Monday, September 25, 2006

Back to Eden

WE’RE far from coosome, coups and I.

When coup rumors rumbled during then President Cory Aquino’s term, I was squatting before a kabo (water dipper), wondering how I could wash myself with just this. Every now and then, a south-bound bus would stop by the pasong (public bath) in Granada, Boljoon, discharging passengers and dust, which coated our team, bathing in public for the first time.

If personal hygiene took precedence over matters of national interest in the late ‘80s, fowl affairs interfered with last Friday’s “state of emergency.”

The boys and I were at the Eden Nature Park, a former logged-over area and orchard in the seventies that is gradually being restored to its rainforest state.

Since Eden is located 2,630 feet above sea level (roughly an hour’s drive from Davao City), our first visit became a second one of sorts. During our first ascent, our taxi sputtered and gasped like a bird that had absentmindedly swallowed ballast instead of seed.

Driver Emmanuel, a San Remigio native who transferred to Davao more than three decades ago, entertained the idea of finishing the rest of the trip by backing up. He theorized that driving in reverse would tilt the gasoline back into our grievously dehydrated “bird.”

Whether we would end up in Eden, and not at the bottom of Mounts Talomo and Apo, did not figure in Emmanuel’s theory. In the end, our group just descended, gassed up, and tried again. This time, Emmanuel’s bird got us inside the “95-percent man-made” rainforest.

If you are like me, easily brought to rapture by the sight of Nug-as, Alcoy’s secondary-growth forest or the mist-obscured heights in Lepanto, Alegria, entering Eden is like returning to some primeval womb.

In this daze, we saw our first peacock. When Emmanuel’s bird noisily parked near the stoop of this iridescent creature, I thought that the plaster cast was more impressive than the life-size statues of lumad (native-born) families we passed on the way to the front office.

But then the bird of plaster craned and dipped its snake-like magnetic blue neck, challenged perhaps by the sight of the gorgeous creature it saw reflected in Emmanuel’s windshield. Before it could attack though, Emmanuel’s dusty bird disgorged us and clanked away.

The majestic creature fluffed its long train of eyes, shivering the green-blue shadows, and resumed cropping the grass.

In our exploration of Eden, many of the sights delighting the boys were the same ones that fascinated their parents’ childhood, simpler and shorn of technology: the firefly sanctuary, deer park, organically grown vegetables and herbs, fishing village, hiking trails.

But none left an impact as the birds did. The aviaries showed us what we had only previously read about: that in the world of birds, the male is fairest of all.

Even in the twilight, earlier and deeper because of the giant tree ferns and pine trees towering over us, it was not difficult to catch sight of the flamboyant gender. Among the pink-necked pigeon, the guide notes informed us that it is the male who sports a grayish head paired off with a pink breast. The female is a dowdy green.

If the emerald dove is an attractive one, it must be a fellow, not a gal: “gray cap, bright green wings, warm underpart.” The male American mallard is no less dapper: “green head, white collar, burnished breast, pale gray upper part.” The female mallard? Just “brownish.”

Just when I was reflecting that it must be tougher to be female in the bird universe, the dusk was suddenly broken by a series of squawks answered by a trill of hoot-hoos. Three peacocks, a silver-ivory male and two modest females, parted ways with us when we reached a fork leading to our cottage.

When the boys switched on the TV set, the president’s face was no less grim than her words: the full force of the law will bear down on those destabilizing the state. I thought of the Eden I lost, walking at the close of the day with birds too majestic for humans.

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