I felt so guilty when my four year old spat out the coconut I had so diligently scooped out of its coconut shell. You mean I have never given her coconut from a shell? “I don’t like it Mommy” and she casually pronounced my dearest coconut distasteful. How can any kid not like coconut? Especially the one you sip and slurp as if there was no other heavenly thing in the world? My childhood is filled with memories of “butong,” sipping the ambrosial juice off its nut, the shell barely separated from the tree, and coconuts plummeting down from the sky. And do not forget the pure joy of cracking it open, so you can finally dribble sugar and milk, and scrape out heaven in a spoon. How could I have denied my children such awesome adventures?
Just the other day, their grandfather bore three humongous baskets of santol, freshly plucked from the farm. Once more, my girls could not handle its tartness. I wanted to hide in shame. My dependable santol, the one I could pick from our tree and drench with soy sauce and salt, that same tartness I could not get enough of? They did not even know its name. Their delinquent mom on the other hand mastered the art of eating santol: soak, dip, suck, and gobble up. I could even pick out its pimple-faced leaves from a pile and proudly declare: “santol!”
What have I neglected so that my children are clearly deficient in nature: when they cannot name my childhood staple; when they could not find delight in supping up the sugar that comes in a shell? I knew I had to rescue them from a lack of nature. And so, we trooped to their grandfather’s farm, hat on the head, basket on hand, and a load of gumption. We were going to get dirty, take in an honest-to-goodness farm, step on gushy mud, chomp on odd fruits, and not squint our noses on the smell of cow shit.
We milked the cow. I never knew there was a dance to it. You cannot just yank at teats. No matter how hard I tried, tugged as I might, the milk did not flow. Milk will gush out only if your fingers do the dance. I did not learn it that day. But my children will learn it in their lifetime. I will not have it otherwise. We rode the horse, proudly trotting on rusty makeshift loops for our feet and shabby smelly cushions for our rump. We did not pay for 30-minute rides with manong pulling us in a roundabout route. This was a rugged horse ride to where our horse felt best to go, not in semicircles or loops, no trails, but across plains and mounds, over horse poop and dung, past ponds and always with encircling dragonflies. We plucked rambutans from the tree, and ate them too. Yank with gusto and eat with gusto. There is nothing like harvesting nectar straight from a tree. As Henry David Thoreau has declared: “It is a vulgar error to suppose that you have tasted huckleberries (or rambutans!) you who never plucked them.”
I did my penance. My girls now know that fruit does not come from the grocery and that those bristly red balls are not scampering monsters but fruit. Now they know how to suck fruit juices and spit out seeds with abandon. Now they know milk does not come in bottles but spurts out of teats, and that it takes a lot of pulling to get the bottle of milk they shouldn’t waste. Now they know that horse rides are not on those skinny horses along roundabouts without a view.
I always thought I was a mom who did not dote on her girls or pamper. I had no qualms about kids playing in the dirt and drinking saltwater. But now I see that modern city life has limited my children’s romp with nature to just weekend trips, park treks and some patch of grass. There can be no substitute to a whole yard of earth and fruit trees with whole days to explore the tart juiciness of santol. I wish my children could go home everyday sun-drenched with nothing but grins and dirt on their faces. For now, I might just have to contend with nature trips, one vacation at a time. Santol, rambutan and fingers dancing for milk were given a decent tribute on this trip. Next time, I could teach them the intricate art of eating coconuts and they would have the gumption to scoop out chunks of butong, dribbled with sugar and milk.
“Nectar and ambrosia are only those fine flavors of every earthly fruit which our coarse palates fail to perceive—just as we occupy the heaven of the gods without knowing it.” Henry David Thoreau