Twenty-Two-Hectare Treasure

By Ira Shayne Salvaleon

We can only be said to be truly alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures. ―Thornton Wilder

Passing in the cozy shade of a centennial narra tree, I notice that the rays of the noontime sun are peeking through the spaces between the leaves, making a flickering effect overhead. As I continue walking, I see the calm blue sky. I get excited. I love its color. It’s the color I always prefer, and it reflects my personality in many ways. I let out a deep sigh. I’m enduring a hangover from the rough days of recent months. I need a vacation. I miss our farm in Ranzo, a village in Carmen, Cotabato Province. Life in the barrio is nonpareil because it has a captivating uniqueness and lush silence that urban places can never understand. It is a sanctuary for those who want to find peace within them, and I’m a lucky person for I have one to count, a place where I can always go whenever I want to withdraw from the stifling pains that life throws at me.

I can still remember moments of reckless running in the middle of the mango orchard searching for the mouth-watering green fruits of the surrounding trees. I remember as well the time when I urged my father to look for sweet potatoes for my science project and he found some along the trail when we were on our way home to the center of the barrio. And how could I forget the thrill of stealing sugarcanes with my cousins and then scampering away to hide from the owner, and how we used hagonoy leaves and corn cobs to wipe our butts after defecating somewhere just around the farm’s vicinity, laughing aloud and pointing at each other. I also used to write poems appreciating the smell of earth moistened by a midsummer rain and how the monsoonal breeze spread the peculiar scent of the fresh growing corn.

I want and need to be a child again and shed the bombarding nonsense brought by senior high school life. I need to breathe. At some point in life, things can get really incomprehensible, but we can lie on our backs and float. We just have to go with the flow because problems can pass, and being a child is the best illustration of taking life easy. Being a child is being someone free and innocent. Being a child is crying over a lollipop or a knee scratch or a lost coin and getting over it real quick. Being a child is being on the side of life and not against it. Not all people experience a fantastic childhood, so I’m grateful for having one, and if I could turn back time, I would never rewrite my childhood one way or another. A child’s laughter is the world’s most innocent, and probably the best, example of happiness.

Short visits were spawned thereafter, departing Kabacan at dusk only to come back at dawn—a love almost resembling Romeo and Juliet as well as Pyramus and Thisbe, who frequently fled and stole romantic moments and freed themselves from the choking miseries of their tragic stories. My father isn’t very fond of going to the barrio, probably because he grew tired of being there. His family’s hardships in that place perhaps haunt him. And that is just one of the major reasons why my affection toward this barrio seemed forbidden. Feeling affection toward a thing is a normal function of the human body, but this generation has bound the meaning of love in lust and sexual desire. But you cannot yoke carnal love to a place. Being in love with a place is appreciating nature—how the landscape displays suave curves, how the leaves of the rubber tree seem to depict fall even though there are just two seasons in the Philippines, and many other things than can only be witnessed in places like our barrio.

Yuletide comes quickly, and I’ve been looking forward to this occasion not because of the gifts and the partying but because of the chance to be in my beloved barrio and stay in the farm. As soon as we enter the barrio, my system is pumped up. This is where my heart longs to be. As I close my eyes and inhale the freshest air circulating in my lungs so far, the happy memories come flooding again, and a promise of enjoyment and epiphany grows in my heart. I remember crawling on the ground searching for some juicy tugis, climbing kamatsile and native guava trees growing along the trail to the farm, and eating buko or drinking tuba. Have you felt the relish of being back to a place that you always enjoy? You can just run around screaming with delight to your heart’s content and hug yourself. The feeling of being hopeful of finding yourself again in a certain place surely brings contentment to the heart.

The farm is more than a kilometer away from the barrio, but the hike was bearable enough and the climb was rewarding―the view was beautiful! As one of my cousins and I go up and down and around some hills toward the farm, I can’t help but be ignorant about almost everything around. Just like my life in Kabacan, many things have changed over time in here. New trails have been made to make the traversing much easier because the old trail was very muddy and people could not pass through it anymore. The trails are confusing, and I’m silently drawing a map in my head. Well, just like the trails, we have to figure out a way around problems to make our way through them. However, figuring out takes time and could get genuinely confusing. Worse, you could be thrown off-track. But we can always try again and try our best.

I wonder how much change my father has witnessed over the years because I can clearly see that I have but little knowledge about this place compared to him. I also wonder if he loves this place more than I do. As we reach the farm, I look around. I see the hills that we’ve passed through in the south, a vast palm oil orchard in the east, and the mighty mountains in the west extending to the north. I’m surrounded by nature in the freshest hour of the day. What an honor. When I’m up here, I can’t feel the effects of the strenuous hike. I just feel free. A great escape for a lonely soul, a haven for a beaten mind. This isn’t just something to behold. This is something for the heart to savor.