Wednesday, March 11, 2009


Roots. Not “Roots” as in the saga about Kunta Kinte, but roots as in the things that plants stick into the ground. Or rocks. Or concrete. A real attention grabber, don’t you think? Well, at least one recent visitor liked roots, since he took numerous pictures of them, so this column is dedicated to him and whomever else finds roots fascinating.

But first, let us introduce the man interested in roots, Steve Cornwell, and his fiancé Soma. Steve lost his wife of 33 years to cancer in December, 2005. They were “Steve and Marcia” just like us. We have become quick friends, and this week Steve and Soma came to the island a second time, partly to spend time with us. The first time they came to stay overnight and see the island. We were introduced then by Sun Cruises guide and our friend Armando, who thought we should meet, and we are grateful that he thought of us.

Steve is still in the mourning period and talks a lot about his late wife, but Soma, a Filipina, seems to take it in stride. Like so many couples we meet nowadays, they met on the internet. Once Steve began advertising for a potential partner, he had hundreds of younger Asian girls trying to get his interest, and he knew it was primarily so that they could go to the United States. Soma was different. A widow herself, and much closer to Steve’s age, she answered all his inquiries in a way that made him comfortable that things may work out, and now they are waiting for Soma to get a fiancé visa so that she can visit the U.S. to meet his family. It is very difficult for Filipinos to get U.S. visas, so they will have to be patient.

Here on Corregidor, roots can be intriguing. They are not only interesting to look at, but show just how much their owners will do to stay alive. It’s important to realize that the climate here is typically “hot and hotter.” We experienced an unusually cool January, despite temperatures almost always well above 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit). From November through mid-May it will not rain much, if at all. In April most trees still look green despite blistering temperatures and the fact that there may not have been a soaking rain in half a year. Thus the need to have effective root systems.

One common tree here is the banyan. It will take over an entire area, if given the chance, by dropping runners from its branches to the ground. Should a runner root, it will eventually become another trunk. Once when we visited Marcia’s parents in Fort Myers, Florida, we saw a banyan tree on the Edison/Ford estate that had hundreds of trunks and took up close to an acre of land. This was technically one tree! Some banyans here have become such a problem that they have had to be eliminated. Good examples are the Ft. Mills Hospital and the Administration Building on Topside, where banyan trees would have eventually engulfed and destroyed them.

Giant fig trees grow all over the island, and we find their roots beautiful. We call them “skirt trees” for obvious reasons. Their roots extend almost like skirts above the ground, then snake wherever necessary to find water. During the right time of the year the figs fall and make a mess, of course. These trees are not as destructive as banyans, and are much more plentiful, often seen along roads and trails. Often the roots wrap around rocks as large as beach balls, and sometimes hold the rocks suspended after rains have swept the soil away.

Trees may be seen growing anywhere that a crack exists, often appearing to grow directly from concrete foundations. One large fig tree appears to be growing right out of a concrete abutment, but of course its roots do reach the ground. Other trees try to grow in small holes in concrete monuments, but they are doomed to die as their roots cannot find water.

A very common sight here is to see a tree reconstitute itself after it has fallen over. The main trunk is more or less horizontal, and it will put up branches which become new trunks to reach for the sky. We saw this phenomenon in Michigan so maybe it’s more prevalent than we realize, but it is very common here. Often there is evidence that the main trunk was cut off because it was blocking a road or path, but that doesn’t stop the tree from contriving to stay alive.

Another interesting example: a tree whose trunk appears to start several feet in the air, almost as if the ground was swept out from under it. This is sometimes the case, but we found one tree that is suspended over an old road. You can see a picture of Marcia standing beneath it. In many cases vines drop down from high up in trees and try to root in the ground below, and then begin the climb upward again

We have a papaya that just started growing on its own in our front yard. We have transplanted other papayas which are progressing very slowly, in part because the monkeys have eaten their new leaves. But this particular tree decided to grow right at the edge of an old concrete wall, so for it to survive it will have to eventually break the wall. We were delighted to see that it began to bloom this week, so we may soon have fruit to use. The islanders consume most fruit before it ripens and becomes attractive to the monkeys. (Bananas can be harvested green and allowed to ripen.) We have eaten a very good dish called Chicken Tinola, a stew with green papaya as an ingredient. Very, very good!

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