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Birds of Baguio and Benguet

The Little Boss and I went to see the Birds of Baguio and Benguet Photo Exhibit at the Maryknoll Ecological Sanctuary. I carried her so she could see them up close and she pointed to each and every photo demanding, "What's that? What about that? What about this one?" I dutifully read out the name of every single bird featured in the exhibit: Scale-feathered Malkoha, Luzon Sunbird, Citrine Canary Flycatcher, and so on.We discussed the colors of their feathers and the shapes of their beaks. Some of the birds were already familiar to her. The crow and the shrike are frequent visitors in our garden.

Shrike in the hands of the Artist-in-Residence,
with the Little Boss' first hesitant touch.
Taken October 2013.
Once a young shrike in flight crashed into our picture window and lay on the ground, stunned. The Little Boss and the Artist-in-Residence held it lovingly in their hands and as soon as it pushed against their palms they gently released it. That was The Little Boss' first close encounter with a wild bird.

Yesterday at the exhibit, someone walked up to a photo the Little Boss and I had just discussed and asked her in playful, little girl tones, "What's that? A bird?". The Little Boss replied in her best know-it-all two-year old tone, "Woodpecker."

I was reminded of this interlude between chapters in the book Friction by Anna Tsing (2005, 155, the italics are mine):
"1994. It started with an innocent question about eels; I was thinking of dinner. 'Are there any eels in the river?' I asked. Uma Adang, my Meratus Dayak friend and mentor, leaned back, assuming her most serious oratorical bearing. 'Facing the year 2000,' she proclaimed, 'we must make a list of all the contents of this earth, this island Borneo.' Plants and animals, their names and uses and local or foreign locations: all, she told me, should be listed. I was taken aback. I had not yet had the chance to explain much to her about my new research on global environmentalism. She was not yet in touch with global biodiversity experts... Yet she beautifully articulated the spirit of environmental prophecy: the looming, apocalyptic crisis of nature as revealed at the turn of the millennium, the chance to save the earth through proper naming, and the necessity, in doing so, of moving back and forth between 'the island' and 'the earth' -- the minutely local and the whole globe.
"Over the next ten days, Uma Adang sat with me and dictated over a thousand local life-forms." 
A crow in flight. Taken Nov. 21, 2014, Baguio City.

Uma Adang's list is composed of the names of plants and animals in her language, and a description of each. Sometimes Tsing provides a scientific name. She recounts how drawing up this list was a source of pleasure for the entire household, how people participated by bringing plant samples over, how Uma Adang was acutely aware of the changing habitat of these species, how the listing of names would spill over into stories, and how the talk would inevitably turn to food and how certain plants or animals tasted. This list, writes Tsing, "can remind both conservationists and scholars of why we might want to reach out across cultures to understand and advocate the pleasures of biodiversity."

The author's mother, a Chinese American member of an Ohio wild flowers society told her that: "Learning the names of plants is just like learning the names of people you meet; when you know their names, you can get to know them better."

I will teach my youngest daughter the names of living things. My eldest has already been teaching me the names of living things. I should pay better attention. Together we are learning that to know the names of things, then we must also have the things themselves in this world. We cannot know, we cannot live, with names alone.

The Birds of Baguio and Benguet exhibit will be up in the Maryknoll Ecological Sanctuary until the end of November, 2014. It is a must-see. It's much more than just a display of photos of pretty little things. One striking thing about it is that many of the birds can be found within the city limits of Baguio. This fact alone asks us to open our eyes and pay attention to our surroundings, value what we have. On December 2 the exhibit will re-open in the University of the Philippines, Baguio.


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