Author Topic: Essay by Antonio Calipjo Go: “Pebble in My Shoe, Stone in My Heart”  (Read 9492 times)

Joe Carillo

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Pebble in My Shoe, Stone in My Heart
By Antonio Calipjo Go

I recall that long-ago summer when I went with my friend the stone hunter from La Union to gather stones at the headwaters of the Amburayan River up in the Cordilleras of Benguet. I had a big landscaping project to do for a client who had just bought a house in Vigan and wanted a rock garden to go with it for his new Japanese wife.

We started before dawn and were deposited by jeep to a designated site by the banks of the Amburayan where we made camp. We then proceeded to follow the course of the dry riverbed of one of the tributaries on foot with the help of two native Igorots to guide us and to carry our things, ascending the flank of the mountain by way of a rough and crooked trail.

The riverbed was dry and looking for stones with striking and unusual color, pattern, shape or texture proved easy at first. Before we sat down for lunch at high noon, we had already amassed quite a stash of the beautiful green stones we were after, heaping these into mounds on a clearing to later take home.

                                             IMAGE CREDIT: ROCKTUMBLER.COM

The higher we climbed, the more winding and wilder the footpath became. Yet also, the farther we went, the more beautiful the stones seemed to grow before our eyes. So preoccupied were we that we failed to heed the rumblings in the distant peaks, ignored the gathering thunderclouds that had turned bright day into dusk.

The flash storm up in the mountains ripped the skies open, unleashing its cargo of torrential rains which pelted down on us sharp as arrowheads. The thunderstorm must have flooded the Amburayan at its source in the cloud-covered peaks and water began to well up among the rocks and pebbles of the parched channel like a rising tide. Before we knew it, the water had risen to our ankles and more were gushing down the mountainsides. The sudden surge of water wet the stones and brought out such an explosion of colors that I was tempted to gather some more, but the flood was fast catching up on us.

Soon, the onrush of descending waters overtook us, well before fear did, and we had to abandon everything we had collected right where we stood, chucking away even those stones we were keeping in the pockets of our pants as we ran headlong down the heights for our lives. We had to leave everything behind, for well we knew that only by being light and unencumbered will we be able to get to safety fast.

We got home with only our shirt on our back, with cuts, bruises and welts all over our battered bodies. Not one piece of the beautiful stones we collected in one whole day of backbreaking work had been saved. We left everything there on the mountain that day, even our sense of invulnerability, our pride.

The rainy season came early that year and we were forced to abandon our stone-gathering expeditions in the mountains. So it was that I found myself having time to kill and one night I went with the stone hunter to Laoag to attend the wake of one of his major buyers who suddenly died of cardiac arrest at age 44. This man belonged to a family of stone merchants and suppliers; on his own, he had already established a chain of rock garden centers all over the Ilocos provinces.

Before the dead man’s coffin was closed for viewing, I noticed that his son placed a piece of black lava rock in the shape of a mother and child in the dead man’s hand. It was his father’s favorite, the son told me, of all the viewing stones in his father’s collection of suiseki*.

It got me thinking then: Will the dead man’s soul be able to bring that with him when he goes to the banks of the River Styx to embark for The Land Beyond Beyond? Will Charon the Boatman accept the stone in lieu of his requisite coin?

Isn’t it set in stone that we take nothing with us when we go? The one thing we can bring with us is the very thing we leave behind—the unwritten yet indelible record of our days and deeds while we lived, the fossil of our reputation.

I was moved and shaken by such thoughts, floating out of the darkness of the trees in my mind like fireflies, providing moments of illumination for this stone-blind man. I realized that my life till then lacked something I could not quite get a hold on. I felt as if I were a man who must jump from stone to stone to get across a river in flood but has now been stopped at midstream because he’d run out of stone to step on. Life was good but I was bad and that’s not good at all.

Memories oozed out of the dry riverbed of my mind like rising floodwaters to wet the stones, to bring the past to living color once again. I remember the people who had loved me for the lithic, petrous, stone-hearted thing I was but whom I had discarded and chucked away after I found other stones with better marbling, finer streaks, stones more green, more red.

In the end, I ended up with only me to come home to. I’m just a rock hound after all, an amateur collector of stones not even good enough to make soup with. I’ve run out of stones to step on, I’m in midstream, and the river is rising, rising!

I am weighted down by the bag of stones I carry on my back, collected over a lifetime of sinning. My soul, as a consequence, had become heavy as a boulder, over the years sinking deeper and deeper into the mud and muck at the rock bottom of the river we call Time, drowning me but not nearly to the point of killing me. Perhaps it is not intended that I die quickly, for that would be such an easy way out, a misplaced kindness wasted on one such as I. Maybe it is right that I should suffer first.

And I do, I do suffer exceedingly, excruciatingly so, petrified with saudade**, relentless and unforgiving. My sins sit in my heart like a stone, pester me like pebbles in my shoe.

Only God, my bedrock and my foundation, can remove them.

                         IMAGE CREDIT: TERRIWINDLING.COM

The author of this personal essay, Antonio Calipjo Go, is a retired academic supervisor of the Marian School of Quezon City. He is a staunch advocate of good English usage who has waged a crusade against badly written English-language textbooks in the Philippines for many years now. Several of his no-nonsense critiques have appeared in the Forum’s “Advocacies” section over the years.

*Suiseki is the art of collecting, preparing and appreciating naturally formed stones. It was first introduced in Japan by the Chinese Imperial court and became widespread during Kamakura period (1183-1333AD) as it gained acceptance with the Samurai ruling class. Shaped by wind and rain and formed through the passage of time, suiseki are not just any stone found in nature. To be classified as suiseki, these stones must have unique shape and texture which bears close resemblance of scenic landscape (such as mountain, waterpool, lakes and waterfalls).

**Saudade is a deep emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one cares for and/or loves. Moreover, it often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing might never return.

« Last Edit: December 22, 2022, 04:47:48 PM by Joe Carillo »