All this and more for less than 8 dollars a day

Having a katabang (helper) is marvelous, I am not going to pretend otherwise.  But also, there are these little social implications and requirements and while it does free me up from cooking or dishes the days she is here (sort of, I still do breakfast dishes before she gets here because it’s a habit I cannot shake but hope to soon), it doesn’t exactly free one to do whatever one wants.

I am blessed to have had this current one recommended to me by friends and former missionaries here, so I know she’s reliable and I can leave the house while she’s here.  But a lot of people can’t.   Petty theft is a real problem here, and sometimes not so petty.  So lots of times, people who have a helper come one or two days a week cannot leave the house on those days until they are sure of their help, or until they are sure their valuables are inaccessible.  So I am more fortunate because I totally can leave.

I cannot leave the Cherub however because of her allergies.  I have explained them before, but corn and wheat are complicated when there is a language barrier and keeping the Cherub out of food is also difficult when there is a cultural practice of indulging children with snacks and goodies.

When you have a helper, you feel kind of awkward about having a jammy day.  Maybe that wears off when you become accustomed to it, or if you grow up with it.  But I feel funny about just wearing my pajamas and slouching all day when she’s here (that’s not all a bad thing, of course).  In the morning I brush my hair with a comb instead of my fingers, and I put it up in a ponytail and put real clothes on instead of the pink sleeping shorts with the owl pattern and a rubberband knotting one side of the waist to tighten it up (read keep them on, because I’ve lost weight since we got here and also because the elastic is shot but mostly because the elastic is shot), and an old white cotton t-shirt from the Men’s oversize department of Walmart.  I read books and ostentatiously take notes, and I do my Spanish and Korean lessons aloud instead of in my head, and also use the time to sew up the rips that show up in the seams of our pillow cases and pillows and clothes purchased here because they are flimsy and the tropical sun is hard on them.  There is always something to sew.

I have to provide a snack twice a day as well as food she’ll eat for lunch, which means I really need to have rice around even though I don’t want it for lunch every day.  She’ll cook, I don’t have to do that, but we’re still feeling our way around what she can make and what she thinks we’ll eat.  I have asked her several times what else she can cook, and the menu has not been terribly varied, and then she found out this week that I like chicken liver afritada very much, and she was shocked.  Hopefully, that was a bit of a break-through.   Also, when I say food she’ll eat, I don’t mean she turns up her nose and says “I don’t like that.”  But you know, I  can tell, and she’s working hard and food is important and I don’t want to give her food that is going to leave her feeling unsatiated and unhappy and even a bit gaggy (refried bean burritoes were not a hit with the previous gal).  And, keep in mind, it’s not really comfortable for her if I ask, “Tell me what you want and I’ll have it around.” There are other ways around this.

For example, during a more casual conversation I could talk about my favourite food since I’ve been here, and then I could ask her what her favourite foods are, and go about it in that more oblique manner. I could ask what our mutual friends, the family she used to work for, liked to eat and figure things out from there.   It’s hard.  I’m known as blunt and tactless among Americans, so you can imagine how much of a bull in a China shop I am here.

I do sometimes feel like a Victorian Lady of the House.   She comes and we exchange good mornings, and I explain what I thought we’d have for lunch.  At around ten I set out the first meryenda or snack.  At noon or 12;30 lunch is ready whether I want to eat it or not.  At around 2 there’s a second meryenda or snack, although she does not often take that one.  She washes dishes and  starts dinner, while I sit at the table and visit with her a bit about how her week has been, food, and I ask questions about my Visaya homework and she laughs gently as I try to figure out how to get the accent right.   She finishes dinner and leaves it on the stovetop, turning the gas off.  I’ll reheat it when we’re ready to eat, which is surprisingly early here.  She asks if I want her to start some rice.

She goes to the hall bathroom and I think does a quick spray with the cold shower nozzle (there’s no hot water heater for any water but the master bedroom bathroom), and changes her clothes.   We sit down and review accounts. She goes shopping for us at the palengke (pah ling key, with the g almost not heard), the open market in the morning before she comes to the house.  She gets better prices than we do, and I really cannot take the Cherub there.  Trust me.  Cannot be done. I couldn’t shop there and shepherd her at the same time, and teh floor is dirt and mud and vegetable or fruit scraps and very slippery in places.  So she goes over the list I gave her previously, notes prices, figures out my change, or conversely, what I owe her, and passes me the list.  I look it over and pretend I know what I am doing and then I say ok if she owes me, and she counts out the change, or I say, “So, I owe you 28 pesos?” and she confirms or explains it if I am wrong, and I pay her.
Next, I hand her the shopping list that I have already written, and she looks it over and asks for clarification if needed- usually on weight, as in do I want a whole kg, or half, or what of something, and sometimes my spelling, because I try to write as much as I can in Visaya.

Spelling- onions in Spanish are cebollas and in Visaya it sounds exactly the same.  So I heard it and have been saying cebollas for onions for months.  The thing is, I usually had to say it because I would forget to write it down.  She would have the list and the pen and as she was going over it, I would add, “Oh, and cebollas, I forgot.  4 cebollas, pulong cebollas (red onions).  One day I remembered in time and wrote them down.  Oh, my.  The confusion.

In Visaya it sounds like the spanish word, but it is spelled sibuyas, and it’s sibuyas  whether you have one or ten (the pluralizer is another word you add before the word, so more than one is mga sibuyas) .  Also, I may still be spelling it wrong.  The i and e aren’t all that different in sound, and the o and u often sound the same to me as well, but this is still an improvement over a word that looks like cab-bol- lass at best.

She will also look it over and tell me if something on the list is out of season, or ask if I want some particular fruit or vegetable newly in season, or if I would like to try some fish this week.   She will also tell me we are nearly out of laundry soap or I need more tomato sauce if she is to make afritada again, or I need fresh garlic (she doesn’t like to use the dried stuff).  Those are things I buy at a regular grocery store.

Anyway, we review the lists, I pay her and make sure she knows I have written down I much I paid her.  I thought this was kind of rude, but our language teacher tells me no, it is reassuring. It tells her we take the money seriously, we are not careless with our money , and that we are not going to have an argument someday where I accuse her of of claiming I’ve given her 20 dollars (1,000 pesos) when really I only gave her ten dollars (500 pesos).  So I write it all down in a little notebook for that purpose which I now have misplaced and have to scramble to find.

And at last, she gets up to leave and we say our thank-yous and good-byes and she steps out to the patio to put on her shoes and I go to the door and wave good-bye and close the door and I am at once truly thankful and delighted that my floors and dishes and bathroom and laundry are clean, and very likely the windows as well, and maybe even my fans, and on alternate weeks my patio, and supper is made (at least the main dish and the rice), and I sink down to the barely-cooler-than-the-ambient-temperature-of-a-sauna-tile floor (because she doesn’t like the air conditioning on, so I am sweating and have been for at least the last hour) and along with my gratitude and delight, I am also relieved and I absorb the silence and solitude into my very introverted soul,  combining both deep gratitude and deep relief in the same.  I may also stretch out a languid foot to the fan and turn it in my direction as I stretch out on the floor and try not to dissolve into a salty puddle in this heat.


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Bamboo stand

The trees here are as big around as my arm.  Which is amazing when you consider that bamboo isn’t a tree, right? It’s supposed to be a kind of grass.

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These are the brooms preferred by our housekeeper.  They are about as short as they look.  The one on the left, or a newer version of same, is preferred by most of our Filipino guests who visit and want to sweep something their child spilled.  I have two American style brooms, one a mistake and too short to use, not must taller than the ones above. There are a couple Filipino friends who will use the shorter of the two, but nobody wants to use the tallest.This is my outside, or ‘dirty kitchen’ as they call it here.  When you buy ice-cream from a guy on a bike with a cart and his own ice-cream maker, that’s called dirty ice-cream.  What I have is the counters you see and the sink, and a light. There’s no outlet.  The cupboards underneath kind of give me the shudders and I don’t store anything in them, and if the helper does, I don’t know about it.  The grill is also back here, as well as part of the clothesline, and, in fact, my washing machine. There is no dryer.  Washing machines are nearly always outside, provided you even have one.  And some of them must be rather different from my experience.  Long story, we hired a new helper to come on Fridays, mostly because he’s a young man from church who needed a job and he had helped us out quite a bit previously so we kind of have an obligation to help him back.  Anyway, he had previously been a helper at another house, a much larger one, he tells me.  But he thought to use the washing he had to fill it with buckets of water from the sink.  He was amazed that it fills itself.  he doesn’t like it, though.  He thinks it takes too long and he would rather use it to wash the clothes up to the rinse cycle and then he wants to pull them out, wring them by hand and hang them to dry.  He asked two weeks in a row.  I finally let him.  The clothes took almost two days and a night to dry.  In his defense, there was rain so half of the time they had to be hung on the racks in our covered and screened inside patio (I guess our other patio is more of a courtyard?) where we get no breeze and they always take longer to dry there.

Anyway- the broom to the right is made of coconut branches.  I am not sure what it’s for.  The Monday and Wednesday helper doesn’t use it inside.  Maybe it scrapes loose dirt off the patio, or is used for knocking down cobwebs and bagworms off the fence, but I don’t know.  I could watch, but she is kind of shy about working while I watch (except for cooking or dishes, she doesn’t seem to mind me hanging around while she does those), and I admit it does feel awkward.  So while she’s here, I kind of rotate from one room to another so I am not underfoot, or I sit outside in the inner patio with the fan on.  Although, last Wednesday I apparently got my schedule off because she chased me back inside because she needed to wash the patio floor.  I did catch a glimpse of her doing this once, and it was a wonder.  After sweeping very thoroughly she lightly sprayed it with the hose, and then flung a dry rag to the floor and stepped onto it and, literally, danced across the floor, humming to herself.  When she finished, she took a quick glance around to see that she’d not missed a spot, and with a flourish, grabbed the rag with her toes and tossed it up *behind* her, where she turned and caught it in the air.

the Friday helper wouldn’t mind if I followed along and chatted.  He sings hymns as he works and loves it when I join in, and he doesn’t mind an audience at all.  He also doesn’t cook and he’s not as good at choosing fruits at the market as our Monday, Wednesday helper.   He loves the neighborhood children, rascals that they are, and he will gather them together and sing and tell them Bible stories for an hour, which we also think is worth paying him for.


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Signs of company

One of the guests came early and grilled the fish on our grill out on the patio. Note the two bowls of rice, which must appear at every meal.

I figured I’d just serve guests family style- leaving food in the kitchen area, but they won’t have it, our Filipino guests.  It’s interesting.  I tried this two or three times, and every time one of the adults will say something under his breath to one of the teens and the teen goes to the kitchen area and scoops out rice from the rice cooker onto a plate or into a big bowl and brings it back to the table. I quite trying.  When in Rome…

The green spinach looking vegetable at the very bottom is, I think, called Aligbati, or aligobati. I forget. It grows in my backyard.  While they were grilling the first several guests watched and noticed how healthy and full my aligobati plot is.  I said what.  I’ve paid a neighbor to pull them.  They are edible and very healthy.  You pull up a stem, pull off the leaves, and you can use about the last three or four tender inches of stem, too, and boil them briefly, then mix with soy sauce and lemon juice or calamansi.  You can also use a fish sauce which I did nto have. One of the women cooked some up on the spot to show me what to do.  It’s like spinach but without any bitterness at all.


A pile of shoes in front of my door makes me very happy.

Half the guests came on the motor bike form of public conveyance (motorcycle with a cab which could hold three Americans comfortably, five Americans who like each other pretty comfortably, or ten Filipinos if that’s what is needed), or they drove their own motorbikes. I do have friends here who own cars (always large, diesel powered heavy duty things that carry several passengers and loads of cargo), but most of them walk or motorbike it.  Then they need a place for the helmets, which was almost as cool as the pile of shoes.

Clean dishes.  Our Filipino guests generally wash dishes for us while we’re still eating.

Various random observations on meals:

In addition to rice at every meal (McDonalds’ comes with rice) , here they generally eat with a large spoon and a fork.  Butter knives are so seldom used that my house help won’t put butter knives with the other silverware (I use a canning jar) but puts it into the crock that holds stirring spoons, whisks, and spatulas.

They called the cooked aligbati a salad.  Most of the food here is hot. Cold main dishes or main dish salads don’t really seem to be a thing, but maybe I just haven’t gotten out enough. There is a cold dish called kinilaw that’s pretty good when done right.  It’s diced fish which is  cold ‘cooked’ by soaking in a vinegar sauce and then cucumbers and onions are added.  We’ve had three or four places.  If the fish is still pink, we don’t love it.  There’s a small restaurant, carry out place near the school and my husband orders their kinlaw. One of the Jeepney drivers who eats there all the time told him she makes the best kinlaw in the city and we believe it.  So good- it’s like a relish, not fishy at all.

The company we had was a group for church for a Bible study and singing.  We don’t get invited a lot of places, but our language teacher says it is because Filipinos are shy and embarrassed to show their living conditions to Americans.  I know that a couple of our guests have raved about my kitchen and said they wished they had it.


Not pictured: a wire rack on the wall to the left of the picture (behind me when I wash dishes) for a pantry and extra shelving, the plastic folding table that holds my two burner stove, and the small refrigerator.  The counter now holds my blender, electric water heater, tiny toaster oven, and rice cooker and it’s full.

I have been invited over to another friend’s house a couple times, but she lives in one of the gate communities and she has a really, really nice house.

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The Beauties of Nature and the World We Live In, Part V of X

Rural life, says Cicero, “is not delightful by reason of cornfields only and meadows, and vineyards and groves, but also for its gardens and orchards, for the feeding of cattle, the swarms of bees, and the variety of all kinds of flowers.” Bacon considered that a garden is “the greatest refreshment to the spirits of man, without which buildings and palaces are but gross handyworks, and a man shall ever see, that when ages grow to civility and elegancy men come to build stately sooner than to garden finely, as if gardening were the greater perfection.”

No doubt the pleasure which we take in a garden is one of the most innocent delights in human life.” Elsewhere there may be scattered flowers, or sheets of colour due to one or two species, but in gardens one glory follows another. Here are brought together all the

quaint enamelled eyes,
That on the green turf sucked the honeyed showers,
And purple all the ground with vernal flowers.
Bring the rathe primrose that forsaken dies,
The tufted crow-toe, and pale jessamine,
The white pink and the pansy freaked with jet,
The glowing violet,
The musk rose, and the well attired woodbine,
With cowslips wan that hang the pensive head,
And every flower that sad embroidery wears.

We cannot, happily we need not try to, contrast or compare the beauty of gardens with that of woods and fields.

And yet to the true lover of Nature wild flowers have a charm which no garden can equal. Cultivated plants are but a living herbarium. They surpass, no doubt, the dried specimens of a museum, but, lovely as they are, they can be no more compared with the natural vegetation of our woods and fields than the captives in the Zoological Gardens with the same wild species in their native forests and mountains.

Often indeed, our woods and fields rival gardens even in the richness of colour. We have all seen meadows white with Narcissus, glowing with Buttercups, Cowslips, early purple Orchis, or Cuckoo Flowers; cornfields blazing with Poppies; woods carpeted with Bluebells, Anemones, Primroses, and Forget-me-nots; commons with the yellow Lady’s Bedstraw, Harebells, and the sweet Thyme; marshy places with the yellow stars of the Bog Asphodel, the Sun-dew sparkling with diamonds, Ragged Robin, the beautifully fringed petals of the Buckbean, the lovely little Bog Pimpernel, or the feathery tufts of Cotton Grass; hedgerows with Hawthorn and Traveller’s Joy, Wild Rose and Honeysuckle, while underneath are the curious leaves and orange fruit of the Lords and Ladies, the snowy stars of the Stitchwort, Succory, Yarrow, and several kinds of Violets; while all along the banks of streams are the tall red spikes of the Loosestrife, the Hemp Agrimony, Water Groundsel, Sedges, Bulrushes, Flowering Rush, Sweet Flag, etc.

Many other sweet names will also at once occur to us Snowdrops, Daffodils and Hearts-ease, Lady’s Mantles and Lady’s Tresses, Eyebright, Milkwort, Foxgloves, Herb Roberts, Geraniums, and among rarer species, at least in England, Columbines and Lilies.

But Nature does not provide delights for the eye only. The other senses are not forgotten. A thousand sounds many delightful in themselves, and all by association songs of birds, hum of insects, rustle of leaves, ripple of water, seem to fill the air.

Flowers again are sweet, as well as lovely. The scent of pine woods, which is said to be very healthy, is certainly delicious, and the effect of Woodland scenery is good for the mind as well as for the body.

“Resting quietly under an ash tree, with the scent of flowers, and the odour of green buds and leaves, a ray of sunlight yonder lighting up the lichen and the moss on the oak trunk, a gentle air stirring in the branches above, giving glimpses of fleecy clouds sailing in the ether, there comes into the mind a feeling of intense joy in the simple fact of living.”

The wonderful phenomenon of phosphorescence is not a special gift to the animal kingdom. Henry O. Forbes describes a forest in Sumatra: “The stem of every tree blinked with a pale greenish-white light which undulated also across the surface of the ground like moonlight coming and going behind the clouds, from a minute thread-like fungus invisible in the day-time to the unassisted eye; and here and there thick dumpy mushrooms displayed a sharp, clear dome of light, whose intensity never varied or changed till the break of day; long phosphorescent caterpillars and centipedes crawled out of every corner, leaving a trail of light behind them, while fire-flies darted about above like a lower firmament.”

Woods and Forests were to our ancestors the special scenes of enchantment.

The great Ash tree Yggdrasil bound together Heaven, Earth, and Hell. Its top reached to Heaven, its branches covered the Earth, and the roots penetrated into Hell. The three Normas or Fates sat under it, spinning the thread of life.

Of all the gods and goddesses of classical mythology or our own folk-lore, none were more fascinating than the Nature Spirits Elves and Fairies, Neckans and Kelpies, Pixies and Ouphes, Mermaids, Undines, Water Spirits, and all the Elfin world

Which have their haunts in dale and piny mountain,
Or forests, by slow stream or tingling brook.

They come out, as we are told, especially on moonlight nights. But while evening thus clothes many a scene with poetry, forests are fairy land all day long.

Almost any wood contains many and many a spot well suited for Fairy feasts; where one might most expect to find Titania, resting, as once we are told,

She lay upon a bank, the favourite haunt
Of the Spring wind in its first sunshine hour,
For the luxuriant strawberry blossoms spread
Like a snow shower then, and violets
Bowed down their purple vases of perfume
About her pillow, linked in a gay band
Floated fantastic shapes; these were her guards,
Her lithe and rainbow elves.

The fairies have disappeared, and, so far as England is concerned, the larger forest animals have vanished almost as completely. The Elk and Bear, the Boar and Wolf have gone, the Stag has nearly disappeared, and but a scanty remnant of the original wild Cattle linger on at Chillingham. Still the woods teem with life; the Fox and Badger, Stoat and Weasel, Hare and Rabbit, and Hedgehog,

The tawny squirrel vaulting through the boughs,
Hawk, buzzard, jay, the mavis and the merle,

the Owls and Nightjar, the Woodpecker, Nuthatch, Magpie, Doves, and a hundred more.

In early spring the woods are bright with the feathery catkins of the Willow, followed by the soft green of the Beech, the white or pink flowers of the Thorn, the pyramids of the Horse-chestnut, festoons of the Laburnum and Acacia, and the Oak slowly wakes from its winter sleep, while the Ash leaves long linger in their black buds.

Under foot is a carpet of flowers Anemones, Cowslips, Primroses, Bluebells, and the golden blossoms of the Broom, which, however, while Gorse and Heather continue in bloom for months, blazes for a week or two, and is then completely extinguished, like a fire that has burnt itself out.”

In summer the tints grow darker, the birds are more numerous and full of life; the air teems with insects, with the busy murmur of bees and the idle hum of flies, while the cool of morning and evening, and the heat of the day, are all alike delicious.

As the year advances and the flowers wane, we have many beautiful fruits and berries, the red hips and haws of the wild roses, scarlet holly berries, crimson yew cups, the translucent berries of the Guelder Rose, hanging coral beads of the Black Bryony, feathery festoons of the Traveller’s Joy, and others less conspicuous, but still exquisite in themselves acorns, beech nuts, ash keys, and many more. It is really difficult to say which are most beautiful, the tender greens of spring or the rich tints of autumn, which glow so brightly in the sunshine.

Tropical fruits are even more striking. No one who has seen it can ever forget a grove of orange trees in full fruit; while the more we examine the more we find to admire; all perfectly and exquisitely finished “usque ad ungues,” perfect inside and outside, for Nature

Does in the Pomegranate close
Jewels more rare than Ormus shows.

In winter the woods are comparatively bare and lifeless, even the Brambles and Woodbine, which straggle over the tangle of underwood being almost leafless.

Still even then they have a beauty and interest of their own; the mossy boles of the trees; the delicate tracery of the branches which can hardly be appreciated when they are covered with leaves; and under foot the beds of fallen leaves; while the evergreens seem brighter than in summer; the ruddy stems and rich green foliage of the Scotch Pines, and the dark spires of the Firs, seeming to acquire fresh beauty.

Again in winter, though no doubt the living tenants of the woods are much less numerous, many of our birds being then far away in the dense African forests, on the other hand those which remain are much more easily visible. We can follow the birds from tree to tree, and the Squirrel from bough to bough.

It requires little imagination to regard trees as conscious beings, indeed it is almost an effort not to do so.

“The various action of trees rooting themselves in inhospitable rocks, stooping to look into ravines, hiding from the search of glacier winds, reaching forth to the rays of rare sunshine, crowding down together to drink at sweetest streams, climbing hand in hand among the difficult slopes, opening in sudden dances among the mossy knolls, gathering into companies at rest among the fragrant fields, gliding in grave procession over the heavenward ridges nothing of this can be conceived among the unvexed and unvaried felicities of the lowland forest; while to all these direct sources of greater beauty are added, first the power of redundance, the mere quantity of foliage visible in the folds and on the promontories of a single Alp being greater than that of an entire lowland landscape (unless a view from some Cathedral tower); and to this charm of redundance, that of clearer visibility tree after tree being constantly shown in successive height, one behind another, instead of the mere tops and flanks of masses as in the plains; and the forms of multitudes of them continually defined against the clear sky, near and above, or against white clouds entangled among their branches, instead of being confused in dimness of distance.”

There is much that is interesting in the relations of one species to another. Many plants are parasitic upon others. The foliage of the Beech is so thick that scarcely anything will grow under it, except those spring plants, such as the Anemone and the Wood Buttercup or Goldilocks, which flower early before the Beech is in leaf.

There are other cases in which the reason for the association of species is less evident. The Larch and the Arolla (Pinus Cembra) are close companions. They grow together in Siberia; they do not occur in Scandinavia or Russia, but both reappear in certain Swiss valleys, especially in the cantons of Lucerne and Valais and the Engadine.

Another very remarkable case which has recently been observed is the relation existing between some of our forest trees and certain Fungi, the species of which have not yet been clearly ascertained. The root tips of the trees are as it were enclosed in a thin sheet of closely woven mycelium. It was at first supposed that the fungus was attacking the roots of the tree, but it is now considered that the tree and the fungus mutually benefit one another. The fungus collects nutriment from the soil, which passes into the tree and up to the leaves, where it is elaborated into sap, the greater part being utilized by the tree, but a portion reabsorbed by the fungus. There is reason to think that, in some cases at any rate, the mycelium is that of the Truffle.

The great tropical forests have a totally different character from ours. I reproduce here the plate from Kingsley’s At Last. The trees strike all travellers by their magnificence, the luxuriance of their vegetation, and their great variety. Our forests contain comparatively few species, whereas in the tropics we are assured that it is far from common to see two of the same species near one another. But while in our forests the species are few, each tree has an independence and individuality of its own. In the tropics, on the contrary, they are interlaced and interwoven, so as to form one mass of vegetation; many of the trunks are almost concealed by an undergrowth of verdure, and intertwined by spiral stems of parasitic plants; from tree to tree hang an inextricable network of lianas, and it is often difficult to tell to which tree the fruits, flowers, and leaves really belong. The trunks run straight up to a great height without a branch, and then form a thick leafy canopy far overhead; a canopy so dense that even the blaze of the cloudless blue sky is subdued, one might almost say into a weird gloom, the effect of which is enhanced by the solemn silence. At first such a forest gives the impression of being more open than an English wood, but a few steps are sufficient to correct this error. There is a thick undergrowth matted together by wiry creepers, and the intermediate space is traversed in all directions by lines and cords.

The English traveller misses sadly the sweet songs of our birds, which are replaced by the hoarse chatter of parrots. Now and then a succession of cries even harsher and more discordant tell of a troop of monkeys passing across from tree to tree among the higher branches, or lower sounds indicate to a practised ear the neighbourhood of an ape, a sloth, or some other of the few mammals which inhabit the great forests. Occasionally a large blue bee hums past, a brilliant butterfly flashes across the path, or a humming-bird hangs in the air over a flower like, as St. Pierre says, an emerald set in coral, but “how weak it is to say that that exquisite little being, whirring and fluttering in the air, has a head of ruby, a throat of emerald, and wings of sapphire, as if any triumph of the jeweller’s art could ever vie with that sparkling epitome of life and light.”

Sir Wyville Thomson graphically describes a morning in a Brazilian forest:

“The night was almost absolutely silent, only now and then a peculiarly shrill cry of some night bird reached us from the woods. As we got into the skirt of the forest the morning broke, but the reveil in a Brazilian forest is wonderfully different from the slow creeping on of the dawn of a summer morning at home, to the music of the thrushes answering one another’s full rich notes from neighbouring thorn-trees. Suddenly a yellow light spreads upwards in the east, the stars quickly fade, and the dark fringes of the forest and the tall palms show out black against the yellow sky, and almost before one has time to observe the change the sun has risen straight and fierce, and the whole landscape is bathed in the full light of day. But the morning is yet for another hour cool and fresh, and the scene is indescribably beautiful. The woods, so absolutely silent and still before, break at once into noise and movement. Flocks of toucans flutter and scream on the tops of the highest forest trees hopelessly out of shot, the ear is pierced by the strange wild screeches of a little band of macaws which fly past you like the wrapped-up ghosts of the birds on some gaudy old brocade.”

Mr. Darwin tells us that nothing can be better than the description of tropical forests given by Bates.

“The leafy crowns of the trees, scarcely two of which could be seen together of the same kind, were now far away above us, in another world as it were. We could only see at times, where there was a break above, the tracery of the foliage against the clear blue sky. Sometimes the leaves were palmate, or of the shape of large outstretched hands; at others finely cut or feathery like the leaves of Mimosae. Below, the tree trunks were everywhere linked together by sipos; the woody flexible stems of climbing and creeping trees, whose foliage is far away above, mingled with that of the taller independent trees. Some were twisted in strands like cables, others had thick stems contorted in every variety of shape, entwining snake-like round the tree trunks or forming gigantic loops and coils among the larger branches; others, again, were of zigzag shape, or indented like the steps of a staircase, sweeping from the ground to a giddy height.”

The reckless and wanton destruction of forests has ruined some of the richest countries on earth. Syria and Asia Minor, Palestine and the north of Africa were once far more populous than they are at present. They were once lands “flowing with milk and honey,” according to the picturesque language of the Bible, but are now in many places reduced to dust and ashes. Why is there this melancholy change? Why have deserts replaced cities? It is mainly owing to the ruthless destruction of the trees, which has involved that of nations. Even nearer home a similar process may be witnessed. Two French departments the Hautes- and Basses-Alpes are being gradually reduced to ruin by the destruction of the forests. Cultivation is diminishing, vineyards are being washed away, the towns are threatened, the population is dwindling, and unless something is done the country will be reduced to a desert; until, when it has been released from the destructive presence of man, Nature reproduces a covering of vegetable soil, restores the vegetation, creates the forests anew, and once again fits these regions for the habitation of man.

In another part of France we have an illustration of the opposite process.

The region of the Landes, which fifty years ago was one of the poorest and most miserable in France, has now been made one of the most prosperous owing to the planting of Pines. The increased value is estimated at no less than 1,000,000,000 francs. Where there were fifty years ago only a few thousand poor and unhealthy shepherds whose flocks pastured on the scanty herbage, there are now sawmills, charcoal kilns, and turpentine works, interspersed with thriving villages and fertile agricultural lands.

In our own country, though woodlands are perhaps on the increase, true forest scenery is gradually disappearing. This is, I suppose, unavoidable, but it is a matter of regret. Forests have so many charms of their own. They give a delightful impression of space and of abundance.

The extravagance is sublime. Trees, as Jefferies says, “throw away handfuls of flower; and in the meadows the careless, spendthrift ways of grass and flower and all things are not to be expressed. Seeds by the hundred million float with absolute indifference on the air. The oak has a hundred thousand more leaves than necessary, and never hides a single acorn. Nothing utilitarian everything on a scale of splendid waste. Such noble, broadcast, open-armed waste is delicious to behold. Never was there such a lying proverb as ‘Enough is as good as a feast.’ Give me the feast; give me squandered millions of seeds, luxurious carpets of petals, green mountains of oak-leaves. The greater the waste the greater the enjoyment the nearer the approach to real life.”

It is of course impossible here to give any idea of the complexity of structure of our forest trees. A slice across the stem of a tree shows many different tissues with more or less technical names, bark and cambium, medullary rays, pith, and more or less specialised tissue; air-vessels, punctate vessels, woody fibres, liber fibres, scalariform vessels, and other more or less specialised tissues.

Let us take a single leaf. The name is synonymous with anything very thin, so that we might well fancy that a leaf would consist of only one or two layers of cells. Far from it, the leaf is a highly complex structure. On the upper surface are a certain number of scattered hairs, while in the bud these are often numerous, long, silky, and serve to protect the young leaf, but the greater number fall off soon after the leaf expands. The hairs are seated on a layer of flattened cells the skin or epidermis. Below this are one or more layers of “palisade cells,” the function of which seems to be to regulate the quantity of light entering the leaf. Under these again is the “parenchyme,” several layers of more or less rounded cells, leaving air spaces and passages between them. From place to place in the parenchyme run “fibro-vascular bundles,” forming a sort of skeleton to the leaf, and comprising air-vessels on the upper side, rayed or dotted vessels with woody fibre below, and vessels of various kinds. The under surface of the leaf is formed by another layer of flattened cells, supporting generally more or less hairs, and some of them specially modified so as to leave minute openings or “stomata” leading into the air passages. These stomata are so small that there are millions on a single leaf, and on plants growing in dry countries, such as the Evergreen Oak, Oleander, etc., they are sunk in pits, and further protected by tufts of hair.

The cells of the leaf again are themselves complex. They consist of a cell wall perforated by extremely minute orifices, of protoplasm, cell fluid, and numerous granules of “Chlorophyll,” which give the leaf its green colour.

While these are, stated very briefly, the essential parts of a leaf, the details differ in every species, while in the same species and even in the same plant, the leaves present minor differences according to the situation in which they grow.

Since, then, there is so much complex structure in a single leaf, what must it be in a whole plant? There is a giant sea-weed (Macrocystis), which has been known to reach a length of 1000 feet, as also do some of the lianas of tropical forests. These, however, attain no great bulk, and the most gigantic specimens of the vegetable kingdom yet known are the Wellingtonia (Sequoia) gigantea, which grows to a height of 450 feet, and the Blue Gum (Eucalyptus) even to 480.

One is apt to look on animal structure as more delicate, and of a higher order, than that of plants. And so no doubt it is. Yet an animal, even man himself, will recover from a wound or an operation more rapidly and more perfectly than a tree.

Trees again derive a special interest from the venerable age they attain. In some cases, no doubt, the age is more or less mythical, as, for instance, the Olive of Minerva at Athens, the Oaks mentioned by Pliny, “which were thought coeval with the world itself,” the Fig tree, “under which the wolf suckled the founder of Rome and his brother, lasting (as Tacitus calculated) 840 years, putting out new shoots, and presaging the translation of that empire from the Caesarian line, happening in Nero’s reign.” But in other cases the estimates rest on a surer foundation, and it cannot be doubted that there are trees still living which were already of considerable size at the time of the Conquest. The Soma Cypress of Lombardy, which is 120 feet high and 23 in circumference, is calculated to go back to forty years before the birth of Christ. Francis the First is said to have driven his sword into it in despair after the battle of Padua, and Napoleon altered his road over the Simplon so as to spare it.

Ferdinand and Isabella in 1476 swore to maintain the privileges of the Biscayans under the old Oak of Guernica. In the Ardennes an Oak cut down in 1824 contained a funeral urn and some Samnite coins. A writer at the time drew the conclusion that it must have been already a large tree when Rome was founded, and though the facts do not warrant this conclusion, the tree did, no doubt, go back to Pagan times. The great Yew of Fountains Abbey is said to have sheltered the monks when the abbey was rebuilt in 1133, and is estimated at an age of 1300 years; that at Brabourne in Kent at 3000. De Candolle gives the following as the ages attainable:

The Ivy 450 years
Larch 570 ”
Plane 750 ”
Cedar of Lebanon 800 ”
Lime 1100 ”
Oak 1500 ”
Taxodium distichum 4000 to 6000
Baobab 6000 years
Nowhere is woodland scenery more beautiful than where it passes gradually into the open country. The separate trees, having more room both for their roots and branches, are finer, and can be better seen, while, when they are close together, “one cannot see the wood for the trees.” The vistas which open out are full of mystery and of promise, and tempt us gradually out into the green fields.

What pleasant memories these very words recall, games in the hay as children, and sunny summer days throughout life.

Consider, says Ruskin, “what we owe to the meadow grass, to the covering of the dark ground by that glorious enamel, by the companies of those soft countless and peaceful spears. The fields! Follow but forth for a little time the thought of all that we ought to recognise in those words. All spring and summer is in them the walks by silent scented paths, the rests in noonday heat, the joy of herds and flocks, the power of all shepherd life and meditation, the life of sunlight upon the world, falling in emerald streaks, and soft blue shadows, where else it would have struck on the dark mould or scorching dust, pastures beside the pacing brooks, soft banks and knolls of lowly hills, thymy slopes of down overlooked by the blue line of lifted sea, crisp lawns all dim with early dew, or smooth in evening warmth of barred sunshine, dinted by happy feet, and softening in their fall the sound of loving voices.

“Go out, in the spring time, among the meadows that slope from the shores of the Swiss lakes to the roots of their lower mountains. There, mingled with the taller gentians and the white narcissus, the grass grows deep and free, and as you follow the winding mountain paths, beneath arching boughs all veiled and dim with blossom, paths, that for ever droop and rise over the green banks and mounds sweeping down in scented undulation, steep to the blue water, studded here and there with new mown heaps, filling all the air with fainter sweetness, look up towards the higher hills, where the waves of everlasting green roll silently into their long inlets among the shadows of the pines; and we may, perhaps, at last know the meaning of those quiet words of the 147th Psalm, ‘He maketh the grass to grow upon the mountains.’”

“On fine days,” he tells us again in his Autobiography, “when the grass was dry, I used to lie down on it, and draw the blades as they grew, with the ground herbage of buttercup or hawkweed mixed among them, until every square foot of meadow, or mossy bank, became an infinite picture and possession to me, and the grace and adjustment to each other of growing leaves, a subject of more curious interest to me than the composition of any painter’s masterpieces.”

In the passage above quoted, Ruskin alludes especially to Swiss meadows. They are especially remarkable in the beauty and variety of flowers. In our fields the herbage is mainly grass, and if it often happens that they glow with Buttercups or are white with Ox-eye-daisies, these are but unwelcome intruders and add nothing to the value of the hay. Swiss meadows, on the contrary, are sweet and lovely with wild Geraniums, Harebells, Bluebells, Pink Restharrow, Yellow Lady’s Bedstraw, Chervil, Eyebright, Red and White Silenes, Geraniums, Gentians, and many other flowers which have no familiar English names; all adding not only to the beauty and sweetness of the meadows, but forming a valuable part of the crop itself. On the other hand “turf” is peculiarly English, and no turf is more delightful than that of our Downs delightful to ride on, to sit on, or to walk on. The turf indeed feels so springy under our feet that walking on it seems scarcely an exertion: one could almost fancy that the Downs themselves were still rising, even higher, into the air.

The herbage of the Downs is close rather than short, hillocks of sweet thyme, tufts of golden Potentilla, of Milkwort blue, pink, and white of sweet grass and Harebells: here and there pink with Heather, or golden with Furze or Broom, while over all are the fresh air and sunshine, sweet scents, and the hum of bees. And if the Downs seem full of life and sunshine, their broad shoulders are types of kindly strength, they give also an impression of power and antiquity, while every now and then we come across a tumulus, or a group of great grey stones, the burial place of some ancient hero, or a sacred temple of our pagan forefathers.

On the Downs indeed things change slowly, and in parts of Sussex the strong slow oxen still draw the waggons laden with warm hay or golden wheat sheaves, or drag the wooden plough along the slopes of the Downs, just as they did a thousand years ago.

I love the open Down most, but without hedges England would not be England. Hedges are everywhere full of beauty and interest, and nowhere more so than at the foot of the Downs, when they are in great part composed of wild Guelder Roses and rich dark Yews, decked with festoons of Traveller’s Joy, the wild Bryonies, and garlands of Wild Roses covered with thousands of white or delicate pink flowers, each with a centre of gold.

At the foot of the Downs spring clear sparkling streams; rain from heaven purified still further by being filtered through a thousand feet of chalk; fringed with purple Loosestrife and Willowherb, starred with white Water Ranunculuses, or rich Watercress, while every now and then a brown water rat rustles in the grasses at the edge, and splashes into the water, or a pink speckled trout glides out of sight.

In many of our midland and northern counties most of the meadows lie in parallel undulations or “rigs.” These are generally about a furlong (220 yards) in length, and either one or two poles (5-1/2 or 11 yards) in breadth. They seldom run straight, but tend to curve towards the left. At each end of the field a high bank, locally called a balk, often 3 or 4 feet high, runs at right angles to the rigs. In small fields there are generally eight, but sometimes ten, of these rigs, which make in the one case 4, in the other 5 acres. These curious characters carry us back to the old tenures, and archaic cultivation of land, and to a period when the fields were not in pasture, but were arable.

They also explain our curious system of land measurement. The “acre” is the amount which a team of oxen were supposed to plough in a day. It corresponds to the German “morgen” and the French “journee.” The furlong or long “furrow” is the distance which a team of oxen can plough conveniently without stopping to rest. Oxen, as we know, were driven not with a whip, but with a goad or pole, the most convenient length for which was 16-1/2 feet, and the ancient ploughman used his “pole” or “perch” by placing it at right angles to his first furrow, thus measuring the amount he had to plough. Hence our “pole” or “perch” of 16-1/2 feet, which at first sight seems a very singular unit to have selected. This width is also convenient both for turning the plough, and also for sowing. Hence the most convenient unit of land for arable purposes was a furlong in length and a perch or pole in width.

The team generally consisted of eight oxen. Few peasants, however, possessed a whole team, several generally joining together, and dividing the produce. Hence the number of “rigs,” one for each ox. We often, however, find ten instead of eight; one being for the parson’s tithe, the other tenth going to the ploughman.

When eight oxen were employed the goad would not of course reach the leaders, which were guided by a man who walked on the near side. On arriving at the end of each furrow he turned them round, and as it was easier to pull than to push them, this gradually gave the furrow a turn towards the left, thus accounting for the slight curvature. Lastly, while the oxen rested on arriving at the end of the furrow, the ploughmen scraped off the earth which had accumulated on the coulter and ploughshare, and the accumulation of these scrapings gradually formed the balk.

It is fascinating thus to trace indications of old customs and modes of life, but it would carry us away from the present subject.

Even though the Swiss meadows may offer a greater variety, our English fields are yet rich in flowers: yellow with Cowslips and Primroses, pink with Cuckoo flowers and purple with Orchis, while, however, unwelcome to the eye of the farmer,

the rich Buttercup
Its tiny polished urn holds up,
Filled with ripe summer to the edge,

turning many a meadow into a veritable field of the cloth of gold, and there are few prettier sights in nature than an English hay field on a summer evening, with a copse perhaps at one side and a brook on the other; men with forks tossing the hay in the air to dry; women with wooden rakes arranging it in swathes ready for the great four-horse waggon, or collecting it in cocks for the night; while some way off the mowers are still at work, and we hear from time to time the pleasant sound of the whetting of the scythe. All are working with a will lest rain should come and their labour be thrown away. This too often happens. But though we often complain of our English climate, it is yet, take it all in all, one of the best in the world, being comparatively free from extremes either of heat or cold, drought or deluge. To the happy mixture of sunshine and of rain we owe the greenness of our fields,

sparkling with dewdrops
Indwelt with little angels of the Sun,
lit and warmed by golden sunshine
And fed by silver rain,
which now and again sprinkles the whole earth with diamonds.

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