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INTEGRAL ECOLOGY: The Joy of Climbing the Great Mountains of Bukidnon

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 27 June) — I grew up in Bukidnon, a land-locked mountainous Province of Mindanao, where about 70 percent of the land area has an altitude of 500 meters above sea level. My “Sweet Bukidnon Home,” as the song goes, is gifted with “lovely mountains high” and grand forests. This initially explains why I spontaneously love to climb mountains as part of enjoying God’s ecological gifts. The joy of climbing mountains nurtures my homegrown love for nature and strengthens my present ecological advocacy.

My Romance with the Great Mountains of Bukidnon

My “romance” with the great Bukidnon mountains started in 2003 when I, together with some personnel of the Radio Station dxDB-Malaybalay, climbed the peak of Mt. Kitanglad (9,511 feet above sea level). We then climbed in 2004 Mt. Dulang-dulang (9,649 feet above sea level), one of the peaks in the Kitanglad Mountain Range, which is considered the second highest mountain in the Philippines.

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Kitanglad Mountain Range as viewed from barrio Sil-ipon, Libona. Photo by Fr. REYNALDO D. RALUTO

Climbing Mt. Kalatungan was my next memorable romance with nature. It started by visiting in 2005 and in 2012 its beautiful Kaayatan waterfalls, which is about six-hour walk from sitio San Guinto of barrio Bacusanon, Pangantucan. Subsequently, in April 2014, we climbed the peak of Mt. Kalatungan (9,265 feet above sea level) via Barangay Mendes—the northern side of Pangantucan municipality.

Mt. Kalatungan as viewed from sitio Quarry, Bacusanon (Pangantucan). Photo by FR. REYNALDO D. RALUTO

My weekend priestly ministry at Jesus Nazareno Parish in Libona, Bukidnon has given me the opportunity to visit twice (2018 and 2019) the remote Lumad community in Sitio Alawon, about eight kilometers away from barrio Sil-ipon. Located at the foot of Kitanglad mountain range, Alawon can be reached after climbing layers of forested mountains.

In May 2019, I was privileged to have been invited to join the group of Higaonon tribe from Impasug-ong, Bukidnon in their Panlauy ta AGMIHICU (Agtulawon-Mintapod Higa-onon Cumadon), a yearly visit to the forests and sacred places within their 14,000-hectare ancestral domain. The four-day pilgrimage has allowed me to climb the peaks of Malilok, Malatukâ, and Kiblag mountains.

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A view of Mt. Malilok, close to the boundary between Impasug-ong, Bukidnon and Claveria, Misamis Oriental. Photo by FR. REYNALDO D. RALUTO

Thanks to the Lumad friends who served as our willing guides during those mountain climbing activities. They taught us how to survive in the midst of enchanted forests populated by diverse plant and wild animal species. Journeying with them in the forests was like a tour to their malls, markets, churches, swimming pools, recreation areas, and the best aspects of their cultures.

Experiencing the Sublime with the Great Mountains

From a distance, forested mountains looked peaceful and silent. However, as I got closer, I heard a symphony of sounds that spontaneously aroused a terrifying feeling. Walking on the challenging trails under the gigantic trees, I experienced what the German philosopher Immanuel Kant called an encounter with “the sublime”— a mixed feeling of terror and delight that cannot be put into words. In the language of Rudolf Otto (1869-1937), what I experienced was a kind of mysterium tremendum et fascinans—a terrifying yet fascinating experience due to the presence of a mysterious Other.

Let me highlight a bit the aspect of terrifying experience of mountain climbing. My consciousness of being immersed in the immensity of thick forest has allowed me to experience the wildness of enchanted nature. I can sense the presence of uncontrollable forces of nature and of an undomesticated Someone greater than myself. I experienced this, especially, when I was under the gloomy shadows of gigantic trees. I felt so appropriately small when I was in the middle of the vast overwhelming mountains.

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The trees from the mossy forest of Mt. Kalatungan. Photo by FR. REYNALDO D. RALUTO

Preserving the Wildness of the Mountains

My experience of enchanted mountains reminds me that the Earth has always its wild dimension, which is the other side of its gentleness. The inherent wildness of nature is not necessarily bad. This experience reminds me of the American cultural historian Thomas Berry (1914-2009) who said that our historical mission as human beings is not to control the wildness of nature.[1] Perhaps what we really need is to regulate the uncontrolled human activities that irresponsibly turn the natural wildness of the Earth into ecological catastrophes.

We need to overcome modernity’s compulsion to control the wildness of nature with the use of science and technology. Proponents of modernity compel us to tame and domesticate the Earth, as though the wild component of nature is necessarily undesirable. Their ideology presumes that human beings have a well-meaning mission to conquer and colonize the Earth. They make us believe that wild nature is undesirable and less valuable unless and until it is touched by the colonizing labor of human hands.

In response to the modern thrust to control nature, we have to turn to the biblical attitude of respecting the wildness of nature, which duly recognizes “chaos” as originally part of God’s creation. The famous biblical scholar Richard Bauckham argues that God’s act of creation did not abolish the wild forces of chaos but simply restricted and “just kept them within definite boundaries.”[2] In this sense, the wildness of nature may be seen as constant manifestation of the presence of the primordial chaotic elements in creation.

While traversing the great mountains with their immense forests, I reminded myself that my main goal was to experience the wildness of nature and not to conquer or control it. As I encountered ferocious wild animals, scary leeches, and thirsty mosquitoes along the way, I recalled what Clare Palmer said about them: they “are completely independent of humanity … [and] are not made for humanity, not made to be human’s companions, nor even made with humans in mind.”[3] So I have to let them be what they are according to God’s plan for them.

My limited experience with mountain climbing has convinced me that we need to recognize the intrinsic value of nature—including its wild components. I need to affirm that the wild world is there for its own sake, not only for the benefits of humanity. Hence, when I climb mountains, I must overcome the disposition of a conqueror or colonizer who tends to control nature. I climb mountains not to conquer them but myself — to overcome my fears and doubts about my capacity to transcend my limitations and weaknesses.

Like mystics, mountain climbers could also claim that there is an unspeakable element in our encounter with the wild nature that a secularized civilization cannot provide. As Thomas Berry puts it, “something in the wild depths of the human soul finds its fulfillment in the experience of nature’s wild moments.”[4] Indeed, the joy of encountering the wild nature is essentially part of becoming truly human.

[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Reynaldo D. Raluto is a Roman Catholic priest of the Diocese of Malaybalay. He is the Academic Dean of St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Cagayan de Oro where he also teaches fundamental/systematic theology and Catholic social teaching. He is the author of Poverty and Ecology at the Crossroads: An Ecological Theology of Liberation in the Philippine Context (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2015). His ecological advocacy includes planting/growing Philippine native trees, mountain climbing, and defending the rights of Indigenous Peoples.] 

[1] See Thomas Berry, The Great Work: Our Way into the Future (New York: Bell Tower, 1999), 48.

[2] Richard Bauckham, The Bible and Ecology: Rediscovering The Community of Creation (Waco, Texas: Baylor University Press, 2010), 169.

[3] Clare Palmer, “Stewardship: A Case Study in Environmental Ethics,” in Ian Ball et al., eds., The Earth Beneath: A Critical Guide to Green Theology (London: SPCK, 1992), 70.

[4] Berry, The Great Work, 51.

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