Home on the Sierra Madre

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Topics: Rice
Home on the Sierra Madre by Sigfredo R. Iñigo

"You forgot to check the traps," Father was chuckling, shaking his head as he came up to our hut from the meadow. He held between his two fingers a tiny feather-covered skeleton: a quail had been caught and gone unnoticed for days and the ants had picked it to the bone. He was not a big man but he could roam by himself through the woods for days with only a box of matches and a sharpened machete.
I was perched on a log on top of an outcrop, watching sundown. I had just cut a sackload of sakate grass for Pandora, our carabao, so named after my dog who had died that summer. I had left her half-submerged in a mudhole near the stream below, tethered to a sapling. From our little hut the aroma of rice and vegetables being cooked drifted to our nostrils. Mother had gathered eggplants and bitter gourd and green chili from the field and singkamas leaves from the bank of the stream and these she now boiled in a clay pot, seasoned with fish sauce and topped with the catfish caught in our buho trap which she had broiled over the glowing coals. We were in a mountain farm somewhere in the Sierra Madre.
"Supper's ready," Mother finally announced. She was forty and had given birth to five children. I was sixteen, the second to the eldest.
"You better bring the carabao over," Father said.
I returned to the stream in the gathering dusk, but saw no carabao. The sapling to which I had tied its leash had been uprooted. I saw hoofprints beside the creek, going downstream. I should have tied it more securely. Feeling myself guilty as Iscariot, I called Father and told him about it. He came down immediately, and we hurried along to catch the runaway.
Most carabaos - or water buffalo - are tame as dogs, never running away even if left untethered, but a few, like ours, had the nasty habit called ag-garot: left untied it would run for miles like a fugitive. Farmers hated such animals, and I too began hating it as I stumbled

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