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[OPINION] Living on Mount Makiling

When I started living on Mt. Makiling 19 years ago, I had no idea how much my life would change. 

All I knew was that I would be living in a place where there were a lot of magnificent trees that would dwarf me every time I’d walk under them. That was all.

I did not know that living on the fringes of a rainforest would give me unforgettable encounters with wildlife – of all kinds! – throughout the year.

I did not know that right inside our living room I would see small snakes (bright yellow-and-black-striped ones) quickly inching their way towards me while I wrapped Christmas gifts on a Sunday afternoon.

I did not know that on certain months, after I turned the light off in my room, I would see fireflies happily dancing outside my window, like tiny fairies straight from Encantadia – and that one or two of them would find their way inside and be my roommate(s) for a week. Every night, before I went to sleep, I’d feel like a 6-year-old kid, completely absorbed in their riveting light show.

I did not know that there’d be summer nights when big wild bees would be buzzing around the light bulb outside the house, and that I would have to be very careful to make sure none of them got inside when I opened the screen door.

I did not know that one weekend, while cleaning the laundry sink outside, I would see trapped in the drain a red, green, and brown lizard, the likes of which I had never seen before, so bright and shiny. Both of us would be super shocked at the sight of each other.

I did not know that my early mornings would be filled with birdsong of all kinds – some sweet and melodious, some loud and urgent – but each one exotic. 

I did not know that some of the birds – like the uwak – would land outside the house and finish the breakfast our neighbor gave her cats, and that it would make all those squawking uwak sounds that are so loud and sharp, they get inside your bones.

I did not know that the tuko could look as big as a TV remote when you see it up close, glued onto the window screen, ash gray with tiny red orange dots splashed across its belly, grim and unflinching, ready to devour all unsuspecting mosquitoes and flying termites.

I did not know that typhoons here in the mountains are different from those in the lowlands; that here, because of all the giant trees, the storm winds feel and sound more violent, more frightening, more destructive.

I did not know that during summer, the narra trees here explode with so much grandness and joy – producing millions of dainty flowers that cover the ground in gold, and fill the air with an unembarrassed sweetness.

I have been living here for 19 years and I am amazed that after all this time, I still haven’t gotten used to the wonders of this mountain. 

Just this morning while washing the dishes, I heard a particularly delicate bird sound coming from afar and I knew – I just knew – it was my first time to hear that sound, ever.

Each time I am moved by the glories of Mt. Makiling, my heart instinctively looks up to thank God for the chance I got to live here. 

I also remember to say thank you to the UP College of Forestry and Natural Resources for their excellent job in protecting the Mt. Makiling Forest Reserve. For decades now, men and women of the college and their retinue of generous supporters have done their best to make sure the forest remains intact. Their hard work is the only reason why, to this day, Mt. Makiling remains lush and vibrant, and has not gone the heartbreaking way of the other mountains of the Philippines. 

One passionate forest protector was Jojo Malinao, the husband of a good friend. He was gunned down several years ago after testifying against a businessman who had allegedly started illegal logging operations on the mountain. Jojo had been receiving death threats prior to his killing, but he was too principled and too brave to buckle down. He loved the forest too much.

Because of Jojo and others like him, I couldn’t be grateful enough. I owe it to them and to future generations to be the best Earth Warrior I can be. And I don’t have to wait for April 22 to do that. Every day is Earth Day. While being an Earth Warrior takes many lifestyle changes and a lot of discipline, I know it’s all worth it. Nineteen years of living on Mt. Makiling has taught me that. – Rappler.com

Rizalina K. Araral, 55, is a resident of Los Baños, Laguna. She lives and works on the foothills of Mt. Makiling.