|The ficus at the Kampong.|
Yesterday, I drove through one of my favorite areas of Coral Gables, delivering leftovers from a delicious saffron-infused seafood paella I had made over the weekend. First stop, my parents -- for whom I’m still caregiving -- and second stop, my sister's home.
I always take this detour to admire an amazing banyan tree. There are glorious banyans all over this tropical and lush section of Coral Gables, but this one in particular is like the Taj Majal of banyans – competing locally for that title only with other extraordinary Ficus benghalensis growing locally at Pinecrest Gardens, Pine Tree Park in Miami Beach, The Kampong in Coconut Grove and the Edison Estate on the gulf coast.
While driving, I saw a dog in the middle of the road, a rather dangerous place to be, as cars coming around the corner can’t see oncoming traffic right away. Drivers should steer cautiously here.
I’ve driven through this bend hundreds of times, but I had never seen this dog.
The scruffy, silver-haired dog was small, looking a bit worse for wear. I noticed a collar and I followed it to a dead end street, thinking it might be lost and that I would help return it to its rightful owner.
Or I rather like to think she led me to the dead end street.
As I got out of the car, she plopped down next to a bowl of water and some dog biscuits. And then the furry creature barked viciously at me. “Uh-oh,” I thought. "Here’s an alpha dog protecting her property."
“Ok, sweetheart,” I said out loud. “I was just trying to see if you were ok.”
Within seconds, a wizened woman came out of the house. With whiskers on her chin and grey hair wrapped up in a ponytail, she reminded me of fairy tales, where I might meet an old crone in a forest of mossed-draped oaks, acorns, saw grass palms and magical banyans.
But despite her age, she was also in remarkable shape. She had clearly been an athlete and a bombshell, to boot.
We chatted for about half an hour. A few minutes into conversation, the dog sniffed around my feet and licked my toes. And the previously aggressive canine seemed to tell me, “Ok, you’re cool, you’re allowed here.” Then the four-legged guardian pawed a little area in the dirt and took a nap.
Was it new friends meeting or old friends meeting anew?
I would hear an incredible tale from this woman about how she used to live in Hawaii, not far from where my brother currently resides. What are the odds? She told me about how she won competitions in surfing and outrigger canoeing, the former a sport my brother practices. She was even a stuntwoman in film. We discussed Kaneohe, the North Shore, the current economic state of Honolulu, shaved ice and Kahuku shrimp, double rainbows and mai tais. We were both transported, she perhaps to another time, when it was all about marriage and kids. Me, just an amazing vacation I had been blessed with when visiting my brother and sister-in-law.
I felt the aloha spirit, right here in Miami, where you least expect it -- a random moment in an afternoon filled with kindness, compassion, harmony, the breath of life -- all because of a dog and a tree.
I saw that aloha spirit in this widowed grandmother, in that wrinkled, toothless face. I saw it in some of the most beautiful, lively blue eyes I have ever seen, beaming vitality. I saw myself in her. “Will I be like this when I’m in my eighties, forty years from now?” I asked silently.
It was challenging to let go of the conversation, but I had to leave. I asked her name even though I wasn’t sure if I would ever see her again. I knew I had made a new friend, all because of a scruffy dog who seemed to be wandering around aimlessly, but like a barking oracle, clearly had a purpose.
Maybe I was lost and it was guiding me.
Perhaps the trees really are magical in this enchanted forest.
And now this banyan means even more to me.