Post 17 — The Banyan Tree (Part 2)

The author's memory of what the tree looked like - not the actual banyan.

The author’s memory of what the tree looked like – not the actual banyan.

A banyan has a parasitic relationship with the jungle around it. The seeds take root in the crevices of high surrounding trees, deposited up there by helpful and/or incontinent birds. Because the light is better above the canopy, the roots grow quickly down from the top and eventually overpower and strangle the host like an over-served, psychotic guest run amok. This banyan had apparently crashed the party many years ago, because there was no sign of the original tree.

It soared above their heads, the top of it disappearing into the canopy of the jungle that grew around it. The enormous trunks twisted and split into several different trees, and a series of vertical roots grew around the perimeter and formed a cage of sapling jail bars. Upper branches reached out in every direction and the tree was nearly as wide as it was tall, with gnarled vines that disappeared up into the foliage and dared anyone with a Tarzan complex to swing on one and see if it was really attached. Shrouds of lacy moss were draped here and there, as if someone had decorated for a funeral. There were gaping dark triangles at various spots where the overlapping roots had left portals; what lurked inside those black doorways was almost too scary to consider.

The rest of the group broke away and ran to the base of the tree, and one by one dived into the darkness with seemingly no fear of being eaten alive. Moments later, Liz’s head popped out at the crook of the banyan and she shouted, “Come on in! It’s completely hollow inside!”

Climbing into the tree from bright sunlight left one temporarily blind which was probably just as well, for the insect population that lived in there was as varied as it was large. The air had a suspicious smell, as if there was something decomposing in there besides trunk. Bats were highly probable. The interior was at least ten degrees cooler and wide enough for an adult to stand up in, but the higher you climbed, the narrower it became. It was a point of honor to see who could squeeze through the gradually shrinking passageways, and if you were slightly chubby or claustrophobic, it was best not to even try. Getting stuck would only get you ridiculed, and no parent was going to be able to get in there to save you.

Kathy flashed a fearless smile and disappeared into the tree like a magician’s assistant, with Carolyn right behind her. She wasn’t quite as brave as Kathy but her competitive streak would not let her be the last one standing outside. Chrissie suddenly found herself alone in the jungle, facing down her worst fears that she might be too fat or too afraid to even climb in there.  As dear as her trolls were to her heart, she wasn’t particularly interested in going into a place that looked like live versions of them might live. As slowly as she could, she poked her head in the opening and waited for anything of a different species to clear. Wrapping her fingers around a handhold that she hoped wasn’t actually a snake, she pulled herself up and began to climb.

The darkness was terrifying, but as she worked her way up through the narrow passages, her fear began to recede and a sense of wonder crept in. It was like climbing through the ventricles of a huge wooden heart, although the staccato beat she heard was her own. There was one final tunnel through to the top that she had to hold her breath and squeeze her butt through, but Chrissie finally made it up to her sisters, using roots like the rungs of a ladder. She was rewarded with a view that encompassed all of Tafuna, a sense of profound well-being, and several odd colored beetles in her hair. The girls sat in the top branches with their new friends and considered the possibilities of scenarios that could be acted out in the humid jungle. “Hey, you guys!” shouted Kathy. “You know what this could be? The Swiss Family Robinson Tree house!”

“And tomorrow we’re going to bring all the damn snacks we want!”

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