Over the decades, residents have gathered, feasted and proposed marriage beneath the 150-year-old banyan tree in the downtown area of Lahaina Hawaii. But on August 8, after a fast-moving blaze tore through the town in West Maui, the tree was scorched. Wildfires swept across the island of Maui and killed at least 97 people. Most of Lahaina, a community of 13,000, that was once the capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom, was destroyed.
The tree, a Ficus benghalensis, or banyan fig, was just eight feet tall when it was planted in 1873 to commemorate a protestant mission to Lahaina a half century earlier. Years of careful tending by residents helped the tree grow. Towering more than 60 feet and sprawling an entire city block, the banyan tree had become a cherished landmark for locals.
There were so many birds singing their hearts out in the banyan when I visited in 2015, I was overwhelmed. The birds are gone now. This enduring symbol serves as an analogy for our planet, which too is being silenced by the fires of climate change.