AT the peak of the tropic dry season, Tuguegarao City in Cagayan province in Northern Luzon simmers, then seethes and sizzles beyond human body heat, even convulsing at fevers over 45 degrees Celsius that can, in ordinary humans, shrivel gray matter.

“Man is,” as natural historian Loren Eiseley would have it, “an expression of his landscape”—as hillsides and mountain slopes girding the city and its fringe towns are now as tempting as the fashionably smooth-shaven pubic mound of a maiden of modern times. Not a whit of decent stand of trees, just shriveled-dry chokes of cogon grass for foraging of cattle, goats, sheep or such livestock.

Findings show that it takes a stand of 100 trees to lower ambient temperature by one degree.

It’s likely that the locals would rather get the hots; better than catch colds. Or maybe even wrest a measure of relief from the dry season’s blast furnace breath; even increase available oxygen in the environs for the breathless, the aged, the infants and infirm that succumb to skin rashes, fainting spells, heat strokes, and nosebleeds that unbearable heat triggers.

Should they move to bring a kiss of swarthy petals in summer, they can turn to a hardy tree that serves as nursemaid to fledgling cacao stands—madre de cacao or kakawate, the leguminous Gliricidia sepium, the gentle warmth of whose leaves are used to ripen fruits or bring healing to unsightly mange in dogs.

Sturdy kakawate grows in hostile soils, like those covering the scabrous, arid spread that looks over Cagayan province. Jab an arm’s length of a finger-thick kakawate stem into such soil as a lover would seek the hellish-hot recesses of the beloved’s labia; the stem would spurt its fresh sprouts within a few weeks. In a year, the promise of a forest is at hand. In three years, the fledgling kakawate stand can serve as shelter for young coffee or cacao saplings.

Summer shears kakawate foliage, nudges the spread of sturdy branches to bring forth cluster upon cluster of blooms, pinkish and sweet. The flowers can be culled off the branches, eaten as is—tingly sweetish—or blanched, then mixed with minced tomatoes, shallots, cottage cheese, and drizzled with vinegar and olive oil as a salad fit for a king.

Lovely nursemaids, those young kakawate trees, bequeathing cooling shade to young cacao saplings that, in time, would be bearing a cache of pods, fittingly called ‘food of the gods’—chocolate.

Chocolate consumption worldwide far exceeds production of cacao.

Cagayan should give it a try, grow kakawate upon those sterile spread of earth that used to be mountains with a view to growing the ‘food of the gods.’ (ai/mtvn)

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