A memory uprooted

When Hurricane Katrina passed through Miami on Aug. 25, she took a piece of UM history down with her. The banyan tree outside the UC, which had been there longer than most can remember, was torn down by the storm’s fierce winds. Clean-up crews were on site during the next few days, cutting away its remnants to the surprise of students, staff and alumni.

Simply known by most as The Tree, it became a trademark of the UM campus and spirit throughout the years. Its disappearance changed the backdrop of not only the campus but of student organizations, such as the Iron Arrow Honor Society, which taps new members twice a year, then brings them back to a mound located next to the tree.

“That ceremony will stay intact,” Alexis Martinez, chief of the Iron Arrow tribe, said. “But a lot of members are upset and concerned because for them, that tree reminds them of when they were tapped. Their memories are connected to that area.”

Fortunately, the Iron Arrow mound was not damaged during the storm.

“I was just recently tapped and just now understood the meaning of the tree. Where it was located is where the mound is located,” Ciara Mohamed, senior, said. “There’s a lot of significance behind it,” she said, adding that much of that meaning is only revealed to its members once they are tapped.

According to Iron Arrow advisor Norm C. Parsons, Jr., members from all of the UM community will feel the absence of the tree.

“That tree is bigger than just Iron Arrow,” he said. “I’ve been here since ’72, and it is a symbol of the strength and vitality of the University. It’s always been there and it’s going to be strange not to have it.”

Efforts to preserve parts of the tree’s remnants are already under way. The administration has saved some of its branches, and in a Senate meeting on Wednesday, a unanimous vote passed for the formation of a memorial built out of the tree’s wood.

“The tree has been there long enough to be in anyone’s memories. It seems like the campus grew up around the tree,” Pete Maki, Student Government president, said. “We want to memorialize it so that people 10, 15 years from now can have something to remember it by.”

Administrators are not yet sure what can be made with the remnants. A bench or a carving was considered at first, but may not be an option due to the type of wood.

“We’re drying it out to see what we’re going to do with it,” Maki said. “We’d like to be able to have a memorial [of the tree] placed where it used to be.”

Administrators and SG will meet again on Wednesday to discuss how the tree’s remnants will be used.

“It’s probably 70 years, if not older,” Parsons said. “We will always look at the spot and, for those of us who remember the tree, will be very saddened. That tree belonged to everybody.”

Natalia Maldonado can be contacted at n.maldonado@umiami.edu.