In dust we bask


The island is not stingy with its rain showers but this year is turning out to be dry and the dust blows into homes like flies hover over a discarded pizza on the road. I chanced on spending some time with an old friend in San Isidro, CK, and though the lagoon waters offered a good respite late afternoon or early morn, the sand from the beach managed to claim its share of the space when the wind blew. The broom sweeper was in full duty all day on the typhoon resistant tin/plywood “shack” we called home.

It is not quite the Sahara Desert of North Africa, nor those trampled over by cowpokes of West Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, nor the dust clouds stirred by the constantly moving nomads of Mongolia, but the sands of San Isidro do make their presence known big time.

Sand of time has been used as a metaphor as day ebbs into night, and humans expend in order to expand, for better or for worst. Time, of course, is a human concept to denote passing phenomenon, often measured by nature’s seasons (four in the temperate zone), the genealogy of family clans (dynasties of Sinosphere), or lunar and solar rotations, or whatever is convenient for a social unit to hold in common to measure the passage of time.

Sanding is also smoothening a rough surface. After transferring from Aparri of the Cagayan Valley to Laoag, Ilocos Norte, of a young senator named Ferdinand Marcos, my vocational education at seventh grade was woodworking, and I set out to make a wooden clothes’ hanger. I was two years younger than any of my classmates by accident (I tagged my older sister to school and she enrolled me to first grade) of going to school early and was not allowed to repeat a grade. I was naturally avoided by classmates who might have helped me with my project were I a bit older. I was a certified though cherubic sissy, good only as a baby faced crown bearer at the school’s beauty pageant.

Anyway, I got one of our house hanger and traced it on wood, I then tried to cut it with a saw. I was not good at it. I settled on sanding the unit into shape but at the end, it was smooth but it was still crooked. My teacher could not contain his giggle when I submitted it but he gave me a 76 grade; 75 was passing. He spoke with a smirk on his face when he asked my mother when they meet in church on Sundays how the hanger was doing!

With water, vegetation thrives on sand. It is not sand that is encroaching on the land; it is land and vegetation that is fructifying the sand. The surface of the planet, under the land (organic matter mixed with sand) and under the sea, is sand.

My father was the runt of the litter among his siblings numbering 11 in all. He used to tell us the only soil he was going to bequeath to us was whatever was stuck on the sole of his shoe. With Pinas’ penchant for owning land, he was uncharacteristic, though smart on family matters. My cousins are fighting over inherited land; the five siblings in my family do not have anything to fight about.

The stars were once referred to as the sands in the sky. Since Egypt, western civilization was stuck heavenward in preoccupation and academic interest. Astrology was the science of the ancients before we turned to astronomy; alchemy was the art of manipulating substances before we converted it into chemistry.

Now we are fighting over rare earth elements, those valuable “sands” used in the manufacture of computer boards that allows electrical impulses to instruct how they behaved. With everyone and their nanny on a smartphone all over the world, rare earth is in demand big time. China is known to have a good supply of it, and so does Nauru near the equator. The fight over the South China Sea is not about the abundant crude sitting under the ocean floor confirmed in ’64; it is the abundant supply of rare earth that China holds and exercises sovereignty over the mines.

The heavens lost its luster save the ancient navigators still ply the ocean highway between Satawal and the Bonin Islands. But though a good friend tries to retain the ancient wisdom of sailing the canoe against the wind with the assistance of heavenly bodies especially between the North Star and the Southern Cross, that has since been replaced by the GPS and other navigational tools.

It may be less sublime, this mundane earthrise consciousness, incomparable with the majesty of eternal verities and the choir of angels in heaven (the Mormons, I understand, dealt with racial prejudice and superiority by claiming that all turn lily white in heaven). They already wear white, silly.

“White beach” is a misnomer; Wing and Pau-Pau beaches are better known for the fabulous corals that are seen when snorkeling, even when damaged by the storm and vandals, than the fine sands on the beach.

The earth, the sand, the humans on it, all made of sand. We’ve spent too long looking up in the heavens that we’ve missed the sand in our fingernails.

Sand on earth has us where we belong; to earth we all return. Hello, Sandy!

Jaime R. Vergara | Special to the Saipan Tribune
Jaime Vergara previously taught at SVES in the CNMI. A peripatetic pedagogue, he last taught in China but makes Honolulu, Shenyang, and Saipan home. He can be reached at

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