Reviewing the environmental state of the world
Looking back, acknowledging the present, and planning for the future
When I was little, my grandparents would often take a detour to the Baguio City Market after picking me up from school. We would go section by section, filling a small bayong with pieces of meat wrapped in paper and vegetables encased in plastic. I already knew then that those green, leafy things I was made to eat were called plants. I also knew that we consumed them because they were healthy. But if I were shown the same vegetables outside the market setting—like maybe growing in someone’s garden—I wouldn’t know my beans from my potatoes.
Out of the darkness of soil, seeds sprout, hungry for some sunlight. This made sense in my tiny third grader’s mind, but I soon learned the frustration of planting 10 mongo seeds in a water dipper. Thankfully, my lola had a green thumb and was able to come to my rescue. “Put some soil into the pot, bury the beans in a line, water them a bit, and place it in an area that receives enough sunlight. Then, let it be. Go play. Come back to it tomorrow morning.” I tried my best to follow her instructions despite feeling mildly betrayed by both my science book and the vendors at the city market. How could they have forgotten to inform me that plants need time to grow? As far as I knew up to that point, one simply went to the store, and voila! Instant beans! That was pretty much my understanding of nature then. Potted plants in neatly arranged rows for landscaped gardens were also aplenty in our gated subdivision, but how many of my neighbors really grew their own food? Or allowed their plants to express their natural wildness?
It seems our appreciation of nature goes only as far as we could capture it, either for social media, our own consumption, or our income generation. With the ongoing tourist boom, we offer local and international travelers alike the chance to commune with nature, but first, we clear out forests to pave roads and build malls; what is a nature trip if you don’t have a souvenir to prove you went on one, right? After we’ve taken a selfie with a beautiful natural backdrop, after all the likes, loves, and “Wows” have come in, we return to our usual lives, grateful to have seen something beautiful but feeling removed from it. Back in our “real” world, success is measured by how much we are able to acquire, so it’s no surprise that natural resources are treated as something that can be bought and owned. An ancient tree and the birds living off of it have corresponding monetary value, with a piece of paper to prove so—but isn’t paper a product of trees, too?
I have long come to appreciate my grandparents’ wisdom. They always bought only what they could consume, and in the early mornings and late afternoons of my childhood, I would catch them puttering about in the garden, removing weeds to ensure there was space, light, and space for things to grow. They made me dig my fingers into the soil and touch the roots found within it, if only to illustrate that I too belonged to the world and that all of nature—from birth to death, from budding to withering—is the stuff of life. This year, how about we tap into that connection again and treat the environment with rightful reverence? Who knows: We might find that a simpler, more deliberate life lived in harmony with nature could make us richer than we ever imagined than when we’re occupied keeping up with the corporate rat race. •