Saturday, February 13, 2021

Garden notes

THE HOLE was so small as to be invisible if you were not looking for it.

D was. Saying that an insect had bored inside and laid its eggs, D added that the small “patola (sponge gourd)” would be, if it was not yet, an after-birth larder for larvae. Yet, he brushed off my suggestion to discard the infested fruit before it contaminated the rest.

“Kapwa ‘yan (that’s another one),” D said and continued to slip clear plastic bags over unblemished patola hanging from the trellis in our street garden.

I’ve had nearly a year to work out D’s gardening advice. In English, “kapwa” literally translates into the “others,” a collective address for those who are separate and different from the speaker.

Applying sikolohiyang Pilipino, which is rooted in our beliefs and experiences, “kapwa” surely means for D his fellows, who, as someone hired for chores around our village, he is never short of.

Nearly seven years ago, D, striding to work, reminded me of a black long-legged spider, more object of horror and fascination than a neighbor. Then when Manila went into community lockdown in March 2020, the husband and I fell in with other families to plant vegetables in front of an unused lot, which still had a covering of Taal ashfall, now beneficial after the sulfur dissipated.

D prepared the ground. At first, each household, careful not to mingle, separately transferred seeds or seedlings helter-skelter. Of our confused concepts of urban gardening, D made order out of disorder. 

Once, after observing him replant tomato seedlings in threes with a kitchen knife whetted to a thin point, I asked him if it was not better to space each “punla (seedling)” apart from the rest. 

“Mahirap ang solo,” D argued, his standard reply when anyone offered to hire him alone for a chore. Our neighbor’s preference for the collective rather than the individual was strange as gardening harbors for me solitary pleasures like reading or writing.

When D’s workmate returned to the province, D passed on trimming our bamboo and kamuning borders. We offered to pay him the usual fee their tandem collected and he could take as long as he needed to finish the work. 

D would not go “soltero (single);” he was not keen at all to take home twice what he could earn because his partner might think he had put one over him: “sinosolo”.

A tricycle driver, DD became D’s workmate when public transportation was prohibited under community quarantine. Now that tricycles are again allowed, carrying first one passenger then three, DD splits his earnings with D. What D earns from hauling earth and detritus in his “kulong-kulong (motorbike with sidecar),” he splits with DD.

Gardens make quite good classrooms. 

( 09173226131)

* First published in the February 14, 2021 issue of SunStar Cebu’s Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Saturday, February 06, 2021

Dancing on the roof

THE WHITE Tom falling from the neighbor’s roof into a corner of our garden where three extremely territorial dogs were sleeping nearby was a ruder shock for him than for yours truly. 

We were shookt but Tom was rekt: he desperately lunged several times up our wall, only to screech back to perilous ground, where the wire net enclosing the plants was within minutes of being flattened by our dogs, caught up in the frenzy of an evening invasion.

Just in time, Tom bolted for the gate and escaped into the street, chased by dogs more interested in creating a din than taking any prisoner.

This catfall was a first. Our neighbors’ abutting rooftops serve as sky bridges for the village cats, who use them not just as shortcuts to check out what folks are cooking but also to avoid the mutts scrapping for a distraction to spice up their bored gated existence.

A silent but constant watcher of this rooftop traffic, I wonder why we humans cannot copy this feline habit. 

Instead of complaining to the homeowners’ association about the leaky gutter of next door or the needles piling in one’s yard from a neighbor’s enthusiastically shedding pine tree, we can meet on the rooftops, get a tan by moonshine, and give our minds an airing.

I hope never to experience a human being dropped from the rooftops. I admit our neighborhood is predictably bourgeois. If we cannot choose our neighbors, we can at least escape in our cars and cool our heads in the mall.

Some of us don’t drive. Last weekend, the neighbor who recently moved in next door and I were weeding our respective gardens. Lulled, I pull weeds while working out writing problems. 

The repetitive rhythm failed to hypnotize this time because our neighbor was listening to the singing of a group I followed like a religion when I was in sixth grade.

To say that the Air Supply and Amy Winehouse both sing about love is to miss the difference why cats walk on rooftops and humans don’t. By the time Russell Hitchcock crooned, “I can wait forevah…,” I was weeding less, mumbling more Amy’s lines like a counter-incantation, “… life is like a pipe/ And I’m a tiny penny/ Rolling up the walls inside.”

Yet, after that one-sided musical showdown (all aggression mine, poetry from Amy), our gardens were happier with fewer weeds. The new neighbors are a young couple, with a bright, talkative daughter. If I had a granddaughter, would I go to the rooftop with her and listen to Amy singing poetry? 

Maybe. In this cycle called life, my theoretical granddaughter and I might start with, “I can wait forevah…”

( 09173226131)

* First published in SunStar Cebu’s February 7, 2021 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”



SUMMERS when A. came to live with us were good ones for my sister and I. Younger than I but older than my sister, A. was a perfect fit. 

But as kooky as she was about playing and chattering with us, A. loved Math, too. Studying in an upland public school in the southwest of Cebu, A. welcomed the workbooks we passed on to her at the end of the school year.

While we thought Math matched summer the way “bagoong (fermented fish)” complemented ice cream, A. answered the computation exercises with a gusto that awed. 

Saying the books would be used by her younger siblings and even teachers, A. avoided marking the books’ pages. A. sewed together the unused leaves of our discarded notebooks and made another notebook, where she worked on the computations. 

Paper is a material we take for granted as always being there, disposable because replaceable. Yet, while I was browsing in a bookstore, two women walked in and inquired about planners, only to be informed that none was carried by the store this year. 

In previous years, the display of paper journals began as early as December. Like wall and desk calendars, perhaps diaries are phased out, their commercial value fading with the rise of technology, the replacement of eminently more desirable gadgets, and shifting trends in consumption.

The year 2020 left a host of casualties, with planners one of the hardest hit. With work, studies, worship, malling, and other social activities suspended, what was there to plan, tick off, or reschedule after months and months of a pandemic of drudging sameness?

A few days ago, I watched the digital story of a friend who celebrated her unboxing of a planner. She even crowed about the free pencils received from the online seller. Another friend posted the printed designs adorning a desk calendar. These are former students, now colleagues, whose love for print I am familiar with.

The journals I kept in 2020 are sliced through with a wide track of unsullied paper, not just marking the days and months bled dry by state-mandated community quarantine but also stretches of instances left blank by self-imposed isolation. 

At the rims of these blank troughs are my scribblings. Before knowing mechanical print, paper knew the slopes of a writing tool held by a person following thoughts half-glimpsed in a trail of lines and slopes. 

By practicing penmanship, I found my way through last year. One’s cursive, like paper, seems always to be there until it’s not.

A. showed a long time ago what it took to renew and repurpose. Here’s hoping that, with this year’s journals, my writing hand will remember.

( 09173226131)

* First published in SunStar Cebu’s January 31, 2021 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column,