2010-03-24 / Musings

Haphephobia

Living high in the Asian forest canopy, chuckling when he is happy and wailing when annoyed, is the binturong. Sometimes called “bearcat,” he is neither bear nor cat. But he is both bear burly and cat sized. He is active day and night. He is opportunistic feeder, omnivorous. His thick black fur ends in a fully prehensile tail that is as long as his body. Under this tail, on both sides of his anus, are scent glands that emit the fragrance of warm buttered popcorn and cornbread. He says nothing, yet with all this he speaks.

His sheer being is utterly precious. And beyond this amazing individual significance, our binturong is member of a keystone species of ecological significance. He plays a critical role in the life of the rain forest canopy. Binturong is the only animal known to have digestive enzymes capable of softening the tough seed coat of the strangler fig. Binturong permits the dispersal of this important seed.

Strangler figs begin their lives as epiphytes. Epiphytes are rootless. They do not grow in earth, but live high above in air, finding support in the ground of an other. All their sustenance comes from the air and the rain. They are free in the upper canopy, free from the grave competition for light itself that is birthed by the density of rain forest life.

But soon the germination gift bestowed by binturong on strangler fig seed grows beyond epiphytic. Its roots begin to grow down, wrapping around supporting host. If the host dies, its trunk becomes hollowed, with many openings, easy to climb. It becomes home to many. And the strangler figs are food source, often times the only tree producing fruit at certain leaner seasons. The strangler is truly gift, mother to many, body giving home and sustenance.

This web of gift does not stop here. The strangler fig has a mutual evolutionary pollination relationship with the gall wasp. It begins with the growth of figs directly out of the trunk, on a very short stem. And each fig has one tiny hole. The female gall wasp enters this hole, so big with many eggs that her wings are scraped off as she enters. She distributes her pollen and lays her eggs inside the fig. Then she dies, and the hole closes.

The male gall wasps hatch first, and chew the female eggs open. They mate with the freed females, chew a hole in the fig, and die. Then the females fly out through that hole, tagged with pollen, full of eggs on slight wings that will bear only one flight.

The female wasp must find the right fig tree in the right stage of development. If she succeeds, she repeats the victory of her own mother. Wasps and strangler figs live on. And so do binturongs.

In the face of the utter preciousness and interbeing intricacy, tears fall. Hearts shudder. Fear can be birthed. And we arm ourselves with names: so many names for so many fears.

Haphephobia is the fear of being touched. This word comes from the Greek meaning “to fasten.” It is clear that the space between meeting without penetration — touch — and the firmly fixed, attached, fastening is non-existent. As the first mere delicate touch is experienced, as if the kissing of butterflies, there is already that fascinating fastening fashioned. Wisps and waftings are lightning fulminations.

Ecstasy is agony, again and again. The joy is so intense; the intensity is so inescapable. I am all in the passing. I am hollowed host and eaten fig. I am wing scraped mother and ravaged egg. I am all these and none. I am the movement between them, change, love, mad with lust and calm beyond telling.

I am touched: grateful beyond belief. I am touched: irrefutably mad, dancing without ballast or balance 

— Rx is the FloridaW eekly muse who hopes to inspire profound mutiny in all those who care to read. Our Rx ma y be wearing a pir ate cloak of in visibility, but emanating fr om within this shado w is hope that readers will feel free to respond. Who kno ws: You may e ven inspir e the muse. Make contact if you dare.

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