Monday, January 14, 2008


By Joel E. Ferraris

My childhood fun was complete not because of the material things that I and my siblings had but because of the almost carefree freedom to roam around our yard, play with our domesticated animals and fowls plus the enjoyment derived from fishing from our very small pond teeming with freshwater fishes especially after the rainy season. To complete the fun were the tree-climbing games and the race to gather and eat ripe fruits before they were eaten by fruit bats and birds. And every time sunset approaches we wait for spiders to come out and spin their webs so that we could catch them and add to our tiny "gladiators" ready and well-fed for spider-wrestling.

Our yard then was wide enough to accommodate several fruit trees. Pomelos, atis, star apples, guavas, jackfruits (where I once discovered its huge ripe fruit located in its roots), bananas, cacao, lanzones ("in the land there is a zoo, in the zoo there is a nest" -LANZONES, was the riddle then) and coconut trees plus all other fruit-bearing trees share the yard and give enough shed to protect us, our vegetable garden and my Mom's flower garden from the excessive heat of the sun.

We later added the blackberry tree (even before BlackBerries became popular) that became the favorite "snack bar" of birds that periodically swarm to eat the ripe fruits. My late Dad added a few mahogany trees because to him these will be good source of lumber.

That was my childhood when high-rise condos and shopping malls were still absent from our province in Iloilo in the central Philippines.

Now, as globalization threatens the whole world with global warming, the race caused by property developers to earn more profits and to deliver luxurious living standards to the people of today has drastically changed the landscape of our province. Elsewhere in the world, cities tend to beat in the same rhythm called urbanization.

Now those trees giving solace to lonely birds and shed to weary travelers are gone. And if they are ever present they are just a minority compared to the surrounding buildings and structures built by man plus the vehicles. The landscape is now replaced by an all-man made structures and things moving and littering about to give the place a feeling of artificial life unlike the natural ecosystem thriving around and under the trees.

Nowadays even the spiders that used to build their webs during dusk are replaced by Spiderman (who catches criminals instead of insects) to appease our insecurities. At least spiders are for real whereas this superhero is just a product of one’s imagination to temporarily give a sense of security to an insecure generation of people dependent on the trend of globalization threatened by terrorism. With this idea I added the image of Spiderman right on the upper-center of the artwork to make it appear that he is climbing the tree or on top of the tree.

Spirit of a Tree is an acrylic on canvas painting I did in 2001 and is now in private collection in Toronto, Canada. It is an art piece painstakingly done for several months and is one of the series of paintings that I did as I developed one of my styles. Similar art pieces that belong to this style are Neophyte, The Fruit Up There, I Want Them Fresh and the large painting Two Landscapes, Two Childhoods to name a few.

In this painting the tree is gone and becomes an incorporeal image of an important element of our natural environment and the main source of our weapon against pollution. Only a mirage of it could be seen when the art piece is viewed from a distance. At a closer look one realizes the presence of all these man made structures and things adding to the traffic jams and hectic schedules of a highly urbanized but polluted city. And as the demands of tough city life draw some people into depression likewise those tree spirits, that were once residents of those sources of oxygen and natural shades, are probably left depressed too and homeless.

Ah yes, by the way we have our friend "Spiderman" in school too when I was in primary school. He was actually the man selling spiders to us when spider wrestling became so popular then. He was previously selling ball pens when one day, while he enjoyed watching our game, we excitedly suggested to him to look for spiders and sell to us.

Convinced by a promisingly lucrative new business, the man was not seen in school for several weeks. When he came back he no longer sold us ball pens but spiders - all kinds of spiders new to our eyes and all of them kept and well-fed like gladiators inside his specially designed "condos" of matchboxes. Thus the monicker "Spiderman."