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Stones That Made Stairways To Heaven – OpEd

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I was born in a place called Dizon in Baguio City, Philippines, where once limestone formations  towered over us and the hills. Some monkeys still swayed on the pine trees, the guppies fat, the crayfish daring, green small turtles abounded and the endangered Philippine mountain turtle could be gathered by the sackful. The forests were thick with pine green, nary a sunlight beam could get in between the pine trees, the bugs squirmed from their niches to taste sunshine.

Now, everything is just a dream.

There, there was an old limestone jutting some 20 feet high as I recalled and last week, I went home, lo, a part of that limestone, the forest sentinel of what they now call Buyog watershed, still stands. Or still enduring before it falls down permanently.

The guard is what we called this limestone and afraid that it may be lost forever, I picked up a relatively smaller granite slab that had been lying under the trees  and propped it up beside the old limey. I set it up on end, sitting it on another rock at the back of the yard. It was an idle gesture toward minimal yard ornamentation.

Sometimes I do this for the stones to give them a fresh outlook, a new view of the world. They lie down for millennia, most of them, sleeping off the evolving years, sinking so slowly into the ground, shedding their skins in fine sand, infinitesimally growing the soil. Sometimes they call out to me themselves, wanting to play, or just wanting help rolling over.

Sometimes we build towers and they seem to dance a little. This stone just sat there comfortably upright.

Was this last year or the year before? I don’t remember now. But seasons came and went as this simple stone sat in its silence and its shade under the honeysuckle and hemlock barely noticed. Then the other day I happened to look at it … saw at once that something had changed, saw how the shadows fell across it, how the weather had colored the
rock. I looked again certain it had mysteriously grown a face it never had before.

Before I headed home for La Trinidad, I gave that stone one more look. I sat down on the ground between the Mescanthus cheninsis shrubby sticks and really looked almost at eye level with this stone creature. Yes. Indeed. Not only a face but an attitude!

A presence.

This one is full of his own purpose, the weight of his own experience, opinions about the world he oversees. This one is to be treated with a certain deference and respect, not to be messed with. I’m not at all sure he is happy with what he sees, grumbly as an old troll, his most frequent visitors the lizards that bath on it on full daylight prowl thru brushing their impudent tails across his nose.

One thing I think I know about stones is that some want to be left alone and some are welcoming of human company. Some like to be held in the hand, warmed and admired, told how beautiful they are. Sometimes along creek beds I hear them yapping like small puppies, “Pick me! Pick me!”.

Once many years ago I walked a labyrinth in the high desert of Pune Maharahstra, India that was ringed with stones from the nearby arroyo. After walking the sacred path I sat outside the circle and watched. I began to feel the honor with which these small stones held their holy task as they embraced the circle around the path.

As I watched I felt them shift ever so subtly. I sensed  these were The Grandmothers holding the center. The whole place came alive with Stone People guarding the land and the path the humans walked there.

The experience changed my whole relationship with the Stone People.

Once,  in Kunming, Yunnan, China’s magical mountains, where I went for a vision quest, I innocently asked why they didn’t reuse the stones there in the pile. An aged village elderly turned to me and said solemnly, “Because we feel they have suffered enough”.

In the dark of the night we offered prayers of gratitude to the Stone People. We asked their blessings for our work and our own struggles and our suffering in the heat of the lodge. We gave them water from a metal dipper. They sent our prayers to the sky.

So here I am in my quiet northern farm in Tublay, Cordillera region bonding with stone people — people in the past, now called “kabiteros”, makers of the Maligcong rice terraces and the Banaue stairways to the sky.

These are the guardians. Many of my grandparents were them. Stone People sitting quietly back by the old rusted trees guarding the forests. I’ll make offerings. It seems only fitting. We are like the rain, falling on our own secret being … through a world of what we never knew before.

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Dr. Michael A. Bengwayan

Dr. Michael A. Bengwayan wrote for the British Panos News and Features and GEMINI News Service, the Brunei Times, and US Environment News Service. In the Philippines, he wrote for DEPTHNews of the Press Foundation of Asia, Today, the Philippine Post, and Vera Files. A practicing environmentalist, he holds postgraduate degrees in environment resource management and development studies as a European Union (EU) Fellow at University College, Dublin, Ireland. He is currently a Fellow of Echoing Green Foundation of New York City. He now writes for Business Mirror and Eurasia Review.

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