It has been years since I’ve returned back to my hometown of Fuzhou, a small and humid city in Southern China. A few days ago, my grandma called me from home, complaining that she had sprained her ankle. The injury prevented her from walking while it healed, definitely bothering her of the inconvenience.
“I almost forgot how that Banyan tree looks!”
Even though I barely recall many of the places she talks about since moving to the United States, I knew what she was referring to, the memory of this specific tree back home still strong. Despite the constantly changing landscape of urban development, everyone who lives around my hometown still knows this tree. As much as things change in China, some things still remain the same. The tree – a giant Chinese Banyan – is planted in the center of a busy 4 lanes street. After every dinner it was my grandma’s habit to take a walk to visit the tree. She likes to joke she’ll never forget the Banyan tree, even if stricken by Alzheimer’s!
In China, Fuzhou is known as “the city of Chinese Banyan” (Ficus microcarpa). There are hundreds of big Banyan trees growing in the city, many of them more than 100 years old; the city is nurtured by Banyan trees, and in return, the city tries hard to protect them. You can easily find many well-paved, highly traveled, wide roads with big Chinese Banyan trees situated in the center.
Their existence is interwoven into the local culture and history. People who aren’t from Fuzhou still know about the city’s Banyan trees, as they’re a famous feature characterizing my hometown’s landscape. The Banyans are special enough to gain the attention of pedestrians not always afforded to other normal trees along the sidewalk. They’re special in the hearts and minds of our city and those who come to visit.
Sometimes when I stare at the big Banyan tree, I feel I am looking at the accumulated wisdom of centuries past, a mysterious force of nature in physical form. When I was little, grandma would hold me up to touch the aerial root of the tree. It is believed by old locals that the ancient tree drips down its nutrients and good wishes through these roots, gifting babies good luck and enlightenment.
Some trees might be sacred to a whole culture, while others might just be held special within an individual’s memory. Back at my college campus the ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) is considered the school’s “sacred” tree. It is a tree with interesting fan shaped foliages and amazing colors that change with the seasons. Compared with other street trees the ginkgo tree has a dark and upright trunk, it’s hefty muscular roots capable of lifting whole sidewalks upward. The contrast between the yellow leaves against the dark brown branches produce an unforgettable dynamic visual effect. I am always fond of deciduous trees, because they reflect the passing of time. My years in college are forever colored by the memory of a golden path “paved” by the ginkgo leaves in the autumn leading students to their classrooms. My friends and I all keep some ginkgo leaves to use as bookmarks.
It’s been five years now since I came to Los Angeles and now another tree has found a place in my heart: the western Sycamore (Platanus racemosa). And I am very sure to many Angelenos these Sycamores are more than just a tree…a memory, a landmark, a friend, a comforting living thing. When we talk about trees, we’re speaking the language of remembrance.
To the Oak by Shuting
If I love you —
I’ll never be a clinging campsis flower
Resplendent in borrowed glory on your high boughs;
If I love you —
I’ll never mimic the silly infatuated bird
Repeating the same monotonous song for green shade;
Or be like a spring
Offering cool comfort all year long;
Or a lofty peak
Enhancing your stature, your eminence.
Even the sunlight,
Even spring rain,
None of these suffice!
I must be a kapok, the image of
A tree standing together with you;
Our roots closely intertwined beneath the earth,
Our leaves touching in the clouds.
With every whiff of wind
We greet each other
But no one can
Understand our words.
You’ll have bronze limbs and iron trunk,
Like knives, swords
I’ll have my crimson flowers
Like signs, heavy and deep,
Like heroic torches,
Together we’ll share
The cold tidal waves, storms, and thunderbolts;
Together we’ll share
The light mist, the colored rainbows;
We shall always depend on each other.
Only this can be called great love.
Wherein lies the faith, true and deep.
I love not only your stateliness
But also your firm stand, the earth beneath you.