Ides of March
By Rudy Arizala
March is the third month of the Gregorian Calendar. In the old Roman Calendar it was named "Martius" in honor of Mars, the Roman god of war. March was also the first month dedicated to Romulus, the legendary founder of Rome and considered to be a son of Mars.
In the Philippines, March announces the start of summer. Classes end in late March and the Lenten season takes place either in March or April. March has 31 days. When one say the "Ides of March," what does it mean or signify? It means the 15th day of March in the old Roman Calendar but actually the 13th day of of the other months of the year. .
In Philippine history, Magellan and his men according to Pigafetta sighted the island of Samar one day after the Ides of March, that is on 16 March 1521, the eve of St. Lazarus day. Magellan and his men crossed the Pacific Ocean through what we call now the Strait of Magellan and after sighting the island of Samar, they dropped anchor at an islet nearby called Homonhon. Actually, it was on the 17th of March when they reached the Philippines because Pigafetta, Magellan´s Italian Chronicler, failed to take into account that in reaching the group of islands of what we call now the Philippines, they passed through the International Dateline and should have added one day when traveling from East to West across the Pacific Ocean. Be that as it may, March 16 or 17, 1521 marked the beginning of the Spanish colonial period in the Philippines lasting more than 300 hundred years.
Aside from the discovery of the Philippines by Magellan for the Europeans, March in the Philippines is the start of summer; the month of Lent and when the big, rounded, shiny leaves of the talisay tree along the Bantilan river in my hometown are starting to turn yellow, then orange, red, purple. Subsequently, they fall off like leaves of trees in temperate countries during autumn. Leaves of the santol tree like that of the talisay also big and broad turn brown then red but do not fall to the ground like that of the talisay tree. But the old acacia trees also drop their leaves littering the ground below with brown leaves. The trees which shed off their leaves stand naked with their bare branches like bony arms pointing to the sky as if in silent prayers.
Soon the naked branches of trees and twigs will burst with tiny light green buds as trees do in spring in temperate countries. Then the buds unfurled into tiny leaves and tossed about in the air as the wind blows. At the same time other trees, shrubs and vines in the countryside burst out with blossoms such as the kakawati (madre de cacao) with pink flowers like the chrysanthemum in Chile during spring. These flowers are joined in by bougainvillea that adorn hedges and fences of homes with their red, orange, purple flowers. These phenomena signal the arrival of summer and when the heat start to soar it indicates that Holy Week is just around the corner.
As the temperature reaches its peak, the "bula-ag" or firetree show its red orange blossoms its crown as if consumed by flames of fire. Amidst this changing panorama of green to yellow then brown and red the countryside becoming a riot of different colors, it is also time to fly kites; hunt or watch butterflies darting from flower to flower; birds such as the "kulasisi" (parakeets) singing merrily on branches of firetrees. And when you get tired watching birds and butterflies and you feel hot due to the summer sun, a dip into the cool water of the river refreshes your body while a group of chatting women do their laundry upstream under the shade of a huge talisay tree.
And when you hear the ringing of bells from the old church stone belfry proclaiming "angelus", it is time to go home. It is the end of a hot summer day. As you negotiate the dusty brown pathways for home and the golden sun has hidden its face behind the blue Sierra Madre mountain, you hear the singing of the cicadas. As darkness gradually cover the earth, the early evening is lighted by the sparkling lights of fireflies clustered around a kamachile tree while the kalachuchi, dama de noche, ilang-ilang and sampaguita flowers silently spread their fragrance.
But according to my sister, summer this year in our hometown would not be marked by green scenery, fragrance and riot of different colors as it used to be in the past years for most parts of our town and countryside are still covered with brown mud and slime as well as dotted by rubbish from the mountains due to the flashfloods which occurred recently &endash; the results of indiscriminate cutting of trees in the forests. Lent for sure will be observed by the people with the same fervor and sacredness if not more intense. For their faith in the Almighty is enduring and lasting despite the changing of the seasons.