Saturday, May 26, 2007

Green talk

WOKE up to rain drumming on eaves and remembered 15 bottles.

One Sunday afternoon, our group followed the source of water in this upland barangay. The village officers we met at the health center held back at first. But while we were tramping about, they started to give many versions why the water would not reach its destination.

One spring had to be diverted to the Poblacion below. Another’s network of pipes stirred up a lot of discussion.

Some criticized siphoning the spring with small pipes and then distributing through wide-mouthed ones whatever trickle was left. Others believed small diameters were necessary for coaxing the water up steep inclines.

Nearly everyone had a theory that pipe openings were not so much water- and terrain-sensitive as apt to take the shape of political caprices and the division of spoils.

When the talk wallowed in pork barrel and swinish matters, I lost interest. Squatting, I spotted several makahiya, which I loved to nudge as a child, just to see the plant’s featherlike leaves fold up.

A Japanese visitor was ecstatic years back when he chanced upon a small commune blanketing the shoreline. In Japan, makahiya is cultured and sold, so many yens per pot, to those fascinated by its shrinking charms.

Catching the drift of their talk, I asked a woman in her 50s if she really did notice the disappearance of water. In the city, a dry faucet is the closest we get to noticing the absence of water. My companions talked about the local springs as if they were neighbors that had suffered misfortune and were wasting away while everyone watched helplessly.

Linda Obligado, 56, is barangay secretary. She nods at a tree jutting out of a nearby canopy, saying when they cut down a tree taller and larger than this, the water level of the spring beside it subsided.

When yet another cousin got married and the clan had to reduce another tree into lumber, another spring was reduced to a trickle. This minor spring, mocked as dakung tubod long before Linda was born, now needs a change of name.

Why don’t trees reinvent, I ask Linda. She says some trees, with “moist” cores, sprout again around the cut trunk. Dry ones are never seen again, backlighted against the sky. She remembers how cleaning the dakung tubod pipes showed it was nearly blocked by fine root-like hair that might have belonged to the lady of the forest nursing the spring.

Watching the darkening sky, I muttered that the end of May might bring back the rain, which can be saved in their pasong (catchments).

The children won’t like it is all Linda says. Once, the local trees groaned under the sack-like hives of potyokan, fat bellicose bees whose sting could keep an adult in bed.

The excellent quality of pure potyokan dugos (honey) was all the incentive needed to think up different ways of fooling the bees: building a fire to smoke them out, blowing tobacco smoke to drug the insects, chanting a spell.

The commercial growing of mango put an end to this. Linda says the bees collected the nectar of flowering mango trees, which were sprayed with pesticide. Now, one has to walk among the older trees to spot a single potyokan hive.

The local children can still gather honey though from the rock-dwelling ligwan. Smaller and less ferocious, these insects seem immune to chemical spraying. A drop of honey is given to a newborn; others take it for cough and aches.

Linda says a gout sufferer once paid the children to bring him one ligwan a day. He pinned this behind the useless knee. There was no describing the sting of the dying insect. After a few years, he walked again.

To buy food or materials for school projects, the children bring her ligwan dugos. Linda sends a few bottles of honey to her children studying in the city. She does not know what to do with the bottles left at home, 15 at last count. She cannot turn down the children when they bring her another bottle.

But the rains put an end to honey-making, Linda observes.

How does it feel—I address the sky—to watch the impossible come to pass, trees and water disappearing, children dreading the rain? 09173226131

* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s May 27, 2007 issue

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