MANILA, Philippines—The pines of Baguio are like family. They have been steady through the seasons and through the ups and downs of life.
I planted my first tree with my mother Mercedes in the garden of our home at 40 Kisad Road. It was one-foot tall, with a burst of bright green pine needles at the top. It was in this garden that I spent many mornings with my grandmother Antonia, tending to her roses in shades of macopa and magenta. Ah, the smell of pine and roses will forever be entwined for me!
My first kiss was a stolen one from a Baguio boy. I was 14. I found him terribly handsome, though I never admitted it. And I pretended to be horrified.
My first joint was shared with childhood friends at a concert under the pines of Teachers’ Camp.
In my 20s, I got engaged. I fled to Baguio with my brother Marco and my sister Bianca when my fiancé and I fought. Laughter lifted my spirits as we slid down the pine needle-strewn hillsides of John Hay, on cardboard boxes in lieu of sleds.
When my engagement was called off, I went even deeper into the mountains, seeking comfort in the pine forest of Sagada. I married, but the union did not last; after the separation, I returned to the mountains of Baguio to find myself again.
The pines of Baguio were witness to the blossoming of a new love years later. It was on the deck of our home in Quezon Hill, beneath a golden sunset sky, that another man kissed me.
The day after that first kiss, I came home from the market to find a bouquet of pink starburst lilies on the bench beside our front door. A garland of everlasting flowers bound the lilies together with a giant wooden rosary.
A few days ago, that man named the WiFi network in our home, “Crispy Mountain Air.” “That’s how I know I am a mountain person and not a beach person,” my husband said. “I love crispy mountain air.”
My heart leapt because I realized that being mountain people was something we had in common. He grew up halfway around the world, in the mountains of Mexico City. But last summer was the first time we spent an entire month in the mountains together—in Mexico and Colorado.
My mountain man
This year, we celebrate our 10th anniversary, and he suggested that we celebrate somewhere “with crispy mountain air.” It took me a decade to realize I have found my mountain man.
Then again, appreciating what you already have is a gift that comes from the space and clarity of being in the mountains. That our first kiss was under a pine tree should have been a sign.
(A mother, writer and teacher, the author thanks her mother for the gift of growing up among Benguet pines. This article was written for the book, “Philippine Native Trees 101; Up Close and Personal,” a joint project of the Green Convergence for Safe Food, Health Environment and Sustainable Economy; Hortica Filipina Foundation Inc., and the BINHI Project of the Energy Development Corp.)