GOWANUS Summer 2000


By Jojo Malig


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A stick, a stone...you know the rest of the song. The cold season has come and gone, and my sweater remains unused in my closet.

Before the cold season that never was, was the typhoon season that never had a single typhoon. What happened was the summer of ‘97 connected with the summer of ‘98 to form one long continuous summer, drying up dams all over the country and wreaking havoc on crops. Meanwhile, on the other side of the planet, tornadoes turned more murderous than normal and California barely survived its wettest month on record.  What's going on here? I can't recall a warmer February, or a warmer January, for that matter. The patch of bermuda grass in our backyard has prematurely browned, and the potted poinsettia has expired, perhaps wondering during its last dying moments why the air was so hot when it was supposed to be winter.

All the Valentine Days of years past were chilly enough for romance, but this one has been all dust and sweat. The temperature kept climbing, and it's only February. I dread to think how hot March and April might be. And then...rain.

It was a Sunday, I think. Here in Angeles City, the cold wind carried the scent of it at twilight time, and I knew instantly it was pouring somewhere. As it turned out, Clark Field was the lucky beneficiary of the unseasonable downpour. Like a sponge, the parched land quickly absorbed the water, and people rushed indoors, then went to their windows to watch the water with disbelief. They had forgotten how rain looked, how it smelled, how it sounded and felt. The clouds continued to empty, dumping more water than the earth needed to satisfy its thirst. It felt like a benediction. The next day, the brown grass miraculously turned green, and the air smelled of moist soil. There would be no dust all that day, because the sun hardly shone as the rain clouds stayed overhead. It would rain again, in Angeles and in Manila and who knew where else.

But today, the heat is back, reminding me that summer is just beginning—the long hot Philippine summer, a summer like no other.

But I was not afraid anymore. The deadly grip of  El Nino was slackened by that week's triumphant rain, and now I have faith that there's still water, if not on earth, at least in heaven.

                                      WET SPROCKETS

Every August in Pampanga province the frogs come out.  This means nothing to anyone who hasn't heard their deafening chorus in moonlit eastern swamps. In the spring, they all gather around bodies of water, thousands of them in thousands of swamps, calling out for mates. The sound is not unlike the daytime chorus of cicadas in other parts of the country.

It's a feverish high-pitched throbbing mass of sound that gets so loud and intense that on certain roads in Ithaca it pierces through closed windows and engine noise and Nine Inch Nails  on the tape player. If you listen closely you can make out individual chirps as well, but the overall effect is that of a constant, vibrating chorus. It's impossible to get away from the din, but to get the full effect you have to pick your spot carefully. My favorite place is a small pond near the research park. You drive out on Warren Road on a moonlit night, take a right onto the dirt road right after the golf course, and drive slowly uphill for a quarter mile. There the road drops off into a little hollow and a low-lying fog. And the sound is suddenly on top of you, rattling the car windows.

You drive past the hollow to the lot by the stables and park. Walk past the snorting horses along the split rail fence, then head back down into the cool dark hollow. To the left of the road is the pond. In wintertime I used to skate over it while doing my periphery-of-the-
golf-course run. But in spring the water is high, and in leaky old wellies you can only walk up to the water's edge where murky water meets spongy soil.

Nature worship has never been my thing. I'm a lousy camper, I can't name any of the plants or birds or rocks in the woods where I grew up.  I hate being bitten by bugs.  Nor do I collect stuff. The only reason I ever venture into the great outdoors is to get away or to metaphorically roll around in the long grass nature provides, not to cut it up into its constituent parts or embalm, analyze and name it. I want to breathe and feel it without thinking, because thinking ruins it.

I once made the mistake of going to the frog pond with some other scientists. They showed up in hip boots and armed with specimen jars and maglites, jabbering about species and populations and sexual selection. They talked and laughed their way through the muck, not hearing a thing. Shut up, I kept thinking, for God's sake, shut up and listen.

At the edge of the pond the sound is overwhelming. It's a swelling wall coming at you from all sides. It's only gradually you notice there are three or four different voices of frogs singing: the low rolling croaks coming off the surface of the water; the warbling mid-tone melodies that seem to fly across the pond diagonally, sometimes hovering over the middle of the water; and then up in the trees the real source of the racket—tree frogs. Little, unassuming brown things that cling to the branches over your head. Their calls seem to fall  like a rain of ripe fruit on your head, then roll and bounce over the pond and the surrounding countryside like a  million marbles dropped from the sky.

Sometimes you can make out individual chirps, but the noise itself is unceasing and unstoppable. It throbs and vibrates and pulsates with varying rhythms. It gets under your skin and vibrates up and down your limbs and bones till you're physically connected to it. It yanks on your nerves the same way drums can take your heartbeat out of your body.  The trees, the heavy air, the swamp, the spongy muck and the thousands of frogs all together—a giant metafrog—it all combines into one, and you are all humming hysterically together in a throbbing, thrumming, unflagging sonic spiral.

This is when I realize: I need silence, but I also need noise, some-
times very loud noise. Just as I need both dark and light. I need to be in control of what goes into my head, the sensory stimulation I can stand to let in. But I also need to be overwhelmed, bowled over, rattled to the soul, have experience wash over me orgasmically and put me temporarily but completely out of control.

(Joselito "Jojo" Pasion Malig is a 25-year old journalist, essayist, poet and free-lance writer based in Pampanga,  some 50 kilometers north of Manila. He has been a Netizen since 1996 and is editor-in-chief of Philippine Web Exchange, a technology and e-commerce newsletter based at Impresso.com's newslettersonline site. He is into Zen Buddhism, existentialism, Moslem literature, literary journalism, technology, philosophy and metaphysics--not necessarily in that order.)