One Day in the Rainy Season
I awoke to a clap. It was a big, hard clap and I sat upright—confused, disoriented, unaware. The clap sounded again. An explosion. My thoughts were still lost in sleep. But once again, the Earth rumbled. I suddenly remembered a brief sojourn I had taken weeks ago up north of the sea: a mushroom cloud of coral blew up high in the sky as dynamite was thrown into the sea. But this was no dynamite.
Thunder clapped loud and close. It came again on the other side of the house, playing tricks on me this time, as it reverberated through my coconut wood, nipa grass, and plywood house. I love weather and all of its powerful energy. I love living close to it and once volunteered on Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, not far from where I grew up, to experience the 100 mile an hour winds of winter.
I couldn't see the storm, but I could feel it. I heard it roll toward the coast, pushing waves and rubble along the beach. The waves were building, colliding, and forcing the water up the river next to my house. The water was swelling on the banks—swelling close to my house, breaking the lower bark of the coconut trees and flooding the yard. The trees were shifting and rolling in the wind, as thunder clapped in one place, then clapped in another. The dogs were quiet, hiding under my writing table. They knew a storm was coming.
Rain approached, stealing into the coast, approaching diagonally, like a silent marauder, a scout, looking for the best line of attack. A line of rain rushed forward, faded away, then rushed forward again.
The dogs were pacing like troopers now, or like refugees looking for a safe place to lay their heads. The volume outside was turned up high. I heard a roar. The storm was upon us.
I chose this moment, of course, to go outside. I needed to make sure that everything was secure—doors, windows, debris. I needed to prepare for the flooding of the river. The storm had an opposite effect on everyone near my house. Women, boys, and men on motorcycles all fled for safety. Naked children, washing only a moment ago at the river, ran with all their might back to their houses. A woman doing laundry took shelter on my porch. My hospitality was traded for her smile. In my busy-ness I gathered garbage and debris from the approach of the storm. I darted to and from different, odd corners of the yard and, like a worker ant, picked up all loose pieces of trash, cooking wood, and plastic that might wash into the ocean and strangle a fish among the corals. I put it all under a grass overhang and continued to circumnavigate the structure, feeling tall and businesslike.
Then the rain came. It came in a series of sheets and I pulled out the bar of soap that I happened to have ready in my pocket. I took off my shirt, a hand-washed one full of holes, and soaped up. I got a good lather, put the soap down, and let the rain wash me clean. The rain dripped down, soaking my shorts. Before the woman on the porch or anyone else could see, I was inside, towel drying myself and sipping coffee. That was my morning. I was already showered, did not have to haul water that day, and my firewood was secured.
In many ways, living this close to the environment and weathering the storm is a life I have always dreamed of. I live next to a river, part of the watershed that everyone drinks out of. At the time of this writing, it is the heart of the rainy season. Just a few kilometers up the river, the tall rain forest stands proud and eagles fly overhead. A fishing community of 259 people lives within a one-minute walk and we share common problems, fears, and hopes. During the rains, for instance, we sometimes cannot catch fish for days. We labor in the rice fields and sometimes wake up in the night during a hard rain, wondering if the fields are flooding. And we remain concerned about our water supply. The river, the same one that runs alongside my house, has been altered three times in the last two decades. A large mining company is currently lobbying to mine the rain forest for metals, as they have done in the past. This will affect everyone's ability to get water.
On many days, and especially during the hot summer tropical days, I can wake up and look out my front door and know that everything that I will eat that day is within eyesight. A rice field surrounds my house, and that is my primary staple. Coconut trees prevent erosion, make tasty drinks, and can be used for oil. Banana trees grow along the hill. If I squint, I can see flying fish in the distance. I will probably eat some of them for dinner. My immediate surroundings are my supermarketI can also take advantage of some resources that the United States is famous for. If I ride a bus for three hours, I can usually send a letter or e-mail. There is also a more traditional supermarket for those days when I crave a candy bar or new pen. Developed urban areas and cities throughout the Philippines rely heavily on surrounding rural areas for their resources. This can often mean shortages of rice, electricity, fuel, and fish for the rural areas of the country. Everyday I see these pressures. Not only do I come to understand these pressures better, but I actually feel them. They affect everyone who lives nearby.
If a logging company harvests an area of the forest, the river floods, and my community is stranded for days. Clean water is hard to find. I watch the water near my house rise, and no fish can be caught. Last year, during one particular flood, two of my friend's cows were carried out to sea in one of these floods. They were never found.
Several authors have described the Philippines as a "plundering paradise." Much of the Philippines, including the area around my house, remains a paradise. There is something beautiful I notice each day. Yet at the same time, my experience serves to illuminate the problems of development, population growth, and resource management. Here, and everywhere, people are a component of the environment, living with it, taking advantage of the harvesting during the rainy season, the planting during the summers, the diurnal tides of fish and the corals that they help nourish. Perhaps we would all live differently if we thought of our world as a series of small, interconnected islands, just like my house, which lies in the middle of a rice field, 10,000 miles away from your backyard.