Saturday, March 13, 2010

“A dream of thirst”

I HAD lunch with a dun-colored bird this week.

Under the trees, I spotted the small bird hopping on the carpet of parched ground.

I forgot the shedding trees, the air that crackled as if a bonfire was licking the dead earth from below with greedy tongues.

The bird and I were on a park. Was the fellow too tired to fly and forage amid the food left behind? Yet, if I also tossed it a few grains, the bird would fly away.

I watched the bird. I stood up. The bird became a blur.

Being more evolved and advanced and aware sometimes comes to nothing.

Lately, a different unease has crept around the fringes of the current agitation over the May 10 election.

I can taste the fear licking from these stories: a drastic drop of water level in reservoirs and dams, rationed water flow in a barangay so the supply can be diverted to nearby communities, fires wiping out properties and lives, crops and livestock dying in the uplands, doctors watching out for the mutating virulence of measles and other diseases spread by heat and dust.

How does the El Niño affect birds and other creatures that fall below the radar of our creature comforts?

The sea, made warmer by the El Niño, keeps phytoplankton from thriving. The base of the marine food web, phytoplankton feed zooplankton. Small fish feed on zooplankton. Marine animals dive deeper to search for food.

With less fish on the surface, seabirds scatter across the ocean and leave behind their nest. Abandoned are hatchlings, nestlings (which haven’t left the nest yet) and fledglings (which left the nest but have not yet been weaned).

Early this year, friends told a strange tale that occurred in farms bordering the uplands of Samboan and Oslob in southern Cebu. One farmer lost his crops to marauding “uwak” (crows); his sister’s neighboring plot lost corn to rats.

While rats deserve their ill fame for bringing down stalks and gnawing the corn on the cob, crows, for all their intelligence, are known more for eating carrion and trash. A group of these birds—known in literary English as a “murder” of crows—is a portent of doom, specially so after large numbers of it have stripped bare a family’s source of food, trade and planting materials.

If not yet an issue, water should be one during this election, San Fernando resident Louie Yu protests. In his email to Sun.Star Cebu, Yu claimed that the government “does nothing” about Barangay Sangat’s water deprivation for the past 20 years.

Water is so entwined with our being, it permeates our dreams of new worlds. Frank Herbert’s science fiction classic, “Dune,” is set in fictional Arrakis, “the planet known as Dune.”

This desert planet of gigantic sand worms guarding the coveted spice known as melange is peopled by a fearsome race called the Fremen.

The Fremen survive that inhospitable clime by “compos(ing) poems to their knives” and wearing “stillsuits” that recycle sweat and body waste.

“A dream of thirst” haunts a character in the novel. “That people could want so for water they had to recycle their body moisture struck him with a feeling of desolation.”

Herbert wrote “Dune” after he was assigned to research on an experiment with “poverty grasses” to counter the sand dunes that were swallowing highways in Oregon.

After five years of research, Herbert dedicated his novel to ecologists and became one himself. The book was rejected by more than 20 publishers before it was accepted by a small firm specializing in auto repair manuals.

Last December, while strolling along the shore of Matutinao in Badian, my family saw gigantic cabbage-like corals glow with an otherworldy luminescence under the sea. Those nearer to the shore and thus above the level of the receding sea looked amputated and shriveled.

The corals failed to impress our 11-year-old. “They don’t look like Sponge Bob.” Will there be generations that will only see sponges and corals in cartoons?

South American fishermen name the abnormal warming of the ocean waters after the Christ Child because the El Niño starts around Christmas.

But the El Niño, worsened by climate changes steering us to an appointment with global warming, is a child of our making.

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Mar. 14, 2010 issue of “Matamata”

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