Thursday, December 1, 2011

Morning Walk, Sunflowers, and Isinay Words Recalled Along Kennon Road

TO WELCOME December, I thought of going out for a walk from our house at Amistad Road to the Kennon Road View Point after having coffee this morning. I brought my camera with me so that I could take pictures of the sunflowers while they are still in their perfect blooming period (that is, not yet obliterated by wilted petals and black seeds), and so that I could record how the world-famous zigzag road looked like in the morning of December 1, 2011.

I also had with me my rattan pasiking and, along with a small plastic bottle of water and my cellphone (that "mylab" insisted I should always carry), I put a small notebook and a ballpen in it so I could jot down some keywords to capture the fleeting thoughts that I knew would surely come as my head would be recharged and made alive by the views and the fresh and mentholated air in this part of Baguio City.

Well then, here are some of the photos and some of the thoughts that came out of that morning exercise:
Sunflowers and pine trees at Amistad, Camp 7, Baguio City (Dec. 1, 2011 photo by charlz castro)
The wild sunflowers you see blooming in Baguio and the rest of the Cordilleras this time of the year may not be as large as the cultured variety, but their beauty plus prolific growth and soothing presence among the endangered pine forests and in other patches of wilderness more than compensate for their size and perceived lack of commercial profitability. Now, I'm strongly suggesting that Baguio's tourism-promoters should consider this "panagbenga" (blooming season) of the sunflowers as a major tourist attraction -- a sort of cherry blossoms -- instead of spending much and courting ridicule to stage another fake-snow along Session Road.

Sunflowers of Camp 7.  (Dec. 1, 2011 photo by charlz castro)

Unjustly named "marapait," the smiling sunflowers accentuate the beauty of well-designed houses and, conversely, camouflage the aesthetically challenged parts of Baguio especially those created by people who don't give a damn to the ecological value of the remaining fragments of pine forests struggling to survive in a congested city. It would do well for construction people, subdivision developers, and landscape architects to leave not only the few remaining pine trees but also these wild and free flowering plants alone.
Wild sunflowers along Bued River. (Dec. 1, 2011 photo by charlz castro)
Come to think of it, the wild sunflowers don't only bring color and brightness to the general landscape of Baguio. They also hide the ugliness of garbage-strewn creeks like Bued, the stream that flows along much of the 38-km stretch of Kennon Road down to the bridge that forms the boundary between Rosario, La Union and Sison, Pangasinan. These wild flowers also stabilize, re-vegetate and bring life (e.g. they feed bees and butterflies) to barren slopes and stream banks, thus significantly helping minimize the silting of streams and breaking the speed let alone filter the dirt of rainwater that would otherwise flow to contribute to the flood-effects of such streams. The picture above gave me an idea for the Abannatan stream and the Benay river of my hometown Dupax: How about growing sunflowers on their sides? Sunflowers would surely make these streams, especially the parts near Dampol, Benay and Marian bridges, more picturesque and soothing to see.

The most scenic part of Kennon Road. (Photo taken Dec. 1, 2011 by charlz castro)
The photo above is admittedly not a perfect shot of the most scenic part of Kennon Road, but this photo might as well represent one of the only photos taken of this part of the road (formerly called the Zigzag Road and Benguet Road) in the morning of the First Day of December in the Year of Our Lord 2011. Note the sunflowers on the left; and on the slope of the mountain on the right. The sunflowers are a very welcome sight along Kennon every year in September to December, and when buses were still allowed to pass through this way, I always opened my window to feast my lowlander's eyes and soul on their beauty. 

By the way, the popular Lion's Head is shown partly covered by a tree in the center of the photo. I shall write a separate blog on this, but little known and even ungratefully ignored by people who should be in the know is that this famous landmark along Kennon was chiselled out of solid rock in 1971 by the Isinay sculptor Anselmo Day-ag of Bambang, Nueva Vizcaya. This self-taught artist was the same guy who made the famous bust of the late Ferdinand Marcos along Marcos Highway and other artworks in Pangasinan and at the University of the Philippines campus in Diliman, Quezon City.

One of the sentinels of Kennon Road. (Dec. 1, 2011 photo by charlz castro)
"Look, nature-lover, at this twin-stemmed pine tree, now!" would be an alternate caption of this photo. Certainly one of the old yet healthy pine trees along Kennon that have luckily survived typhoons, droughts, road-maintenance people, and the chainsaw/axe of loggers, this tree brings joy not only to morning walkers but also to travelers who look for the finer things in life when they pass by this part of the road.

BESIDE THE POLICE OUTPOST near the Kennon Road View Point, there's this monument ("inaugurated on July 4, 2005") featuring a bust of Lyman W. Kennon, and the first two paragraphs of the inscription beneath it reads this way:

This historic edifice is a labor of love dedicated to Col. Lyman W. Kennon of Rhode Island, United States of America, acclaimed "Builder of Kennon Road," one of the best and greatly admired mountain highways in the world today. It is a tribute to his exemplary leadership, engineering skills and knowledge and excellent understanding of human nature.

Likewise, the monument is a symbol commemorating the centennial anniversary observance of the Benguet Road (1905-2005), later renamed Kennon Road by the Philippine government, after its builder and to acknowledge with respect and gratitude the 4000 multinational work force composed by Americans, Filipinos, Japanese, Chinese, Canadians, Hawaiians, Mexicans, Indians, Hindus, Chileans, Peruvians, Spaniards, Italians, Russians, Germans, French, Portuguese, and Swedes, among others.

Wow! If the nationalities enumerated above were true, and even if they were not all in the plural form, Kennon Road must have indeed be a feat not only of road engineering but also of people management! Reading those lines, I wondered: If this mountain road was built by so large and varied multinational group, how come it has not been nominated as a UNESCO Heritage Site?

I also wondered: Aside from the Isinay-sculpted Lion Head whose chief artist Ansel Day-ag most probably hired trusted workers from Nueva Vizcaya, could it be possible that the Filipinos part of Kennon's road workers included Isinays?

And if there were Isinays among the road-builders of Kennon, which part of Isinay country did they come from? Was it Bambang, Aritao, Dupax, or the then said to also be Isinay country Kayapa? And if there were Isinays in Kennon in 1905, was it possible that they practiced such Isinay ways of catching river fish in the Bued River as pansipit, seyup, batong, lajma, and kunukun? And when they camped along the river, did they also resort to the relatively clean way of sourcing potable water by making tuvu' (bubon in Ilocano) on the teyantaj (riverbank) and used bayongbong (tubong in Ilocano; bamboo tube) to fetch or store water? During the freezing December to February months, did they also resort to tending bonfires for their aniru (keeping warm by the fireside), using as panggonot (kindling material) or even itungu (fuelwood) the seyong (pinewood) that used to freely abound in the area either as live trees or as driftwood? Did they volunteer to hunt laman (deer), bavuy si eyas (wild pig) or pani-i (fruit bat)using their improvised salejap (hunting trap)? And what did they do when they felt meyongngaw (homesick)? Were there Ibaloi/Ibaloy maidens around who they made arug (courtship) to?  

Sunflowers, snippet from TREES, and quinine tree. (Dec. 1, 2011 photo by charlz castro)
AMONG MY LAST shots on this sunflowery day was this one on a sunflower-flanked marker carrying two lines --  A TREE THAT LOOKS AT GOD ALL DAY AND LIFTS HER LEAFY ARMS TO PRAY -- of the grade school poem Trees by Joyce Kilmer. Seen on the left side of the road on the way up to the View Point, a few meters from it (upper right) is a large quinine tree the Ilocano name of which -- dalipawen -- was fittingly used as name of the store under it: DALIPAWEN STORE. 

I think my Isinay field consultant Boni Calacala already told me once the Isinay name for the quinine tree but this time my senior brain couldn't spew it out. I do recall, however, that when the Dupax Subsidiary Nursery was still a favorite picnic area in my hometown, plus or minus its toma (blood-sipping tiny and mosquito-like insects called sepsep in Ilocano; niknik in Tagalog), there was one such tall tree that we called kinina (corruption for quinine) near the nursery gate. (Incidentally, this should be one reason I should visit that place next time I go home this December.)

I could have easily hiked down to the Lion Head that has accentuated the tourism appeal of the century-old Kennon Road as it sat right smack at the "center" of the zigzag point of the road. My camera's battery went low-bat, however, as I was trying to ask what wood was being sawn by the furniture or souvenir makers in a shop that was not there before. So I decided to postpone that morning pleasure for another day. 

But before climbing back up to the sangat (uphill) eco-trail that serves as short cut from this point of Kennon Road to the View Point, I felt nawaw (thirsty) so stopped for a small bottle of ice-cold Coke (for P12) and made small talk with the lady in the store. I used as conversation piece the tree beside her store, saying it was good they chose the tree not only as spot but also as name for their store. The twenty-something lady merely gave this smile that I thought was probably reserved for friendly strangers and not to the workers in the noisy roadside mini-sawmill and furniture-shop down the road. Then the forester in me got up and, saying the tree is called dalipawen in Ilocano and dita in Tagalog, I asked how do Benguet people call it. Again she smiled but this time added the words "Diak ammo ya no ania ti naganna nga agpayso" (Oh my, I also don't know its name). 

I said I'll ask other people soon and, remarking that it's good there is now this short-cut trail, she said it's been there all along but it's only now the View Point people opened it to visitors. Wishing my camera didn't go low-bat and that I bought a bigger bottle of Coke, I next signaled that it was time for me to go. But at the last minute I turned and asked "Ania gayam ti naganmo?" And she said "Nida!" 

And again she smiled -- yes, sweet and refreshing like Coke and morning-pretty like sunflowers!

A Native Son’s Early Lament for the Forest-Rich Dupax of Yesteryears

ONE OF THE little treasures I recently found turning brittle among my junk piles is this Jan-March 1975 issue of the Forestry Digest, A Magazine About Public Appreciation For Forests that used to be published quarterly in the days when the UPLB College of Forestry still benefited from the Republic Act that mandated collection for forest information purposes of 10 centavos per cubic meter of timber extracted from the Philippines’ forests.
The poor little thing already lost its cover but, apart from a couple or so of missing leaves, it was still in readable condition and was fortunate to have escaped nibbling by cockroaches, silverfish, and termite that have become the nemesis of a significant portion of my magazine collections (including Plain Truth, Focus Philippines, Asia Philippines Leader, Bannawag, Jingle Songbook, Unasylva, Time, Newsweek, Reader’s Digest, and Philippines Free Press).
I would have left the copy among my now-better-sorted junk of printed materials, to again fight for life until such a time that I would do another dusting and sorting. But when I leafed through its yellowing pages, I found the magazine carried an essay that I wrote when I was yet a struggling and overstaying student at the College of Forestry. Here’s a snapshot of the title page of that essay:

FORESTRY DIGEST (Jan-March 1975)
 Now there are at least four reasons why this old essay should merit a spot in this Blogsite:
1) It was an essay about Dupax when it was still a biodiversity-rich Isinay country.
2) It was the essay that earned me P80 from Focus Philippines, the highest I got paid from that magazine considering that my “Witchery at Salinas Salt Spring” bagged me P60 while my “What’s Up There on the Mountain?” earned P40.
3) It was the essay that most probably qualified me to get an invitation from Kerima Polotan, the Editor-in-Chief, to attend the 1974 Focus Philippines Literary Awards where this shy and barriotic boy from Dupax taking up Forestry at UP at least sat for an hour with other writers (including  the then boyish Cebuano poet Vicente Bandillo) at the Heroes Hall of the then Marcos-occupied Malacañang .
4) It was the essay that made me look 10-feet taller to my Uncle Ado^ (the perennial Dupax town fiesta emcee and declaimer Dominador Boada Sr.) when he read it in the Forestry Digest that I specifically asked the Forestry Digest’s circulation people to mail to him.
5) It was the essay that made Papa feel bad when he read it in the Focus Philippines that was sent as a complementary subscription for public elementary schools and so, one time I went home for the semestral break, he reprimanded me with these words: “Saanmo nga ibabain ti ilim!” (Don’t put down your own town).

Here’s a transcription of that essay:

By Charles P. Castro

(Originally published in the August 10, 1974 issue of FOCUS Philippines; reprinted with permission.)

There was a time
when meadows, grove, and stream
the earth, and every common sight
to me did seem appareled in celestial light,
the glory and the freshness of a dream.
It is not now as it hath been of yore –
turn whereso’er I may by night and day,
the things which I have seen
I now can see no more.
--William Wordsworth

THERE IS ALWAYS, for me, an intense feeling of envy at sight of communities  that have preserved the pristine richness and beauty of their valleys, streams, and hills despite the incessant onslaughts of civilization so-called. How lucky their inhabitants are to have still much of nature to pasture their imaginations with, and sanctuaries too in which to seek solace when life’s seas go rough and seemingly unnavigable.
I covet Los Baños, Laguna, for example, because of Mount Makiling. The climate there would not now be so friendly and the University of the Philippines campus there would not now be so appealing as a place of study had the mountain been stripped of its lush, multi-species flora.
I also envy Baco, Oriental Mindoro, where one would ordinarily dismiss as myth the delightful tales of farmers about deer, wild pig, and occasional tamaraws invading their ricefields had the mighty Mount Halcon been vegetated only with cogon and talahib.
In like manner, Lake Bulusan in Sorsogon and the fishing creeks of Maddela, Quirino, would not be so serene and inviting now – even extracting in one the wish that he were as courageous and free as Henry David Thoreau to get away from it all – if today their lake shores and riverbanks were bare of trees, ferns, lianas, and other plant life.
I suffer indeed at the mere recollection of how once upon a time my hometown Dupax had been sylvan and we natives enjoyed the blessings of undisturbed forests. But, just like many an erstwhile wooded locality, flock after flock of ruthless lumbermen came like honeybees to our town and their machines ravaged the greenness and tranquility of our dales and hills.

THERE WERE at one time in Dupax alone three logging concessions and the rivers we used to go swimming and spearfishing in soon enough became muddied by the provisional roads they built. This invasion also paved way for instant kaingins, a ravenous method of agriculture that seemed to be the specialty not only of the immigrants from the Ilocos and the mountain provinces but also those of the Visayas, many of whom looked as though they were integral parts of the logging trucks and sawmills.
We had local forest officers at the time, it’s true. However, very much like you would conjure during the Old Society when one rings the word politician, many of them were exactly that: pot-bellied, drink-loving, cockfight afficionados. They would not be disturbed in their god-fathering chores except when tipped of beautiful narra lumber drying under a poor farmer’s hut, in which case they would then hustle to the place, for is it not that narra makes excellent sala sets?
Like what most people react to poetry, these forest officers appeared ignorant to the subtlety and beauty of form that would endure beyond tomorrow. Their brand of forestry, it seems to me now, was that all the commercial trees in the woods were to be toppled and scraped off, not only to be sold to Manila, but also to make the rich soil under their boughs ready for planting to upland rice, squash, ginger, and camote. And then ultimately the cleared areas would be classified as alienable and disposable, titled or become leased as pastureland by some hawks in the bureaucracy.
Reforestation? Oh well, beyond the hypocrisy and ningas-kugon of it all, no hand was lifted seriously for that. Only words were said – perfunctorily. On Arbor Day, for instance, local officials would be asked to speak sentimentally about love of the soil and the birds and the bees and the trees that give us fruits to eat and branches to make slingshots with – while the cameras click and the school children file listlessly and scratching in the sun. It would be noon when all is said and done and the children would next be herded to weed and water gumamela hedges, coffee plants and bougainvilleas on the schoolyard while their mentors gossip under the mango trees.
A few hills were decked out once with Benguet pine. But when someone started calling the species “Christmas trees,” sure enough every cold December hence you would see the pines wilting among the Yuletide decorations of certain houses connected to reforestation people. Then one summer the fire from an adjoining kaingin got unguarded, and turned the green pine hills to brown.
Now some people have caught up with the fever again. This time it is kasoy, planted on the spot where the floods that in August carry away the wooded bridge linking the town to the rest of Nueva Vizcaya were thought to come from. If the seedlings will become climbable trees for tomorrow, only the carabaos that graze on the reforestation area would know.
What one is inclined to believe is that there should be no surreptitious reforestation activities such as are done now were reservations made at the outset for forests to co-exist with civilization.

TO THINK OF IT, just a little over a decade ago there was still more than enough place to go to where one, as Donald Culross Peattie says, “does not live as we live, restless and running, panting after flesh, and even in sleep tossing with fears.” The now scarred and artless hills were then blue-green and, oh, how reassuring they seemed to be then, palpitating with verdant vegetation and friendly wildlife!
I could still perch on my grandfather’s shoulders then and my memories of those green and untainted days include excursions with him to robust corn and tobacco fields, where wild chicken and monkeys chased one another. We had a hut in the field from where we could hear myriad of forest voices from sunup to sundown, such as the bleating of a lost fawn, the forlorn love call of the alimuken (wild dove), the bellowing of the tariktik hornbill, the chiseling of the tagtaga (woodpecker), and the shrill "kutkutak" of the jungle chicken.
The streams then were not yet violated by tin cans, dead cats, grease, and effluvia from sawmills. I remember I used to have good times fishing with Grandfather, choosing our day’s catch from among such river denizens as the dalag, the paltat, the ar-aro, the igat, and the tilapia. Nowadays you can consider yourself lucky if you could net even a single finger-sized mudfish in the streams and ponds where fish used to be only a hook-and-line away. The loss of these blessings was a consequence not so much of the additional mouths to feed as of the drying up of the springs and streams in summer.
As for floods, it’s true we had them once in a while but not as often, ferocious, and unpredictable as the deluge we now get as a consequence of forest despoliation. In fact, when I was little, inundations were sort of welcome break from routine as they brought bigger and better catches for the bamboo fish-traps called bobo and asar that the barrio folk used to collectively build and set against the stream current. These days such fishing contraptions are considered obsolete in our place, as almost  all other methods of catching fish are beginning to be useless in a now fish-poor river.
The forest loss also led to the obsolescence of certain pastime and skills. For instance, my uncles in the barrio used to weave rattan hammocks (indayon) and baskets especially when the rains came and rice planting was done. Such activity has been severely curtailed because one must hike from dawn to noon these days to get to where the well-seasoned uway (rattan) and nito are. In the old days, one didn’t have to hike too far up in the hills to get materials needed, the same way we didn’t have to go and intrude in Ilongot hunting territory to gather firewood, forest fern and palm shoots.
And, oh yes, it was not yet a miracle then to have venison (deer meat) or meat from wild pigs on our dining table in that not so long ago forest-abundant time. Using only low-caliber guns, pit traps, or a pack of dogs, it was not uncommon for hunters then to come home from the hills with a sack full of bush meat and pairs of deer antlers after only a couple of days’ sojourn in the wilderness.
Today, with the wide stretches of summery woods gone, I bet if you can get back in a year’s stalking of wild quarry your money’s worth for an air-rifle. For even the formerly ignored musang (civet cat), banyas (monitor lizard), and paniki (fruit bat) are hard to find now.
The pushing away of the forest has made these erstwhile common wildlife as rare now as the kalaw (hornbill), kilyawan (oriole), balug (wild pigeon), papa (wild mallard), abuyo (jungle fowl), and other big birds that were in my boyhood targets for our slingshots.

I HAVE YET TO SEARCH for a special someone to mother my progeny as I write this. But this early I could just imagine the questions my would-be kids would besiege me with in the future: “How does a kalaw look like, father? How does the meat of the animal owning horns like that of the hat-rack taste? And why does lolo love his old rattan sala set so much and not replace it with modern ones?”
Such questions only pertain to the tangible aspects of forests, true. Yet I worry how I’m going to answer them as I myself wonder now if I shall ever get to taste sweet and free venison again; wonder too when I will see the glint of the sun on the crimson bill of the kalaw, not as it is refurbished, held captive, and tortured in cages, or exhibited in stuffed-bird parlors, but up there, happy and free, in the trees.
In like manner, I worry how to hide from my children-to-be the fact that somewhere, sometime in my life, I have been party to the debauchery, and that I have had a hand also at sinfully laying down the blade to trees in the woods of our town which have survived years, nay, centuries, of wind and rain and drought events.
I wonder too if I shall ever see the forest-dwelling Ilongots again, including  the maiden Martina who used to give me clusters of littuko (rattan fruits) each time they would come down from the mountains to my grandparents’ barrio to barter their beautifully crafted baskets and their stocks of deer hide, rattan, and dried meat of ugsa (deer), alingo (wild pig) and ikan (a fish now extinct in our rivers) with our rice, salt, sugar, tobacco, bolos, puppies, and blankets.
Looking back on that era, what a friendly relation the Ilongots and Dupax residents had then! But the bonds were cut one day when the fire trees were in bloom and the news echoed that two families of kaingineros were beheaded in the vicinity of one of the sawmills upstream.
My townmates generally believed then that maybe some Ilongot maid was to be married and that she must have been very beautiful for the tribe to require her suitors to slice off  more than a dozen Christian heads. But when the incident were repeated regardless of whether the firetrees flowered or not, not a few people began to speculate that the headhunting was in due retaliation for the tribe's being robbed of what used to be their paradise.

WELL, THEY CALL IT progress. If losing forests and suffering the consequences is progress, I don’t know what that word means.
It would have been all right if the despoliation resulted in better roads and bridges, in more rice and livelihood, in happier and healthier people. But Dupax has nothing else to show for the exploitation of its forest riches. We still have no banks, no telephone lines, no magazine stands, no bakeries, no movie houses, not even a kilometer of concrete road to justify the destruction of the forests.
Moreover, the part of town where I live becomes an island with just a little downpour, a fact that has sent not a few candidates for mayor, governor, and congressmen to office just by their promise to reinstate the fallen bridge at Benay River connecting us to the rest of civilization.
You may call it an act of treachery on my part, but our town, once reputed to be the most wooded in Nueva Vizcaya, can only boast now of deplorably bald and bird-less mountains, vast but unproductive cogonal lands, and rivers that turn dry in summer but in the rainy season resurge and run wild with flood waters to devour and carry away crops, paddies, lives, and dreams.
That is probably why I normally don't invite vacationing friends to come to Dupax. And if ever I get around to raising a family and have the means, with my hometown’s forests gone, I’m thinking of settling down in other places – perhaps like Palawan – where all sorts of wildlife are said to be still peacefully sharing forest trails with humanity. #