Saturday, November 20, 2010

In Memory of Leonard, the Natural Teacher

I took the first picture from Anthony Arbias's web page. I posted it not because it is only one of few pics of myself with Leonard Co (as always I am the one who takes pictures) but more because it is the best one that illustrates how I remember him, a great teacher. I was never enrolled in his class but while doing my thesis, I probably got the greatest crash course one could get on native trees. Most of the education I learned (along with my colleagues in the Philippine Native Plant Conservation Society) from Leonard did not come from the classroom. In a lot of cases they were included in casual conversations over a cup of brewed coffee (from the old PNPCSI office in Wildlife Park) while he recounted his trips and adventures in the mountains and forests. A few times they were in immersion trips to forests, where we probably got the best biology lessons. But everytime we were always treated to in -depth and detailed accounts of plants he encountered. Usually when he comes back from his expeditions, he would round up the PNPCSI guys and spend hours showing slides and pictures of specimens.

Leonard really loved to talk about plants, moreso when he was immersed in his element, at the heart of a forested area. In my first immersion trip with him, I remember intentionally sitting beside him in the vehicle we used, just to get the most information I could get out of him (for my thesis). But eventually I learned that I needed not to do such. He readily gave out information, not for my sole benefit, but more to make us aware of these non-popular plants in the Philippine forests. His mind is like a fountain of knowledge, it seemed unending. In every stop, he would pick out a leaf or a fruit to explain what it is, why it is so and why it is important to the forest.

Leonard is also very dedicated and patient with us, his 'students'. At the start of my thesis I could recall emailing a bunch of experts for plant identification. The others eventually got tired answering my inquiries but Leonard religiously answered with his insights on the plants in question. He perpetually rummaged through each posted specimen. He answered back even when he was away on an expedition. Some replies were delayed (if he was in excommunicado) but once he got into it, the plant identification would flood our emails and the Facebook pages.

As an architect I needed 5 years of college and more than a decade of experience as education. As a landscape practitioner, I needed 5 years of graduate classes and still need an impending board licensure exam. But as a conservationist, I got the most valuable lessons and experiences from those small talks and emails from Leonard. He probably gave me the best lessons I could learn as student and researcher. Now the information will stop. But his teachings will have to echo in us and in every other conservationist. You will live on, great teacher!

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