Upon Seeing My First Banyan Tree (Florida 1991)

Could it be a pack of giants frolicking together in the sun? Or perhaps a wildly grotesque scene painted by a hallucinating artist?

I see multi-legged giraffes dancing, now web footed animals intertwining around each other, and now, unfathomably strange but inviting creatures who one might see in the next big children’s fantasy movie. I see as of yet uninvented types of musical instruments. I look further and see underground tunnels leading to distant secret caves. I look up close and see the intricate weavings of a fine craftsman. I look from a distance and see myriad intriguing designs – with some lines completely straight, others twisted and turned in every possible direction. I see geometric shapes of every size and variety, amid colors and textures that vary from segment to segment.

I am looking at a tree, a banyan tree. It is a tree to be lauded and to be reckoned with. A tree to behold, to play on, to imagine about, and to dance and sing about. A tree to be inspired by and to praise God by: Blessed Art Thou, oh Lord, creator of the universe, who has allowed me to stand in wonder in front of this marvel of yours.

The tour guide of the Thomas Edison Winter Home in Fort Myers Florida tells me that this tree is sixty six years old, and that its mother seed is 1000 years old. Look: No generation gap! The oldest trunks and the youngest shoots stand side by side, all part of the same sprawling mass. The baby threads descend from the upper branches to continue the growth of the tree while their parents and grans hold down the fort, all fulfilling the genetic instructions of their ancestors.

The tour guide goes on to say that banyan means marketplace in the Indian language. The tree serves as the physical setting for some of India’s marketplaces, since it can accomodate vendors and their wares in its numerous niches. Wait! Suddenly I hear a sitar playing, I smell pungent spices, see women in colorful saris, walking to and from the banyan tree with arms filled with vegetables, rice, and spices. I see people bargaining with merchants, someone giving an impassioned political speech, others chanting prayers…all of this happening inside the umbrella of the banyan tree.

Once again, my mind returns to being present in Fort Myers. As I walk around the tree, I hear the approaching visitors’ comments: “This is incredible”, “This can’t be one tree, can it?”, and “This is the most amazing sight I have ever seen.” I see people paying homage to the tree through the clicking of their cameras. And I think that perhaps things are not as bad as they may seem. That, in this era of high tech everything, where people yawn at the news of travel to the moon and where we regularly rely on computers to guide our every step, I am joyous that people can still be in awe of a tree.

May this banyan tree continue to live, to grow, to thrive, and to inspire people for many generations to come.