I am re-posting this piece — one of the longest articles I have written.

Bugasok Falls

Would I sigh for more?

Mi pozo parece agua lluvia (My well water tastes like rain water)”, remarked grandma who had her artesian well on our backyard dug when I was still 6. February 11, 1980, that was. As a child in the 80’s, I had countless sweet memories of the well. Take for instance grandma who arduously took time to tip pail after pail of water over my head as she bathed me every morning. Coming from a sea swim, she would tenderly sprinkle a little water on my feet to give caution of the coldness the well water would probably bring on me. There were moments that I did not stop bathing with friends, until grandma hollered at us that it was suppertime. Joyful memories cut, I sighed…

On hot summer days, grandma would tempt me to join her on a trip to a distant riverside spring, situated beneath green slopes, concealed under a lush shade of a mango tree that had existed long before grandma was born. Rocks were piled around; flat ones made as seats; the bumpy ones for drying. White pebbles populated a large man-made hole where, in the midst, fresh water wobbles out from underground.

Grandma had her place reserved at the spring. Along with neighbors, she would wash clothes that had mounted over the week, while I exhausted myself on the riverside running after a paper boat, or catching small fishes trapped in river weeds, or gathering “special seeds” which I so much loved to watch exploding when thrown into water, like timed bomb detonating at push button. When there was hardly ever to do, I just climbed and enjoyed the branches of the mango tree – over grandma washing, over our neighbors chatting, over the river flowing, over the spring.

Above that tree, looking at the thriving green meadows and mountain slopes ahead, I reflected on the magic of the river, its origin, its life. “Agua abundante!” grandma would declare every instance I asked in great perplexity why she had to always wash in the spring on summertime. The declaration came always with a sweet smile on her face. In a town that had yet to be swayed by civilization and advancement, or exploitation perhaps, she and the rest of our neighbors did not fret of the water supply being cut off due to an unpaid bill. In the spring, “agua abundante!” Water in abundance, that is!

In my recent visit, grandma had stopped going to the spring after she lost her footing while drying clothes on the rocks and injured her arm. What was surprising of my hometown was not the truth that childhood friends had moved out, but the plain reality of the physical changes of the place I used to call habitat. February 11, 2005, I saw, I sighed…

The supposedly perennial river has run dry and now only saturates its bed when rains pour heavily. Only then local farmers could bring in their carabaos for a swim or a good bath. The vicinity where I had fun sailing paper boats had metamorphosed into a filthy scenery of sludge patches even frogs could hardly get pleasure from. No more fishes to catch for my little aquarium at home. The “timed bomb” seeds were nowhere in sight; for certain they had transferred and grown somewhere else where interested children could see them explode in water. The mango tree offered no shade any longer. Locals cut down its branches and dried them for firewood. The spring, oh the spring! It is now a fraction of a past memory. The gods may have condemned the destruction of the site; the spring discontinued its flow. I came, I sighed…

Bugasok Falls in Argao

Alongside the river a picture of sadness triumphed. Birds could not sing. Butterflies hungered for wild flowers that used to abound. Gone were the greens. Mountain slopes close by were almost bare due to inappropriate farming. It was nothing more than a deserted house devoid of the owner’s keeping!

Huge bulldozers were quarrying sand downstream. Lines of trucks were waiting for them to be transported to a nearby depot, piled, sieved to different grain sizes, and sold for commerce. No more big flat rocks that used to be grandma’s seat. They had been crushed for construction use. I came, I saw, I sighed…

Grandma did not utter anything at all about how the well water tasted like rain water. Not anymore. After 20 years or so of supplying drinking water for her and a couple of households in the neighborhood, one day, without warning it just stopped providing water for them. Local experts checked its system for problems and no solution was found. They were told to extend the pipe and dig deeper. Truth was, the artesian well has yellowed with age. There was no way it could be restored from its old form, rust has lingered the system and devoured whatever shimmering metal there were. Forever gone, adieu. A water pipe system now operates. For the last five years it has supplied water in every nook and cranny of the town.

February 11, 2030. Yet again, I trek the road, past the barren mountains that leads to the once happy moments with grandma at the riverside spring. It has changed a lot. Like mushrooms, houses populate the river banks. Upstream is a concrete dam built by the local government to store up water for the all-too-often occurrence of dry periods. The irrigation system however brings in water to the rice fields in the lowlands, though most of the days it is empty. Vacant areas are cemented for drying rice grains after harvest.

It is a perfect picture of progress working. Everything around is altered like the land and atmosphere collide at that moment. What used to be a joyful river bouncing has become a quiet swamp in a deserted territory. I sigh deepest…for the lost artesian well and the spring which used to be my playground. For the parched bed where the river used to run. For dreams of more springs, more verdant mango tree, clearer water for the fish, greener countryside.

Mundo maravilloso”. Would I sigh for more? Children of today, please help me restore my home. Rally with me for a greener town. Whatever is there to do and save, we do it, we save it…now! Resuscitate the ailing river and let the waters flow in abundance again, not for our children alone but for our children’s children.

Would I sigh for more? Assist me to revive my habitat. No government unit or private agency could make a worthwhile job or contribution to the ailing river and water problems without our binding efforts. Reveal superior ideas; come up with comprehensive, integrated approach to solving the dilemma. Share expertise to locals, travel to far-flung barangays and disseminate information. Conduct workshops; educate people, about their livelihoods on mountain slopes, about the river, about the consequences of being indifferent.

Would I sigh for more? We need green mountains for the river to survive. Let us craft our thoughts for realizing mountains and hills all green and forest lustrous. Reforest the slopes. Imagine: a tree planted saves the mountain; saves the river; saves many generations to come. Let us devise concrete scientific programs that explain how to restore the mountains and streamside forests and how to use the proper technology to eliminate pollution from the river. Together we will build a strong network of community-based activities. Let us all have watchful eyes to stop spoilers from tearing our slopes down. What we need is not a piecemeal tactic but an expansive view of the entire basin.

We will let the world know we care. We must realize that nobody from outside is going to save us from bad conditions unless we make a firm stand. We will take the mountains into our custody and then watch the river, our heritage, going, growing and glowing again!

I want my grandchildren to experience rivers’ bounty. I want them to watch their paper boats sail in clear rapids while in some days catching fishes trapped in river weeds. I would tell them of grandma’s tale of a trail to the spring and the coldness of the well on our backyard. I would share the chronicle of how I was momentarily saddened and sighed many times, however proudly recuperated in the end. For I would want my grandchildren to know that even how hopeless a situation can be, like a fairytale, a happily-ever-after ending for the rivers is possible.

Mundo maravilloso”. Would I sigh for more? I definitely will. Hopefully, a loud sigh of RELIEF – for the mountain, the river, the spring and the well fully recovered, for the hope and the dream of a marvelous world! February 11, 2055, I happily sigh.