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Let me do butchery

“LET me do butchery.” That translates into the Tagalog word for coconut palm frond, palapa. Akin to carcass, the rows of leaf ribs line a central spine of woody tissue, bundles of fiber shooting arrow-straight from the base tacked to the palm trunk to the tapering tip of the end-leaf rib. Seen at dusk from afar, the spread of fronds crowning the tree of life resemble a hag, a witch malevolent with shock of hair bristling on all sides…

“Let me do butchery” stays latched on the trunk for over a month, falls off after and leaves a scab of sorts—each stands for a month-- on the trunk that signifies the age of the coconut palm in months. Say, a coconut palm tree—very tall grasses, these palms, they’re not trees— starts bearing nuts in 60 months.

Nut production wanes in 480 months (40 years, life begins when the fiber bundles rising from root to leaf tip are at their toughest). That’s the time when seedlings to replace the elderly palm can be gleaned from its fruits fit for planting… uh, 40 is half the age of Moses when he led the chosen people out of slavery and into 40 more years of wandering. It’s the same time when the palm itself can be chopped dead taga sa panahon—cut at the time most auspicious when the wood is at its peak of toughness… fawners and lackeys once tabbed coco lumber as Madera Imelda… I’d rather have Madera Calderon, after the architect who kept the secrets of treating coco lumber to last for ages.

“Let me do butchery”? Noblesse oblige.

The central spine is left after a sharp machete skims through the protruding ribs… the midribs are often saved to go into walis tintinggil, oopsydaisy, I mean midrib broom… that which the adage plies out as exemplar of synergy, “matibay ang  walis kapag nakabigkis” or the bundling of febrile midribs lend useful strength to a broom.

The equivalent of four years in stripped-of-midrib fronds is what my core muscles can carry for three or four kilometers… four years, 48 spines or fiber bundles off the palm trunk that can embody a burden of years upon one’s back… these dry bundling of years are brought home, chopped into lengths and stacked beneath the hearth to provide fuel for months of cooking through the monsoons and typhoons.

An elder once scoffed at how weak I looked, back nearly bent and crushed by the burden of just four years in fronds… so I eased that load off my back and watched him try take it upon his shoulders.

He squat, heaved it off the ground, settled the kit and caboodle on his back, then, rose… and gasped. He barely stood for 2-3 seconds before toppling, falling flat on his back, more in aghast than chagrin.

I threw him an “I-told-you-so” look, not in gloating but in sympathy. Four years is an easy weight… an easy wait in patience for tendons and sinew to muster the strength to bear the burden that the years can bring.

That elder watched me take the burden again and trudge off for home in an easy gait, mindful of the weight of four years that weighs down my carriage.

I can still bear the stack of four years.


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