One time, while walking the dogs, we saw a little branch barely hanging on to life through a crack in the gutter. Here is where we found the said sapling:
I don’t know how the heck it was able to take root and survive in that little crack. I was told that the branch in question was a baby balete tree. And true enough, about 2 blocks away, was a large old gnarly balete tree. So I guess during one downpour, a seed found it’s way down the gutter, buoyed by the gushing rain water, and managed to squeeze itself inside the crack and eventually take root and grow. I guess it’s testament to the tree’s tenacity to be able to survive this long under such extreme conditions. So we hatched “Oplan: Sagip Balete”. We pulled the tree from it’s flimsy perch, and then planted it in our front yard. We put some stones around it, and hopefully it will take root there, with much more ample soil to enjoy. It’s been a week or two, and so far, so good!
They said it would take about 2 weeks to find out if it will survive in its new environs or not. Well, it’s been more than 2 weeks and it looks pretty sturdy to me. The leaves initially felt all soft and mushy, but now it feels rubbery to the touch, so I guess it’s getting stronger. I even decided to name our new plant, I christened it “Spandau”. Get it, “Spandau Balete”? Hehe…anyway, I was very happy welcoming the latest member to our growing multi-life form family, until I started trawling the internet about info on the balete tree. Apparently, it’s a member of the ficus family, which includes the banyan tree and the fig trees. It’s a bit of a traitorous plant, because it’s other name is “strangler fig”. The balete needs a host on which it will grow. It usually finds its way on top of its host tree (care of bird dropings), then it finds a home there, eventually wrapping its roots around its host, finding its way down to the ground. Once it grows its massive root system under the ground, then it strangles its host tree, killing it, thereby leaving a hollow space inside most baletes. This accounts for the eerie look of the balete, with it’s body made up of not a single trunk, but of a network of vines/roots that is hollow inside.
Aside from it’s murderous nature, this villainous plant also has a lot of superstition attached to it. In Pinoy folklore, this is the traditional home of creatures like the kapre, the tikbalang, and duwendes. Even the shamans of Siquijor perform their rituals inside the hollow space of old baletes. These trees are believed to be spiritual centers of supernatural energy. Now, I feel a little queasy having planted a future condo for laman lupa of all shapes and sizes. We don’t have spooky stuff happening in our house, and I want to keep it that way! Besides, will it eventually kill the other friendlier trees once it becomes a massive bully vegetation-wise? Will we start having huge kapres knocking on our doors asking for a light? I don’t want to open out front door and find a tikbalang going: “EOw pFouwZh! DitO nHaH mEeH!”
But to be fair, in other regions the other members of the ficus family don’t have the same bad rep as the balete. Remember, Adam and Eve are often depicted in paintings as wearing only a fig leaf. And Buddha supposedly found enlightenment under a banyan tree. In Hinduism, the god Krishna is believed to reside in the banyan tree. So the tree is often associated with both the supernatural and the divine. For whatever reason the tree is anything but ordinary. So whether it’s feared or revered, there’s something about the tree that merits this reputation.
Which brings me to my dilemma. This all started out as a cute little experiment, a rescue mission of a plant in distress. Now I find out I’m harboring a future tree murderer, or worse a tree that could possibly house a future community of malignos. Fine, I admit, I’m a superstitious scaredy cat. I hate the idea of ghosts and ghoulies creeping about in or around our house. The place where we planted the tree, is right outside the place where we watch TV. When the tree gets high enough, all we have to do to see the kapre squatting on the branches, smoking his tabako, his big black testicles hanging like dark giant rambutans, is to look out the windows from where we sit. Not happy with that thought.
My first reaction is to rip the tree from where we planted it and throw it in our neighbor’s trash can (I don’t want the fiends fro hell to exact their wrath on our trash bin). But then the calm side of me is saying I’m being all immature and foolish about this. That there are no such things as kapres and tikbalangs and duwendes. But I’m a scaredy cat, that’s what we do — we panic and cower in fear! So now I’m torn: keep the tree or kill it before it becomes a monster? Should I kill it now and prevent future supernatural infestations, or should I leave it be, maybe it would spare us because we saved it’s life? Am I being wise or am I being paranoid? Will I allow Spandau to live, or will Spandau die at the hands of the very man who saved him? Am I doing the village a favor by ridding them of a future menace, or will I have innocent sap on my hands? Will Spandau reward my kindness by sparing me and my family, or will it do to me what baletes do to their host trees…and STRANGLE ME WITH ITS HOMICIDAL ROOTS?!?
BSB…Bahala Si Batman…