Big Tree Eleuthera - Palmetto Point
A World of Contrast from Milford to Big Tree
by Charles Walsh, Conneticut Post
In the economically thriving city of Milford, the locals often use martial statuary as reference points when directing confused visitors to the Superior Court and other places of interest.
“It's right across from the doughboy statue,” they'll say. Or, “Turn left after the Vietnam Memorial.” In the economically depressed town of Palmetto Point, on the island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas, the locals almost always use a single tree as a reference when giving visitors directions to the Atlantic Ocean.
“You just turn right at Big Tree, mon,” they'll say, “and go down dat road.”
The visitor thinks, “Thanks. There's only about 300 big trees in this sun-baked burgh.”
But as they drive in the direction the local's finger pointed, they see the Big Tree in question looming like the smoke cloud from a huge green explosion.
Big Tree, its battleship gray bark almost smooth as polished concrete, is maybe as big around as a six-person sauna. A crown of small leaves spreads horizontally to create enough shade to cool every person in the village and a few cars. Big Tree's roots are giant curvilinear isosceles triangles that emerge from the trunk 25 feet above ground, descending to earth like the wind-blown folds of a prom gown.
The initial impact on first viewing Big Tree is breathtaking. Visitors stop and get out of their cars to stare gape-mouthed at this magnificence of nature.
Big Tree is the Empire State Building of Palmetto Point. The residents are supremely proud of it, like it is something God bestowed on them as a gift for being good. Cab drivers take you past Big Tree without asking. Big Tree must have a real name, a species, a genus, but the folks of Palmetto Point just call it Big Tree.
Underneath Big Tree's vast spread of branches and leaves there is a house, a crude flat-roofed structure made of concrete blocks, painted the blue-green color of the Caribbean Sea.
One of the residents of that house is a man named Kevin, who has an amazing, compact beard that seems to be made of black steel wool. Floating in the bushy beard are two of the brightest eyes in all creation. Kevin will tell you he came to Eleuthera from Haiti nine years ago. He says he likes it better in Palmetto Point, but work is very hard to find. Kevin laughs all the time when he talks, partly because he doesn't understand everything you are asking, and partly because he's just a happy guy. At the moment he works stocking shelves at the local notions store out on the Queen's Highway, and does some painting and odd jobs to fill the gaps.
Ever since a series of hurricanes raked across Eleuthera and pretty much wiped out the tourism industry, the people of Palmetto Point have had to scratch out their livings any way they can.
For 25 years, Clinton Knowles worked at The Windemere on Windemere Island, where Prince Charles and Diana vacationed in 1983. By the time The Windemere resort shut down (nobody seems to remember exactly when or why), Knowles had worked his way up to assistant dining room manager.
Now he drives a cab and rents a few cars to the tourists who still come to Palmetto Point's beaches.
On Saturdays in the economically thriving city of Milford, Conn., where a gallon of gas costs more than $3, the Boston Post Road is crammed with traffic. People hit the malls and run errands like nobody's business.
On Saturdays in economically depressed Palmetto Point, where a gallon of gas cost almost $4 (on other islands it's up to $6), the roads are mostly deserted. People don't go anywhere unless they have to.
They take walks that at some point pass through the cooling shade of Big Tree.
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