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Patricia Rust Headshot

Everyone Needs a Tree

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Everyone needs a tree. At my condominium here in Honolulu, there stands a proud banyan which canopied chirping birds in a symphony of sound each morning and has done so since my childhood when my parents moved here from California. I have such happy memories of that majestic tree and the family car pulling up under it for us to be let off for special occasions!

At Christmas, it houses lit reindeer on platforms for decoration, and each day, delivery trucks park upon its roots, but it doesn't seem to mind as it provides shade for these big, hot metal trucks. When people pull into the turnaround entrance, it welcomes with long arms that stretch out and up in the form of shade giving branches, and I can't help but think of Robert Louis Stevenson writing adventure tales like Treasure Island from under a banyan tree.

Yes, everyone needs a tree including Robert Louis Stevenson. And this gorgeous banyan belongs to many.

This morning, I awakened to a tiny, shrill scream. It sounded like death itself, and I had no idea what it could be nor mean. Upon quick investigation which involved a glance over the lanai, I saw that this lovely banyan tree was being chopped down and being fed into the wood chipper by a crew of about six men in red vests. I knew that the tree had contracted a disease a few years back but it looked great these days and, as mentioned, it was ripe with morning bird song and all was right with it again. Or so I thought!

Obviously, something was way wrong. I checked with our operations manager who told me that the AOAO or HOA board had voted to remove the tree because it was rotted on the inside and that it would be replaced with three foxtail palms. It's one thing to remove a tree and re-locate it; it's quite another to murder it. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, were those the painful cries I had heard only earlier?

I wondered. It seemed that the homeowners board had decided to re-model the lobby. Perhaps the banyan tree did not fit into their plans. I don't know what the thinking was. I was at the last board meeting and not a peep was mentioned about it. I thought of all the things I might do: Throw myself against the chain saws, wrestle six men to the ground screaming, "Stop," call the members of the press, but it was all too late, the tree was almost down to the ground. Gone with the trade winds. I could see sawdust blowing in the wind.

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So I fetched my trusty camera, and took some farewell photos. My friend talked with a resident who happens to be a horticulturalist from the University of Hawaii who said, "No banyan tree has ever died in Hawaii." So, why would anyone think this one would? Was the AOAO simply using it as an excuse to cut it down to create a new image with their new lobby? Was it simply too Hawaiian? Why am I thinking such dreadful thoughts? Because this was a murder, and I am trying to play Columbo here!

All of the options to save the tree should have been made known to everyone. The building was designed and built around the banyon tree, for heaven's sake! Members of the military live in the building and might have gone to the mat to protect it. There had been no notice given of the tree's execution. It was just done: Sad shrill cries of a gorgeous tree that had provided shade and solace for a 500-unit building of people coming and going more than 40 years.

As people came home to find a stump where a lush banyan stood for almost half a century, tears were shed and people were startled and sad -- seems no one knew about it for we all would have fought to save it and had we lost this battle, at least we could have had a ceremony for the tree which suffered a death because it was alive when they took it down. I managed to stop a tree felling once in California before but this time it was too late when I discovered what was happening. But the banyan tree will live on in my heart and the hearts of many forever.

Everyone needs a tree.

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