Monday, October 10, 2011

It’s Time to Pass the Forest-Care Baton (Part 1)

I no longer have the wherewithal and fortitude to do IEC work in forest conservation like I used to as a young forester. But teaching forest appreciation (plus love for birds, beetles, hills, cicadas, fireflies, rivers, dragonflies, fish, and the great outdoors) to my grandchildren may yet compensate for this shortcoming. I just hope that, by doing so, the kids would become better stewards of the Philippines than I have ever been.


BY WAY OF chipping in to the celebration of 2011 as the International Year of Forests, please allow this corner to share secrets on why I care so much for sylvan lands that I don’t resent it and in fact even welcome it when other guys refer to me as Taong Gubat (tajun si eyas in Isinay).
Along the way, I shall give you a ringside though not blow-by-blow account, as it were, on how it was to live in a place and at a time where and when there were plenty of forests. Here and there, I shall also be sharing tips on how parents and senior citizens like me could plant the seeds of forest- or, for that matter, nature-appreciation among our kids.
Well, the idea is not so much because I want kids to become forest scientists, forest managers, or even forest dwellers. It is rather because I just wish to contribute to their arsenal of options for coping with the impacts of climate change, fast declining resources, and increasingly frequent natural disasters.
My first bone as a “man of the forests” is this: I happened to be born with the proverbial silver spoon. This spoon was, however, of the kind that fed me not with the material things in life, but with things associated with forests, including wild food, pets, tools, toys, music, medicine, folklore, and joys from the forests.
Put another way, and using a quite poetic line in Filipino: Katas ng kagubatan ang dugong nananalaytay sa aking katauhan. (The blood that flows through my being contains juice from the forests.)
It may have helped that by some twist of fate I got enrolled in the forestry course at UP Los Baños. However, I still owe a larger part of my love for forests, birds, rivers, and oh well, Mother Nature as a whole to my childhood upbringing with things that had to do with forests and their linked hilly-land, river, agricultural, and rural ecosystems in Dupax del Sur, Nueva Vizcaya, in the northeastern part of Luzon, the Philippines.

AS SUGGESTED in the illustration here made by my nature-loving artist friend Dante N. Pecson of Agno, Pangasinan, when I was little, my playmates and I made do with games and toys reflective of the objects and creatures common in forest-endowed areas.
Thus, unlike over-accessorized yet nature-malnourished kids of today, we were very much at home then with birds, beetles, dragonflies, spiders, fireflies, cicadas, butterflies, bugs, grasshoppers, snakes, lizards, crickets, earthworms, bees, tadpoles, frogs, rats, and monkeys.
Yes, sir, no electronic nor even plastic toys for most of us then. Aside from the flat sardine cans that we converted into toy jeeps with the fruits of the tibig (Ficus nota; tebbeg in Ilocano; lavay in Isinay) for wheels, the closest to non-living “imported” or “high-tech” item that most of us got to touch was the elastic rubber of our slingshots.
From getting attracted with butterflies among the gumamela hedges during the day to catching fireflies that cavorted among the starapple trees at night, we soon graduated to the less mobile elements of nature. It wasn’t long before we became familiar with the shapes, colors, tastes, and scents of trees, bamboos, palms, herbs, vines, orchids, including their leaves, flowers, fruits, seeds, nuts, and associated creatures.
You must have sensed the drift by now: To get kids to bond with the things of nature, one has to start with what they like to do best play.
That was how I got to learn the names, appearances and uses of certain trees, birds, vines, insects, grasses, and water organisms going outdoors with my fellow children to play and to exchange notes on what we individually learned from our respective elders.
That was also how many of us learned how to climb trees emboldened and teased as we were at seeing smaller guys being able to make their way up a tamarind tree and enjoy the sweetish-sour marasaba or kalangakang fruits while lesser mortals (like the shelled character in Jose Rizal’s tale about the monkey and the tortoise) just make do with what those up there would be generous enough to throw.
This is not to belittle my grade school science teachers but, looking back, it was also through playing with my fellow outdoor-loving barrio friends and grade-school classmates that I learned what wild fruits were edible, and what vines and trees produced the quaint nuts we loved to collect by the stream.
My friends and I also shared stories on what trees (such as the angang) not to cut for fuel because, apart from being smoky, it also caused the banga (cooking pot) to break. I also got tips on what vegetation was host to edible mushrooms and which ones harbored our favorite rhinoceros beetle (barrairong in Ilocano; dumoj in Isinay) .
Pretty soon, I was a little expert on which ferns and mushrooms were safe to eat, which trees and shrubs were to be avoided for their itchy leaves, which larvae or “baby butterflies” you could touch, and what snakes were venomous and which ones you can sleep with.
From my friends I also learned which herbs could be used to cure Tinea flava (kamanaw in Ilocano; isaw in Isinay; an-an in Tagalog) and other such skin diseases, what leaves you could apply to stop the bleeding of minor wounds, and the Apocynaceae shrub (kuribetbet in Ilocano; pandakaki in Tagalog) the milky sap of which you could use to prepare the male organ for circumcision.
We also traded secrets on which trees had leaves and bark you could use to stupefy river fish, where best to go for a swim, how to ward off leeches, and which ponds offered the best prospects for hooking tilapia.
Rarely shared, however, is the live tree from where one got his martin or mynah pets. Also best kept as secret was where the wild ducks and the jungle fowl (abuyo in Ilocano; kalatan in Isinay) were mostly roosting.
Going back to toys, among our favorite in the barrio was the miniature version of the H-shaped dalaydayan used by our elders to haul logs, bamboo or rattan from the forests using carabao power. Instead of real logs, however, we hauled banana trunks from the nagtebbaan (an Ilocano term that literally means "banana cutting area") to the garbage pit; in place of carabaos, we hitched the sled to our docile dogs.
My Isinay friends in the town proper were more advanced. They had mini replicas of 6-wheeled logging trucks, complete with tansan (softdrink bottle caps) for headlights. My father once crafted one for me and the mini truck made hauling of half-meter slabs or a sack of sawdust from the sawmill a kilometer away from our house quite fun, until its wooden axle and wooden wheels gave up.


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