Quezon City, the Philippines
May 8, 2010
This particular summer has been a scorcher; I’d give my front teeth for some cool and breezy respite in this microwave oven milieu. Now there’s the wisdom in having more of the jungle in concrete jungle.
Lucky me, I live in Quezon City, one of the leafier cities in not-so-tree-friendly Metro Manila. Less than 15 minutes from my house is a forest reserve called La Mesa Ecopark, tucked away behind a residential community and beside a landfill (of all places!); you wouldn’t know it exists. But it’s actually a large swathe of area around the La Mesa Watershed, the water source of the metropolis that this forest protects. This sylvan enclosure is covered by both city ordinance and a canopy of trees. I had not been there before even though it’s practically in my backyard.
There is an entrance fee of P50, less P10 if you can prove you’re a Quezon City resident. Practically peanuts, but it still felt like that Joni Mitchell classic where she bemoans having to pay a dollar and a half to see trees in a tree museum. “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you got till it’s (almost) gone?”
Oh, Joni would quit kvetching here. The trees are lush and gigantic. They have eye-level ID tags, announcing both their common and scientific names (a nod to Joni’s tree museum?), but I had to cock my head 90 degrees to appreciate them in their entire splendor. Their tops loomed overhead forming a capillary network of leaves and branches, a tenuous cover with a potent cooling effect. I could almost feel drafts of oxygen emanating from the trees if not for the breeze-less afternoon.
Hang your head down and you still wouldn’t miss nature’s glory in the undergrowth. A small roadside creek supports a whole ecosystem in itself. Ferns, grass, weeds, moss, and tiny insects just beg to be macro’d.
And of course, the common but beautiful Corazon de Maria still stood out. It’s a kind of herb with distinct heart-shaped leaves. It grows just about anywhere so people don’t give it much thought. But this weed is unfailingly fascinating. Just how can a thing of such symmetry and cordate beauty randomly sprout in prosaic places like the roadside gutter?
All was not peaceful and quiet in the woods though. Other people would always want to DO something in a place. I’m just content to BE in it. There was a flurry of activity at the swimming pools, zip line, paintball field, rappelling wall, and lagoons. Commerce can’t be far behind. There are bamboo huts and wooden stalls that sell everything from virgin coconut oil to native handicrafts.
Other bloggers would’ve tried any of those activities, but what did I do? I made a beeline for the flower terraces instead. It resembles a hillside but it’s actually the dam wall, cloaked by a field of flowers with dancing colors. Cutting through the middle is a steep flight of steps flanked by pink-flowering shrubs that goes all the way up to the reservoir. I was drenched in sweat when I got to the top.
Two rows of perimeter fences keep the reservoir out of reach. Even “camera taking” is strictly prohibited, go figure. On the way down, I succumbed to flower power; I was fluttering in the sun-kissed field, hopping from one flower to the next like a jolly bee (good thing there were no real bees!). But also, I was wilting in the heat, amidst of all the blossoming.
Even leaves can hold their own. A hedge of crotons can give any artist’s palette a run for its pastiche of colors. Blood reds, luminous yellows, and ink-blot patterns add drama to the veins and their ramifications on leaves such that they mimic floral pulchritude. Plants with monochromatic leaves, on the other hand, are planted en masse to form landscaping patterns. This artful use of plants has only been minimally employed in public spaces. Sadly, I think it’s because people here have a penchant for vandalizing and stealing public property. Plants will never stand a chance.
The water features are actually green, color-coordinated with the rest of the forest. For extra fees, you can either go boating or fishing. As you can predict by now, I did neither. I just took in the soothing sights with both my naked eyes and Leica lens.
Space issues and the economics of real estate development notwithstanding, it is undeniably healthy to have greenbelts to hold any city together, especially since urban areas are where most people live. Living in a green leafy city is as healthy as eating green leafy veggies. Trees and flowers would allow urbanites to breathe and to think, not only under the stifling sun but also under the constrictive claws of concrete.