Once two strains of ivy climbed the Tree of Liberty. One was red, an angry red that grew more pronounced the higher up the tree it reached and the more it flourished in the sun, calling attention to itself with an insistence that was truly unmatched. The other variety was a color that couldn’t be easily defined, in fact at times seemed to change with the weather, shifts in the direction of the wind, even the time of day. All one could say for certain was that whatever the changes, it retained at least a slight coloring that would have to be called, for lack of a better term, bluish in tone. Curiously, though, except for their differing hues, only a trained specialist would have been able to tell the two ivies apart with any confidence. As they circled the trunk of the Tree of Liberty, their patterns of growth appeared very much the same. There might be shifts in the course of their climb this way or that, to the right or to the left, but identifying such changes in direction depended very much on where the viewer stood. It might be said, even, that the two varieties of ivy were actually growing towards each other just as much as they might seem to be growing apart, almost as if they meant to climb the tree together, pulling each other by turns farther and farther away from terra firma. Teaming up in this way, the two spread over the tree at a remarkable rate. Their tendrils twined around and through each other in a compact mass, a thickly matted second trunk in effect covering the first with its own tenacious design. And then something extraordinary happened, something unprecedented in the annals of the natural world. By some force of biological synergy that must have lain deep within their genetic codes, the two strains of ivy began to shed their variant leaves and to grow instead a new set that appeared virtually uniform to the general eye. The potential benefit of this change only became clear when mimicry as an adaptive technique for species concerned about outside threats was taken into account. By shedding their more visible differences, both varieties stood a far better chance of survival against potential challenges from any third type of ivy by doubling the surface of the Tree of Liberty they could together claim. So, with less and less visible distinction between them and less and less risk of serious challenge to their primacy, the thickening tangle of like vines reached ever higher and higher up the tree, tightening and strengthening the massive collar it now formed around the trunk. Spreading out onto every limb, it hung down in shadowy festoons that altered dramatically the appearance of the tree, in some places to such a degree it was difficult to tell what remained of the original form under these clinging, choking vines. Raising the question among many as to how long it might be before the Tree of Liberty itself disappeared from view altogether. And once covered over entirely, would it eventually wither for lack of sunlight and its mighty timber start to rot away? Leaving in place of the once-magnificent tree only the shape of the interlocked and kindred vines that mimicked it? Appearing so sturdy from without but in fact hollow at the core?
Copyright © 2005 by Geoffrey Grosshans