Tuesday, July 17, 2012


A wise and grizzled farmhand watching over a piece of coconut land belonging to our family came by to see me not long ago and sought my permission to cut down half a dozen coconut trees which he said had been struck by lightning.  The land is on the outskirts of the small, rural village of Salvacion in San Agustin town which is just north of Lianga.

"All six trees were hit by lightning?" I had asked.  "Not all of them," he replied.  "Only one was hit but the others were singed by the lightning bolt.  They all have to be cut down or many other trees will be affected."  "Which trees?" I asked naively.  "All of them. It's like a curse," he said, his tone that of a man explaining simple reality to a retarded child. "It can spread and many others might be struck again in the future."

Now, I have been brought up and educated to be a clear-headed and rational man.  Lightning, I have been taught, is merely the massive discharge of electricity between the ground and the atmosphere (or between clouds) that occurs when there is an imbalance in the build-up of atmospheric electrical charges.  It is a purely random natural event can be explained rationally and scientifically.

Certainly, it is not some supernatural or mystical force possessed of some degree of malignant intelligence that can suddenly and arbitrarily decide to cleave down from the heavens like a swift blade of mystic light to cut and burn down its victims whether man, plant or beast.  It does not leave behind the deadly, poisonous scorch marks of its passing on those it did not outright kill or destroy, marks that doom all those that have survive its path with the threat of a final finishing stroke, an inevitable coup de grĂ¢ce if you will, in the near future.

I spent the next half hour trying to talk some sense into him.  The stricken tree and its fellows, I argued, are on level ground near the seashore and there is no apparent scientific reason why they should be struck again by lightning except in a purely chance and random event.  I gave strict instructions for only the severely damaged tree to be cut down and for the surrounding others to be left alone to recover.  Superstition, I strongly felt, should not overcome pure logical and scientific thinking.

That was that or so I thought.

Just over a month later, another man came back to me.  It seems that he is the owner of a neighboring coconut farm and he was complaining that this time it was his trees that were hit during a late afternoon lightning storm.  I was being blamed for not cutting down all our previously singed trees.  Apparently the curse has jumped lots and it was now his trees that was at the receiving end of heaven's malice.

No impassioned appeals and arguments, on my part, on behalf of modern science and cool rationality, seemed to make any impression on him.  Before tempers would flare and sharpened bolo knives would suddenly appear to settle the impasse, I made the only prudent move.

I made the necessary apologies and did what I should have done the first time.  I had the lightning scorched trees cut down and new ones replanted in their place.  I just hope that if indeed thunderbolts bring curses, they only mark the trees they hit and not the land on which they grow.  Knock on wood.

Our farmhand, who witnessed the whole fracas, had the grace and the nobility of character not to rile me with an "I told you so" although I have the nasty suspicion that he is merely biding his time and waiting for the right and opportune time to hit me with it.  But in the meantime, I had learned my lesson and learned it well.

When chance, fate (call it what you may) or the roll of the cosmic dice favors invincible ignorance and superstition, it is often the wise man who bows his head and accepts what cannot be changed.

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