BETTER THAN COCONUTS, PAPAYA, AND MAHOGANY

Published March 22, 2021, 12:12 AM

by Jaime Laya

Wala Lang

(PART I)

Salad bowls, giant spoons and forks, man-in-a-barrel, anyone?Our handicraft shops have plenty.Carved from our best woods, they attest not only to our ignorance of the value of what we have but also to our low regard for our natural endowment.

Native forest tree seedlings ready for shipment and planting, hopefully to flourish on a Batangas mountainside.

The late Osmundo Esguerra, master wood artist, once told me that David Linley (world-renowned furniture maker and nephew of Queen Elizabeth II) was interested in his marvelous boxes but wanted proof that they were made from farmed and not from virgin forest wood.That was the end of that.

It is tragic how forests are slashed and burned, cleared to make way for camote and maize; how forest protectors are murdered, and cultural communities ejected.Much of our forests, including supposedly protected national parks and watersheds, are defenseless against loggers, both legal and illegal.The former generally spare nothing, not even the rarest of trees and, if at all they replant, they do so with the most common varieties, including aliens hostile to our native species.For their part, illegal loggers single out the same rare trees precisely because they’re more valuable.The late Gina Lopez, as DENR secretary, tried to do something but, regretfully, failed.

In the West, beautiful woods are traditionally sliced thinly to veneer furniture made with a carcass of common wood.Here, advertisements are common (check Facebook’s Buy and Sell Sites) touting plebeian benches, wastebaskets hollowed out of large blocks, and floor planks of our most beautiful, endangered and theoretically protected kamagong, molave, tindalo, and other super rare woods.

Homeowners and builders of yore had a wide selection and they were choosy.

A Makati house I know has wood recycled from the homeowner’s 1890s home formerly in Trozo (now part of Santa Cruz, Manila).The sala is floored with three-foot-wide dark red ipil framed by light brown molave planks; the dining room floor is wine-dark tíndalo; and bedrooms have narra and yakal.The front door is a solid ipil plank almost four feet wide.Exterior walls are ipil panels.

My own pride and joy is a corridor of wide supa planks that I found in a Laon-Laan Street pre-loved wood dealer.It’s dark red with narrow yellow stripes.Naturally oily, supa is smooth and shiny even when unwaxed.

Furniture were works of art made from carefully selected and matched woods taking into account durability, beauty, grain, color, and other characteristics.  Woods of choice were black kamagóng and dark redtíndalo.  They were lightly waxed to show off the wood, unlike today’s practice of tinting front, top, and sides in walnut brown.

Fate has taken me to other fields so to speak but as a kid, I wanted to be a farmer.  That’s why already thinking of retirement 25 years ago, I bought me a couple of hectares of Batangas hillside already planted with coconuts, Bolivian mahogany, and the goliath of a pajo mango tree.

My experience has been mixed.The coconuts were old and produced nuts reluctantly while the pajo was good for pickling, not earning.Fate also zapped the mango tree in a typhoon and killed off the coconuts in some pandemic.I sold the coconut lumber but their replacements—dwarf coconuts, papaya, rambutan, and calamansi—were not doing well.My caretaker blamed the “mainitnasiñgaw” of the mahogany trees.I therefore chopped down the mahoganies and sold the lumber.I made more money on the coconut and mahogany trees dead than alive.

I had half-decided to proceed with more dwarf coconuts and rambutan when an advertisement popped up on my computer screen.  A Facebook post of the Philippine Native Hardwood Tree Seedlings Site announced, “RARE & HARD TO FIND PHILIPPINE NATIVE HARDWOOD TREE SEEDLINGS FOR SALE !!!” followed by an enumeration of 31 strange names like malibato, manggachapui, malabayabas, and urung.

It was a “Eureka” moment and I messaged the Facebook site immediately for a price list, method of payment, and delivery arrangements.It was action agad.That was the other Saturday and on Wednesday Geff’s Nursery of Sariaya, Quezon delivered to my place in Batangas, foot-high seedlings of about 60 different Philippine native trees.

(To be continued)

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