IN HIGH school, I have been traveling to the lowlands to visit relatives and/or work there. Later, after college, I worked in Metro Manila for a couple of years. My forays in the lowlands during those early years informed me there is no better place to settle in and call home for the rest of my life than the mountains.
There are several reasons why I love to live the rest of life in the mountains. Those who love mountains would know why?
I realize people say they love mountains by climbing them. To reach the top of a mountain, measure its heights and declare how low it was showcases a thirst for conquest and accomplishment. That is how stories of mountain climbing come across most times. It does not talk about being in love but about a life that gets or not, generates trash piles up in our mountains.
You do not truly know and love mountains until you live in them, and vice versa, they are in you.
Perhaps, your first encounter with mountains is by looking at them from a distance. The experience may give you the impression that they are unyielding, arrogant, even intimidating. They are all of the above and more.
The mountains are as old as time. In the on-going struggle to dominate and conquer mountains, humanity is succeeding at great cost. We are losing the great life that it once sustained. It continues to validate an ancient observation: “Mountains make people humble and shows them how to deal with overconfidence.”
Throughout time, people learned the importance of mountains to their existence. Resorts can be built on their backs for tourism. The rivers in the mountains can be dammed for power and other industrial uses, trees could be logged, and a wealth of resources deposited in their bowels can be mined.
Macli-ing Dulag, a mountain tribe chieftain could not believe what the educated and rulers of the land in his time were claiming about the mountains belonging to them or the government that they represent. You can manipulate all mysteries and all knowledge with the might of the nation behind you to move or own the mountains. The reverse is closer to the truth which made Dulag and his followers to stage their revolt for as long as the mountains tower to the heavens.
When it comes to mountains, I am rather religious than anything else. With Anatoli Boukreev, I say, “mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve. They are the cathedrals where I practice my religion.”
Fellow mountain man, John Muir’s outlook of these majestic structures is the best so far. He sees mountains inside of him, “kindling enthusiasm, making every nerve quiver, filling every pore and cell…” He said it first before I was born. “The mountains are home.”
Like Muir, the ancient Igorots called the Cordillera mountain ranges home and did better. Muir was a mountain lover but more of an explorer, a mountain climber and a tourist than a mountain man.
As a child I spent summer vacations deep in an interior village in Sagada, Mountain Province with my grandparents. There were no electricity and other modern convenience then but we were self-sufficient. There were varieties of food and fruits harvested from the mountain and the forest sustained the sweet pure water that we drink and irrigated the rice terraces and patches of gardens where legumes and other vegetables were grown. Those early childhood experiences rooted my love of mountains that survive until today.
These days, the early village life in our mountains is hardly encountered. I wish I can yet visit one mountain village where the memories and feelings of youth in my grandparent’s house could come flooding back. I refer of course to unspoiled nature and the different fragrances it brings depending on the seasons and forest blooms, the characteristically fresh mountain air intermingled with the scent of rising clouds from the shrub and tree lines, the endless beauty in the green horizon and among living creatures that makes a boy wonder or sets him on a daily exploration with life and the environment.
In spite of the tales about head hunting in those days, I found life among the tribes, who gather during social events, more peaceful and less worrisome than now. In those early years, free safe food found on the forest floor, among the trees, rivers, and creeks to include mushrooms, fruits, and vegetables were abundant. The rice food production areas do not only produce grains, but shells, fishes, fern vegetables, crabs and frogs. They are also visited by all kinds of migratory and native birds. Life then was healthier in so many ways, even without health professionals, clinics or hospitals.
That was mountain life for mountain folks then. They truly love the mountains and rolling hills by caressing it with their natural agricultural knowledge and management system. Theirs was a life that preserved the natural resources, not just to get, plunder or poison it, which is sadly the case now.
To get into the future of mountain living, we may have to return to the beginning once more, and like T.S. Eliot, move on from this end as the beginning, and so sing well these lines from the traditional children’s song, “I love the Mountains.”
“We walk together.
Hike by the quiet stream.
Watch for the sunrise.
Breathing the air so clean.
When we're together,
Sharing our fondest dreams.”