TWO weeks ago, I carried a bunch of marapait trunk cuttings to the lowlands hoping to grow some wild sunflowers where the sun meets the sun on an almost 1.0 masl piece of land. Where I have planned to grow these is very sunny, some of my kin were wondering why I needed a lot of sunflowers to brighten my day. Oh well, brighten may be the right word, but mind you it can get gloomy here too. Settled. No more questions.
In short, the cuttings found their way into some sandy plots. Some on super hot spots, others luckier to be shaded under the cassavas. One foot long, buried an inch or two deep, some left undisturbed and now showing some sprouts.
Others were not as lucky as those under the cassavas. These wilted and are now among the light materials to start a fire on the wood-fed stove. Panggatong. Pampaningas. Still, I find the smell of burning marapait pleasantly herbal with smoke going through my nostrils to my lungs.
These marapait bushes always remind me of days gone by. When as a high-school freshman, we would ride a bus to Baguío City. Pantranco, the only bus company then that carried passengers from Dagupan City, would pass through Kennon Road and as soon as we saw the toll gate, now a name of a Tuba town barangay, we would ditch out our jackets neatly tugged inside a day bag. Mimicking a shivering cat, we would curl up and cling nearer whoever sat beside us. My adviser used to sit with me because I did not sleep on the trip to and from the city.
Together we would look past the window, point to flowers and trees along the road and more often than not, we would talk about how lovely the mountainside was, with all those yellow flowers presenting what to us was a golden carpet.
She was a conversant mom in her late 50’s then. She was my school organs adviser and she would engage me in lengthy conversations, our other co-passengers would rather listen, or sleep, than butt in.
My favorite was her accounts of the bee honey from various flowers. She would always say that among the best honeys are from bees that feed on sunflowers. I was not a hard-nosed writer then, but I kept mental notes on what she was saying. I would always remember that when in Baguío City, one should bear in mind to buy honey.
“It is where sunflower nectar is at its best,” she would always say. How sweet these words are, but how true? Let me just bring you back to my memories of old Baguío.
Sunflowers also remind me of other women farmers of the Cordillera. One is the late Mother Petra (Macliing), who used fresh marapait leaves to enrich the rice field she was then tilling. It was her who told us how, as a single mother, she would farm to raise her daughters. She did not buy much fertilizers but used marapait extensively to add nutrients to the soil.
So did Mrs. Elizabeth Busiley, wife of a miner of the defunct Thanksgiving Mines, or the Benguet Exploration (Be-Ex). When the mining company closed down, it failed to pay its workers their wages and separation pays. Manang Sabeth had to work her swiddens harder to help raise three children. Like Mother Petra, she used marapait as fertilizers to get superior yield from barren mountain swiddens, which she planted to corn, bananas, legumes and other vegetables.
Like Mother Petra and Manang Sabeth, other women farmers of the Cordillera also use sunflowers as an effective green manure, mulch and fallow crop.
Taking off from the farming experiences of Cordillera women farmers, I intend to grow Sunflowers in my little borrowed space to utilize it for the garden. Its flowers will always be my tool to attract garden insects, its scent can ward off pests and its leaves for fertilizers.
In the meantime, while my upland sunflowers are still acclimatizing, there are sunflowers I grow from seeds I collected from chicken feeds. Not a lot survived, but all are now bearing flowers. Although we are not so optimistic about producing our own sunflower seeds, we are happy we have these little suns that always face East. Garden visitors almost always touch the blooms that are bright yellow like, maybe, the sun in my crayon renditions of a rice field back then.
While my neighbors in my upland abode cut their marapait to throw away, I will always carry a bunch of cuttings to plant and brighten my day.