“What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another,” Mahatma Gandhi once said.
In this day and age, it’s hard to look outside and see what’s happening with the current situation of Philippine forests.
In December 2013, I had this great opportunity to get out of my comfort zone and actually do something for our forests. Together with a couple of friends, we joined one of Haribon Foundation’s tree planting activities in line with their Road to 2020 movement, an initiative committed to restore the Philippine rainforests with native trees by the Year 2020.
Together with other volunteers, we planted 1,000 seedlings in Mt. Banahaw. Before we began our journey, there was a short introduction about the activity, and then the volunteers were divided into two groups. One group went to the higher part of the mountain, while the group I was with settled with the lower part. There were 500 seedlings assigned to each group.
I can think of 500 beautiful things about that experience, but five thoughts stood out.
Stop and smell the roses—or the air
It was a long 1.5-hour trek going up to our planting site. There was unexpected rain before, during, and after the experience, making the trail up slippery and much harder to go through. I admit I haven’t prepared myself physically for the trek, but the amazing thing is that I felt lighter and there is no other explanation for that than the amount of fresh air surrounding us.
In the city, being surrounded by too much heat and pollution, one would have hard time breathing. But the air in Mt. Banahaw is a welcome feeling to my lungs.
Patience is a virtue
A tree’s age is determined by the amount of rings it has in its trunk, and some take a century to reach its full majestic size. Trees take their time growing, and we could really learn from this.
During the trek, I wanted badly to teleport and reach the planting site immediately. When I reached the site however, I wished that the destination was a little higher. Words cannot explain the feeling of seeing the view from the top of a mountain. It’s hard to imagine that we live in a material world when you see the beauty of the trees from the top. Lesson is, we cannot rush our lives, because each present moment shapes the quality of our future.
Power to change the world
We started planting. We looked for sticks protruding from the ground beside seedlings wrapped around tiny garbage bags. We removed the bottom of the bags so the roots of the trees will have room to pass through when they grow.
We cannot make trees, but we can sure plant them. This is the reason why volunteering is important. This threat of extinction of trees is a problem that people created, and it’s also a problem that only we people have the power to fix.
Everyone is connected
While the volunteers were planting, many of us experienced being bitten by leeches called limatik. It made me think about the purpose in life, and while the limatik has its purpose, so as trees.
While nature can survive without us and we can’t without nature, we still hold an important role to wildlife and trees. We are all accountable to one another, and it’s never too late to start a change in perspective about our role with trees.
The greatest gift
Trees give unconditionally, and through the years we have forgotten to thank the trees for their generosity. This time we had the chance of giving back. Though the whole journey was tiring, there wasn’t a single person who didn’t smile by the end. The feeling of having been able to give back to trees is satisfying.
The Philippines is blessed in more ways than we can imagine, and trees are one of them. But until now, we cut down trees thinking they would grow by themselves. We have abused these blessings enough and now its time to give back.
The Road to 2020 movement give us hope that we get to rebuild and restore the generosity of our forests and give back. The Philippines is such a beautiful place, let’s take care of it.
Although it takes time, patience and hard work, getting out of our comfort zones can get us a long way—all it takes is one step.