Sunday, July 31, 2011

Remembering My Nature Teacher

Much of what I am now as a father, nature-lover, forester, farmer, and writer, I learned from my grandfather Pedro Pudiquet

Boy and grandfather at home in the fields of the Lord. (Drawn July 2011 by DANTE N. PECSON)

THAT A PICTURE indeed paints a thousand words is exemplified by the illustration here made by my fellow nature-appreciation preacher and bosom friend Dante N. Pecson who, for almost four decades, served as all-around artist, editor, student adviser, dormitory head, and faculty member at the UP Los Baños  College of Forestry and Natural Resources until he retired a few years back.

The picture was intended for an essay ("Katas ng Kagubatan ang Dugong Nananalaytay sa Aking Katauhan") to be included in the International Year of Forests issue of PFEC's Kapaligiran. But it happened that Dante sent this drawing within the vicinity of my late grandfather's birthday and so, for lack of a photo to depict how my old man was to me when he was still alive, I took the liberty of using it ala-first day of issue in this blog.

At Home with Nature

Yes, as shown in the picture, I shared my grandfather's appreciation, love, and reverence for the things of nature -- traits that over the years made themselves felt in my inclinations as a person and professional. Looking back at those years that he (of course, along with my grandmother) was nurturing me with the facts of life with other living things, great or small, I now realize I would not have been a better father, nature lover, forester, farmer, and writer (among other qualifications) had I not been their grandson.

No matter if he was a hunting, fishing, and foraging person himself, my grandfather was not of the abusive kind. Ordinarily, the sight of deer or wild pig tasting the camote or other such crops in a swidden farm would make many people salivate for a rifle or a trap with which to bag the animals the next time around. But not my grandfather.

Instead of grabbing a rock to take a chance at the forest creatures, he would merely soak in the sight of them nibbling at his crops, silently observe their feeding behavior, count which one had horns or had tusks, and see how many young ones there were. Some time later, such wildlife encounters would come in handy when villagers would converge on my grandparents' yard for basi and an inebriated braggart would overstretch his ugsa or alingo hunting tales.

Unlike the supposedly normal behavior, Apong was not one to grab get-rich-quick situations in one outing. On several occasions when we went fishing, for instance, he would let go a pregnant mudfish or let loose a small one. And before I could express my sense of loss, he would say in Ilocano: "Tapno adda pay paminduaan." (So that we could come back again.)

He also believed in the sacredness of life. A couple of times that he saw the trigger-happy kid in me aim my slingshot at any bird, dragonfly, tree, or even rock that caught my fancy, in his characteristic gentle voice he called my attention not to bother "dagiti di mangan-ano" (those who do you no harm).

One time we were fishing on a stream, we saw this orange-black-and-white-colored and pencil-sized snake sunning itself on a flat rock. Before my grandfather could say stop, I crushed the poor thing with a river stone. He merely said "Inan-ano mon?" (What have you done?) after that. But I felt his deep sense of sadness at what I did to the little, definitely harmless and beautiful creature.

My grandfather could have been a good jungle-survival adviser. He knew what plant and creature was meant for this and that. He knew which birds and insects dwelt or fed on this tree of that patch. During abal-abal (May beetle) season, he knew which part of the village had the best prospects for catching the insect. Just by looking at a part of the river, he knew if there was fish dwelling in it or not. When one showed a skin disease, he could prescribe a leaf for minimizing the ugliness.

They probably picked it from their parents or grandparents themselves, but both my grandparents somehow had a built-in almanac in their minds. They knew when it was going to rain just by looking at the clouds. They knew when it would be sunny the following day by the sound of a nocturnal bird. They knew there would be war or famine somewhere by the position of the crescent moon vis-a-vis the stars at night.

Even if he smoked a lot of rolled tobacco leaf as a farmer, my Apong Lakay did not succumb to the ill-effects of smoking. I'm now 60 as I write this but I bet I could not carry the same cavan of rice he used to haul at ease when he was more than my age. Looks-wise, he had grey hair but never went bald and never had a bulging tummy like what I now have (I should have told Dante about this). He didn't use a sarukod (walking cane) either; in fact, even when he was already in his eighties, he could still hike long distances to look for and bring home fallen coconut fronds that he made into brooms, or dried tree branches for firewood.

When my grandmother was not looking and even when she already passed away, my Apong would go on foot a couple of kilometers upstream of town with his tabukol (fish net) on his pasiking (wicker backpack) and come back in the afternoon with his catch of tilapia, catfish and mudfish to use as food for his cat.

A Belated Eulogy
If this post sounds like it has the elements of a funeral speech, it is. When my grandfather died at age 91, for some unmentionable reasons somebody got the privilege (or opportunity for public exposure, if you may) of delivering the eulogy for him.

I'm not crying over spilled milk. That was in 1998 yet.

But come to think of it, I was the eldest of his grandkids and was the one who practically served as house child and stayed longest with my Apong Lakay and my grandmother in their place in the barrio. I was the one for which he caught turtles and the water birds kebkeb and tukling for my playmates. I was the reason he would scour the rivers of I-iyo for fish and frogs from midnight till dawn, even when it rained, using a carbide-powered lampa.

Indeed, for much of my boyhood years, my Apong and I were like (pardon the comparison) Batman and Robin. The two figures are not far-fetched, as Apong always had this anahaw raincoat called labig (annanga to some Ilocanos; tajapiaw in Isinay) while I was this wide-eyed boy acting as his ever-loyal sidekick or always following on his heels.

One day you would see us riding tandem on a slow-moving carabao on the way to the ricefield. Another day you would find us hiking mountain trails in kaingin territory. Next time around we would be combing the rivers of upstream Dupax for fish and shrimps, roasting corn and broiling mudfish in the farm, or running after killer dogs that preyed on newly born calf in his small patch of hilly ranch.

It was from my mother and two uncles that I learned bits and pieces of my Apong Pedro's early life. Born August 1, 1906 in Agunnit, Dingras, Ilocos Norte, the young Pedro Duldulao Pudiquet never went to school. This was not his fault. The story goes that when Apong was a boy, his father didn't want him to go to school. It was probably because, like most farm-locked parents at the time, the elder Pudiquet didn't believe in what schools could do. It was probable too that Apong's father still harbored anti-Spanish feelings at the time. (My Uncle Atong said Pudiquet was originally Periquet. Apong's elders who were followers of Apo Gregorio Aglipay made the name-change to escape persecution by Spanish rulers after an abusive Spaniard in the Ilocos of early days was killed by a freedom-loving Periquet.)

Through sheer effort of his own, however, Apong became able to read Ilocano words and people's names. I don't recall him ever writing a letter unlike my grandmother, but he could at least print his own name. How he achieved basic literacy is a story worth telling to his great, great grandkids, particularly those who have no interest in studying.

It was said Pedro Pudiquet as a boy did envy those who were privileged to attend classes such as the cartilla (basic reading and writing education passed on by the Spanish colonialists). At the risk of getting whip lashes from his father if caught remiss in his tending their farm animals, for quite sometime after he has put the carabaos in his care to pasture, he would creep to the house where cartilla was being held, peep through the bamboo wall and listen to what the maestro was teaching, and using a bamboo stick for pencil and the ground for paper, he would copy what is written on the board.

Over the years, particularly when he got married to and had children with my literate grandmother Feliza Lacandazo (herself a Nueva Vizcaya migrant from Tagudin, Ilocos Sur), Apong improved his reading skills with the Bannawag, the weekly Ilocano magazine.

Lessons from Apong
Mama confided to me one time why her father seemed aloof in his dealing with his brothers- and sisters-in-law. Mama said that he acted that way as a consequence of his being looked down upon by his then more well-off in-laws, one of whom owned a calesa, the equivalent then of the passenger jeepney now. For his part, when Apong arrived in a caravan from Ilocos in the 1920s, he found work as a caminero (road-maintenance laborer) in the Almaguer and Indiana parts of Bambang, Nueva Vizcaya. That's how he met and married a kankanen-vendor named Feliza.

It appeared that Apong's road-maintenance job was at the time (and even up to now) considered a very lowly one. For this he was often ridiculed by his in-laws. Instead of fighting back, however, Apong took his being belittled as a challenge. Even as his kids were born in Bambang, he pulled pegs and sought greener pasture in neighboring Dupax -- away from the prying eyes of my grandmother's siblings.

It was from my grandfather that I came to believe it is never too old to learn new things. I heard him talk to my Inang Baket one time that he saw a unique knot in a forest vine and would return to to learn how to do the knot himself. Coming from one who was already an expert in making fishnets, roping cows and carabaos, and weaving rattan and bamboo basketry, I was surprised.

When I was in high school and Papa bought me a second-hand bulldog bike, Apong also bought one. He was already in his fifties then and never rode a bike before, so it must have taken him several evenings let alone bruises from spills to learn how to balance himself and pedal on one. Take this, when he finally learned to ride a bike, we even had impromptu  races on rough logging roads on the way to the farm or on a river fishing trip in the Mammayang, Langka and Nabetangan area.

It was from Apong also that I learned you could improve your lot if you spend your leisure time doing more worthwhile endeavors. Rain or shine, and often with a large cigar on his mouth, he always has things to get busy on. Even when listening to his favorite Ilocano drama on radio, his fingers were always doing something productive. Examples: Mending his fishnet or making one for my grandmother's batbateng (shrimp net). Twining and spooling lapnit (bast fiber of the bitnong tree). Splitting green bayog bamboo for bamban used to tie harvested rice panicles. Polishing rattan strips or weaving these into pasiking or labba.

Indeed, it seemed he got sick when he had nothing to put his hands, heart, and mind on. This was probably why, unlike many of his fellow farmers in I-iyo, he and his family (including us his grandchildren) were sort of better fed and happy. It was surprising how we seemed to always have lots of bananas, papayas, camote, tugi, corn, peanuts, and fish and rice -- and yet (I learned this later on) Apong didn't personally own the farms and ricelands he tilled. I realize now that he discovered one could grow crops in the riverbanks, flood plains, even hillsides -- for as long as you persevere enough to clear their tall grass cover, uproot stumps, and plow them ready for agriculture.

Even the rivers were an opportunity for "subsistence affluence" (a term I learned when I was working with the then fledgling social forestry program of the pre-Cory Aquino Bureau of Forest Development) that my Apong tapped -- but which his lesser-willed and perseverance-challenged barriomates ignored. Apong always had a dozen or so fish-aggregating contraptions (called rama in Ilocano; lajma in Isinay) in the rivers of I-iyo that almost always became the envy of passersby who would see him and my grandmother (or me and my cousins and uncles) happily scooping out the mudfish, tilapia, bukto, bunog, jumping shrimps, and river crabs from the tabukol used to haul the river goods that sought shelter in the rama.

I'm thinking now: how come it was only my grandfather who had those rama at the time when all one needed was to collect large river stones, assemble them into a circular mound on knee-deep water, then cover the contraption with also free and abundant bamboo branches? How come he seemed to be the only guy in the village (perhaps even in the whole town) who always had a tabukol for catching fish?

I think the dots can now be connected to form a picture. And among the dots I now get to see via hindsight are contained in the following event I had with Apong:

One time I was with him on his kariton (carabao-drawn cart) to have sacks of irik (unhusked rice) milled in the kiskisan (rice mill), we passed by a group of barriomates (including a couple of his in-laws) enjoying their time seated on the siesta swing of the municipal judge's house. Apong's words still ring in my mind's ear: "Dika tultuladen dagita a nakamasngaad... Kitaem, no ania ti tugawda iti agsapa, isunto pay laeng ti tugawda no lumneken ni apo init." (Don't ever follow the ways of those idlers... Look, they sit that way in the morning, and they stay that way when the sun sets.)

1 comment:

  1. Hello I have used the image on this page on my blog. I have linked through it to this page. While I love the image I would be happy to remove it if you prefer or add additional credit to the artist.