Wednesday, September 8, 2021

The Banyan Tree

My An Arkie's Faith column from the September 8, 2021, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

I wake up suddenly, not because of any noise or interruption, but it leaves me disoriented. My eyes are open, but I strain to see anything in the darkness. For a fleeting moment, I don’t know where I am. As the cobwebs of my mind begin to clear, I remember that I am in Maui. I fumble around on the nightstand to find my phone. I try to focus my eyes on the screen to see what time it is. It is 3:40 A.M. I roll over and try to go back to sleep, but sleep won’t come. We flew across five times zones on our flight to Maui yesterday, and my internal clock needs recalibrating.

After lying in bed awake for an hour, I get up and dress quietly. Slipping out the front door of the condo into the darkness of the Maui night, I walk to the parking lot and get into my rental car. It is just a short drive to Kahekili Beach, and I park the car and walk down to the beach in the moonlight. As I walk south on the sandy beach, an occasional sneaker wave comes and washes over my feet. It isn’t easy to see in the dim moonlight, so it surprises me when the wave comes in farther than usual. As the water washes the sand from around my feet, I start to lose my balance. After a few times, I learn to stand still when the wave comes, not moving until the water has subsided and the sand is stable again.

Sometime later, after walking around two-thirds of a mile, I reach Lionel’s Point and turn around to head back to my car. The beach ends with a freshwater inlet, and there is no way to continue walking south. When I get back to my car, the first rays of morning light are chasing away the darkness. I will not see the sun for quite a while because 5,800-foot Mauna Kahalawai blocks the eastern sun. I drive toward Lahaina Town, anxious to see it for the first time. As I go down Front Street, I recognize places that I have seen while watching videos of Lahaina. 

In the first light of morning, there is almost no one on the streets. I quickly find a place to park and start walking toward the town center. I pass stores and galleries that will be filled with customers in a few hours. I walk past an old historic home and stop to read the historical plaques that tell its story.

The Baldwin Home is the oldest house still standing on the island of Maui. Reverend Ephraim Spaulding built the original four-room structure between 1834-35. The area offered a direct view of the Lahaina landing and the ocean beyond where whaling ships would anchor. Reverend Spaulding became ill in 1836 and returned to Massachusetts, and Reverend Dwight Baldwin and his wife moved into the home. The couple had eight children, all born in Hawai’i.

As their family grew, so did the house. In 1840, Reverend Baldwin added a bedroom and a medical study. And in 1849, he completed an entire second floor. The home faces prevailing winds from the ocean with large windows in the front. The walls are 24-inches thick, constructed of coral, sand, and lava rock with rough-hewn timber framing. The thick walls and high ceilings help keep the interior cool.

As I walk the grounds of the Baldwin Home, I see remnants of the kitchen’s foundation and firepit in the rear yard. I try to imagine the sights and sounds of Lahaina during those early years when as many as 700 whaling ships came through Lahaina in a year. Captains on year-long whale hunts would rest their crews in Lahaina on their journeys back home. Whaling ships would restock their provisions in Lahaina, staying in there for weeks on end. The sailors were a raucous crowd engaging in long stints of drinking and debauchery. The sailors’ behavior disturbed many Maui residents, and the missionaries such as Reverend Baldwin were very vocal in their opposition to the lifestyles of the whalers.

Just a couple of blocks from the Baldwin House, I see Lahaina’s most famous landmark. Spreading out in front of me is a gigantic banyan tree. It covers an entire city block and is 50-feet tall. I sit on a bench under its branches and take in its beauty and grandeur. Because I have never seen a historical plaque that I didn’t read, I find out that this banyan tree was imported from India and planted in front of the Lahaina Courthouse and Lahaina Harbor in 1873 by the sheriff of Maui and is now the largest in the state. It has a canopy circumference spanning a quarter-mile and covers almost two acres. Banyan trees can cover so much ground because they have roots that grow from outward-extending branches and reach the ground, becoming trunk-like and expanding the tree’s footprint.

In some ways, the banyan tree reminds me of what a community should be. The banyan grows by using aerial prop roots. When a tree is mature, its spreading branches produce hundreds of these roots. Some grow until they reach the ground. There, they anchor themselves and develop into new trunks. Imagine numerous branches with numerous dangling roots that produce more trunks and branches with more dangling roots. Over time you have a whole grove connected, covering a large space.

The more roots the tree puts down, the more it grows. And the more it grows, the branches must have the roots firmly grounded to hold up the heavy branches. Everything is interconnected. Without the roots, the branches would fall. Without the branches, the roots wouldn’t exist. 

Gentle Reader, you need your community, and your community needs you. If the community is to grow and prosper, we all need each other, and we must work together. When we refuse to work together, we will never be a strong community. When our disagreements become more important than our common goals, we can never prosper. Paul describes the Christian community this way, “each one of us has a body with many parts, and these parts all have different uses. In the same way, we are many, but in Christ we are all one body. Each one is a part of that body, and each part belongs to all the other parts.” Romans 12:4,5 (NCV) 

The phrase, “each part belongs to all the other parts,” seems like a good description of a banyan tree. If we want to be a productive part of our community and be like the banyan tree, we need to follow the guidance found in 1 Peter 4:8-10 (Message). “Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything. Be quick to give a meal to the hungry, a bed to the homeless—cheerfully. Be generous with the different things God gave you, passing them around so all get in on it.”

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