On summer nights when the evening skies are clear, the stars shine most serenely. Pressed in the heavens, I watched the stars twinkle and move across the endless space above my head. Looking at the heavens – I am home. The night like coal drapes were drawn to mark the beginning of the end.
As the farmers and their water buffalo retire from the rice fields, it was the outset of a much awaited unwinding. From behind the bamboo, the sun sinks in the horizon. The chickens flock towards the coop and the rooster rests on one leg on the highest branch.
Fire crackles over burning wood. Leaping tongues of fire skipped in the open stove. Dancing beneath the earthen pot, the heat coaxes the soup to boil. The aroma of ginger rises bringing smiles to hungry faces. The taste of brown rice mixed with corn grits and slices of sweet potato was my favourite. Steamed green and leafy vegetables like mustasa, pechay, and camote topped with fried garlic makes a feast to my eye. Chopped red chili dipped in soya sauce and lemon perks the flavor of food. Fresh fruits like banana, mango and chico grace the abundant table. Our meals are always served at 6:30. As the night time falls and daylight ebbs, we sit as dinner is laid on the table. Flickering lights from the oil lit lamp casts a dreamy ambience in the Bamboo house. A short blessing over meal and prayer of gratitude begins a quiet supper.
After dinner, we would sit in the veranda awed by the sight of fireflies. The stillness of the night is filled by the croaking toad and crickets singing. Then the stories are told under the moonlit nights before bedtime. Lying on the wooden bed the mosquito net is tucked by my yaya. She would fan and watch me till I all asleep. My thoughts would race in backward recall of the day as I lay my head on my pillow. At 8:00 in evening everything was silent.
Our food is cooked using all the natural ingredients available. Coconut is plucked by hand from the tree, cracked open, with its flesh shaven and squeezed by hand to get its milk. The dehydrated coconut meat is boiled and sweetened with molasses until it simmers down. Cooled into a dessert called Bukayo.Casava topped with butter and cheese is another snack called Nilupak. I grew up from an apprentice in the kitchen to an aficionado with food. We had to pound, grind, sift, knead a variety of ingredients. They come in different textures, colours, tastes, and odour. We did not use artificial flavouring. After all, my maternal grandmother Juana, was a home economics teacher with a discriminating taste for food and presentation. Both my paternal and maternal grandmothers made their own unique recipe. Although, we had a number of helpers from the house to the farm; they favoured women who are skilled in managing one’s affairs and resources and coordinating people. Time and effort is part of the whole process of cooking.
Waiting for the morning to come and anticipating to what nature has in store gives me the joy of discovery. Everything is prepared from raw ingredients. Every dish is prepared based on what we have harvested from the garden.
Before the crescendo at dawn, I would rush outside to catch the glimpse of that pink arch just a little above the horizon. It is called the girdle of Venus. The pinkish glow painted in the skies gives me the blushing fascination and a deep sense of joy. I never tire waiting for it to appear. Then, the rooster crows as soon as the first ray of light rips the sky breaking dawn. The cool morning breeze blows sending shivers telling me that a new day has begun to churn.
At 5:00 in the morning, you can smell the firewood burning. Breakfast is served with rice coffee, fried rice, dried salted fish, eggs, sliced fresh tomatoes. My granduncle would give instructions to the farmer before going to the rice fields.
Every day in the farm for two months, Life was absolved from watching television, the convenience of electricity, of having running water, of having fresh pressed clothes all the time and many other comforts. There was no shower. But the cold river offers a sanctuary both for the bathing humans and resident fishes.
We picked vegetables, check the fish net, sweep the backyard, and play under the big mango trees or in the corn field. In the farm, there were many things to discover and wide spaces to explore, enriching my childhood experiences. Routine is part of life and so is the understanding of working with nature around. The secret language of nature is perceptible and so you commune with everything around.
There are many different clocks that tell the time. The sun that climbs the heaven. When the water buffalo hides under the shade it is past nine. Some flowers in the field catches the early sun and closes by noon. While there are night blossoms that fills the air with an exotic scent. I fancy the homebound ducks late in the afternoon. The cute little pigs in their pen would squeak when food is late. Since, I have been feeding them you begin to establish a kind of animal talk with the lovely creatures. The language of nature slowly reveals its secret to you. The turkey, goose and the dog would play around. Chasing one another was an adorable sight. Feeding the ducks was fun. They followed you everywhere. In time you become connected with the fuzzy feathered friends and cherish the company they give you. As a child, I have always found it difficult to eat livestock. So I thrive on fruits, vegetables and starch.
Life in the farm allows you to recognize the importance of being one with nature. It sets you free from the unwanted demands of technology. It heightens your awareness that life flows. It makes you sensitive of the flow of life. It makes you open that even pets are friends. It teaches you friendships are not just words and connecting can also be gut feel. It makes you open and accepting of differences. That out of diversity is oneness. As you ponder deep about life, you begin to appreciate the intricate web of life. It is not in being the same outwardly but deep within the core – the same breathe of Life moves. This interrelatedness is something for which we have an intuitive sense. That all of life responds to something more than just existing. Everything is connected. Beneath it all is Divine harmony working.
Order in the garden patch, every plot was measured and seeds were placed nicely to allow air and sun to pass through the soil. My granduncle named Tata was creative in the farm and would care so much to make sprinkler that makes a gentle rain on the budding seeds. Every seed was given enough space to make everyone grow comfortably. Every day, I would visit the vegetable farm take away the snails. I cringe at the sight of sticky slime but nonetheless I would still do it. The farm is gone and my granduncle has gone to his eternal slumber. But out of the vegetable patch an insight about people was learned, everybody needs a sacred space. We need to allow people space to grow.
Siesta is part of our daily routine. The household staff Fe, Ruth and Roberto made delicious snacks. Merienda was prepared a little after lunch. Ginatan was a combination of banana, camote, sago, langka, sticky rice balls boiled in coconut milk with molasses. Sometimes, we had sweet sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves and boiled. We always cooked our food from raw ingredients. My grandaunt patiently and lovingly prepared all our meals from the garden to the table. Time has turned the tide. Our staff from the driver to the farmer, gardener and cooks have all gone by but the lessons taught in life was written well and worth of time.
How does all of Life moves? It flows. The Flow of Life moves following a certain order and direction. Routine and rhythm is essential in creating harmony. Having a personal routine is a blue print of one’s life. The activities of daily living which includes diet and eating, rising and sleeping patterns, hygiene and bathing, study and everything that makes him flow. And become part of the Flow that is Life’s Rhythm is relating to Life outside of his routine.
While all of Life speaks of Flow, it is balanced by Nature continuously unfolding itself. No two leaves are exactly the same even if they come from the same tree. And yet Life and Nature are weaving distinctively but as One in a bigger collective and diverse summation of Life called the Universe.
MARIA LOURDES A. DE VERA is an artist-author, a registered nurse and a licensed professional teacher. Known to her students and other children under her tutelage as Teacher Marielou, she is friendly, unconventional and fun. She spends time doing stuff to sustain her creative nature be it music, visual arts, literary or movement, all of which spice up her enthusiastic spirit.
She is the author of “Art and the Creation Stories”, published by Claretian Communications Foundation, Inc., a very useful book not only for educators but also for anyone who is willing to revive one’s noble calling in a life of creativity.
She is working on another book “Embraced by the Light, a journey to Love “ care in the end of days.