Monday, April 30, 2012

The Dupax That I Knew

(NOTE: I just found this essay in the deep corners of my Dell laptop. Written on two dates, first on 24 July 2001 then on 27 September 2007, it carried this title: A TOWN WAY UP THERE AMONG THE HILLS (Or a timber-rich town and the making of a forester) and a footnote of sort that said "written at CBRMP, 7th floor, EDPC Bldg., Department of Finance, BSP Complex, Manila." Rather than delete it, I thought it would make more sense to post it here -- warps and blemishes -- to record a sample of my memoir-writing skill or lack of it on those dates when, oh well, your Isinay Bird blog and even blogging as an activity were not yet within my reach.)

There’s a town way up there among the hills
Everybody there’s happy and gay
All the people there are busy all the day
Yet sweet smiles you see everywhere.
Oh town of Dupax… I’ll never forget
My humble home where I freely love to roam
Town of Dupax… keep me closer unto thee
Ever and forever we will sing thee mabuhay!

ONCE IN A WHILE while a time comes when, walking down a garbage-littered city street the likes of those we now see common in Metro Manila, suddenly a flash of half-forgotten images appears in your mind’s eye and then, although you have set yourself for a busy work day in the office, you fall prey to the itch to write.

And so you write, or rather pound furiously at the computer, unmindful of the day’s deadlines and do so by consoling yourself that, oh well, deadlines can wait but not inspired moments which, when left unattended, will surely no longer come back as vivid and as sweet as they first came knocking on your consciousness.

A thing like that just occurred to me today (24 July 2001), with the song about my town above sending off myriad images that while parading in my memory surely kept me oblivious of the filth and the garbage and the noise and the concrete and steel jungle that is Metro Manila.

The images were of course more than the fleeting and intangible shadows of a bygone era. For one thing, they came in full color, along with the scents and the sounds even, that were part of the now fast vaporizing mementos of a half-century-old city rat compelled to be like that by circumstances all pointing towards the need to earn a decent living and keep family and soul intact.

THE DUPAX THAT I write about was, of course, the quiet, pastoral, and clean town of my birth that I used to know. It was not yet partitioned into the Sur and the Norte that it is now, even as the municipal hall was located in Malasin, a barrio whose only advantage over the old town was that it was more centrally located, was nearer more progressive Bambang, and had a market that sold many things including vegetables, fish, meat, bolos, kingki (gas lamps), plowshares, harmonicas, rubber for slingshots, raincoats, canned goods, clothing, Ilongot blankets, and many more during Sundays.

When I was in the elementary grades, my teachers (including Papa and Uncle Ermin) used to mention with pride in our Social Studies classes that Dupax was the biggest town in the whole of Nueva Vizcaya. That was many years before Quirino Province came and there used to be a map of Nueva Vizcaya in every classroom at the Gabaldon and Pre-fab buildings showing Dupax was a giant compared to Bambang and Bayombong and the second widest was Maddela.

I remember somebody told us the total population of Dupax then, including its barrios Malasin, Ineangan, Lamo, Inaban, Mabasa, Mangayang, Sta. Maria, Belance, Bitnong, and Palobotan, was around 20,000 and we took pride in that too, thinking that at least we were more in number than Aritao and Santa Fe (towns that I heard used to be barrios of Dupax before the Japanese period or so).

It was also during my grade school years that Dupax was timber-rich, judging by the number of sawmills that it had. There was one sawmill in Belance, another in Banila, another in Carolotan, and one near our part the town – a stone’s throw from the cemetery.

Almost without fail, rain or shine, fiesta or not, I think even on Sundays, truckloads after truckloads of logs passed by the road connecting my boyhood barrio, Iiyo (aka Surong and Palobotan), to the ili (town proper).

The logs came from the forests forming the headwaters of Carolotan and Navetangan rivers on the East or the forests upstream of Banila in the South. They were carried by muddy and rusty trucks they call “logging” the fronts of which, to my best recollection, were equipped with winch and steel cable sets.

On lazy afternoons, the sound of the logging trucks approaching our side of town gave us chance to play a how-many-logs-in-the-truck guessing game. The choices were isahan (meaning the truck carried only one huge log), dalawahan (two logs), and tatluhan (three logs).

Note that decades later, when I was already a forester, I remembered those isahan logs of my youth when I saw a cross-section of a dipterocarp log mounted in front of the Bureau of Forest Development office in Davao City; I swore to myself that my town’s logs were definitely more humongous than those in Davao.

Replicas of those logging trucks, complete with green paint, tansan headlights, tin-covered “engine” and swinging four wheels, were made by the Mamaoag brothers. My friend and neighbor Oret (Aurelio Calacala) had one built for him then – for only 50 centavos, he said. I envied how he and his older brother Base (aka Junior), who also had one of those mini logging trucks, were able to haul home a small mountain of fuelwood from the sawmill by just using those “trucks.”

I could also only watch with envious glee each time I would be in the company of the two brothers on weekends or during vacation from school and they rode their wheeled toys downslope on the hill across the road from the sawmill while waiting for the sawmill engines to stop, signaling that outsiders like us could now go rummage, dig, and pull from the huge piles of sawdust, slabs, barks, trimmings and edgings whatever sawmill wastes we could haul.

Okay, Papa did manage to build me a “truck” once and I was thankful for such rare occasions of fatherly care. In fairness, Papa’s truck had four fat and perfectly circular wooden wheels (most likely crafted in the elementary school’s carpentry shop) and a “head” made out of solid wood (but no GI sheet cover). It also had a body strong enough to wheel around on the gravlelly road in front of our house any one of my smaller sisters then -- it was Tessie or Judith I think, but certainly not fat Arlyne nor sensitive Merlie.

But the truck was not as heavy-duty as those of the Calacala brothers and I think it was good for only a couple or so trips to the sawmill – plus a not so smooth downhill ride in the spot where other boys with logging trucks waited for the sawmill to open.

No sooner had I began to like my truck than its sapwood wheels split and I was scared (always scared) of Papa’s “gaddemet salamabet ubet!” scolding. So I just parked the thing on one corner behind the kitchen and went back to using sako (jute sack) for hauling slabs, edgings, trimmings and dipterocarp barks (this last one dried more quickly and were preferred for cooking because they ignited faster and produced charcoal). 

Oret is long gone now (his older brother Base/Junior said he has gone missing, probably salvaged by his Japanese-treasure-hunting activity companions). But up to now I don’t know how I never got to try buying myself one of those beautiful mini logging trucks. Maybe it was because Papa already made me one. Or perhaps the Mamaoag brothers only made trucks for relatives like the Calacalas. And then, too, it might have been that I was not yet making money then from selling scrap iron, vinegar and catsup bottles, and discarded aluminum caserolas to the presumably Chinese “bote-landok” (bottle and scrap iron) buyer that came to Dupax weekly.

But looking back now, I think I just was not destined to be a logger or even a logging truck driver. Rather, I was born to be an environmentalist forester.

Indeed, during those days when the grassy hill now occupied by the Bautista family was still open-access pasture and playground for the Isinay kids in my neighborhood, I would shun the other boys' rough play with their trucks and rather veer away to enjoy the song of the cicadas and the comfort given by the shade of the mango trees.

I would gather sapang, look for kitkitiwit fruits, or listen to the mountain breeze as it shook marasaba mangoes from their unreachable promontories -- rather than join the guys’ unending quarrels on whether airplanes were faster than jet planes, or whether mangoes were sweeter than apples, or whether Manila was farther than Bayombong.

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