Sunday, September 25, 2011

Museum and Eco Sanctuary: The Lost Ecological Sanctuary of Saint Paul University QC

Original Grotto

By Dr Abe V Rotor
The only Ecological Sanctuary of its kind in this part of Metro Manila, the former Eco Sanctuary of SPUQC is now reduced into a pocket, and hedged by high rise buildings and the elevated MRT track. An artificial waterfall and a maze of huge bird cages exacerbate the shrunken condition. There's little semblance of it to the original garden which was a living gene bank to some four hundred plant species, including transient ones. It used to maintain two greenhouses for exotic and indigenous species. The garden was a biological laboratory and a regular field classroom. Dr Anselmo S Cabigan, a well-known botanist and ASEAN Research Awardee was in charge of the garden for more than a decade. Many thesis works in biology - as well as in social science - were conducted and completed here. I had the privilege of finding the garden conducive to writing. Here students in humanities composed their best poems, worked on their best paintings and photographs - masterpieces in their own right, and found a new chapter of their lives. I too, found the place conducive to write. A large portion of my books were written here - Light in the Woods (Megabooks), Nymphaea: Beauty in the Morning (Giraffe Books) and Sunshine on Raindrops (Megabooks). I am afraid I may not find again another garden where I can write again. Goodbye, Saint Paul EcoSanctuary, Goodbye.

John Milton was already blind when he wrote Paradise Regained. He once said that Paradise can be regained, even while we are still on Earth. In a world of darkness, it seems as if the world of beauty becomes more beautiful, the taken for granted becomes suddenly precious, the abstract becomes virtual reality.

Similarity Helen Keller, who grew up in a world of darkness, “saw” the entirety of a beautiful world in just three days in her masterpiece, If I were Given Three Days to See. It is similarly the inner self that stirs man’s longing for God through Nature.

Brother Sun, brothers flying in the sky, crawling on earth, swimming in the sea - Glory to God in all his creation!” exulted St. Francis of Assisi, a man of God who lit the world through natural and divine friendship. Indeed, we made an unerring choice in proclaiming him the Father of Ecology.

We can make on a small patch of earth, an empty lot hemmed by buildings, and amid roaring cars and noisy peddlers, into a thin slice of once Paradise, in the words of an artist, “splashed by tired sun and breeze.” It may be far from any mountain or sea; but it can stand proud, this little green belt of lianna and shrubs short of a jungle, carpets here and there of herbs and annuals, clusters of canopy layers and emergent, and a series of man-made ponds.

It may be bare and simple to be called an ecosystem. However, what it conveys to be more important is the reminder that man lost Paradise because he was disobedient to the orderliness of nature. His attempt to recreate a garden even of its humblest kind is both a conscious and unconscious act of repentance. And we move a step away from guilt in sighs of relief as we commune with the beauty that manifests a wholesome treaty between nature and man.

I had the experience of working in a school where there was once garden where white lotus grew from a pond. The whiteness of the flowers speaks of the immaculateness of our Lady’s personhood.

Here grew the reddest of all Passiflora, a plant whose flower resembles the three nails that pinned our savior to a wooden cross, which became the symbol of Christianity. One would encounter a row of thorny Euphorbia, and, cruel as it may look from any angle and at any stage of its growth, good-natured man baptized the plant splendens, for the historical value resembling the crown that mocked Christ. The crown of thorns reminds us of the humility of Christ.

Imaging walking to the botanical garden as I did before ten years ago. The lilies on the pathway led to where a beautiful tree, Erythrina, which once stood serene and beautiful. Its demise was consoling. I remember its deep red inflorescence swaying in the wind; its gnarled and deep furrowed trunk and branches exuding a seasoned look, but its whole crown lent freshness to its surroundings and gave life to an old adobe wall covered with mosses and clinging ferns.

Touch the lily flower - it’s fluer-de-lies, white Hippeastrum, a distinctive mark of the royal family of France, adopted by the St Paul of Chartres as emblem of the congregation. It was found growing in a garden in a small village of Levesville, not far from the city of Chartres in France, where the congregation was founded three hundred years ago. The universality of the lily flower speaks of the essence of its worldwide mission.

At the end of a covered walk I found myself standing before a strange looking pine. It is not a pine, though it looked like one. It was Pandanus my good friend, Dr. Sel Cabigan, was studying. It bore two fruits, which resembled those of edible species growing on some Pacific islands.

“Pandan is a staple food of many islanders,” he said. "To Filipinos, pandang mabango imparts aroma to lechong manok and cooked rice.” He explained. The popular coastal Pandan, a tree, (Pandanus tintorius), ripraps the shorelines and prevents their erosion. I listened to a fellow naturalist holding the evidences of creation, picturesque in virtual reality.

There were two giant palms on the school campus: fishtail palm (Caryota rhumphiana philippinensis)*, source of a starch similar to sago, and royal palm (Roystonia elata)*, the tallest and the most regal of all members of the palm family. Here they soared like towers in the summer’s blue sky, and pierced the fog during the Siberian High during the Amihan, and braved the smog on busy days.

The grotto most of the time was serene. Viny Passiflora covered the entire dome that sheltered a cave where the apparition of Our Lady to the young Bernadette took place centuries ago. The dramatic scene reflected on the calm waters of the adjoining pond where students spent quiet moments.

That was ten years ago. A school building has been constructed on its former site, much taller than the Royal Palm which was cut down to give way to the modern edifice.

I wonder if that biblical Paradise had already lost its beauty and meaning to our forebears by their own disobedience, so that they had no choice but to abandon it. ~

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