Bulusan’s First Sunday of Advent 2014


Candle lit for the First Sunday of Advent celebration. (Bulusan, 30 November 2014)

The iconic Advent wreath with the lighted candle symbolizing the first Sunday of Advent. (Saint James the Greater Parish, Bulusan, 30 November 2014)

For me, the First Sunday of Advent signals the beginning of Christmas. It is a countdown to the merriest days of the year. In Bulusan, the altar adornment this Sunday is highlighted by the  iconic advent wreath that will last until December 25.  The elegant flower adornments at the altar were arranged exquisitely for the occasion.

It is also a time of deep reflection and anticipation that gives the long celebration of Christmas its true meaning.  It is a beautiful reminder in the beginning of the season that Christmas is in essence a spiritual occasion.

Lifted from http://www.ewtn.com, the following is a concise definition of Advent and its celebration.

“The word Advent is from the Latin adventus for “coming” and is associated with the four weeks of preparation for Christmas. Advent always contains four Sundays, beginning on the Sunday nearest the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle, (November 30) and continuing until December 24. It blends together a penitential spirit, very similar to Lent, a liturgical theme of preparation for the Second and Final Coming of the Lord, called the Parousia, and a joyful theme of getting ready for the Bethlehem event.

Since the 900s Advent has been considered the beginning of the Church year. This does not mean that Advent is the most important time of the year. Easter has always had this honor.

The traditional color of Advent is purple or violet which symbolizes the penitential spirit. Religious traditions associated with Advent express all these themes.

Advent Wreath

“Customarily the Advent Wreath is constructed of a circle of evergreen branches into which are inserted four candles (advent candles). According to tradition, three of the candles are violet and the fourth is rose. However, four violet or white candles (advent candles) may also be used” (Book of Blessings 1510).

The rose candle is lit the third Sunday of Advent, for this color anticipates and symbolizes the Christmas joy announced in the first word of the Entrance Antiphon: “Rejoice” (Latin, Gaudete). For this reason the Third Sunday is also called Gaudete Sunday, and rose color vestments are permitted.

The Advent Wreath represents the long time when people lived in spiritual darkness, waiting for the coming of the Messiah, the Light of the world. Each year in Advent people wait once again in darkness for the coming of the Lord, His historical coming in the mystery of Bethlehem, His final coming at the end of time, and His special coming in every moment of grace.

During Advent, family and friends can gather around the Advent Wreath lighting the appropriate candle(s), read from the daily Advent meditation and sing songs. The Church’s official Book of Blessings also provides a blessing ceremony for the advent wreath which can be used in the absence of a priest.

Advent Calendar

A personal calendar can be made for the four weeks before Christmas. On the calendar, a person can mark theAdvent Calendar with personal goals of preparation or acts of service to be done for others.” Source: http://www.ewtn.com/advent/advent-definition.asp


Elegant floral arrangement accented the altar dais.


Advent wreath is festive in its simplicity. It solemnly announces that Christmas season is here.

Photos: Alma P. Gamil

Bulusan, Sorsogon, Philippines


Beautiful Dao

Dau tree beside the entrance gate of San Vicente National High School. (Bulusan, 2014)

Dao tree beside the entrance gate of San Vicente (Buhang) National High School. (Bulusan, 2014)

I was looking for some local trees to document the list of which I carry with me but stumbled on this beautiful Dao tree instead located near the entrance of San Vicente National High School in Bulusan. Dao (Dracontomelon dao) is also native but it is not the subject that I need at this time. Nonetheless,  the tree is so irresistible it deserves its own post.

The tree is the perfect picture of grace and strength in one frame. There was no need for me to exert much effort. This Dao tree literally photographs itself.

“Be careful being near the tree, ” the canteen owner warned. “Recently one of the teachers consulted a parabolong (folkhealer) for an unknown skin ailment. They say that the teacher often walks near the tree to find some signal for her phone. Maybe she did not acknowledge the tree territory. She has forgotten to ask permission to the Dao tree.”

“Oh, I did. But thanks for the reminder,” I replied with a knowing smile.

Before I left, I thanked the Dao tree. Acknowledging the presence of an unseen dweller in trees and some nature spots and giving due respect to them is an aged-old custom in Bulusan. A simple ‘makitabi,’ when asking permission to enter a certain spot and ‘salamat’ (thank you)  will suffice.  I do this routinely in all of my photo treks involving trees and nature scenes. It helps.

So far, I have never experience any ire from unseen spirits which the local generally refer to as ‘may tawo’ alluding to the unseen person/dweller of a tree or a spot. Being respectful to all — unseen or not is for me a very sensible way of going around the villages. Following this custom in fact gives a welcoming feel for every place I visit.  And to my delight the photos almost always turned out great!

Photo: Alma P. Gamil

Bulusan, Sorsogon, Philippines

The dark side of the coast

Low tide reveals mangrove remnants from a previous mangrove stand.

Low tide reveals mangrove remnants from a previous mangrove stand.


More mangrove trees are needed in this vast seascape.

While taking photographs of the breathtaking seascape of sitio Taisan (San Vicente, Bulusan), I noticed some tree stumps on the shoreline bed. There is no doubt what these stumps are. These are mangrove stumps  maybe several decades old. It points to one thing that this area was once a lush mangrove forest. No wonder there is a mud-like quality to the sea bed.

These photos (above) are images of  a deforested mangrove swamp. A desolate landscape crying for help.

To reclaim the mangrove forest that once upon a time existed in this coast will entail a gigantic and heroic effort.

If not planted with more mangroves, the shoreline will continue to recede. And most importantly during typhoons there will be no vegetation to block the raging surge from the sea. It is already an established fact that mangroves are effective barrier and protection in the coastline that save communities.

With the mangroves back, the kinis (mudcrab) will flourish abundantly more than the local paraagahid (pole net fishermen) can catch for their livelihood. Mangroves are natural habitats of mudcrabs.

I hope these images will convey an SOS to coastal environmentalists including those based in Bulusan. The few surviving juvenile mangroves from the initial replanting activity (photo) are reminders that there’s hope that the mangroves of Taisan could be reclaimed.

Let us bring back the mangroves of Taisan.

It is to the credit of Tribu Bulusanon (http://tribubulusan.orgfree.com/#), a local environmental group, that the first  mangrove reforestation project in this coast took off.

But it was just a beginning. More actions are needed.

Surviving mangroves of Taisan

Surviving mangroves of Taisan from the initial mangrove replanting project.

Bare mangroves means dwindling catch for the paraagahid fishermen.

Bare mangroves means dwindling catch for the paraagahid fishermen.

Photos: Alma P. Gamil

Bulusan, Sorsogon, Philippines

The charm of Taisan

Texture in earth colors characterize the sea view of Taisan in Bulusan.

Textures in earth colors characterize the sea view of Taisan in San Vicente, Bulusan.

I consider the seascapes of sitio Taisan as one of the most mesmerizing views in the village of San Vicente a.k.a Buhang. I have no idea on the reason why the place is called Taisan. ‘Taisan’ roughly translates to  a place with many unattached old singles. The local vernacular for ‘old maid’ is ‘tais’ (pronounced  ta-is).

For the record: I have not seen an old maid in the area during my short visit.

It is however only by mere coincidence that the name of the sitio shared my  fate — of being an old maid 🙂  But this is another story.

The day was just marvelous for a photo shoot and the thought that  Taisan is not yet listed as one of Bulusan’s tourism destinations makes it more exciting. It was like discovering a new tourism spot.

The shoreline of Taisan is just a walk away from the road where jeepneys from the Poblacion pass by daily. It is here where my sights were drawn that sunny Friday morning after visiting San Vicente church for my sister’s prayer petition. After the ‘pailaw’ (light offering) I had so much time left to walk around the shore area of Taisan — a 3 minute walk from the village church.

It was as if the seascape was inviting me to a photo challenge. How can I resist? Sea with hints of indigo and turquoise. Powdery blue skies. Sea bed textures in earthy tones. The panorama was so inviting.  My imagination was running wild like a painter with a brush in situ.

I was in a trance-like state gazing at the horizons. The rays of the mid-morning sun surprisingly did not diminish the raw beauty of Taisan shores. I had to give in to the urge of the shutter.

The resulting images imparted not just a visual feast for me. It was more. Taisan taught me a lesson that being an ‘old maid’ is just a state of mind.

Maybe true.

Taisan is after all full of charm and edgy beauty.

Rock couple in Taisan's low tide, Bulusan 2014

Rock couple in Taisan’s low tide, Bulusan 2014

Photos: Alma P. Gamil

Bulusan, Sorsogon, Philippines

The extraordinary ordinary Malubago tree

The beach as playground for these coastal community children in Dancalan, Bulusan

Children in Dancalan, Bulusan playing under the shade of Malubago trees lining the beach area of their coastal village.

Seascape viewed from a Malubago hedge.

Seascape viewed from a Malubago hedge. Notice the exposed roots of the Malubago trees that serve as a natural barrier from the tidal flow.

Malubago trees as viewed from the ocean’s edge of a coastal village in Dancalan, Bulusan.

One does not have to be an expert in shoreline conservation and preservation to see the effect of growing Malubago trees along the sea shores. I did see it myself in my recent beach walk along the shore of a coastal community half kilometer away from the frequently visited Dancalan Beach Resort.

This coastal area however is not frequented by visitors since easy access here entails passing by some coastal rural homes lining the major road. Although the beach sand is still in the range of a light-colored sand, this beach area is not a ‘resort’ area. It is a rural coastal community populated by mostly fisher folks. Women were busy weaving karagumoy hats when I passed by and they kindly showed me the way to reach the beach just a few meters from their residence.

Children were playing under the Malubago trees, running around with crescendos of shrieks and cries oblivious of my presence as I walk and take photos in a leisurely pace along the shore. The sea view from a new location was just the thing I needed to compose some new images in departure from my usual beach photographs. But what really caught my attention are the Malubago trees along the shoreline of the coastal village.

The Malubago trees although unassuming and modest in appearance  did not escape my observation because these trees dominate the landscape in this long stretch of almost white beach. The beach vegetation as far as my eyes can see are mostly coconut and Malubago trees. The Malubago stands where other vegetation failed to grow. Some of its roots are exposed to the sand but still very much standing exhibiting its resiliency to the elements. It does not encroach the sea but only occupies the demarcation of the shoreline and the residential houses. Obviously the trees serve as the first line of defense in times of typhoons and sea storm surges yet it flourish with its shy flowers peeking out of the almost heart-shaped leaves.

The flowers are described as bell-shaped by some botanists. For me, the Malubago flower appears as a half-open yellow hibiscus — shy and seems to decide not to fully open to evade attention from flower pickers. Maybe this strategy pays off because there are fruits in almost all of the branches securing the next generation of Malubago trees.

I learned however from googling that Malubago can also be propagated by means of stem and branch cuttings. Making a fence out of the branch cuttings is an easy way to propagate the Malubago. With a firm grip on the ground, the cut branch will grow to a brand new Malubago tree even if left to its own devices.

The Species Profile for Pacific Island Agroforestry (www.traditionaltree.org) states that Hibiscus tiliaceus (Malubago’s botanical name) main agroforestry uses are soil stabilization and coastal protection. It can grow in extreme environment and is also drought tolerant. Fast to grow and forms walls of thicket if not pruned which makes it ideal as windbreakers along the shores. And this is the reason why it is used for coastal protection : “The long spreading branches root where they touch the ground enhancing the tree’s ability to stabilize soil on slopes, along river banks, swampy areas and shores exposed to moderate  coastal tides.”

But just like anything that is familiar and common, we tend to take the Malubago tree for granted.

Malubago Flower

Malubago flower is cousin to the showy ornamental hibiscus.

Sea view from under the Malubago canopy in Dancalan, Bulusan

Sea view from under the Malubago canopy in Dancalan, Bulusan

More of Malubago tree here:


Photos: Alma P. Gamil

Bulusan, Sorsogon, Philippines

All Souls’ Day afterthought

There are some photos I can’t articulately caption. This photo (below) is one of them. It does not need one. It explains itself.

The moment I saw this on the jumbled cemetery grounds, it eclipsed the rest of the cemeteryscape. I t stood still on its own.

I imagined a mother’s love for a lost child. A young mother picking yellow orchids from her backyard garden beside her modest hut in an outlying farm village and then delicately arranging these little dancing yellow blooms in anahaw leaves. I imagined her slowly walking  to the cemetery with this flower offering on this day of remembering. Lit a candle and recited prayers of endearment dedicated to her child. The simple bouquet adding a touch of colors now gently laid to the freshly painted child’s small cemented tomb.

She was not there when I took this photo but I can still sense from the image that love continues even though life ended maybe a year ago or two. No date only a name of a child on the tomb is visible which makes the image more timeless.

Looking at this image, I remember my father, my ancestors and the dear departed who have passed on and how I with my human frailties remained delinquent and inadequate in my remembering.

A year could cover the whole cemetery grounds in weeds growing in abandon — except for these  days of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. The rest of the 300 plus days of the year are days when almost all of the dead are forgotten in the company of the wild flora in the cemetery invading the whole grounds.

A still life from All Souls' Day, November, 2014

A still life from All Souls’ Day, Bulusan Catholic Cemetery, November 1, 2014

But during these days of reverence and commemoration for those dear departed from November 1 to 2, tradition rules and there are no excuses.

Thanks God for All Souls’ Day!

Photo: Alma P. Gamil

Bulusan, Sorsogon