NEITHER colorful wraps nor ribbons came with the presents— say, a bat caught in Gilda Cordero-Fernando’s garden, a water-dwelling snake bought at P100 from a peddler in Quiapo, a box turtle that fetched P60 from a Cartimar store… what impish dad could have contrived a Pandora’s Box for his kids?

The bat kindled wonders and gales of glee with its subsonic cries for a day or two before flying off for its usual haunts—must have found its way back into the same garden where it was caught.

That snake wasn’t as shy or peaceable as an inland taipan—the world’s deadliest, a drop of its venom drops dead an elephant or a dozen Abu Sayyaf bandits—and was given the moniker Qabbalah, after that archetypal serpent hung atop a pole in the wilderness to bring healing to snake-bitten wayfarers..  twas a source of pride and joy and weekly guppy catching chores to keep it fed…

Gamera—after the movie monster who breathed nuclear fumes and did interstellar travel via jet propulsion– was the name dubbed on the box turtle… that shared a quaint discovery—she left a heart-shaped bruise on the skin that she bit onto. She was turned into a conversation piece, drawing other children of nearby households to marvel at such a homely critter.

Bruce the bunny rabbit wasn’t bruised– she was squashed dead, sat on like Lewis Carroll’s hare that took Alice to Wonderland.

Like that bat, most of the gifts didn’t cost much, ah, the delicately scented white orchid plucked off a pine tree branch… those dragonflies caught among grasses with a sudden flick of the hand… the bag of field frogs snared with a ring of earthworms lowered by a line among bushes in wallow-studded pastures… June beetles shaken off their leafy roost and those matchboxes of fighting spiders… these can be had for a song, uh, let’s add a passionate precociousness plus keen powers of observation and quick-as-a-wink hand reflexes that a tightwad can’t possibly have.

“Every child should have mud pies, grasshoppers, water-bugs, tadpoles, frogs, mud-turtles, elderberries, wild strawberries, acorns, chestnuts, trees to climb, brooks to wade in, water-lilies, woodchucks, bats, bees, butterflies, various animals to pet, hay-fields, pine cones, rocks to roll, sand, snakes, huckleberries and hornets; and any child who has been deprived of these has been deprived of the best part of his education.

“By being well acquainted with all these they come into most intimate harmony with nature, whose lessons are, of course, natural and wholesome.”

Plant breeder Luther Burbank claims further that such can “give the child pointed lessons in punctuation as well as caution and some of the limitations as well as the grand possibilities of life… by each new experience with homely natural objects the child learns self-respect and also to respect the objects and forces which must be met.”  Dong delos Reyes

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