LOOKING from afar, the place that used to resemble a far-reaching meadow of green pasture is now filled with trees and shrubs. Locals used to refer to it as mapalyon or literally where no one dared to tread.
Only a couple with two grandchildren lived in this place. Together with a limping adult child, the couple takes care of this vast property of around 10 hectares for a wealthy clan.
“Build a hut near his hut so you have conversation allies,” the landowner told me that day he consented to my pleadings to plant dragon fruits and malunggay on a sunny portion.
Besides having someone to talk to, I also wanted to have someone to share my little know-how on planting and enriching the soil. So from a spot near the airport where we mistakenly erected corner posts for a little bamboo hut, we moved near the caretaker’s house. Ours would be under acacia mangium and neem trees.
We found it challenging to cultivate food crops that would yield food fast. One portion was too shady. It was fenced with neem and this foreign-looking acacia that I only saw at the capitol park. Wildlings were all over the place and these seemed to reforest the place faster than we could manage. On the other end of this square are cogon thickets. The caretaker used to tell us of sightings of monitor lizards and a bigger species of banyas or bayawak.
“What about snakes?” I asked. He said snakes do not like warm and humid places. He claimed not to have seen any snakes.
So we went ahead building not just a hut but a dream…
We then planted dragon fruit cuttings from our own yard, maximizing the concrete posts lined on the property line. These used to hold barbed wire and interlinked cyclone wires that used to fence off intruders and some stray animals.
Next high-school friends donated malunggay and cassava cuttings. So we lined these cuttings along a footpath inside the property.
Another row of malunggay on the sunny portion was meant to try taming the hot sun. Here, we tried okra, melon and beans also. The hot midday sun just roasted the young plants. We tried transplanting papayas. These too, all dried up.
One month of hard work dampened our spirits. All our malunggay posts did not germinate. Only the dragon fruits were left struggling against the sun, daily watering and mini-fences kept them standing and holding on.
When the pandemic lockdowns started in Mid-March 2020, my Kuya Raul and I went ahead to cultivate the area. We endured walking back and forth the three-kilometer stretch, diversifying our route three-way to avoid monotony and the checkpoint at the boundary of two barangays. We defied lock-down protocols like physically climbing barriers or moving barbed gates. When his grandchildren came to help us water the plants twice a day, we all walked through the longer route along the beach, avoiding the baywalk where vehicular accidents happened before..
Hearing this, our landlord advised us to prioritize the production of quick vegetables over the long-term dragon fruit plant, cassava and malunggay. We started fencing one portion on which we planted okra, sitaw and camote. All fast-growing and quick-yielding. Again, we had planting materials from our yard and kin. Sitaw seeds came from the Baguio hangar market.
We helped build the kubo into a liveable space. Kids also helped weave coconut leaves for the walls. We lined the floors with stones we gathered from digging compost pits.
THE little hut turned out too warm, especially inside the little room with a bed we made for two to three little children. We used to stay there the whole day from 5:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., with 30-45 minutes intended for walking leisurely. We cooked at least two meals and two snacks, so we maintained a little kitchen with all its modest table appointments of forks, spoons, plates and mugs.
Fast forward to October 2022, almost three years since we first set foot at The Happy Scion, we see a whole new place. The vegetation is a lush mini-forest now. Inside the forested space are cassava, camote, malunggay, patola, sitaw, okra, atani, even linga. We tried passion fruit, grapes and singsing karabaw on the trellises. We have been harvesting passion fruits since August, and singsing karabaw ever since. Our chickens also like it.
Most of these were just planted, like the peanuts that we never harvest. We just leave it there to regrow and fertilize the soil. Even Patani is just left there climbing on the tall trees. It is almost impossible to get the pods. Maybe some birds will harvest these. I occasionally get blue ternate for my tea. Mostly I harvest flowers as gifts to friends and kin.
Recently we have been planting native trees to start an arboretum and an awareness campaign. We are currently into a mini-nursery for native trees to get ready with seedlings when visitors ask us. This explains why we have lined a fence with bayog, a native bamboo species, while the other side has an array of coastal forest and windbreaker trees. Most are water-bearing species to enliven and recharge our groundwater, especially in relatively dry months.
Did we abandon some of our reasons for being? By the way our intention was to grow our own safe food. Well, a food forest is still in the pipeline. And we are getting ready to tend a coastal food forest with native trees at the core. Who cares to grow a forest in the middle of a vast meadow that has long been here for centuries? We do!