Monday, January 14, 2013

Boyhood in Isinay Country (Part 5)

CONNECTING THE dots now, I feel sad that even those whose childhood was lived near the forest are not aggressively tapping their experience to help keep the Philippines nature-rich and beautifully green.

My favorite nature writer and philosopher, Henry David Thoreau, himself once a forest dweller (when Walden Pond was still sylvan and biodiversity-rich), had a quotation that touches on this: “Each more melodious note I hear brings this reproach to me, that I alone afford the ear what would the music be.”

Another pertinent call comes to mind: “We didn’t inherit the world from our parents, we borrowed them from our children.”

What I’m really trying to say is that we adults have a moral duty to pass on to our children a still healthy and livable world and to guide and hand-hold them on how to keep that world bright and wonderful.

No matter how brief or infrequent, exposing kids to things of nature such as hills and rivers, including the flora and fauna and culture that are associated with them, can work wonders to young people’s attitude and behavior towards nature and the environment later in life.

I happened to walk along this teach-your-children-well trail when, even as I was a weekend father most of the time when my three “forest products” were in their formative years, I made effort to find quality time to teach them to be at home with the things of nature. Yes, through playing under the pine trees and sylvan outdoors that – fortunately for my kids – Baguio still had at the time.

My children are all grown-ups now and (probably as a natural hangover of those days when it was still pure joy to see them delight in playing with pine cones and dandelions) I recently got into the habit of nudging them with these lines:

“When you have kids of your own, don’t forget to give me and your mom freedom to bring them out – like what we used to do when you were small – to play hide and seek under the trees, pick dandelions, chase butterflies, catch tadpoles, pitch tent on the grass, build bonfire and roast corn and camote, etc.”

A FEW MORE personal trips and dips down Philippine forest memory lane:

As a young forester I happened to play bit roles, as it were, in the information, extension and communication (or IEC) aspects of forestry, using my hands-on learning and exposure to forests and nature as, oh well, wind beneath my wings.

Among my pleasant memories was having been part of the UP Los Baños team that tried to seduce teachers in Manila, Quezon City, Pasay City, Caloocan City, Rizal, Nueva Ecija, Oriental Mindoro, Occidental Mindoro, Lubang Island, Iloilo, Antique, and Sultan Kudarat to love forests – and to in turn pass on that sylvan love to their pupils (as part of that nationwide program in the seventies that sought to inject Forest Conservation in the curriculum of public elementary schools).

I was also fresh out of college when the UPLB College of Forestry’s outreach publications – Conservation Circular, Forestry Digest, Makiling News, the Ilocano forest magazine Anaraar – were literally and figuratively my bedmates. And as part of my assignments I once wrote a news story about illegal logging in the watershed of Pantabangan Dam. The item became front-page material in one issue of the Manila Bulletin, was made into an editorial the following day, and reportedly caught the attention of then President Marcos, who consequently sent a phalanx of government foresters to investigate the matter.

I got assigned next to handle the publications and communications activities of the then UPLB Northern Luzon Forestry Extension Office in Pacdal, Baguio City. It was pure joy going to far-flung villages of the Cordillera and the Ilocos region and conduct film showing and community lectures on forest conservation matters. Equally memorable were the climbs to Mount Pulag that I joined to, among other things, be up-to-date with what was happening to the second highest mountain at the time.

Also worth putting on record is that I played supportive role in the training on forestry extension of several batches of Forest Guards of the then Bureau of Forest Development in Baguio City, Benguet, Pangasinan, La Union, Abra, the two Ilocos provinces, and Mountain Province. Courtesy of the BFD officers of Baguio City, these forest guards were mainly the ones who planted the pine trees now serving as oxygen generators as well as carbon-dioxide absorbers around the Baguio Convention Center.

While in Baguio, easily one of my memorable extra-curricular activities was my having been an instructor (on a part-time basis) at the University of Baguio which was then offering the BS in Forestry degree. This was where I had a student who would later become what I call “my beloved forester’s guard” and mother of my “forest products.”

At the time, my little writing skills as a forester started to bear fruit. For instance, I qualified for an assignment as Philippine correspondent of the FAO Forest News (and each time I would get my pay check in dollars from Dr. Chandrasekharan, I would go buy myself a new pair of Levi’s).

When I got “pirated” from UPLB to the BFD central office, I got immersed as one of the water boys of social forestry and upland development. That was in the early 1980s when we were yet convincing fellow foresters to balance timber-focused mindsets with concern for agroforestry and the poor forest-based communities.

Perhaps because there was no one else intrepid enough to do the job, at one time I was a speechwriter – on forestry matters. It was not an easy assignment, being a ghostwriter. But, oh my, how I enjoyed putting words to the mouths of my superiors at the then Bureau of Forest Development and the Ministry of Natural Resources, including then President Marcos!

For a couple of years, too, I was a forestry voice on radio – handling such Ilocano programs as “Kabakiran” and “Kayo: Pagbaknangan ti Tao.” And on the air, I would occasionally insert Isinay lines, particularly to call on my fellow Isinays to go slow in their making soppeng and to instead plant more trees so that our rivers would not go dry (mabdu-anan) in the hot summer months.

Years later, I got lucky to land a Research Fellowship at the East-West Center in Honolulu where – under the tutelage of one of the foremost Filipino forestry communicators Nap Vergara – I co-edited one of the pioneering books on social forestry in the Asia-Pacific region.

My Hawaiian experience was soon followed by a two-year assignment in Bangladesh, this time as Extension/Communication Specialist of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Nandyan na rin lang tayo, may I add a few more things:

1) the little list of books, magazines, journals and newsletters on forest ecosystems, social forestry, upland development, and environment that I edited/co-edited;

2) the almost fifty fellow foresters and a few in associate disciplines who I helped in crafting and/or polishing their MS and PhD theses, most of them at UP Los Baños;

3) the more than a hundred technical personnel of the DENR (particularly those at the Central Office and in Regions 1, 2, 3, 4A, 4B, 5, and CAR), who I shared tips on how to confidently write better, meatier, more readable, and more grammatical reports, office communications, project proposals, and the like;

4) a couple of success-story comics on agroforestry that I did for the Society of Filipino Foresters (one on the Kalahan forest community and the other on a trail-blazing rattan planter); and

5) my little stint with a World Bank-funded project that sought to pump-prime some 120 LGUs in the Bicol, Central Visayas, Eastern Visayas, and Caraga regions en route to their taking care of their natural resources, including watersheds, marine resources, mangroves, ecotourism potentials, wildlife, and remnant forests.

Yes, I guess you could say katas ng kagubatan ang dugong nananalaytay sa aking katauhan.

But I really wish I could do more. A senior citizen now, and with the sunny forests, meadows and rivers of my youth admittedly no longer as poem-inducing as they used to, I feel I no longer have the stamina for forestry IEC work.

Perhaps teaching appreciation for leaves, trees, birds, beetles, cicadas, bees, dragonflies, fireflies, fish, hills, ponds, and rivers to my grandchildren yet to come would compensate for this shortcoming?

Well, I just hope that my fellow senior foresters would follow suit and that, by doing so, the kids would become better and smarter natural resource stewards of the Philippines and, for that matter, Planet Earth, than we have ever been.

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(Thank you for your patience in reading this story)

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