No, sir, the speargun that I used to have was not the kind you see in the movies used to kill sharks and bad guys. It was rather just a small contraption consisting of a guava branch for bolt, the stem of a discarded umbrella for barrel, a piece of sturdy wire for trigger, a length of elastic rubber cut out of the interior part of a jeepney tire for driving mechanism, and sharpened steel fronds also taken from discarded umbrellas for “bullets” or arrows.
Not only that. Once upon a time, too, when the kaingin (swidden farming) practice was still blamed to be the Enemy No. 1 of foresters, I had been a kainginero (slash-and-burn farmer).
Nobody seemed to mind then if my playmates and I got sunburned as we spent hours in the river having friendly competitions as to who would catch the most bunog (minnow), bukto (goby), and buntiek (adolescent mudfish) using bare hands or the speargun. Nobody scolded us if we happened to step on some farmer’s peanuts or corn plants when we ran after the papa (wild mallard), the pugo (quail) and tukling (gallinules), or when we acquired scratches on our legs or kwantung (Amaranth sp.) thorns on our soles while climbing alukon (himbabao in Tagalog) trees in search of pirpiriw (bee-eater) and martin chicks to take care as pets. Nobody seemed to mind if we spent hours in the tropical sun creeping up to a hapless dragonfly to catch it either with our nimble fingers or with a bamboo stick at the end of which we placed super sticky sap from the jackfruit -- then later convert the poor insect into an airplane (complete with paper "wing" attached to its wings), and if it would not fly there was always a hen waiting to feast on it nearby.
Other than those warnings, we were free to swim in the river with carabaos as diving boards; we were free to chase grasshoppers and dragonflies to feed our pet martin birds; and we were free to paint our faces with the flaming-red seeds of the appatut tree (Bixa orellana) if we wanted to look ala-American Indian.
In fact, the last time I went home and tried to renew my friendship with them hills, fields, and rivers, I felt very sad. Somewhere deep inside me, a voice was asking: Where have you gone? At the same time, I was also asking: Do kids in the barrio still do what I did as a child? Does anybody around, boy or girl, young or young once, still talk to you hills and rivers and fields and call you “friends”?
Aside from the fact that the hills and valleys are now mostly vegetated with yemane (Gmelina arborea) that certainly were not there when I was a boy, there are now more houses and countless faces that I no longer know. The birdy and breezy hills that I used to climb to enjoy the panorama of ricefields and rivers and blue mountains and carabao roads in the distance now have houses. The bamboo groves and verdant forest glades by the banks of the streams and rivers where I used to catch cicadas or snipe at sunbirds all day are no longer there. The sylvan and fish-rich river by the barrio that I loved to go cool my young body in, the lipnuk and the pual where I used to swim with my cousins and barrio friends, the river bend where I got circumcized -- all of them have been totally obliterated and gone!
I felt like I was already a stranger! -- CHARLZ CASTRO