Monday, May 9, 2011

see you under the banyan tree

this spring when we were down on the gulf of mexico, we ate at a small place just above the beach. the outdoor dining area was situated on a casual outdoor deck one step above the sand. in the middle of the deck stood a large, shady banyan tree.

i've traveled a bit and i have eaten in a lot of restaurants, but this simple deck was one of the best locations in which i have ever eaten dinner. the food was nothing special, although they did serve some nice wine, yet with pelicans, great egrets, white ibises, little blue herons, and yellow-crowned night herons for company (and my husband, too!) who can complain? oh, and did i forget to mention? as the shorebirds swooped in the wind, the sun eased toward the horizon against a backdrop of yellows, oranges, pinks and reds, and plonked into the sea right before our eyes! fantastic!

and then there is the majestic banyan. banyans, a kind of fig tree, are all over florida. no two are even remotely alike. i love banyan trees - how they are dependent on fig wasps for pollination; how they send their trunk-like roots down to the ground from high in the air; how those strangler roots (hence the tree's other name, strangler fig) can envelope any object or structure where they germinate, including the banyan tree itself, in their thick, twisting, snake-like tangle; how the spread of the tree's branches can cover a few acres; how they can grow to be one hundred feet tall, six-hundred feet in diameter; and how they can live for two thousand years. a most interesting tree.

just think, alexander the great is believed to have camped with an army of seven thousand men under the sheltering branches of one banyan tree. how many trees can claim such a thing?

hundreds of years ago in india the umbrella-like banyan provided a cool spot out of the blazing sun for hindu merchants and traders to conduct their business. the tree's comforting shade was also a popular location for village meetings and community gatherings. the custom still continues. no need for directions; simply announce i'll see you tonight under the banyan tree. i wish our town had its official center under a mammoth tree instead of a town hall, at least in the warm weather.

the banyan - the national tree of india, believed to fulfill wishes, a sacred symbol of everlasting life - climbing up to the sky. with its seemingly unending growth and the gigantic spread of its lush branches, it is as if the banyan tree is reaching toward heaven, yearning to brush its boughs against the vaulting blue expanse of eternity.

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