They call the YlangYlang the perfume tree because of the fragrance its flowers exude in the rainforest. They extract the fragrant oil as an ingredient in the making of expensive perfumes, among them, the famous Channel 5, concocted by the designer Coco Channel in the early 20s. The tree’s fragrance is known to blend well with quite a number of floral scents. Environmentalists call the tree’s penchant to attract insects, rather heroic, because it saves precious crops from the damage. YlangYlang is known to thrive naturally in the Philippines and Indonesia, and an environmentalist friend told me, they’re using this tree to rehabilitate riverbanks.
These, I only learned later, after my first encounter with the tree.
I already had this heavy and oppressed feeling when I think of the rainforest in that place that people call Upper.
The last time I went there, I was surprised to see a whole tree, perhaps more than 50 years old, lying along the stretch of the river bank, like a corpse of an unknown person no one cared about. “Who fell that old tree?” I asked the workhand named Jimmy, upon whose hands Pa had entrusted the care of his farm. “Why is it left lying there?” J said it was a “useless” tree, totally of “no consequence, at all,” since its trunk would crack at the touch of the chainsaw. How could you measure the worth of a tree on how hard or how soft it could take the teeth of a chainsaw? I was about to ask. He said he had mistaken the tree for another tree he wanted cut for the wood he needed to build an extension to the pugon, the oven where he cook the coconut meat into copra. He also admitted he knew nothing about trees at all and couldn’t recognize one from the other, except perhaps, the hard timber trees he fell one after another to sell to somebody I did not know. “That’s criminal,” I said, “You took this tree for another tree and now, you leave it rotting on the banks.”
I failed to point out to him that his admission was contradictory. How could he say the tree was a “useless” tree when he even hardly knew the tree?
The idiot even stopped me from going near what remained of the fallen tree, which we can only view from an embankment overlooking Bal’wanan River. He said it was too steep to go down, I might fall; and the other way was too long and too roundabout, a too tiresome way to go. But I went, anyway. I literally crawled down the embankment, trying to keep my balance. I didn’t look at the tree because I knew I wouldn’t recognize it. Just like the idiot, I was also ignorant about trees; but unlike him, I did not think any tree was a useless tree. I was boiling mad because no one planted that tree, it was a natural flora in that rainforest; it survived the era of the logging and it had stood bravely and fiercely on its own in the forest for years. But then a complete idiot and a madman came down to fall it. He kept saying to me it was just an YlangYlang, a totally “useless” tree and this infuriating statement keeps ringing in my ears ever since, with alarm and urgency!