Friday, March 31, 2017

Palm Sunday - Lavish Observance while Nature - and Man - Suffer the Consequences

The day after! Whatever happened to the sacredness of Palm Sunday! 

Save the Trees this Palm Sunday.  The Christian world loses millions and millions of money worth of palm trees every Palm Sunday.  
This is a yearly appeal from this website addressed to the leaders of the Church, the faithfuls, and mankind as one. 
Let's plant trees instead and take good care of them. The  Christian world loses millions and millions worth of palm trees every Palm Sunday.  Coconut-based economy is the worse hit - the source of many domestic and export products, and the foundation of people's livelihood. The coconut is the most important tree in maintaining the balance of tropical ecosystems. 

Dr Abe V Rotor
Living with Nature - School on Blog

Bundles of palm fronds (young leaves of coconut and other palm trees) attest to the  massive decimation of the palms in the Christian world.

Lavish observance of Lent while Nature suffers. 

Palm Sunday - the Day After

Let's join hands to save the trees  
  • Don't use young (bud) leaves of coconut for palaspas. You will kill the tree.
  • Conserve the Oliva or the Cycads. They are living fossils, older than the dinosaurs. They are now endangered.
    Oliva or Cycad, a living fossil is now endangered. 
  • Don't strip the young leaves of buri and anahaw palms. They are now in the list of threatened species. 
  • Get only the mature leaves - never the young leaves or bud. Get only a small leaf or part of it. Don't be wasteful. 
  • There's no need for each faithful to carry palaspas. One for a whole family is enough.                       s. 
  • Get substitute plants that are not ecologically endangered and economically threatened. (Examples: MacArthur's Palm, palmera, Areca or betel nut, bunga de Jolo, and 101 non-palm plants from bamboo to ground orchid). Use mature or older leaves - never the young leaves and buds.
  • Seek advice from your community and religious leaders, and environmentalists.
    •     Buri palm (Corypha umbraculifera) is now in the threatened list of plants
    Let's cite some popular religious practices, irrespective of denomination, and find out if they are favorable or not - and why.
• Fasting is cleansing, it helps the body stop the accumulation of unwanted substances such as cholesterol, and allows the body to eliminate toxic materials.

• Retreat and reflection is therapy, helps the mind and body release tension and do away with the effects of stress.

• Abstinence conserves animal population especially during the lean months, conserving breeding stocks - like seeds (binhi) – in order to multiply in the next season.

• To some religions pork is banned. Pork is a carrier of known parasites such as tapeworm, hookworm, and ascaris.

• On Palm Sunday trees are stripped off of their buds, leaves and stems. This is detrimental  to the environment especially in summer when plants face tight water regime. Millions of pesos worth of coconut trees, potential to provide nuts continuously for a period of up to 30 years, are simply sacrificed for a day's ritual. Endangered species such as the Cycad (Oliva), are pushed to the brink of extinction.

• Ancient religions regard certain places and trees sacred, thus enhancing their conservation. Such worship was replaced by later religions, thus losing their protection.

• The washing of feet is not only ritual, it is also sanitation, getting rid of germs and preventing their spread.

. Avoid dipping your fingers into the holy water bowl, and never wash your hands or face in it. Running holy water is best.

. Take communion on your palm, never with your tongue. Epidemic such as H1N1 (flu) can be spread this way.

Holding hands in prayer is discouraged also for health and sanitation, keeping ones privacy in reverence, notwithstanding. Kissing icons is likewise discouraged for the same reason. Wiping holy objects with handkerchief will only pick up germs.

. Paying last respect to the dead should be done with extreme care, especially if the cause of death is highly contagious like anthrax, Ebola and SARS. Remember the tragic death of some religious sisters who contacted Ebola from their dead colleague?

. Don't walk on your knees to the altar; kneeling in prayer is enough. Be kind to your knee tendon and kneecap; knee injury may incapacitate you permanently. "You re not growing younger," an elder advised me. Let's learn from athletes who retired early because of knee injury.

Removing shoes before entering a house of worship is an expression of respect and reverence, as well as for purposes of maintaining sanitation in the place. Any footwear carries dirt and germs, and may be teems with bacteria and fungi from long and intimate wear. This practice may not be as strict in Catholic churches as in Muslim mosques and Buddhist temples. Removing shoes in other places like prayer rooms, wakes, even homes, are becoming a popular practice.

. Many religious ceremonies are without the use of incense. Incense smoke and scent usually produce a pleasant and calming effect to the faithful. It is also an effective fumigant against flying and crawling insects. Its repellant effect helped keep down the spread of bubonic plague during the Middle Ages. The causal organism which killed a third of the population in the known world is carried by flea (Xenopsylla cheopis) that resides in rats. Incense comes in various preparations and offerings, candle sticks among the most common. Burning candles have similar but lesser effects. To get rid of flies around food, plant one or two burning candles to keep them at bay. Try it.

Sprinkling holy water with lotus flower before entering the Buddha Shrine. (Grand Palace, Bangkok)

Candle offering is often wasteful and dangerous. It also makes the place untidy. A lighted candle in an enclosed room reduces oxygen level while filling it with CO2 and the deadly Carbon Monoxide. (Our Lady of Manaoag Shrine, Manaoag Pangasinan.)

NOTE: I invite the readers to list down other religious practices - favorable and not - and send them through Comments. It will indeed enrich this article.

Proof of destruction on the altar of faith could be as evident as after a typhoon and other force majeure on the economy and environment. ~

Role of coconut and other trees as buffer against tsunami and strong wind. (Internet, FAO photos).

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The March of Seasons in Paintings

Paintings and murals by Dr Abe V Rotor

Identify to what season each of these paintings belongs. Write a verse under each to describe events and peculiar characteristics of the particular season.
(1.)  Detail of a mural by AVR (Courtesy of San Vicente Ilocos Sur Municipal Hall)
(2.) Experimental glass painting in acrylic by Dr AVR 
(3.)  Acrylic on wood by AVR, 
(4.)Abstract in acrylic, AVR
(5.) Wall Mural, SPUQC, by AVR   
(6.) Canvas Mural, AVR, Courtesy of Sanguita, DasmariƱas Village, Makati. MM  
(7.) Abstract drawing, AVR 
(8.) Painting in acrylic, AVR.  Courtesy of Dr Anthony Vasco, 
Dean UST Arts and Letters
(9.) Landscape of a Valley in acrylic, AVR 
(10.) Aerial View in acrylic, AVR
(11.) Forest landscape in acrylic, AVR
(12.) Deer by a waterfall in acrylic, AVR
(13.) Rampage in acrylic, AVR
(14.) Mountain Stream mural detail in acrylic, AVR

(15.) Wall Mural, SPUQC, by AVR 

Return of the Blackbird Martinez

The return of the once thought extinct Martinez is a manifestation of Nature's triumph. It is triumph to mankind and the living world. 
Dr Abe V Rotor
Blackbird (Martinez), Drynaria fern and towering acacia
tree make an ecological sanctuary, together with a host ofother organisms that depend on them. Tagudin, Ilocos Sur.

This is one for the biologist and ecologist. I say, it's one for the Book of Guinness record.

Up high in a dozen centuries old acacia trees, reaching up to 10 storeys high, their boughs and branches clothed with epiphytic ferns, I found the long lost blackbirds, we call martinez in Ilocano.

I was then in the grade school in San Vicente (Ilocos Sur) when I saw the last martines bird. But here on a Black Friday on top of these towering trees, there is the lost bird, in fact several of them in pairs and families. It is like the Coelacanth, a primitive fish thought to have long been extinct, suddenly rising from the depth of the craggy Madagascar sea. Its fossil in rock tells us it is 40 million years old. And here it is - alive and has not changed! The fossil fish is alive! So with the Martinez!

The blackbirds have made the towering acacia trees their home and natural habitat, building their nests on the Drynaria fern. The fern grows on the branches, reaching the peak of its growth during the rainy season when the host tree sheds its leaves, in effect allowing sunlight to nurture the fern.

The fern has dimorphic leaves. The primary ones are long and shaped like stag horn and bear sori or spore sacs, while the other kind is shaped and arranged like shingles, enclosing the fern's rhizome. Like all ferns, Drynaria undergoes alternation of generations - the spore-forming phase and gamete-forming phase. It is the sporophytic or asexual generation that the fern plant is familiar to us. It is typically made of roots, stems and leaves - but never flowers and fruits. It is for this that ferns are classified separately from seed-forming and flowering plants. They belong to Division Pterophyta.

In the dry season, the fern becomes dormant, appearing dry and lifeless from the outside, but shielded by the shingles the fleshy rhizome waits for the rain and sunlight - and the shedding of the host tree. Then almost at an instant the fern springs to life, carpeting entire boughs and branches.

Now it's the tree's turn. In summer, while the fern is dormant, it builds a new crown, and together with those of the adjoining trees form a huge canopy that makes a perfect shade. This could be one reason the friars in the 15th century thought of introducing the acacia (Samanea saman) from Mexico to be planted around churches and convents.

Not only that the acacia is the biggest legume in the world; it is self-fertilizing and self supporting, and sharing its resources to countless organisms from earthworm to humans. How is this possible?

The acacia harbors in its roots symbionts - Rhizobium bacteria that convert the element Nitrogen (N) into Nitrate (NO3). Only then can N that comprises 78 percent of the air we breathe can be used by plants to manufacture food by photosynthesis.

And with the deciduous character of the tree, dead leaves form a litter on the ground that makes a good mulch and later becomes compost - a natural fertilizer for the tree, surrounding plants, microorganisms and animals. Then as the pods of the tree ripen and drop to the ground, animals like goats come around to feed on them and in effect enrich the ground. The tree's efficient physiology and symbiotic potential with other organisms make it not only one of the most self-reliant trees in the world, but a miniature ecosystem in itself.

We see today very old acacia trees in these places, just like those around the old St Agustine church in Tagudin built in the 16th century where I found the blackbirds among the Drynaria ferns at their tops. Tagudin is the southernmost town of Ilocos Sur, some 330 kilometers north of Manila - a good five-hour drive. It continues to attract northbound tourists to have a stopover and see this spectacle, among other attractions of this old town, such as its native handicrafts, pristine seashore and progressive upland agriculture.

Going back to the blackbirds, why do we give much importance to them? Well, the blackbirds protect both tree and fern from insects and other pests, and fertilize them with their droppings. They too, are gleaners and help keep the environment clean. Unlike the house sparrow, ground fowls and the crow, they are not nuisance to the place; their presence is barely felt except for their occasional calls which sound quite sonorous but nonetheless pleasant, and their display during flight of a queer pair of white spots on their wings. I developed the liking to watch them for hours - their gentle movement, familial ways, although they do not as gregarious as pigeons, and their glossy black bodies distinct from the surrounding and against the sky. They make a good specimen for bird watching and photography.

Beyond the aesthetics about the bird, I learned from my good friend Dr. Anselmo Set Cabigan, a fellow biologist and science professor, that the martinez was introduced from Guam on instruction of a Spanish Governor General to control locust infestation in the Philippines. This is the first case of applying the principle of biological control in the Philippines - and perhaps elsewhere - which was then too advance in its time. Today, biological control is practiced worldwide as part of Integrated Pest Management (IPM), a holistic approach in dealing with all kinds of pests which include pathogens.

Locust (Locusta migratoria manilensis) is a scourge to agriculture in many countries since prehistoric times. I have witnessed how a swarm of locust devour complete fields of rice and corn, and other crops overnight. During swarming the sky darkens as sheer numbers of these flying insects block the sky. And as they ride on the wind they produce a deafening hissing sound that adds terror to farmers and inhabitants.

And why was the martinez bird the chosen nemesis of the locust? It clearly shows the efficiency of this predator. Actually predation is most effective when the locust is still in its non-migratory phase, specifically during the congegans - more so when it is in the solitaria phase. The bird immediately checks the pest before it develops into enormous population - and reach its swarming stage.

I believe that the triad formed by the acacia tree, Drynaria fern and the blackbirds is the beginning of an emerging ecosystem where wildlife and human settlement meet in cooperation and harmony. It is a zone where Nature re-builds spent environments and creates intermediate types, in which the role of man is basically to let nature's laws and rules to prevail. For example, doves and pigeons in public squares and plazas in many parts of the world are learning to trust people, and many people are just too happy to share their homes and other resources with them. They are planting trees and setting up more and wider parks for the wildlife.

For one, Japan now requires the greening of rooftops of buildings through gardening dubbed aeroponics, and by putting up ecological sanctuaries to attract wildlife to settle in them. In Europe on the other hand, miles and miles of hedges have evolved into a unique ecosystem, that one can no longer differentiate a well-established hedge from a natural vegetation. Also in Europe, woodlands which are actually broad strips that serve as boundaries of fields and pastures, are gaining through time higher biodiversity levels, and moving towards dynamic stability, called in ecology as homeostasis.

The Philippines is not behind. We have multi-storey orchards in Cavite, Batangas and Laguna that simulate the structure of a tropical rain forest long before the term ecology was coined. And  many basins of ricefields and sumps of irrigation systems have become natural ponds.

The 38th parallel dividing the whole length of warring North Korea and South Korea – a strip of no man’s land, twenty kilometers at its widest – has developed, since the armistice in 1958, into a natural wildlife sanctuary. Today it has a very high level of biodiversity and distinct from any reservation on either side of this highly restricted boundary.

These neo-ecological zones are sprouting from backyards, parks, submerged coastlines, denuded mountains, and the like. Even contiguous idle lots – and abandoned fishponds, farms and settlements - are slowly but steadily becoming bastions of wildlife.

Truly, the case of the centuries old acacia trees where the Drynaria and the martinez birds, and man living with them in peace and in harmony - is a manifestation of Nature's triumph. It is triumph to us and the living world. ~

Grotesque looking acacia tree clothed with Drynaria fern
over church and convent in Tagudin, Ilocos Sur.

Photographs taken with an SLR Digital Camera with 300 mm telephoto lens.

Still Life:Painting: Old Bouquet

Dr Abe V Rotor

Old Bouquet in acrylic by AVR 2005

Still life - one says, when life comes to a stand;
      another, scripted life on the table.
Still life - favorite subject of artists old and new,
      hanging on some forgotten wall.

Still life - when we cease to move along,
      to be center of attraction,
unmindful of Salvador Dali's Melting Clocks,
      and Massenet's Meditation.

Still life - beauty captured and soon lost,
      freshly plucked, bound together
into bouquet for fleeting admiration,
      orphaned from the Garden forever.~

Friday, March 17, 2017

Dead Coral - Microcosm of our Dying World

Photos and text by Dr Abe V Rotor

Dead Brain Coral
Someday these children will understand what "ruined nature" means.     
A broken coral is permanently dead, it cannot serve as foothold of baby 
corals (larvae) to become polyps and grow to maturity, much less to 
form a community. Likewise seaweeds will not survive. In short, the 
ecosystem in which they were once a part is dead.

Dead coral samples, Morong Bataan, April 16, 2014

My kin are dying in mass grave of toxic water spurred by global warming,
acid rain formed by gases and particles rising and mixing with the clouds;

My symbionts - the algae and other protists, monerans, that catch the sun

through the magic of photosynthesis, their products I cannot live without;

My tenants free in my household their abode, living in unity and harmony

in a pool of energy, passing on to others their share through the food web.  

My transient friends that come by to rest along their route to other places,

to find refuge from danger, tide with the season, then resume their journey; 

My colleagues living in vast colonies, growing dutifully over the bedrock 
set by my forebears through the ages that protect the land from the sea;  

My friend octopus ensconced in my crevices lurking in perfect camouflage     

and mimicry, giant lapu-lapu its kingdom within my walls, a fort it made;

My favored guests the whale, dolphin, and sea cow, once land mammals
that turned to sea and never returned, are now orphans without a home;    

My strange bedfellows, at one time lovable at others not, the sea urchin, 
starfish that invade like an army, yet useful in keeping nature's balance; 

My co-host of countless organisms, the seaweeds attached on my back
as thick as a forest, layer after layer, with the biodiversity of an ecosystem; 

My enemies - the mudflat and sand bar - shifting and invading my territory,
and while I choke,  sea grasses will soon grow, to which I gladly withdraw;

My gentle friend the tide that baths me everyday, washing away my dirt,

and keeping me clean and fresh, so with my tenants and visitors alike; 

My adopted children, a nursery I provide them, from early life to weaning,
as they prepare to go out into the open sea, strong, confident, and free;

My next generation of free swimming larvae in sheer numbers seeking
a permanent home to become polyps, and grow into corals like me.

My visitors from the human world,  peering through the glass and lens,
the beauty of my world, no other can compare, now dead - and gone. ~
 Life cycle of a coral 
 An unspoiled coral reef 
A healthy young coral reef, painting by the author

Beauty and a Dead Coral at the former St Paul College QC Museum
- a false concept of aesthetics and conservation.

Red Hot Summer in Paintings

Dr Abe V Rotor 
Fire tree in acrylic, on-the-spot painting AVR, 
Jamboree Site, UPLB Laguna

Burn in the summer sun,
your cinders on the ground,
and i shall walk on carpet,
a prince to kingdom bound.  
Erythrina by a stream, painting in acrylic AVR, 2009
UST Publishing House     

Flow gently sweet stream
among fiery petals strewn, 
 down the river flowing 
and never to return.
Mutant Red, painting in acrylic, by AVR 

Whatever happened to the tree Erythrina, 
lost in the madness of science and fancy,  
transplanted gene in her bosom dear,
forever coveted her beauty.  
An Arch of Fire Trees, painting in acrylic AVR 2009

An arch over a mountain stream, 
strewing confetti from its bow,
drifting down stream to where I dream,   
an honor to be simple and low.

A Field of Flowering Weeds, mural by AVR 2010

Dare to step on these lowly flowering weeds,
denied of decent place and defiled;
Save the deities by their magic wands succeed  
in bringing out Nature's hidden pride,