Tuesday, September 8, 2020

For The Fignorant

"I have not cut down any fig tree. Why then does calamity befall me?"
                                   --Ravana, the ten-headed demon-king of Lanka, in Ramayana                      

GLAD TO FIND this book order in the mailbox upon our return from our trip to Binghamton for Sara's 18th birthday last Labor Day weekend: ecologist Mike Shanahan's fascinating book Ladders to Heaven, published in the U.S. as Gods, Wasps and Stranglers. This highly informative book could be among the Complete Idiot's Guide titles.

“In his insightful book, Mike Shanahan combines poetry and science, history and humanity, to tell a story not only of the fig tree but of life on Earth in all its beautiful and astonishing complexity.”--Deborah Blum, director, Knight Science Journalism Program, MIT; author of The Poisoner’s Handbook

"A must read."--The Daily Mail

"The tree in the Garden of Eden was very likely not an apple but a fig.”--Annie Proulx

"Fig trees fed our pre-human ancestors, influenced diverse cultures and played key roles in the dawn of civilization. They feature in every major religion, starring alongside Adam and Eve, Krishna and Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad. They evolved when giant dinosaurs still roamed and have been shaping our world ever since. These trees intrigued Aristotle and amazed Alexander the Great. They were instrumental in Kenya’s struggle for independence and helped restore life after Krakatoa’s catastrophic eruption. Egypt’s Pharaohs hoped to meet fig trees in the afterlife and Queen Elizabeth II was asleep in one when she ascended the throne. And all because 80 million years ago. these trees cut a curious deal with some tiny wasps."--Mike Shanahan

From Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel fresco


Saturday, August 22, 2020

Buwan Ng Wika

FLORANTE BOUND to a big higuera or balete tree. This famous soliloquy of Francisco Balagtas' hero in a dark Albanian forest reverberates in my brain from an advertisement of a Manila memorial park called Himlayang Pilipino when my siblings and I were kids, watched on our neighbor's black-and-white Radiowealth console TV when the dog was fed and dishes done after dinner and mother said yes. The stanza was translated into English by Luisa Igloria who writes a poem a day and is Virginia's Poet Laureate. I have a grit of discomfort with her translation of the words "lilo" which in Mindoro means "traitor" and "ininis" which means "suffocated" as in overcome by coronavirus, so I had to do my take.

Sa loob at labas ng bayan kong sawi
Kaliluha’y siyang nangyayaring hari
Kagalinga’t bait ay nalulugami,
Ininis sa hukay ng dusa’t pighati.

Inside and out of my broken town,
The tears are the king,
Good and kind are getting tired,
irritated in the pit of martyrdom and grief.
                        --Francisco Balagtas, Florante at Laura, trans. by Luisa Igloria

Inside and out of my ill-fated land,
Treachery reigns supreme,
Righteousness and reason are sunk in defeat,
smothered in a grave of suffering and grief.

                        --My Take

Fig tree next to an abandoned military facility on a hill above the city of Sarande in Albania

Saturday, August 15, 2020

The Good Bride

AND THERE SHE IS. Not in a sham marriage but one with a hairy roasted wild boar. "Although the courtship period has a varied set of rules and ceremonials, the marriage itself is as simple as possible. After the consent of the parents has been obtained, the unceremonious first sleep of both the spouses together is considered as wedlock itself," according to Mangyan Heritage Center. And true to her nature as a shy, self-effacing Mangyan girl, she chooses a quiet life deep in the jungle, far from the prying eyes of land-hungry lowlanders.

The groom was waiting
And here came the bride
This hidden wedge high up the branches seemed like the spot
Where she could make a happy home, singing an ambahan. Maybe to a baby?

Ako gabay putyukan
Ako dayo mangaptan
Baliti nan gubayan
Nakan kis-ab sugutan 
Bunglo kasagunsunan
Ho bay si dis mangaptan
Sa sanga panulusan
Bilog bag-o sangbayan

I'm a common honeybee.
I don't want to settle down
at the side of the fig tree.
The reason: because I saw
many marks of ownership.
The place where I'll settle down
is a branch close to the top.
Only there will I be glad.
                    
                    --Ambahan 216 ("Marriage" from Treasure of a Minority, trans. by A. Postma)

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Bridget The Midget And Goliath

GIANT FICUS salicaria '89 and miniature orchid Haraella retrocalla. Is this unlikely New York marriage possible to kick this growing season up a high notch? Will it work sa pangarap lang? Abangan!

Front: for the grand finale
Back: the epiphyte's alley
Left side: a longer pot is obviously needed to stabilize the center of gravity
Right side: the kneeling giant
Close-up of the nebari
Bridget the midget and her citrus-scented blossom: is she up for the fantasy? 

Friday, July 31, 2020

Strangler Willow

I REPOSITIONED the aerial roots of this willow leaf ficus '89 to reflect its real character: a strangler that strikes terror like a flayed hand, but had to exercise extra caution digging up the roots. I thought I was done with this ficus job this growing season, but this little fellow, a small-leafed non-mutant willow ficus from the Big Island, is arriving next week, not my purchase but a friend's who asked for my training wisdom. I don't know; maybe come back in a year. 



Sunday, July 26, 2020

Willow Leaf Ficus '89: Trick And Treat?

MY FINAL FICUS purchase is this willow leaf Ficus salicaria or neriifolia '89 ($200+$31 shipping+$40 repot), native to Asian countries (India, Burma, Tibet, Bhutan, Nepal, China where it is raised for cattle fodder) in a latitude more northerly than that of the Philippines and altitude up to 2900 meters (9500 ft) above sea level. The American willow leaf variety has smaller leaves and is shorter, but the Florida deep freeze of 1989 (I was living in sunny San Diego then) restored its original Himalayan DNA.  The cold snap froze the nursery stock of a planter named Jim Smith in Vero Beach, Florida to the ground, but the figs did not die, growing faster and with larger leaves instead after the big thaw. Is the freak cold snap of '89 nature's tricky vaccine that made the American willow leaf ficus more robust and cold hardy?

Jim Smith with his mutant ficus
Andrea's find at the nursery
Repotted after aerial roots were repositioned
New front view: the bole above the soil line looks as mystical as a monk

Friday, July 17, 2020

Red Balete And The Aftermath

A NEWCOMER TO THE BACKYARD jungle is this young Ficus concinna or "Red Balete" ($25+$24 shipping+$25 repot). Widely found in Mindoro forests, this fig is characterized by fiery red young leaves that give the tropics an "autumn look" much like the cemetery scene above, then turn leathery dark green as they mature. The brittle specimen in the link was collected by "Prince of Collectors"  Hugh Cuming for the Royal Botanic Gardens between 1835-1839 while on Philippine exploration.  

Andrea's drink-dropper at her nursery for $25
Pruned and repotted three weeks after arrival, reddish new leaves apparent
Aged specimen in Jerry Meislik's house of ficus

BALETE  IS VULNERABLE to cyclonic winds due to its shallow ground roots and heavy crowns, but perfect as a bonsai. How else can it be a grim reminder of typhoon Wanda which leveled Pinamalayan when I was a kid in the 60s long before Nona did in 2015? Remember the F. philippinensis pre-bonsai from a year ago? I recklessly reworked it to play with the idea, and thought it was dead with almost total leaf drop a week after the basal roots were pruned, but after three weeks it looks like it is rebounding with tiny new leaves. It is now the leaning tower of Figsa, but still stable with its trusty aerial roots as suhays.

Pompano Beach resident Jeff McMullan grimaces in the wind as his 80-year-old ficus lies over his home after Hurricane Wilma swept through Florida in 2010. (Robert Duyos, Sun Sentinel)

Unexciting as a pre-bonsai a year ago
Leaf drop about two weeks after restyle and repot, with an angry basal root giving the finger
Draped aerial root removed, tiny new leaves apparent after three weeks: it's alive!

Friday, July 10, 2020

What's Done Is Done

LAST WEEKEND, A MONTH after it arrived, the Ficus philippinensis balete ($150+$28 shipping) had recovered from its transport trauma and was ready to be styled. Repotted and freed in a deep and wide pot (this one was not cheap at $40 with Home Depot free store pick-up, and heavy at 20 pounds in itself) to support unchecked growth and burly trunks, it now looks a bit civilized despite its bandages (inspection tapes from CBP if you can read the label upside down) where incisions were made to graft and reposition a few aerial roots, and the cut water bottles to serve a couple of young guzzlers their fill, all to be removed by the end of summer if the grafts are successful. The trunks are tied together with wires at their point of juncture halfway to the top to see if they will fuse and conjoin, through a process that can take several years called inosculation. As Tatay said after the gapi was accomplished on his kaingin: "There, what's done is done!" The tikbalang, or maybe the mothman, of Mt. Olivet cemetery can't wait to take a spot. To terrorize Maspeth in the meantime, I have this piece from the good book that everyone will like.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Congratulations To Sara

I LIGHT THE FIREWORKS this weekend to congratulate my recent high school graduate who understood, despite the tears, lack of garlands, friend group shots and a processed diploma, that she had to forego a real graduation ceremony in favor of a virtual one during this time of pandemic. She will be attending SUNY Binghamton for a degree in Psychology. Congratulations baby, and thank you to Maspeth Kiwanis for the scholarship award.




Saturday, June 20, 2020

Too Close For Comfort

MY INDOOR DENIZENS are foregoing social distancing just to bask in the sun on this backyard beach--er, nursery. It's quite a sight while I do horticulture work and polish repurposing the garage, while The Lettermen croon "A Summer Place" on my wife's radio. Are we really back?

The structure was retired from its original service as a garage, fenced off from the driveway, a private door cut on its side wall, and its window widened to convert it into a writing shed, still in progress under the watchful eye of a fragrant linden tree.

Group shot, clockwise from the rear: (1) the first F. philippinensis (jaundiced from having been indoors since last fall), (2) the latest F. philippinensis with an aerial root being trained soilward using an orange drinking straw, (3) the aged and pricey F. microcarpa with a branch being converted into an aerial root using a water bottle filled with soaked sphagnum moss, (4) the popular F. microcarpa ginseng (also called "mallsai"--go figure), and (5) the young tiger bark F. retusa, in training and experimental restyle. Joining the gang are two other Mindoro denizens in welcome company: (6) sampalok (Tamarindus indica) and (7) kalimumogtsaang gubat or Fukien tea tree (Ehretia microphylla), both newly repotted.

The young tiger bark F. retusa out of the box.
The trunk was made horizontal by digging up and exposing the main root and propping it on a rock.
Wired and styled with new exposed roots.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

The Death Of A Toad (Take N)

RE-REWORKED THIS OLD sonnet for this guy who breathes through the skin. Two viruses together: COVID 19 and systemic racism.


The Toad’s Elegy

What a season this is to be described:
the air is toxic, and noose poles arrive.
Shall I stay at home, as dumb as a fish
copped out because the sun air fries the skin,
no donned N95 to mask its hiss
exhaling voodoo that poisons the rain?

Let at breakneck speed the deluge run wide,
slay a sun breached by the mirroring tide,
genuflect before the crown, this burnt flood,
detox amphibious hearts fed with foul blood.
I shall wear this voice until it is gone,
hip hop on the death of a jaundiced sun.

I shall wear this hide that gifts me with breath,
kill with warts those viruses from the wreath.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Life In The Time Of COVID

TESS HAD TO GO BACK cutting hair when the virus struck and my Chinese barber closed shop in Elmhurst (she now avoids Elmhurst like the plague--ouch!-- including Chinese supermarkets and Pinoy friends she normally visits).  So she gave me this haircut to prove her styling prowess, the one she used on her visiting father (who happened to sport an easy Kojak style) before he passed on. Meanwhile, Andrea Wigert, matriarch of Wigert's Bonsai in Fort Myers, FL sent me this picture of the new Ficus philippinensis pre-bonsai, a diamond-in-the-rough, that I ordered from her before she shipped it from her nursery last Memorial Day weekend.  As soon as it arrived and was by my former garage, Tess volunteered to style it her way, and I must say my new pre-bonsai doesn't look too bad at all. Good job, Mom! Just wait till she gets it repotted and those nebari roots controlled.


Sunday, May 31, 2020

Parallel Roots

MY BALETE BONSAI (Ficus microcarpa) has been my keeper of sanity this past week. It is ready to hit the backyard any day soon, but something must to be done first: transform a branch into an aerial root that is parallel with the others and a column of darkly colored soil.

A branch was obstructing the view of the aerial roots.
So I bent it downwards and wired it to an old aerial root.

Removed its foliage and planted it in a pot made from a water bottle filled with black Long Island compost. By the end of summer, new aerial roots will emerge from the branch to be directly planted in and feed on the earth in the ceramic pot. If it doesn't work, I'll use sphagnum moss instead.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

A Growing Paranoia

I HAVE IDEAS FROM South America this growing season, but my wife says there is something creepy about this indoor bonsai (Myrciaria jaboticaba) that I'm planning to buy, after she saw pictures of the tree fully grown in Brazil. Would you? Or does it look like namumutiktik sa bundat na garapata?