Have you ever thought about the sound of a falling tree? It starts with a cracking noise, like the anticipatory claps of thunder preceded by a loud boom. It takes a while for your brain to register that this is the sound of wood breaking. Then, the rattling of leaves and a loud whoosh fills the air. The sound that follows is an anticlimactic grand finale: a muffled boom whose force you can feel under your feet and in your chest — the last cry of the once upright tree finally hitting the earth, fed through a microphone whose only output is a subwoofer.
The fallen tree grew on a large, empty lot behind our house. The lot resembled a tiny forest, complete with verdant undergrowth covering the ground. Sitting in the backseat, on the way to Catholic elementary school, the sun’s rays would pierce through the leaves of the trees just so. The whole scene looked like it could be the cover of a prayer book. This is what Teacher meant, I would think to myself, when she said that God was everywhere.
I grew up away from a lot of noise and light pollution common in more dense areas of Manila. You can imagine how this backdrop casts a hazy, rose-colored tint on my childhood memories.
Our subdivision’s placement is deep in a residential part of Quezon City, on a hill 30-minutes away from La Mesa Dam. I became curious about the natural world. As kids, my kuya and I were given a telescope to look at planets. Evening skies would be so clear I could identify several constellations just sitting at the top of our slide, craning my neck upwards.
As a child everything to me was big, and I was little. I had hoped to grow out of it, that one day I would be big too, and things wouldn’t feel so large in comparison to my short limbs, my kid brain, and the constraints of bedtime. I thought this was the pinnacle of adulthood: the world would feel smaller, and therefore easily comprehensible. I’m not sure if I’ve reached that point in my life yet.
Something else you should know: I have lived in the same house all my life; to this day waking, working, and dreaming in the childhood bedroom where I learned how to speak my first words.
IC Jaucian’s work for CCP Thirteen Artists Awards 2021 entitled “Bon Bon Voyage” tickles the kid version of myself who so desperately wanted to be an astronaut. The artist duplicated Voyager’s The Golden Record onto a piece of hard candy. It was a NASA project compiling the sounds of Earth on a solid gold LP, launching it into space hoping that it would reach intelligent, alien life. The candy record is playable, by the way, the warbling of indigenous music and whale sounds echoing throughout the gallery space.
The choice to fashion the record out of candy is meant to be a critique of NASA’s project, a reminder that this collection of images, greetings, and sounds are not meant to be an “enduring ambassador of earth… for billions of years across the cosmos." The artist also reminds us of the “colonial undertones” of these records, an interpretation I had never encountered, and therefore loved, struck by how the world had seemed to grow larger before my eyes at the realization.
"While we strive to read and engage critically with art, I think it’s worth thinking about how this act allows us a glimpse into our own thought patterns, seeing the moment of synapse take shape."
While we strive to read and engage critically with art, I think it’s worth thinking about how this act allows us a glimpse into our own thought patterns, seeing the moment of synapse take shape. Jaucian’s work makes me think about taking a gander at the void. When I first learned about the Golden Record project as a teenager, I could relate to its audacity and romance — the lonely planet Earth singing hymns to the darkness, hoping that someone would sing back.
I understand what worship means in the religious sense when faced with expanse: outer space, ocean depths, mountainous terrain on tropical archipelagos, slowly rising from the sea after millions of years. Wonder is where I find it easiest to encounter the divine.
READ: Voyaging to space oddity: how humans made a mixtape for extraterrestrials
I had woken up late one morning, feeling out of it after coming home from a trip with friends. My brother and I passed each other at the top landing of the stairs; he was in scrubs, ready to head to the hospital while I was still in my oversized sleep shirt. The neighbors are building something on the lot, he said, gaze pointed at the window by the landing, a clear view of the empty lot before us. He and I lamented the loss of the quiet little forest behind the house. I returned to my bedroom and faintly registered the sound of a chainsaw through the thick walls of my exhaustion.
For the next few days, I was in close proximity to the destruction of this tiny forest. A young mahogany, and two bangkal trees almost as tall as our house were a few of the casualties. My rage, which prompted me to consider demanding our neighbors for DENR permits, fizzled into helplessness (they were a family of politicians), which eventually gave way to weepiness. The trees had already been cut. I shed tears when the enormous trunk of the bangkal was axed into smaller pieces. I thought of Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree,” of something that had once stood tall being rendered into nothing, how the act of claiming and transforming can be violent, and felt very small.
The natural world in its vastness were my first encounters with being humbled by something much larger than myself. I mourned the trees because I felt the sense of wonder I had attached to them as a young girl being taken from me. I have no conclusion, no silver lining. There is only a chasm; a soft, pulsating void that is shrinking. I see myself as I am, and who I was as a child merging. I am telling her: this is how it is. Wonder makes you feel small, but so does loss.