Saturday, August 08, 2015

Of termites and men

AGE makes it irksome to wake up at night and go down to the toilet. But if not for this nocturnal trip, I might never have discovered the quiet pleasure of looking down our sleeping street.

We live at the end of a cul-de-sac that sees more canine and feline traffic than the human. However, from the upstairs windows, I can see Laguna de Bay. On the way to church, we drive past a highway overlooking Taal Lake. When we go down to buy groceries, Mt. Makiling rises in the distance, often wreathed in mist in this season of monsoons.

It is disorienting to reconcile the many sides of Silang, Cavite. The province has many quaint-named barangays, like Putingkahoy, Pulong Bunga, Pulong Saging, Balite, Banaba, Iba, Ipil, Yakal and Pasong Langka.

But just as anachronism splits the old names of places and modernization, this part of Cavite juxtaposes roadside stands overflowing with fruits, ornamentals and heavy wooden furniture with export processing zones, business process outsourcing enclaves, and malls.

Looking for a second home, the husband and I wanted to live as far away from Metro Manila. Cool and green, Silang is low-key, overshadowed by its southern neighbor, Tagaytay.

Who would have thought that “conurbation” would make Silang part of the southward expansion of Metro Manila to as far away as Lipa City in Batangas? In his 1915 book, “Cities in Evolution,” Patrick Geddes coined a neologism to capture the agglomeration of contiguous cities and other settlements into one urban market interconnected by electric power, modern transport and industry. Geddes cited as examples the conurbations of Midlandton in England, the Ruhr in Germany, New York City-New Jersey in the U.S., and Southern Metro Manila.

Outside the blueprints and jargon of urban planners, our corner of Silang seems less a niche in a conurbation than a slice of the animal kingdom. The frogs keep me awake some nights with their incessant mating or arguing. In place of a TV reality show, I watch all kinds of creatures, some I cannot even name, converge on the closed windows lit by the outdoor lights. On most nights, the lizards win, 3, versus etc., 0.

One night, I looked out of the upstairs window and saw the street lamps sprout roiling dreadlocks. “Ibos (winged termites)” swarmed around the lamp heads in a kind of light rage that lasted till dawn.

According to Timothy Gibb, an insect diagnostician of Purdue University’s Department of Entomology, winged termites are called “swarmers” because they come out in large numbers, usually after a rain. I grew up thinking ibos “warned” of approaching rain.

It’s not the only bias against termites, a colony of which can destroy a home. We use their attraction to light to position a pail of water under a lit bulb; the reflection ends with the insects drowning. The broken wings and carcasses are easier to dispose of.

Gibb wrote that termites mate for life, with the queen producing as many as 100 million eggs in a typical “marriage” of 20 years. Only a few of these eggs become reproductives, the winged termites. Despite being given only one purpose in life—mate and reproduce—few ibos survive, eaten by other insects and predators or killed by humans.

Drawn by the light, two creatures with different outcomes: conurbation and swarming.

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*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s July 12, 2015 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

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