Friday, June 27, 2008


My wife and I were recently on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. Being subtropical, Hawaii has a fair number natural curiosities to observe (curious at least for someone who was trained only in the eastern deciduous forests.) Among these is Banyan.

A Ficus in taxonomic relations (an older brother of the Weeping Fig found in many homes), Banyan has an unusual growth form. The branches develop adventitious roots that hang down and blow freely in the breeze. That is, until they touch soil. When that takes place, the root anchors, gets woody, and forms a prop that eventually becomes a new, or I should say, another stem. This will take place many times over such that the tree is composed of multiple entangled stems and branches. One gets the impression that this species isn't certain if it is a tree or a vine. Some individuals can attain heights of 60 feet and cover nearly half an acre of land because they have spread out and sprawled with each branch and dangling root. I’ve seen some Banyans that have grafted with others and become so intertwined that you cannot tell if you are looking at one, two or three trees.

The Banyan fascinates and disturbs me. In my understanding, trees are noble giants that stretch to the sky. When I think of “tree” I envision the towering primeval sentries of Longfellow’s Arcadia, or the ancient cedars and noble oaks of Isaiah’s visions, or Muir’s Sequoia giants that populate the Pacific coasts. I look forward to the day when I can hug a tree that ascends 32 stories into the sky. There is something inspiring and lofty and wondrous about that. I can barely envision it. But the Banyan is a Titan bound. As much as it would stretch to lofty stature, by its own nature it is repeatedly anchored to the earth, unable to pull itself loose and lift its mighty branches. With each new branch that fills with leaves, there are half a dozen appendages that more firmly tie it down to the earth and make it unable to soar like others of its kind.

I think what appalls me is that this tree more than all others becomes a symbol of my own failings and weaknesses and limitations. I am made to soar, to fly, to tower. I should stand tall and noble and inspire all who see me and know me. But each time I spread my wings, there is something, something about my own nature that further pulls me earthward, anchoring me in the dust of which I am made. All of that which should produce greatness in me has the potential to bind me to lesser, ignoble things.

I love Banyan. I hate Banyan. I don’t want to be Banyan. I am Banyan.

Today’s Influences and Soundtrack:
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Infidel
Esais of Amoz, Oracles
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Evangeline
Saul of Tarsus, Letter to the Romans
Samuel Barber, Essays for Orchestra
Josh Groban, Awake
Dakota Moon, A Place To Land

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Harbor of Tears

Wai momi. Water of Pearl. The harbor received its name from the Hawaiians for the abundance of pearl producing oysters found there.

The pearl is produced when a grain of sand gets into the oyster and causes irritation to the mollusk. The creature “weeps” nacre to relieve the irritation resulting in an accretion of lustrous layers yielding a precious gem. So the pearl is born through tears. Pearl Harbor could easily be named Harbor of Tears

It was here on a Sunday morning that the United States was drawn into war in the Pacific when the Japanese Imperial Navy sent two waves of bombers to destroy the American fleet. Half the fleet was crippled, and more than 2300 people were killed. The attack was unprovoked and politically charged. The USS Arizona was filled with sailors still in their bunks that morning. The battleship was destroyed and sunk in its berth, going down as a mass of smoking, twisted steel in nine minutes. There was no chance of escape for those inside.

The Arizona is not a National Park, or a National Monument, or a National Historic Site. The Arizona is a National Memorial. It is a tomb. Still buried in the waters are 1177 men whose bodies were never recovered because the wreckage was so massive and twisted. Of those who did escape on that fateful morning, upon their later death, 32 have chosen burial at sea with their fallen comrades here in the remains of the ship.

We spent a total of 13 minutes on the Arizona memorial, staring at the steel in the water, watching the oil seep up from the tanks below. There is a solemnity about the place. Not like Gettysburg, but still notable. It stands as a testimony of the heartbreak and the horror of what transpired between Japan and the US from 1941 and 1945. What began with an air raid, ended with atomic bombs.

Harbor of tears. Hopefully the pearl that results is wisdom.

Today’s Influences and Soundtrack:
Francis Schaeffer, True Spirituality
Arthur Bennett, Valley of Vision
Michael Hedges, Aerial Boundaries
Bob James, Restless