Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Photography: Creating Images in the Sky

"Do you believe in angels?"
Dr Abe V Rotor 
Photography is full of wonders. Walang patsamba-tsamba (no hit-and-miss) is not true after all. These photos were not preset or planned. With the digital camera today, anything that sheds light is within the capability of the digital system to capture, whether fixed or moving. Photography today is "creating images," but mostly by chance, and readiness. Beyond that, it's luck. I say, it's providence. What with an empty sky in complete darkness of night, and here is an image no one would expect to come out in picture. I remember a part in a documentary, Dying for the Story, when a photojournalist asked a fellow photojournalist, "Do you believe in angels?"

Do you believe in angels?

I Reach for the Stars

If by light years I am touched by the stars,
me a visitor just passing;
let me in spirit travel and pay in return,
to share my own world's blessing.~

Home Garden - Ecological Sanctuary and Natural Gene Bank

The microcosm of the ocean is a garden pond; it is like “seeing the world in a grain of sand.”
Dr Abe V Rotor 
Our homelot nearly equivalent to a typical subdivision residential lot lies just across the watershed of La Mesa dam, the source of water for Metro Manila residents.

Keep the backyard a natural habitat of organisms.  It is a living gene bank. Detail of a mural by the author

Everyday birds from the watershed come to our garden. They perch on the trees singing melodious songs for hours. They are a gentle alarm clock and at sunset draw out the tension of the day and put it to rest. For some 25 years now with the children spending their childhood and adolescence, memories come spontaneously alive at nature’s presence. We look for nature, but nature comes to you, too. We can make the backyard a sanctuary of living things. It becomes a corner of Eden so to speak, in the inner eyes of the English poet John Milton, in the soul searching music of Beethoven, and in the quasi-spiritual reverence for life of John Muir and Also Leopold.

What makes an ecological garden? Here are some guidelines.

Let nature do the arranging of the plants – their kinds, growing habits, seasonal occurrence, and niches. This principle must prevail over our plan to make the garden Italian or Japanese in which man dictates the plan of the garden.

The garden serves three important functions.

• Cooling effect. A 10-year old acacia tree for example, has the capacity to provide the cooling power of ten 10Hp air conditioning units. Trees make a huge umbrella that protects us from heat stroke.

• Windbreak. Trees, especially if planted in group or rows, and in combination of other plants, can withstand the strength of strong wind.

• Sound barrier. Foliage serves as acoustic, absorbing echoes, and filtering unwanted sound waves, and resonating the good ones like in an amphitheater.

• Dust filter. Plants eliminate particles in the air with their leaves trapping and moistening them with transpired water, thus sending them back to the soil.

• Radiation filter. Plants serve as buffer against ultraviolet rays as well as cosmic rays. So with other forms of radiation, visible and invisible, that are harmful to health and environment.

• Color filter. Plants act like a giant prism, but unlike the lens, colors are pooled into a common color - green – the coolest of all colors, neutral and soothing to the eyes and other senses.

Prickly Narra (Dipterocarpus merrillii

A garden is not a garden if it does not smell like one. Ilang-ilang exudes sweet scent throughout the year. It is sweetest in early morning and evening, and a soft breeze spreads the scent in the neighborhood. The best scents in the garden come from Eucalyptus, binunga (samat), pandan mabango, sweet basil, roses, rosal, dama de noche, and of course, sampaguita.

One day I leisurely watched a spider span a huge web. It is a giant spider called Haring Gagamba working of a tapestry. I remember the story of the Irish hero, Robert the Bruce, watch a spider making a web. The spider failed in several attempts to construct the primary frame. It gave the downhearted hero the heart to win back the crown.

In the garden, there are unceasing battles between and among living things. . Birds eat on caterpillar, frogs have their fill on flies, dragonflies hover and devour flying gnats, spiders entrap grasshoppers, preying mantis prey on unwary insects. I have observed hantik or green tree ants (Oecepalla smaragdina) build nest in the upper branches of talisay. Their colony is closely knit and their nest is an architectural wonder. The green leaves are sewed together by the workers stroking the larvae to secrete a sticky substance that dries like paper. The larva is actually carried by an adult like a tube of epoxy as other workers hold the leaves to be sewed together. These ants attack as an army that even a caterpillar is subdued in an instant and sooner or later cut into pieces which the ants carry to their nest to feed the colony.

Yet in the same spot ants and termites live together. It is a demonstration on how two different niches work, bounded by biological rules. The ant colony stays above ground to up the foliage, while the termites in an anthill called punso. Yes, the termites – they are an engineering genius. They build their mound at the foot of the big talisay tree – then, when dug out move to another place overnight, and when we think they are no longer there, it is likely that they are virtually sleeping with us inside the house. And true, we discovered a colony of termite in an apparador, and another in a roof beam. It is here that man turn against a destructive organism.

Plants kill other plants to maintain their boundaries. They abort germinating seeds even of their kind that become threat to their existence. Allelopathy is a phenomenon plants harm one another, in order to enhance success in competition for sunlight, nutrients, water and space. Plants secrete chemicals in their roots, stems, and leaves. To illustrate, we have a ten-year old malunggay that is slowly being choked by coconut and binuga tree (Macaranga tenarius). All the cultivars of mayana I planted were lost, due to inter competition, and then they were overrun by carabao grass. Ube (Dioscorea alata) takes advantage with its viny habit virtually leaping out into space, its leaves covering much of the trees and wall, then after rainy season it all disappears leaving but a five-kilo tuber ensconced in the soft earth and mulch.

But wonder what those plants are clinging on the trunk of trees. These are epiphytes, a relationship called commensalisms. The epiphytes benefit from their tree host. They gain foothold and elevation to reach sunlight without harming their host. We have a talisay tree that carries on its trunk a cluster of native orchid that blooms with a dangling inflorescence appearing like giant leis.

Lest a garden is misunderstood as purely aesthetic and ecological. One coconut tree can provide an ample supply of walis tingting, sweets, coconut milk (gata), husk for the orchids, firewood, and buko, but we love this tree of life most whenever birds build their nest on top and unfold a primitive sense of family love and care.

At night bats come and gather the ripe fleshy fruits of talisay (Terminalia catappa), and would accidentally drop a fruit or two hitting the roof of our house, and if we are not aware of the cause, we would attribute it to a prankster – or a spirit who wants to disturb our sleep.

Do you believe in spontaneous generation? Saluyot, amaranth, kamkamote, Portulaca – these and other wild growing vegetables pop out of the ground following the first heavy rains in May, and believe it, after two weeks they are ready for the kitchen. Their succulent leaves and stems are rich in vitamins and minerals. But we do not gather the plants entirely; we simply trim down the leaves leaving the plant to reach maturity. How these wild species survive the dry months is a proof of their sturdiness which guided their successful evolution.

How high can a tree reach? Well, our ilang-ilang grew and grew and grew, and then one day a strong wind decapitated it. Then the upper branches dried up one by one until the tree has but a bunch of low branches. We know that there is always limit to growth, and the very same factors that favored it also created its liabilities. I am reminded of the syndrome of bigness whether it be an animal or tree or business. We call this Dinosaur Syndrome.

The Importance of a Garden Pond

Are you aware that having a pond to complement your garden is beneficial for you and members of your family? This is so because a pond represents an ecosystem. As such it has the basic features of a functioning ecological unit.

The pond is a field laboratory for microbiology. Plankton organisms are revealed under the microscope. In their diversity, a whole new world unfolds- a world man did not know before Anton van Leuwenhoek introduced the science of microscopy sometime in the 17th century.
There are monerans and protists, the world’s oldest- yet simplest- organisms. It is a wonder why these organisms did not evolve and develop into complex organisms like the plants and  animals we know- and why they are ensconced in a confined environment such as a pond.

The microcosm of the ocean is the pond; it is like “seeing the world in a grain of sand.” And for the eons of time and generations these organisms have passed through, it is like “holding eternity in the palm of the hand.” Thus the pond is the representation of our biological world, manifesting how little we know of God’s immense wisdom contained in a drop of water that teems with myriads of micro-organisms.

Mural painting by the author in his residence, QC  

Anyone who takes time to sit by the pond could lose his thoughts in the larger realm of nature and the countryside. Cattail and umbrella plants rise among the floating water lilies, whose pink to purple flowers break the monotony of the pondscape. But the centerpiece of the pond is a community of white-flowered lotus or purple flowered Nymphaea..
From the deep green water, one may be surprised to see a school of colorful carp and tilapia, stirring at the slightest hint of company and food. Their graceful movement creates gentle waves and soft lapping sounds against the shore line. To an observant eye, small fish like Poecilia and rainbow fish form small schools that inhabit the edges of the pond and its tiny islets and coves formed by aquatic plants and stone. These tiny fish are always mindful about staying out of the path of their large counterpart. Other than small insects that fall into the water, they subsist on the latter’s morsels.

At the bottom of the pond lies the harmless, independent janitor fish known for their role of eating crust of algae and scum. That is why they are important in keeping aquariums and ponds clean. In the process, they convert organic matter into detritus, the pond’s natural fertilizer, and are the source of sediments that accumulate and become a foothold of aquatic plants. Seldom to these helpful creatures rise to the surface, but if you want to see these shy, docile fish, peer into the water on a clear day when the sun is directly above, and you will find them lying prostrate at the bottom, like sunken ship on a sea floor.

The pond relieves tension. When you need to relax, observe the turtles basking in the morning sun, stretching their neck and appendages. Or watch those cooling off on a hot day, their nostrils and carapace protruding out of the water. Nearby, a toad might patiently sit on a leaf pad, sheepishly eyeing an unwary insect for its next meal, its long tongue coiled like spring, ready to strike like lasso.

Bees buzz from flowers to flower, while dragonflies - red, green and brown - hover prettily above the water as they search for a suitable place to lay eggs that will hatch into aquatic nymphs that feed on mosquito wrigglers and Daphnia. Strung on leaves and stalks are spider webs glistening with dewdrops. These resemble strings of diamonds that will soon turn into nearly invisible death traps for the hoppers, mosquitoes and flies that stray into them. Frogs are permanent residents in a small pond, singing at the onset of rain and exchange love calls throughout the breeding season. They remain quiet in summer as they aestivate and wait for the rains to come again.

Get rid of Mosquitoes  with Poeciliids

Raising poeciliids (kataba or bubuntis) in your backyard can help eradicate dengue- and malaria- carrying mosquitoes.

The Poeciliidae are a family of freshwater fish of the order Cyprinodontiformes, the tooth-carps, and include well-known live-bearing aquarium fish, such as the guppy, molly, platy, and swordtail. The original distribution of the family was the southeastern United States to north of Rio de la Plata, Argentina. However, due to release of aquarium specimens and the widespread use of species of the genera Poecilia and Gambusia for mosquito control, poeciliids can  be found 
today in all tropical and subtropical areas of the world. 

Kataba or canal fish (Poecillia) thrives without any care, as long as there is water, living on plankton and insects that fall into the pond or attracted by a nearby vigil light. Whenever there is stagnant pools around, I put a pair of these mosquito-eating fish and that solve the possibility of malaria or dengue to occur in our the place. Our pond serves as kataba nursery of sort; we give relatives, friends and students who wish to grow kataba in their own aquarium or pond.

You can build a mini-pond in your backyard. Then you can fill the mini-pond with tilapia, catfish (hito), even carp and pangasius. The fishes are good predators of mosquito wrigglers. But there is another highly recommended fish, the kataba or poeciliid, a large family of small fishes known for being predatory as well as omnivorous.

Residents along esteros can live without window and door screens and mosquito nets due to the presence of this biological friend and nemesis of the kiti-kiti or mosquito wrigglers.

The importance of insectivorous fish cannot be underestimated. In China the government mandated the raising of mosquito-eating fishes during the dengue outbreak in 1981. The Chinese raised fishes like the poeciliids , tilapia and catfish in canals, ponds, fields, and even household water containers. Indeed, the community project prospered and in no time the epidemic was contained.

Raise Fish in the Garden Pond

Catfish (hito) fattened in our garden pond have become pets; the biggest measures 2 ft long. 

The green water in the pond is a good hunting ground for microscopic flora and fauna. With a microscope on hand I have discovered a lot of planktons, many of which are unfamiliar. The green color is made up of millions of one-celled green algae which constitute the pasture of zooplankton organisms. They are the autotrophs, the base of the food pyramid in a pond ecosystem.

Would a backyard fill in the vacuum created by our wanton destruction of natural resources, the rape of our forests, the draining of swamps, the conversion of mangrove to fisheries? Or the gross negligence in keeping our lakes and rivers full and clean – or at least for having nature to take care of them? I doubt. But the little Eden each one of us make in our backyards would collectively recreate little by little that bigger Paradise we lost, when and to what extent we can only surmise and struggle with will and resolve. It is our little contribution in regaining the Lost Paradise. xxx

Trivia: By examining the physical characteristics of plants we can read how nature intended them to be used. This is not true. 

Enjoy the aesthetics of a garden.  It is bringing nature into the home. 

This is a belief called Doctrine of Signatures, which was popular during the Middle Ages. 

  • Liverworts (Riccia and Marchantia) which resemble the shape of liver are effective for liver diseases. The shapes of eggplant and avocado suggest fertility and aphrodisiac value. 
  •   Apple and mango resemble the heart and are therefore good when it comes to matters of love.
  •   Kidney beans are good for the kidney, but the truth is that it has high uric acid content. 
  •  The garlic plant has a hollow stem so that it would be of benefit in afflictions of the windpipe, hence used in all types of respiratory disorders such as cough, colds, catarrh, asthma and bronchial problems.

Physical appearance has nothing to do with the curative powers of plants, or animals for that matter. It is true that garlic is an effective respiratory cure, but it is its active ingredients that are responsible for it.

Monday, May 29, 2017

"Life is a river flowing, its source the sky and dream..."

Mural and Poem by Dr Abe V Rotor
Nature Mural by AVR 2005

Life is a river flowing,
its source the sky and dream;
clouds rising, falling as rain,
and running downstream.

Life is a river flowing,
from mountain to sea;
the bounty of the living,
kingdom and the free. 

Life is a river flowing,
nature's free energy,
prime mover of the living
world of synergy.

Life is a river flowing
incessantly through
fields and plains and ravine,
all year through.

Life is a river flowing,
flowing with laughter,
whispering, hissing, roaring,
more so in summer.

Life is a river flowing
to a sweet union - 
the spirit and nature rising
to every occasion.~ 

Wild food plants or “survival plants”

Dr Abe V Rotor

  Survivors of war, plane crash, shipwreck have a lot to lessons to share, among them are edible plants that kept them alive. 

Talisay (Terminalia catappa) bears nut like fruits that contain small seeds that taste like almond. 

Tibig (Ficus nota.) The fruits are edible and have a good flavor.  They are soft and fleshy when mature. 

Banana blossom (Puso ng saging)

Isis (Ficus odorata) or isis because its rough leaves are used as natural sandpaper for utensil and wood.  Its fruits like tibig are edible.   

Balleba (Vallisnera) is an aquatic plant growing in clear streams, ponds and lakes, whose leaves appear like ribbon, hence it is also called ribbon grass. The leaves are gathered and served fresh with tomato, onion and salt.

Papait (Mollogo oppositifolia)

Apulid or water chestnut.  Our native apulid produces very small bulbs - only one-third the size of the Chinese or Vietnamese apulid.  It grows wild in places where water is present year round. It is boiled, peeled and served.  

Aratiles (Muntingia calabura) bears plenty of tiny berries which are red to violet when ripe. It is sweet and somewhat aromatic.  

                                           Himba-ba-o or Alokong 
                           (Alleanthus luzonicus)

Wild sinkamas (Pacchyrhizus erosus) has enlarged roots which may remain in the soil even after the plants has dried up in summer. It is gathered and eaten raw. 

Urai (Amaranthus spinosus). The plant become spiny as it matures. It is the very young plant that is gathered as vegetable. 

Mulberry (Morus alba). Its leaves are the chief food of silkworm.  The fruits when ripe are purple to black, and while very small are juicy and fairly sweet. 

Bagbagkong, flower vegetable 

Taro (Colocasia sp.). The Palawan gabi grows twice the height of man and produces a large corm.  There is a technique in preparing and cooking the corm. Or making starch out of it.  The key is thorough cleaning and cooking.  

Gulasiman (Portulaca oleracea) has succulent leaves and stems which are cooked as vegetables.  

Talinum ((Talinum triangulare). The succulent stems and leaves are gathered as vegetable.  

Saluyot tops (Corchorus olitorius

 .          Edible Fern (Pako’) - Athyrium esculentum); gulasiman or ngalog Ilk (Portulaca)
 Male  flowers of squash (Cucurbita maxima

  Alugbati (Basella rubra) is a twining plant with reddish stems and leaves. The tops are gathered as vegetable which is mucilaginous when cooked.

Other wild vegetables:
1. Young leaves of cassava or kamoteng kahoy (Manihot utilissima)
2. Petals of Gumamela (Hibiscus rosasinensis)
3. Young leaves of kamkamote (Ipomea triloba)
4. Amaranth or spinach (Amaranthus spinosus) - seedling stage
5. Flowers of madre de cacao or kakawate (Gliricida sepium)
6. Corm of banana (Musa sapientum)
7. Ubod or pith of maguey (Agave cantala)
8. Talinum (Talinum quadriculoare)

Male  flowers of squash (Cucurbita maxima

9. Flower of katuray (Sesbania grandiflora)
10. Corm of Palawan gabi (Colocasia sp)

11.    Edible Fern (Pako’) - Athyrium esculentum)
12.  Gulasiman or ngalog (Portulaca)

Dampalit (Sesuvium portulacastrum)  

Often referred to as wild food plants or hunger crops, these and many others, perhaps hundreds, provide an alternative source of food and nutrition on the grassroots in times of poor harvest and calamities like drought. Being native or indigenous they survive extreme conditions of the environment, they need very little care, if at all. Ethnobotany, the study of plants and their uses in primitive societies, is gaining recognition in the light of economic crisis. It offers a solution to poverty and malnutrition. Culinary delight comes in various food preparations from native vegetables.

Claude Monet’s Ultraviolet Eye - Secret of his Masterpieces

Monet developed severe cataracts in old age that made the colors that had inspired him for decades nearly impossible to perceive. He underwent eye surgery, but his genius continued on - this time in a deeper expression of colors.  
Dr Abe V Rotor
These two paintings of Claude Monet are of the same scene - The House Seen From the Rose Garden, (1922-1924 series). The red and yellow version was painted as seen through his left eye which was limited to the wavelengths allowed by his cataract.The clouded lenses prevented him from seeing anything but reds and yellows.

The painting in deep blue and violet is assumed to have been Monet's color interpretation with his right eye, the lens of which had been completely removed, a condition called aphakia. Through this lens-less eye, Monet could see deep into the blue spectrum, and perhaps into the ultraviolet range, which is usually obscured by the lens of the normal eye.

Monet was “only an eye - yet what an eye!” - Paul Cezanne. 

What handicapped Monet from full perception of normal vision, provided him with a perspective that perhaps no other artist ever had. Similarly in the field of music, Ludwig von Beethoven made his greatest compositions when he was already completely deaf. These two cases clearly demonstrate the hidden power of our normal senses, which we often refer to as the "inner eye" as in the case of Monet, and the "inner ear" in Beethoven. 
Monet's full color perception is dominated by red and violet in this painting (above), so with the selected paintings shown below. The interplay of light and shadow in Monet's paintings, the freshness of his colors, and freedom in his brush strokes are a clear deviation from conservative art in pre-impressionism. It was Monet who led the French school of Impressionism in painting, together with Cezanne, Pissarro, Renoir, Sisley, Manet, Degas, and other painters in the later part of the 18th century.

Acknowledgement: Internet, Wikipedia, Impressionism (Book)

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Is the KRAKEN - colossal squid or octopus real?

Giant and grotesque creatures of the deep are emerging lately with the series of earthquakes occurring in different parts of the world. People are asking whether their emergence is prediction or aftermath of force majeure. "Exobiology is searching and studying life in the cosmic and abyss. Among these mysterious giants known largely in fiction are sunfish, oarfish, and the legendary kraken - monstrous colossal squid or octopus.

Dr Abe V Rotor
 Living with Nature - School on Blog [avrotor.blogspot.com]
Author displays rare specimen, giant in size compared to commercial squid,  

Nearly six kilos, and 1.5 meters long, this giant squid was flushed out of the deep off the coast of Pasacao, Camarines Sur, following a mild earthquake that shook the area. It is one of several others,  some weighing more than ten kilos. Their tough and thick skin protects them from extreme pressure at hundreds of meters on the ocean floor where few creatures can tolerate. Here they prey on deep fish and marine organisms such as crustaceans and other mollusks.  They rid of the sea of aging and injured organisms as sharks do on the surface of the sea. 

In Jules Verne's novel, Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea, the giant sea monster is an octopus (left photo)  so huge it nearly wrecked the prototype submarine Nautilus of Captain Nemo. High voltage electricity are applied to release the monster's crushing grip. The other picture is the legendary kraken described by sailors as far back as in ancient Greece. 

In John Steinbeck's less popular book, "Where have all the sardines gone?" there is a photo of a giant squid washed ashore along San Francisco, California.  From the looks of the B and W photograph the creature could weigh half a ton. This is not an isolated case; several specimens were caught or discovered as carcasses in many parts of the world. 

Just after the tsunami that occurred in the Indian Ocean in the early part of this century, my son Marlo and I saw two giant squids being sold in a wet market in Fairview, QC. They are twice bigger than the specimen shown in the first photo. 

Indeed monsters lurk in the dark, deep ocean.  And considering the fact that the earth's surface is three-fourth ocean with an average depth of nearly four kilometers, plunging to more than twelve kilometers in Marianas and Philippine Deep, there are indeed countless of unimaginable monsters down there.  They continue to build legends that became part of mythology, fiction stories, and lately, scientific discoveries.~   
 Mysterious Giant Squid stranded on Spanish coast. 
Image result for giant squid
Giant squid attacks Russian sailors
Monster: Indonesian fishermen try to help a rare Ocean Sunfish after they found the sea creature had washed ashore in Palu, Central Sulawesi
 Rare Sunfish weighing 1.5 tons  found by Indonesian fishermen.
Image result for Giant oarfish (Regalecus glesne) caught in the Philippines after earthquake
Giant oarfish (Regalecus glesne) caught in the Philippines after earthquake 

"Over 60% of our planet is covered by water more than a mile deep. The deep sea is the largest habitat on earth and is largely unexplored. More people have traveled into space than have traveled to the deep ocean realm." The Blue Planet Seas of Life

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

One Monday with Apostle Paul

High rise the buildings are - towers and spires, 
proud symbols of power;
In silence I heard it seemed the same words, 
"Why do you persecute me?" 
Dr Abe V Rotor


                                                                                                St Paul University QC campus
One Monday I visited Saint Paul with inquiries I never asked before;
Fifteen years I served him, a teacher of this school, keeper of a museum;
Time has changed the world, global is its effect, would St Paul tell me
More of the ways of the world to give life a meaning? So did I assume.  

"Tell me where Damascus Road is, where you heard God speak;
Tell me how you crossed the Mediterranean in a storm and survived; 
Tell me how you carried the Word among unbelievers and Pharisees;
Tell me how you faced death yet keep alive your faith and noble pride.

"Tell me where have the Gentiles you converted and followers gone;
Tell me how you wrote the scriptures that gave the bible a wider view;
Tell me how man can become a saint and a saint to become man; 
Tell me how to reach heaven without striving to be a martyr like you."  

The sun rose high, sending reflection of gray clouds on giant glass panes; 
The pavement is bare, the marble floor a mirage, yet empty as the sea;
High rise the buildings are - towers and spires, proud symbols of power;
In silence I heard it seemed the same words, "Why do you persecute me?"  ~