In Country Musings

It really is a matter of perspective...and a certain degree of boredom.  Provincial life, that is.  Belle (Beauty & the Beast) will sing out “there must be more to this provincial life” if she only had Gaston to look forward to.  Then again, she had not met the country mouse and was saved by the Beast/Prince in the nick of time...with a huge library in the bargain.  Lucky girl! 

I myself want to live the country life occasionally.  I do not mean animal messes and back breaking farming, though I am not opposed to doing a little harvesting, gathering eggs, fishing, grooming horses and driving a plow (the tractor kind!).  I do not mean heart breaking work that depends so much on weather, current crop prices and if “the land is low.”  It was painful for me to read John Grisham’s “The Painted House” at times.  I know how it is to have no money to spare for “trivialities” as paint – my own house stood unpainted for years until I started working and able to afford it till the typhoon pitted it in places that we’ll have to repaint.  Eating well, living fully and education are the priorities, just as it is with any family, on the farm or not.   What pained me is all that work you put in, sacrificing comfort and living (sometimes) only to be dashed by a quirk of weather, pests and some people.  A visit is enough for me; for when I long for much more than a city life!

 My family is rooted in the city (Malabon).  A car ride away from where I live is a fishing village (Navotas) and a gateway to the provincial North (Bulacan). All, however, are too citified to offer real rustic tableaus (unless rusty boats,old barges, broken fishnets draped over decrepit fences and old tires count) but are country by way of delicacies: rice cakes (suman, sapin-sapin, pichi-pichi, pinipig kakanintinapa and tuyo (dried fish), patis (fish sauce), bagoong (anchovy paste), achara or atsara (pickled Papaya) and Pancit Malabon – everything a Manilenyo craves but will not prepare or cook in a city home  (you could, if you have time on your hands and uncomplaining neighbors - the pungent smells will put off some).     My dad hails from Ilocos Sur but his relatives migrated early on.  There’s no one left to visit.  My mom’s relatives can lay claim to Bulacan, but not where the fields of green are, so excuse me when I get excited over a healthy, white cow languidly munching away.

 A year and a half ago, a friend invited me to stay at her home in Ligao, Bicol for a week. That’s a 45 minute plane ride away.  She was feeling a bit lonely.  Most of her friends are in Manila.  She married a gentleman farmer and led a quiet life after globe trotting much as a flight attendant.  She enjoys the settled routine but at times misses late nights; long talks over coffee and watching hordes of people go by. People tuck in after dinner (6 p.m. or so), neighbors are quite a ways (acreage you know), the city (Naga) is a long drive and coffee shops (though not unheard of) is a concept incompatible with people growing and brewing their own coffee, I guess).  You eat out because you don’t feel like cooking or wants something that's not exactly in the food pyramid.  She couldn’t go out because of the baby and did not want to play Farmville when she is in a real one.

Solution? Import a friend.  So off I went.  My temperament is well suited to the quiet and my appetite for freshly picked or caught food (I am allergic to most seafood but not to taking pictures of such) well sated.  I had a hard time sleeping early (at first) but dare not intrude on my friend’s time with her hubby and baby.  Besides, she has a lot of books! We have all the time to talk during the day, when we’re left with the baby and the help, puttering in the kitchen (I did at some point).  We did make a trip to the supermarket so I could cook them pasta - got raves! Overall, an outing is not always possible (no available car and driver: most of you who lives in the US or in countries where long drives are de rigueur can relate).

The hubby sets off in the morning to do farm stuff. At home, he tends to his fighting cocks.  A bit of excitement while I was there was when a thief attempted to make off with several.  The thief was caught, since the neighbors look out for each other (a big plus to living in the country, everyone knows everybody else) and a whistle can bring in bolo (jungle knife) wielding help. An accomplice managed to run away with two, but had to leave them in the middle of the road when it became obvious the posse won’t let up.

At any rate, I enjoyed my stay.  I wasn’t required to do much more than entertain my friend and her baby .  Harvest time was over when I went so a trip to the farm meant taking lots of pictures, eating lunch at a small house at the end of a lane in the middle of a deep fish-y river.  Oh, and I caught a fish thiiiiiiissss biiiigggg!  

I caught three actually.  The first one was smallish (dalag) and the next two bigger and biggest (tilapia)!  I got sad looking at the biggest one though, thinking some river nymph lost her sidekick or maybe she just couldn’t turn back into one! I thought she offered me a great view; made the early drizzle stop, then resume only when we were leaving; showed off her bounty in the best light possible for my cam phone’s humble capability and I reciprocate by curtailing her freedom.  I would have flung the fish back but the manong (an elder, my assistant in hooking my lure –worms! Ick!) told me it will be dinner for the hands and family. Turns out I am in fact older than manong - farm life and constant sun exposure ages anyone prematurely.    

Apparently, I not only have beginner’s luck but fish that big hasn’t been seen in that part of the river where I cast my pole. 

My bamboo pole broke off at the end where I was holding it.  My other hand was fortunately on the middle trunk.  I was perched rather precariously and manong had to rush over from his hillock  (a bridge away) to help me haul in.  The line was caught in tall grass too.  I watched him take off the hook and see the fish’ gills rise and fall faster.  We plopped the lot in a bucket of water.  The big one managed to heave itself out and plop back on the grass and slither away almost to the edge before manong got hold of it.  I was antsy about taking the fish out and into a bigger basin of water so it’ll have more room.  Of course, the others thought I was being silly since it’ll have room in their tummies soon enough.   I won’t get to eat any, because I had to rush to the city in time for my flight home.  What I leave in Ligao is the quiet I enjoyed and my platform slippers - I was wearing someone’s flats to be able to make my way through muddy, rain soaked field.

I was happy to have that experience.  I have  a need to touch plants as I walk by and gaze at water at every park I've gone to so doing the nature tripping thing for days is heaven.  I just have to stop thinking about how hard manong  has to work everyday and how nature could both be rewarding and oblivious to it all
I am always in awe of nature and her raiment.  It is why I sought out dorm rooms in exclusive villages with tree-lined roads – like leafy arms to shelter and revive you- and bats overhead (not to social climb; hardly the case when everyone lives behind tall walls and hedges and all you see about is the help).  It is why my UP Sundays are important appointments to keep.  “All things green and wonderful, all creatures great and small, all things bright and beautiful, the lord God made them all.”   
Have I got that right? : )

P.S.  I’ve featured some of the shots in an earlier blog but I have more.  Picture-happy, that’s me! I will write about the outing we managed to do, soon. This is not a tall tale! Hope they invite me again!  When they saw my pictures they said I made everything look good.  New eyes I suppose hehehe - or through a Sony Ericsson cam phone hehehe. Go read A Painted House! Its a very good book, all about family, very human.  You'll know what I mean.


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