Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Tabada: Curating


IT IS a year for watching leaves.

Flipping through a journal tracking the year, I noticed leaves dominating nearly each of the 50 or so pages.

While sweeping the street or clearing the garden, I pick up leaves to press between the pages of the journal. At some later time, flipping through the notebook for a blank page to write or draw on, I meet the leaf again.

The dried specimens are attached with clear tape on the page. The sticky tape serves like the thin sheet of glass we used in Biology class to mount a specimen for studying under a microscope.

Under the clear tape, decomposition reveals an odd beauty in the dried striae, lace-like patterns, and spectral hues.

During summer, we helped Papang sweep and burn the leaves fallen under the caimito trees. He believed the smoke drugged the mosquitoes. My sister and I loved smelling the fire in our hair, rising from our sooty, sweaty arms.

A faint memory of burning leaves, prohibited now by anxieties over global warming, lingers over these 365 days, curated by leaves.

An arboreal diary rendering the Taal phreatic eruption in early January, trailed by the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) breaking out in late January, the community quarantine clamping down on the pandemic in March and undergoing permutations by acronym — ECQ, MECQ, GCQ, and currently, MGCQ — until the present. Then, recently, typhoons Quinta, Rolly, Siony. And then?

Branches of leaves weighed down by a fine down of grey ash greeted the morning after Taal Volcano spewed steam, water, ash, and rock. Even the finest mist from rain turned the ash into slurry paste blanketing the trees, stressing this mahogany stand into a premature shedding of leaves months before its usual summer balding.

The enforced lockdowns that kept residents inside their homes led into a surfeit of energy, partially released by relentless street sweeping and garden planting. I saved a leaf or two from those days when the authoritarian compulsion to impose a façade of order warred with the disorder roiling inside.

We harness science and technology to predict storms and avoid their worst. Leaves, though, tell us something after an upheaval. When there is more rain than wind, leaves clot in the gutters. After more wind than rain, leaves are strewn and left in tatters. Nothing is more eloquent than the unstirring foliage of trees just before a storm.

The clatter of ghostly phalanges echoed when, after days of good weather, I swept the curling, desiccated carcasses of leaves littering the street, darkening browns dominating but with splashes of green here and there.

Leaves cling not one second more, a surrendering that fills this primitive human with quiet.


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