Band on the Run: Best Banyan Companion

Ember Swift, Canadian musician and touring performer, will be keeping us up-to-date on what it’s like to tour a band throughout North America. Having just arrived back from Beijing where she spent three months (check out her “Canadian in Beijing” series), she offers a musician’s perspective on road life. Enjoy!

In this case, is time.

The largest banyan tree I’ve ever seen is in Lahaina, Maui. It is remarkable. It is actually quite breathtaking with its octopus-like branches reaching in every direction and beckoning people to come into its embrace.

I suppose, you could also look at it and imagine it as a giant sea monster with its tentacles reaching in every direction to pull you into its grip.

But, either way, taking the time to take it in is essential. I imagine that’s why there are so many benches placed around its giant base and many offshoot trunks. This is the kind of tree it could take a lifetime to get to know.

And time has been its most interesting companion.

This historic banyan tree is located in the central square on Front Street in Lahaina, Maui in what is known as Banyan Tree Park. It was planted in front of the Old Lahaina Courthouse by William Owen Smith in 1873 and has since sprouted more than a dozen other trees from its offshoots.

I had no idea that banyan trees could do this. They seem to jut out branches horizontally and then drop branches directly vertically like perpendicular afterthoughts. As though the tree realized mid-growth that it would need to support its weighty extensions and so grew downwards like canes for the long arms to rest on.

I couldn’t possibly get this whole tree into my camera lens. I could have sat under a different section of the tree (and it’s all one tree despite looking like several at once!) for an hour or more, seeing different forms and shapes in the branches before moving to a new bench and experiencing new stories and images there.

I did sit for awhile in one section while a family hung out on the other side of a wide branch. The children were bright blonde-headed kids with cute squeaky voices. They were running up and down a lower branch and clearly finding their imaginations sparked by the shapes of these giant wooden arms all around them.

Then, one of the kids noticed all the carvings in a section of the banyan exposed vertical roots. Many people over the years have signed their names in the tree with pocket knives. In my opinion, this is the equivalent to taking a pocket knife to a perfect stranger’s arm and carving your initials in their bicep, so when I see this on trees it just makes me wince. I do believe that trees feel it and that this kind of abuse is intolerable.

One of the kids said, “Daddy, can we sign our names too?” The father didn’t quite know what the kid was referring to until she asked again and then grabbed him by the hand and showed him what she was talking about. He said, “No, honey, we don’t have a knife.” He then turned to his partner and continued talking with her while the kids went back to playing.

My heart sank. I just wanted to hear him say something like “No honey, that’s not kind to the tree. You don’t need to hurt the tree to know that you’ve been here and seen it. Let’s take a picture instead!”

I got up about five minutes later and went over to the same carved section and took a picture. The little girl watched me and I smiled at her. She came closer to see what I was looking at and I said to her and to the tree, “I’m going to photograph this tree and remember it without having to hurt it with a knife. I’m sad that these people scarred the tree with their names. I’ll bet the tree is sad too. I’m glad it didn’t kill it!” Her family was out of ear shot and she was just close enough to me that she heard me but didn’t appear to be talking to a stranger. The perfect distance and the perfect proximity.

I smiled at her again and she looked at me with eyes that had clearly understood what I meant but I didn’t dwell there, on the conversation or in the location. I just touched the tree with my hand and thanked it for surviving and turned and walked away.

I don’t have kids of my own, but I do enjoy those moments when other people’s kids open their ears to other people’s ideas. May a fine balance of all kinds of perspectives work their way into their future, unique philosophies. (Of course, the parents reading this probably don’t enjoy these moments. I guess it’s all about the location from which we see things!)

I spent a good part of my day with that tree. I took the time to be close because I know that I’ll soon be far. It was inspiring to see its growth – so many directions and yet never too far from the core, the heart, the source.

Life is life that, I think. We can be safe without being shut in and stifled.

We can be multi-faceted without collapse and over-extension.

We can always learn new ways to survive.


(Even scarred.)

* Check out this link for some interesting tidbits regarding how they got it to grow this way.