in our dialogue. You give me this option by using metaphor as a reference. It allows me more freedom.

    Let’s face it, we never had a true Democracy. We have Representative Government that purports to consider the well being of its people. In a Democracy, People essentially control the polity.  Our representatives CAN, if they want, consider the well being of the citizens above their own interests. But in this they fail.

    So we are entangled in antagonism, but we desire to be constructive. The Declaration of Independence has artfully be subordinated to the Constitution: The roots of our tree seem to have been taken over by  parasites, the parasites that give it its strange shape.

    Now, how to fix it so that a real Democracy can flourish based on The Declaration and the sprit of the Preamble to the Constitution? Well, I don’t think we can look at the entanglement of roots, branches etc. in any other way than as they are at the present. The tree is still relatively stout, and should hold us up as we work our way to the top.

    However I agree with the metaphor, it will take finding new toeholds. I’m ready to climb if you are. The only problem I have is that my back in terrible, and I don’t have the energy  I had during the 60’s. So climbing has to be a bit metaphorical for me.

    PS. I much prefer to write/comment with my right brain, just the opposite of my education and training. Thus, my thought processes are similar to the tree.

    I think Walt Whitman would have loved to participate in your essay—————————————-

    • Joy B. on November 21, 2009 at 02:51
    • dkmich on November 21, 2009 at 12:32

    If you can fit inside, imagine what else can.  

    • Diane G on November 21, 2009 at 13:35

    Whats even more amazing to me, is that the tree inside rots fully away, leaving only a hollow place to mark it’s passing.

    That takes some serious time.

    I tend to see the metaphor darkly. Must we cover everyone and everything and make it conform to our likeness?

    Yet, even in death, do we not somehow shape the final resulting structure?

    Did we change Vietnam or did it change us? At first? How about now, as we become poorer here and our corporations build production plants there?

    Westernized humans have become parasitic, rather than symbiotic creatures. We are too removed from our habitat mentally and spiritually to give back.

    So I see these images as the most amazing natural tomb ever, and the viewing of them, akin to witnessing a pyramid.

    Is there something noble about being born to fertilizer for the next generation of life? I tend to think yes, hence my aversion to vault burial, what an utter waste. I just wonder at times if that is our only purpose, was that the tree’s only purpose from the vine’s point of view; assuredly not from the tree’s point of view.

    It is rather lovely that it took both for us monkeys to climb and see the sky.

    I imagine the sky cares not at all that we witness it.

    We are just fertilizer for the atmosphere that creates the sky, from its point of view.

    And the universe cares not at all about the measly atmosphere on our tiny planet.

    And the universe may itself be a dust mote in some larger universe’s world, just dust to be vacuumed away, and dumped in yet another larger garden for some other tree, and the vines it bears.

    and so it spins…  death is the circle of life.

    • publicv on November 22, 2009 at 06:43

    quote.  I like what this all evokes.  What a beautiful tree, grown from the weakening center of a dying entity.  The tree is killed, because a little birdy made it to be so.  It grows big and strong.  It’s a parable like what happens when the tree bears no fruit.  It’s a pillar in its place, to remind us to do something.  Do something.

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