I don’t live my life differently, yet I feel a stranger to what I am doing now.
There are always writing deadlines to meet. cranky editors. editing. paper chases, foreign travels. public speaking engagements. graduate school lectures. trainings to conduct. scowling staff waiting for marching orders. community meetings. projects waiting to be completed. And of course trees to plant.
Sometimes I want to forget all those for the meantime.
Why? I started feeling that the world is flat. So a friend came and told me I am not burnt-out.
“You’re just doing too many things at one time. Expecting results the way you want it when you know that’s not always possible .”
“Stop. Pace yourself. Learn to live through the basics again”.
By being what I am really am. And where? In my garden.
When I was young and younger I always worked best when I was alone. I still do till today. I worked best in the gardens.
Heeding my non-confessed non-psychologist friend, I went to my garden and worked
I live some 500 meters overlooking La Union and La Trinidad, Benguet. It’s mighty cool daily. It becomes chilly, foggy and misty at nights. On my eastside is an untouched forest, beckoning to be disturbed. But I fear doing so. A venture through it might result to damage and disaster.
Where I stay, there are plants all over some 1,000 square meter area. So there is much work to be done. Fifty meters away, I have another 400 square meter garden, a nursery for petroleum and nitrogen fixing trees and a place where I regrow threatened seeds for seedbanking for the future. I rear earthworms for my compost piles made up of cow manure hauled all the way from Baguio City’s slaughterhouse.
My day starts every 3 am. I step out into the cold night and feel the sting of the cool breeze, smell the pine trees, see images of bats scampering for home and get startled by a bird’s shrilly call and owl’s hoot. My two German Shepherd sniffers stretch and eye me suspiciously.
I light a lamp fueled by petroleum nut oil. It illuminates the plants and cast dancing ghost shadows on the forest. In a stove also fueled by petroleum nut oil, I boil mountain tea (gipas). An interesting phenomenon happens when petroleum nut oil is placed in a gravity stove. When lighted, the flame is orange but after a minute, it turns blue, looking more like a fire from an LPG tank.
Waiting for the water to boil, I stretch, punch, kick, shadow box and spar against an imaginary foe and images of opponents in the past whom I lost to.
After gulping a mug of tea, I cook dogfood for my four mongrels and 2 sniffers using dried petroleum nut fruits as replacement for pinewood (saleng) flint. Daily I use firewood from my woodlot and coffee farm in Tublay. I like smelling the burning wood, watching the smoke seep through the piles of firewood above the hearth.
Getting back to the house, I cook rice and light the fireplace. The flames leap as I throw petroleum nut fruits into it. Some 7 feet above my hearth are pork belly slabs rocksalted and sundried earlier and now undergo the tedious process of smoking to become mouth-watering etag.
I stare at the fire mesmerized. The fire warms me. It warms the house. It starts me thinking. Of the time I used to go out with my great great grandmother Mad-an at about 5 am to her camote patch in Quirino Hill. Of how she lit fire every evening to warm me and my siblings from the cold and hunger. Of how she would boil sweet potato while we roasted some on the glowing embers.
“Men-anido kayo”(warm yourselves by the fire), she would say. I and my three sisters and three brothers would snuggle close to each other and get as near as our tolerance can allow us to the fire. We wondered why sparkles fly, glow and die. We watched as hot charcoal turned our camote into burnt objects.
My great great grandmother was 103 when she died, they said. I thought she would never die. She taught me edible and medicinal plants from the forest. She showed what was edible mushroom and what was not. She showed how to treat wounds with plants. She schooled me how to know where there is water to be drank. She told me when evil spirits and good spirits came to visit. Most important, she taught me how to survive.
I look at the dying charcoals in my fireplace. I had been sitting down for almost an hour. I have to be up like my great great grandmother used to do. There are gardens to dig, fertilizer to be strewn, seeds to be sown, seedlings to be planted. The lemons need weeding, so do the tomatoes. There are branches to be pruned and seedlings to be potted.
I used to work and run for cover every time the rains fall. Now I built a greenhouse over half of my gardens so I can work even with the rain falling and winds howling. I love holding the soil in my hands knowing how much life it gives and sustains without much of the world knowing it. I like harvesting rainwater for irrigation knowing there is too much water but people just don’t know how to save it.
Unmindful of any timer, I work daily. Once or twice, I break my rhythm to hear news or music or change my shirt soaked in sweat. I like feeling the salty sweat on my face and forehead. I like feeling the tiredness and numbness that comes when I feel I have done enough. I know that at the eve of the day, after harvesting lemon, lettuce, green beans and hot chili for my family’s house at Betag, I will be building a fire once more in my fireplace. I will once again look at the glowing embers while resting my tired and spent body. I will warm my cold back and arms as I hunch and squat. I will think of my ancestors and the fire that kept their faith. I shall value life once more and the gifts that God gives.
I will remember my family, my brothers and sisters and how we sat happily beside a fire. I will remember my wife, and children, and look forward to the weekends when they come and share the warmth of the fireplace.
I know that writing deadlines, pesky editors, project upkeeps, educating and speaking challenges are there and will not leave me. I am wondering how much paperwork lie unattended and mail unanswered.
But they have to wait. I am at peace with myself.