Tabada: Taal

·2 min read

I scan heaven for cues if I should water the garden. The husband checks his smart phone for the weather forecast.

Last July 1, as the aspins (asong Pinoy) and I were tangling over the hose, a boa constrictor they may soon chomp to extinction, the husband asked me to go inside the house. Taal Volcano erupted at 3:16 p.m.

I have lived near the sea for most of my life. When Taal Volcano erupted last Jan. 12, 2020, we adjusted in Silang, 38 kilometers away, to living in the shadow of a volcano.

Sunk in a prehistoric caldera filled with lake water, Volcano Island was a postcard-perfect image first glimpsed from the Emilio Aguinaldo Highway in Tagaytay in 2012. Alone at home on that Sunday in 2020, I woke up from siesta to the smell of sulfur wafting in through the open window. The main crater erupted at around 1 p.m.

Closing the window to keep out the smell of what was first thought to be someone’s illicit bonfire was mere spontaneity for someone whose familiarity with a volcano was limited to choosing between the white or grey crayon to color the plumes emerging from a “smoking” cone drawn in grade school.

The sea is mercurial but nothing redefines uncertainty like a volcano. January 2020 woke up again what lay dormant underneath a landmark facilely described for tourists as the “largest lake on an island in a lake on an island in the world.”

In the course of weeks of breathing for the first time behind an N95 mask to sieve the toxic sulfuric fumes and particles from the Taal ashfall that blanketed Calabarzon, Metro Manila, and parts of Central Luzon and Ilocos Region in 2020, I read that “taal” in the Old Tagalog spoken in Batangas, where the Volcano Island is located, means “true” or “genuine.”

Before the July 1 eruption, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) allayed the anxiety of citizens by stating that the smog in Metro Manila is caused by human activities, not the volcanic smog or vog spreading from the Taal region.

In a June 30 press release, Phivolcs confirmed that volcanic SO2 had spread over the National Capital Region and adjoining provinces. “As a scientific institution, we have been reminded again of the value of uncertainty and the limitations of our data, the value of citizen observation and the need to constantly challenge our own perceptions, interpretations and ideas.”

A day after the July 1 eruption, I admired a pure white moth nearly merging with the sheet of wood it was resting on. An orange strip running between the wings marred the white against white image.

“Taal,” according to the ancient Batangueños, is not perfection but the humility of accepting imperfection and living with uncertainty.

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