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Open Features: The Secret Life Of The Banyan Tree

...‘The Banyan resembles a large lady with many legs as the tree sends down aerial roots from its branches. Once these aerial roots find earth they seek to establish their own roots while remaining attached to the parent!...

Mary Pilfold-Allan presents a word portrait of a special tree which thrives in a sunny clime - perfect read for a chilly winter's day in northern lands.

To read more of Mary's articles on a wide variety of subjects please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=mary+pilfold-allan

The day before winter closed in on the UK, we flew off to Mauritius where the Flamboyant or Flame trees were delivering their own version of Christmas decoration in a spectacular fashion. I have been to the island many times before although never at the height of its summer. The experience will remain a memory of endless sunshine and huge blue skies, of every day growing slightly hotter until an afternoon siesta is a must rather than an option and every sunset is a daily encore with different ending.

Europe and its freezing conditions were unimaginably.

Among the many pleasures of the vacation was our temporary ownership of a Banyan tree that stood only a few yards from the villa. The Banyan, also known as ‘Kalpavriksha’ or ‘Wish Fulfilling Tree’ is the subject of much mythology and it is easy to see why, for it seems to have a secret life of its own.

Now I am not a dab hand at capturing images on a mobile phone camera to whiz back to friends and family instantly; wrong generation I guess, I did however, want to share the tree with my youngest daughter, confined to a hospital bed for weeks awaiting the birth of her baby, so I wrote it all down.

‘The Banyan resembles a large lady with many legs as the tree sends down aerial roots from its branches. Once these aerial roots find earth they seek to establish their own roots while remaining attached to the parent! The tree’s leaves are shiny, flat, and dark green; no autumn fall but a continuous shedding of a few leaves at a time as they wither and die. In the old days the Banyan was often used as a shelter and some trees were so dense that during the 18th century a runaway slave from a sugar plantation, could create a warm, dry place to hide by cutting a gap through the aerial roots.

Our Banyan sits in the middle of a circle of villas made of local stone with wooden peg tile roofs. The tree not only offers us shade but it guards the pool, that in the modern style, is not the usual blue but almost black. Sometimes when I am swimming I get the distinct impression I am in a pond and that I may be sharing it with fish and frogs

All day the Banyan silently occupies its space but when night approaches and the sun begins its steady slide into the horizon, lighting the sea in a blaze of orange, birds begin to gather in the tree’s canopy. Hundreds of birds; finches, Cardinals, Weavers, Mynahs, doves and fat pigeons with rose pink breasts and dark grey backs, the Victorian ladies of the bird world. They fly in on waves of sound and conduct what the Mauritians call ‘their prayers’. By the time the tropical night has clothed everywhere in a velvet blanket, lit only by the stars, the birds have prayed to their Maker and fallen quiet.

Alas for us mere mortals who would like to sleep on past the first hints of dawn, the birds have other ideas. As soon as the east has a trace of light they start their morning chorus. The tree’s branches come alive with their energy as the birds produce an orchestra of music that would easily fill the Albert Hall before they fly off for another day in paradise.

For me the best time to share in the Banyan’s secret life is at the halfway stage between the sun going down and deep dark. Then I swim in the ‘pond’ and I am totally alone except for the gathering birds and a grey Heron with yellow eyes and a pair of matching yellow feet. He sits by the pool watching me watching him. Together we listen to the Banyan’s birds at their prayers and it is as if the world is reduced to the pool, the birds, the tree and me.’

After note:

Mythology in this instance was absolutely right. The ‘Wish Fulfilling Tree’ lived up to its name. Even as I packed my suitcase on the last evening, the phone rang and the tired but relieved voice of my daughter informed me that Felix David Alexander had just made his appearance in the world, almost a month early. Both mother and baby are doing well.

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