Amy Attenborough About Amy Leopard Cubs

Ben Okri wrote, “every now and again life sends us little messages. The messages are meant for us alone. […] They may seem perfectly banal to the world, but to you, for whom they were intended, they have the force of revelation…”

Hindsight is such an interesting thing. Sometimes I think our future selves are talking to our current selves in the random inspirations we feel, in the things that grab our attention and call us to engage with them. But we don’t know at the time how meaningful those moments are until some time down the line.

About eight months ago I became fascinated with the process of fig pollination. I researched them obsessively and even wrote a story about them, saving it in one of my messy word documents in some forsaken corner of my mac and promptly forgot about it.

Then when I got to Cape Town and I was a few weeks into my yoga teacher trainer course and during this deep inner delving, soul-seeking chapter, figs started showing up everywhere. And it felt significant.

figs, fruit, Amy Attenborough, wild again

The incredible intricacies of the centre of a fig. If you look closely you can see the small opening in the base of the fruit that the wasp uses to pollinate it.

“Look at this fig tree growing from this tiny crack in my step,” my aunt said to me one day. As we admired its stalwart efforts I looked up and said, “Oh and there and there and there,” as I pointed to multitudes of tiny saplings poking through all over her verandah. Then whilst locking my gate one morning, something small and hard dropped, smacking me squarely on the top of my head. “Wake up,” it said. As I looked down at it slowly spinning in circles and coming to rest on itself at my feet, I saw that it was a small, unripened fig.

sycamore fig, figs, Amy Attenborough, wild again

The unripened fruit found on a large Sycamore Fig. These fruits also provide a feast for birds and monkeys.

I wandered through Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens playing a tree game I do with myself. When I walk in gardens or forests I wait for a tree to call my name and then that’s the one I go and sit under. On this particular day, I felt a tree calling my name from across the fynbos garden, wild grasses and a large patch of lawn. I couldn’t see it yet but I went. When I finally arrived at its base, it turned out to be a giant, ancient fig.

Kirstenbosch Botanical gardens, amy attenborough, wild again

A view of the mountains surrounding the gorgeous Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens from the shade of an ancient fig tree.

A clump of pincushion proteas, a species indigenous to the Cape. The gardens at Kirstenbosch have a huge variety of plants flowering at different times of the year.

Even my aunt seemed to have caught the fig fever. She got into the habit of bringing home tray upon tray of fresh, juicy, purple figs. They were the only fairly priced item in Melissa’s, the delicatessen up the road, and we engorged ourselves on them daily. “From now on I will forever taste Cape Town when I eat figs Den,” I said to her. And as the words left my mouth, a small light bulb blinked in my head. “I really should dig up that fig story I wrote a while back. I wonder if it has any relevance?” I thought to myself.

the figary, figs, amy attenborough, wild again

A bowl of fresh figs grown in the farms surrounding Cape Town. The harvest begins in February and locals enjoy a feast of fresh figs for a few short months.

Dusting it off from the recesses of my computer, this is how it went…

Figs are a beloved fruit across the globe. But for me, they’re more than that. They’re a creation that perfectly conveys a human going through internal blossoming during a time of self-reflection and inner work.

Female wasps lay their eggs in an unripe fig. When the offspring hatch, the males mate and then chew their way to the surface, dying when their task is complete. They’ve committed themselves to the females that will carry their genes. The females then follow, using this carefully cut path and take flight, traveling until they find just the right fig tree. One species of African wasp travels further than any other known pollinator. Wasps and figs work like a lock and key. A perfectly-sized species of wasp matches a perfectly-sized hole in the base of the fruit and they wriggle inside to deposit the pollen they picked up when they left their birthplace. As the female squeezes through the entrance she loses her wings, meaning that once she’s laid her eggs, she dies inside the fruit she devoted her life to. She gives herself over to the fruit that digests her, using her remains for nourishment.

One of the most beautiful and interesting things about figs is that they are a closed flower, blossoming inwardly. They don’t outwardly call to be noticed during a blooming moment, a time when they are most attractive and yet they are one of the most widespread and successful trees on the planet. They are found on every continent except Antarctica. Prophets throughout time have noticed this, which has leant to its spiritual significance in many different cultures and religions. The Buddha was believed to gain enlightenment under a fig tree. The Israelites believed it was the proof of the abundance of the Promised Land.

Now tell me this doesn’t strike you.

For me its biology screams of teachings about the importance of contemplation, meditation, self-reflection, inner growth and the power and beauty of the inner journey. True beauty, true abundance, true sweetness and the true journey all lie within. We don’t enter on this path to understand ourselves so we can prove anything to others. Any growth that happens within is for our own delight.

What the wasp shows though is that the remarkably beautiful inner blossoming doesn’t need to be shown to others and yet it is intuitively felt or sensed by them. And in the same way that the fig draws just the right wasp, so too will you draw people close to you who sense your inner beauty and sweetness. You will attract those who are just right for you and you for them.

I also think it so aptly wakes us up to how tiny little keys that are meant solely for us find their way into our lives. The universe wants us to bloom, because when we do, we provide sweetness, nourishment and abundance for those around us. If we’re open, even by just a crack, we’ll be sent the pollinator we need.

The figs and wasps show that the process may be arduous; there may be parts of yourself that you have to surrender fully. But the death of some aspect of self will never go to waste; it will only provide the nourishment for the birthing of another much juicier version. Nothing is ever truly lost. When that wasp dies, it becomes absorbed and finishes its life as part of the plant’s grand finale.

female fig wasp, amy attenborough, wild again

A female fig wasp, responsible for the pollination of figs. Contrary to popular belief, ripe figs are not full of dead wasps and the “crunchy bits” in the fruit are only seeds. The fig actually produces an enzyme called ficain (also known as ficin) which digests the dead wasps and the fig absorbs the nutrients to create the ripe fruits and seeds.

fig tree, amy attenborough, wild again

Fig trees grow on every continent except Antarctica. Prophets throughout time have noticed the remarkable way they flower internally, which has leant to its spiritual significance in many different cultures and religions. The Buddha was believed to gain enlightenment under a fig tree. The Israelites believed it was the proof of the abundance of the Promised Land.

When I read this I was flooded with a sense of knowing. There are times when I think that I’m mad for trying to create a life of my own choosing. That the hours on the yoga mat, the early mornings spent meditating and the looking within are a waste. But then I find a letter my future self wrote to me and led me to read at just the moment I was really looking within.

There’s a blossoming that’s waiting to happen within every single one of us. Are you ready for the inner journey?

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