Off the Beaten Path…

September 1, 2012 | By Allison Schaefers

Sitting under the protective green canopy of the Moana Surfrider’s ancient Indian Banyan tree, I see a kaleidoscope of color.

Slits of blue sky and sparkling ocean peek through the branches of my living umbrella. I am sheltered if only for a moment from the deluge of the city.

“She’s beautiful,” I tell Kehaulani Kam, the Westin’s cultural expert, who on this day is my tour guide to another time and place.

Wide-eyed, I try to take in every inch of this 75-foot-high natural wonder that stretches 150-feet across. She’s a millennium landmark tree, the designation reserved for the one tree in each state that holds important national and local historic value. And, she easily out-shines the much younger 103-year-old Moana Surfrider, considered by many to be the First Lady of Waikiki.

“You know, you should tell her how you feel,” Kam says. “She longs to be told she is beautiful and appreciated.”

Four years ago, the tree was failing to thrive in the confined space of Waikiki, Kam says. A visit from a U.S. mainland tree whisperer changed everything, she says.

“She flew in just to tell us that this tree’s name is Deva and she longs for the human touch,” Kam says.

Since banyans can live to be over 500 years old, I learned from Kam that Deva is a teenager in tree years. And, like most Hawai‘i teenagers she loves social interaction.

“We made her more accessible to our guests,” Kam says. “She’s spreading out. In addition to her four baby pillars, she has given birth to three more.”

I realize then that this tree is a living, changing creature. Oh, the stories that she could tell if she could talk.

I feel silly composing a soliloquy for a tree, but I need to tell my new friend goodbye so I dip my head in respect. A hui hou dear friend until I can pass the time beneath your branches again.

Did you know?

Deva was planted at the Moana Surfrider in 1904 by Jared Smith, the director of the Department of Agriculture Experiment Station. Famous guests that have sat under her branches have included Ernest Hemingway, Amelia Earhart, Walter Chrysler, Joe DiMaggio, Frank Sinatra, Boris Karloff, Loretta Young, Broderick Crawford and Lucille Ball among others.

A three-time national award-winning reporter, Allison Schaefers serves as the Waikiki Bureau Chief for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Contact her at