A dear friend, Marigs, was recently featured in Panorama magazine back home in an article entitled “Working with Nature.” She lives and works (with a most picturesque commute by boat) in a slice of paradise, working diligently to keep it so. The sights and experience of El Nido, Palawan are nothing less than spectacular – one cannot help but feel awe – and I am grateful for (and proud of!) the work Marigs and her staff are doing to sustain and preserve it for our and future generations.
Growing up, we could never afford a vacation at a place like El Nido. And yet, we too were able to appreciate and be in awe of nature in so many other ways and places.
One can be immersed in nature not only in the many provinces and beaches in the Philippines, but even in the city as well – if one looks carefully enough.
We grew up in the city, where days were sunny even humid, with rain providing the only respite. Umbrellas were a must, to escape the blazing sun and any passing rain. Surrounded by cars and the ubiquitous jeepneys, tricycles and buses, handkerchiefs, too, proved very useful – both for wiping sweat off your face and fending off any exhaust fumes headed your way.
And yet you could always find perennially green trees everywhere, whether in vacant lots, highway medians, sidewalks or on campuses. They provided shade, a respite from the heat, and rest for the eyes as well. Often, we would have picnics at nearby campuses or parks – no matter how small – enjoying the scenery, the fresh air, and the simple joys of running or rolling around in the grass.
As a child, I remember seeing the poem “Trees” by Joyce Kilmer on billboards all along a main road – learned by heart from the hundreds of times that route was traveled. His words were a beautiful reminder, helping one appreciate something that could have easily been taken for granted – the green trees that almost blended into the background everywhere, never changing color or losing leaves in the perpetual tropical weather.
Our backyard was tree-laden as well, thanks to my father who loves gardening. Through the years, he surrounded our childhood home with all kinds of flourishing plants and trees — our very own oasis under the hot sun. There was a tall weeping willow by the front gate, blooming shrubs, a big mango tree that bore no edible fruit but was perfect for hanging hammocks, fruitful banana trees, papaya trees and a langka (jackfruit) tree, pepper plants, and many many more whose names escape my poor memory at the moment.
My personal favorite was a guava tree where Dad built a tree house – really just an open platform, but to us the perfect fort and hideaway. We would sit there, pick the tart unripe guava fruits (we could never wait), and munch on them as we played or daydreamed or watched folks passing by the street below – our own special refuge in the midst of the city.
Summer breaks too held many memories of the wonders of nature. There were nauseatingly long car rides to visit either the perfect cone of Mayon Volcano, the cool mountains of Baguio, the awe-inspiring Banaue rice terraces, natural springs, our grandparents’ rural hometowns, or the beach. The inconvenience was well worth it, all but forgotten upon reaching our destination.
We would spend all day at the beach, given the chance – not lounging around in the sun, or even building sandcastles (the sand was at times either too rocky, too fine — or too hot!), but actually swimming in the water. The water back home was perpetually warm, almost like a hot tub – which is probably why till now, I’ve never understood how one can swim in the perpetually frigid waters of the Atlantic! 🙂
We swam all day, ignoring our skin burning in the sun, snorkeling and diving to our hearts’ delight to see the various kinds of colorful fish, corals, and even my arch enemy, the sea urchin, with its many painful long spines. If there were big rocks nearby, we would dive incessantly as well. It was like a daylong physical education, science and happiness class rolled into one.
The only time we came up for breath was for lunch – either the quintessential picnic meal, adobo (which never goes bad before it disappears), or fresh fish or marinated pork grilled right on the spot – always with rice. We would just wash our hands in the sea water and dig in. Often, kamayan (eating with hands) was the way to go.
(Kamayan is a traditional Filipino way of eating without utensils, even rice, using only one’s fingers. An expert only “dirties” one’s fingers from the second joint down, with the rest of the hand remaining clean – otherwise would be a telltale sign of a newbie!)
Those were typical days at the beach – soaking wet but never cold, eating comfort food with our fingers while enjoying the shade and the fresh sea air, all the while planning our next several hours of adventures in the water. And if we stayed overnight, we would sometimes manage to pull ourselves out of bed before dawn to witness the glorious sunrise in silent awe.
Such were the simple joys we experienced in nature. We couldn’t spare much for fancy vacations, and yet the memories were just as memorable – perhaps even more so because of its pure joys and simplicity.
In a world filled with bright lights, loud music, and plastic or digital entertainment, it becomes increasingly challenging to convince our children (and ourselves) of the beauty of such simple joys. And yet it is not at all impossible, and right within our reach.
Playing in the snow was a welcome diversion during the hard and painfully long winter just past. With the warmer weather upon us, more outdoor play, biking, and hiking nearby trails, have thankfully made a comeback. And pretty soon, beach weather will be here. We may not be able to swim for hours as we did back home, but jumping in the waves, flying kites, running in the sand, finding shells, digging sandpits and building sandcastles are just as eagerly anticipated.
Fall too provides many wonders of nature, with the foliage often truly spectacular. And there is just no substitute for watching children playing with leaves – jumping into a pile, running to catch one falling from a tree, examining leaves intently, gathering them up, jubilantly throwing them up in the air and feeling the rush of leaves descending upon oneself.
Just like back home, the simple joys of nature here and now are still one and the same – a physical education, science and happiness class rolled into one.
Let’s all make time to enjoy the glorious wonders of nature!