*Republished from the January-March 2007 issue of Code Red Magazine (still available at National Book Store)
It’s funny how life seems to repeat itself. When I was much younger, I went on many summer trips to Los Baños with my family, often to go swimming with the inevitable picnic basket in hand. Unlike these days when many resorts oblige guests to buy food from in-house restaurants, it was a time when families were allowed to bring their own food. We would rent a hut beside the hot spring pool, lay out our lunch of roast chicken from the old Jones Restaurant at the foot of the Jones bridge in Manila and while the day away, my brother and I shuffling between water and food.
Those slow, lazy days under the warm summer sun would be repeated over and over more than twenty years hence. This time, instead of my brother and I frolicking amid the lush greenery, my daughters were the ones running and laughing in that carefree way that only the young seem capable of. Instead of swimming trips to the various hot springs and resorts in and around Mount Makiling, however, it was U.P. Los Baños that became our favorite haunt and the venue for an altogether different activity — kite-flying.
It wasn’t an accident that we became habitues of U.P. Los Baños. When I was in my teens, my father introduced me to another wonder that only Los Baños could offer — fresh milk and kesong puti from the Dairy Training and Research Institute (DTRI) of U.P. Los Baños. Those trips would later become nostalgic stories I would happily relay to my husband and, eventually, DTRI became both a treat and mission for my family. We never go to Los Baños without passing by DTRI. In fact, the first thing we do when we arrive in Los Baños is to go to DTRI.
Every once in a while, I would go through the old scanned photos in my hard drive, back to the years when both girls, now 14 and 13, were small enough to ride on their father’s back. I smile at the images of the girls half-sitting, half-lying on a large mat with their sneakers off, munching boiled sweet corn and drinking fresh milk from DTRI. We even have home movies of the stubborn kite that refused to take off, my husband and older girl, Sam, perspiring from the effort and frustration.
It was one of those days when there was not enough wind to carry the kite up into the air that we started driving aimlessly around the campus and discovered an ancient kapok tree. This tree has become so special that, after a trip to Los Baños just over a year ago, I felt so overwhelmed that I wrote in my op-ed column:
“The U.P. Los Baños campus is filled with old trees. But there is one tree in particular that we always visit — kind of like saying hello to an old friend. It’s a kapok tree that must be more than a hundred years old. Tall and huge, there are green parts on the trunk near the roots that show it is growing still. It’s just a tree, really. But it must be older than the campus. And it remains.
“My kids loved playing with kapok that had fallen off it in the past but there were none last Sunday. Still, we spent some time under it. Taking photos, opening a liter of fresh milk from DTRI and drinking it there. It was like making new memories so that the tree would know us too, just as it has known the old forest before the campus, and the generations of students that have come and gone.”
It may be just a tree to other people. But, for my family, it is special. It is our tree. I wish I can describe the feeling — to stand before it, sometimes without speaking, and just staring with awe at its magnificence and grandeur. That tree has withstood all kinds of change and natural disasters. Yet, it is still there — just as steadfast, just as strong. You stand before that kapok tree with your husband and children and its unwavering strength somehow flows through you and you know that the overpowering feeling springs from an unspoken commitment that you will strive hard so that, through the years, your family will be just like that tree — steadfast and strong, and able to weather any hardship and challenge.
It is in the same sense that DTRI’s kesong puti will always taste more delicious and the fresh milk will always feel more refreshing. We can buy fresh milk and commercial kesong puti from any supermarket in the city but they will evoke no happy memories of being together and feeling good about it. Truth be told, it was my own feel-good memories of Los Baños and fresh milk that led me to tell my husband about them and which gave way to our own family trips to U.P. Los Baños and DTRI.
It’s amazing, really, how one’s happy childhood memories become responsible for a subconscious commitment to pass them on, and even create more, for one’s own children. I wouldn’t be surprised if, many years from now, I hear my (future) grandchildren chattering with breathless excitement about a huge and ancient kapok tree that they visited when they went to U.P. Los Baños.