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!


  1. All I thought those flowers are marigold but I was wrong. Even though they are tiny sunflowers but they possessed natural beauty.

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