Rhona Canoy .
SO… Now that we’re beginning to feel the heat of summer, many a thought turns to water. Whether it’s a day at the beach, an icy cold mountain waterfall, the rippling rustle of a river or stream, or the stuff that comes out of our faucets—it’s the one thing we don’t want to be without. And yet, for a country whose existence is irrevocably intertwined with this magical substance, we seem to lack the proper amount of regard for it.
I am a water child. From as far back as I can remember, my memories are of life around and in water. The childhood weekends and summers spent in Opol, at my paternal greatgrandmother’s house on the beach, or the other summers spent with my maternal grandmother in Agusan, with rivers and springs which were part of our daily life, I’ve always been in around water. And now that I’m skidding on the downhill part of my life journey, it is inevitable that I compare what was to what is.
My image of Opol is nothing like what it is today. There was nothing there but people’s houses on the shoreline. The main town sat where it still does, the area after the river which now has a coastal road instead of a stretch of grey sand. Lola Nanay’s house stood where there is a pile of rubble now, across the street from the Opol public market. And the market used to be the bank at the mouth of the river. There used to be a breakwater there, a large pile of river rocks transported and lined up into the sea to soften the impact of waves during the windy season. We used to clamber around on them, looking for the little crabs that hid between the cracks and crevices. At low tide, the image of seaweeds and small coral surfacing was a wonderland for us. Starfish, tiny hermit crabs, sea slugs and sea cucumbers, the occasional bit of sea glass worn down by the sand. There was so much to find and discover.
The stretch of sand on the other side of the river now lined with resorts used to be almost deserted, with only a few fishermen’s huts scattered every so often between large groves of pandan. The sandy beaches were covered with sea oat and periwinkle just above the high tide water line. During very low tide when wading across the mouth of the inlet was possible, the long walks towards the next river (where Marvilla now sits) was something we looked forward to, made more thrilling by the thought that we had to get back before the tide turned. Seashells were abundant. Yes, the sea water was crystal clear except on days when it had rained the night before. One of the downsides of staying at the edge of the river mouth. I can’t remember seeing trash as we played along the beach. Well, maybe the occasional empty sardine can which was quickly converted into a carryall for our found treasures. But plastic was unheard of, and trash was properly disposed of. That’s what I remember.
And our treks to Julao-julao (now Consolacion) to swim in the Cagayan river. Biking through coconut trees and the few lanzones trees that grew between the palms to get to our favorite nook, under a large acacia tree. Yes, the water was cool and, yes, the water was crystal clear. And no, there was no garbage to be seen. There were fish there, and the old folks used to scare us with stories of kids who disappeared after an encounter with mythical crocodiles, stories which for some reason we never took seriously.
And then there were the times spent with my mom’s mother. Butuan with it’s yearly floods, also a city where a river runs through it. Swimming and playing around the logs parked in the Agusan river which, come to think of it, was quite dangerous. Gathering water hyacinths that floated on the water, banca rides to cross to the other side, fishing on the dike which served as our walkway to walk to our aunt’s house. Yes, the water was cool and yes, the water was crystal clear. And no, there was no garbage to be seen.
Weeks spent in the farm in Agusan Sur were a different story. We had to fetch water from the spring at the bottom the hill. Precious water for Tr drinking, cooking, washing—all our household needs came from there. Every morning of every day, trudging down the slope with empty containers to be filled and carried back uphill when they were full and heavy. The cardinal rule: fill the containers FIRST with the spring water, before jumping in and splashing around. Or hiking to the big river about a kilometer away, to do the laundry, along with all the other barrio folk. Hardly any soap was used, but those heavy wooden paddles whacking away at the dirty clothes could be heard as we neared the banks. Yes, the water was crystal clear. Yes, the water was cool. And no, there was no garbage to be seen.
Which is why my heart breaks. To have lived long enough to see the deterioration of our coast and our waterways. Since when did our best beaches and mountain waterways become available only to those who can afford it? I remember Boracay when there was nothing there but fisherfolk. No running water, no electricity, no cars, only paths and trails under the coconut trees that grew there. Yet look at what it has become now. Everything that is now an issue with preservation of our natural resources is because of people’s disregard and lack of appreciation of what has been given to us.
I am often criticized for how I am critical of the disregard we have for each other and, evidently, for the great legacy which is our country. In other countries, people spend a lot of money for the privilege of living near the water. And they are made to abide by the rules and regulations which ensure the preservation of their natural resources. We can be uncaring and blasé about these things until we no longer have a choice. Sendong was the first major alarm bell, and we have had many warnings since. How deaf we must be.
Yes, I wax nostalgic. Yes, I dream of what was. But then, I dream of what could be. Not for me. For my grandson, and those of his generation. That they experience the simple joys I was so privileged to have experienced in my distant past. Maybe.