unposted note before the storm

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Sitio Riroan, Bulusan, Sorsogon

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Typical native hut along the coastal villages of Bulusan.

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A native outrigger locally known as sibid.

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Hard-earned nylon nets and a banca are essential assets for Vicente, a local fisherman.

“From Barack Obama and Xi Jinping to the heads of tiny Pacific island states, they took to the stage in Paris today to tell the world they would act. The rhetoric was lofty, planetary, grave.”

So says the emailed report re COP21 in my email box today, December 1, 2015 —  information given to readers of an environmental news publication that I subscribed to.

But for me the rhetoric whatever the tone is real. No need for me to look further. All I have to do is take a little walk along the sea shores of my hometown (photos).

All I have to do is listen to this fisherman’s unwavering faith in the sea. “ My catch is more than enough for me and my family. We sell those we can’t consume for our other needs. I have no problems with the days not good for fishing…these days happen only in less than a month for the duration of one year.”  How about during storms? Pause. “Ah.. the waters can reach up to there” (pointing to the shore less than five meters from where we were sitting). His hut is open to the elements. And one can imagine where this hut would end up if ever a category 5 typhoon will hit the area. God forbid!

For now, this thought I kept only to myself as I listen to the young fisherman sharing enthusiastically stories about the variety of his bountiful catch, enumerating the several names of local fish species abundant in our shores : turos, bungdo, angol, mamsa, marara etc. The local seabirds he named easily ( I was not able to catch the vernacular name) completely agreed  with their noise dominating the ocean sound while they feast on their catch. Vicente’s modest hut has this uninterrupted view of the Pacific Ocean standing at around 10 meters from the shore line.

I chimed in with the optimism but deep in me the conversation running in my mind were streaming in a different light. Anxiety. Fear. Prayers of protection. May the Great Spirit of the Seas preserve and protect his family and the rest of the families living in the long stretch of the coast of my hometown, Bulusan.

As I leave, I noticed and captured the look of the young fisherman wistfully looking far off to the sea. The look was a mixture of gratitude and hint of uncertainty.

Moments like these my mind reflects on Pope Francis’s  encyclical on climate change, the Laudato si’.

For me, Laudato si’ is a prayer. A prayer to action. A sacred call.

Laudato si’ is a call to protect the vulnerable that includes the fishermen living in places where their livelihood depends on.

For the ‘parapadagat’, the sea is their life.

May we be enlightened by these words lifted from the text of Laudato si’:

  1. Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods. It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day. Its worst impact will probably be felt by developing countries in coming decades. Many of the poor live in areas particularly affected by phenomena related to warming, and their means of subsistence are largely dependent on natural reserves and ecosystemic services such as agriculture, fishing and forestry. They have no other financial activities or resources which can enable them to adapt to climate change or to face natural disasters, and their access to social services and protection is very limited. For example, changes in climate, to which animals and plants cannot adapt, lead them to migrate; this in turn affects the livelihood of the poor, who are then forced to leave their homes, with great uncertainty for their future and that of their children. There has been a tragic rise in the number of migrants seeking to flee from the growing poverty caused by environmental degradation. They are not recognized by international conventions as refugees; they bear the loss of the lives they have left behind, without enjoying any legal protection whatsoever. Sadly, there is widespread indifference to such suffering, which is even now taking place throughout our world. Our lack of response to these tragedies involving our brothers and sisters points to the loss of that sense of responsibility for our fellowmen and women upon which all civil society is founded.

More about Laudato si’:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laudato_si%27

Photos: Alma P. Gamil

Bulusan, Sorsogon, Philippines

 

Rise and shine

Sunrise, Bulusan, January 8, 2016, 6:12 AM

Sunrise, Bulusan, January 8, 2016, 6:12 AM

Sunrise, Bulusan, January 8, 2016, 6:25 AM

Sunrise, Bulusan, January 8, 2016, 6:25 AM

Every morning there is a show. Tickets not included. All I have to do is to wake up early and head to the nearest shore.  Each show is distinct for each day. No performances are repeated with the best part reserved for the early risers.

And this morning the show is just as spectacular. Only the battered coconut trees show signs of the fury of typhoon Nona (international name Melor) that hit Bulusan three weeks ago.

Good morning, 2016!

Photographs by Alma P. Gamil
Bulusan, Sorsogon
Philippines

Boton*

“Strangeness is a necessary ingredient in beauty.”
― Charles Baudelaire

Boton flower bud

Boton flower bud

All I want these days is to imitate the ways of the Boton tree — specifically its wisdom of simply savoring the lightness and radiance of living.

But, alas, I have yet to learn the wisdom of the Boton.

Boton flower

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Boton flowers are pink sunburst of unending summers. The buds of flowers confidently peeking from the branches open into burst of pink magic. The tips exquisitely adorned with bright yellow. The petals framing it in immaculate white. In its unopened state, the flowers are like mini hearts ready to explode into cheerful pink and white pompoms the bursting threads mimicking the rays of the sun.

Immensely radiant. Offering her beauty to the summer sun… and at night a feast for nocturnal birds and bats.
Fruits with beaks and tongues.
Its fruit is a box-like-heart that has a beak seemingly in a permanent grin that is pleasant and welcoming. A long thread-like tongue coming out from the beak adds up to its cheerful look. These fruits dangle happily out of the branches of the mother tree in twos or threes.

Colors indicate the maturity of the Boton fruits. Husk surrounds the seed. The fruit is perfectly designed to float and to travel to great distances.

Colors indicate the maturity of the Boton fruits. Husk surrounds the seed. The fruit is perfectly designed to float and to travel to great distances.

Several villagers told me that it can heal (nakabolong) and it can kill (nakahilo). For this reason it is sometimes called as the fish poison tree. This duality is common for healing plants — poison and medicine.

Boton tree along the shore of Baluarte, Bulusan.

Boton tree along the shore of Baluarte, Bulusan.

This impressive Boton tree along the beach of Baluarte is prolific unlike some Boton trees also growing near the coast. Its fruits littered the underneath canopy of the tree waiting for the ocean waves to fetch them to another shore or be a ready ‘ball’ toy for local village kids. The fruits are perfect floaters. It was enchanting seeing them calmly float near the water’s edge while the moon rises.

Boton fruits are perfect floaters.

Boton fruits are perfect floaters.

Boton fruit
It is clear that the elements conspire to the Boton’s lightness of being… reminding me to just flow and follow the rhythm of life. In this aspect the Boton tree is a master, I am the pupil.

In my present mid journey, I have a long way to go and much to learn. I just hope it is not yet too late. Intense lesson at high noon. Indeed, for me.

The Boton loves the smell of the sea.

The Boton loves the smell of the sea.

Boton is a simple name for a fascinating tree that probably alludes to the stars from heaven. Star is ‘bituon’ in the vernacular.

Boton fruts calmly floating at sea after a seaside play with local kids.

Boton fruits calmly floating at sea after a seaside play with local kids.

*Barringtonia asiatica is the botanical name of Boton. All photos were taken from sitio Baluarte, Bulusan, Sorsogon.

Photographs by Alma P. Gamil
Bulusan, Sorsogon
Philippines

Benign and Beautiful

Business as usual for this local rice farmer on his way to work in sitio Baluarte, Bulusan on June 17, 2015.

Business as usual for this local rice farmer on his way to work in sitio Baluarte, Bulusan on June 17, 2015.

Minutes after the steam-driven Bulusan Volcano eruption of June 19, 2015, I headed to Baluarte in the outskirt of the poblacion where the view of the volcano is unblocked by residential houses. I spotted several farmers attending to their rice paddies as if nothing unusual happened. It was the onset of the rice planting season and the field is flooded with irrigation waters as preparation for rice planting. One farmer told me that had I arrived earlier the volcanic ash-cloud was still beautifully formed compared to what I was looking at that moment I arrived in the area. The wind easily dissipated the volcanic plumes.

I stayed awhile just in case a sudden eruption will follow. I waited. The volcano was silent.

As I waited, I busied myself taking some photos of the surrounding rice fields where farmers were doing their regular morning field chores. No eruption followed. I was about to get back home, when suddenly the quiet farmer from the nearest rice paddy next to the roadside where I was standing turned to me and requested in a serious tone : “Retratoha man ako (please take a photo of me, too),” spontaneously posing with his hoe in hand and beaming with a toothless grin.

Of course, I obliged happily. This for me was unexpected. For a moment I have forgotten my original intent which was to photograph the volcano in action. I grinned back and quickly pressed the shutter. How could I possibly presumed that a busy farmer would not want his photo taken by a shutterbug? I went home smiling with this thought.

“Please take a photo of me, too.” (Bulusan, June 19, 2015)

As of today, August 15, alert level 1 remains in effect for Bulusan Volcano.

Alert level 1 for Bulusan Volcano is described by Phivolcs (Philippine Institute of Volcanology) as a kind of low-level volcanic unrest. Entry to the 4 kilometer permanent danger zone is strictly prohibited.

Luckily for Bulusan town, the volcano’s continuing low-level activity is mostly confined to the western side of the volcano that faces the towns of Irosin, Juban and Casiguran. Bulusan town is located in the eastern hemisphere of the volcano’s lower slopes. This is no reason though to be complacent especially for my townmates residing in mountain villages near the PDZ (permanent danger zone) where the smell of azupre (sulfur) pervades the surrounding mountain air in times like this — a reminder that we, Bulusanons live in the embrace of a living and beautiful volcano.

Bulusan Volcano at dusk viewed from the roadside of Baluarte still showing slight steam/ash emission on June 18, 2015.

Bulusan Volcano at dusk viewed from the roadside of Baluarte still showing slight steam/ash emission on June 18, 2015.

Photographs by Alma P. Gamil
Bulusan, Sorsogon
Philippines

My Bulusan Lake list

Bulusan Lake,  2015

Bulusan Lake, 2015

Bulusan Lake is undoubtedly the most photographed spot in Bulusan for obvious reason. The beauty commands awe. This however makes visitors to the nature park spend more time taking selfies with the lake rather than exploring the vicinity.

As a local the following activities are my suggestions to would be visitors of the lake :

1. Remember that the place is a nature park and it’s teeming with biodiversity. Make use of your camera whatever is at hand and snap away photos of the flora within your reach. For all you know there are species still waiting to be discovered – by you.

2. Hike the perimeter of the lake in a pace of your own liking. The greenery will make you stop once in a while so it is advisable to make the trek earlier preferably in the morning.

3. Watch the fog kiss the lake.

4. Observe the mesmerizing reflection of the water from the lake above the canopies of giant trees with the sun at high noon.

5. Ride a rustic boat instead of the colorful ones for a change and learn to row the one-sided outrigger banca (photo).

6. Cook your meals inside the lake vicinity. I suggest grilled tilapia from the lake, hot rice and kinilaw na pako (fern salad) from edible ferns picked along the forest trail.

7. Camp overnight and listen to the nature acoustic. Record the sound of the unseen rainforest’s creatures nearby.

8. Firefly gaze at night.

9. Butterfly watch in the morning

10. Bird watch. Early morning is best.

11. Snooze during siesta time with the sound of the forest as your lullaby.

Photo: Alma P. Gamil
Bulusan, Sorsogon
Philippines

A walk to remember

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No. This is not about the movie based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks. This is about my after-Christmas Day (December 26, 2014) walk on the beach.

A day after Christmas, I finally made it to my planned shoot on a spot along the stretch of beach not frequented by visitors between the border coast of sitio Tawog and Dancalan in Bulusan. The day was cloudy and the area seemed to have a monochromatic gray hue on it. Nonetheless, I was already there and the next thing to do is what else — press the shutter. And when the boulders arranged like natural zen rock formations on the beach called my attention by forming photographic compositions in my mind, it was a signal for me to begin shooting.

I was in this flow state when my phone rang and the message says: I am on my way.

Rattled I continued with my shooting to calm my mind.

And who would not be? The town resident writer is joining me on the beach! It is no secret that I am a fan. For me he is a rock star and this is a rare opportunity to personally chat with him. I will have to choose between the zen rocks or the rock star.

I chose both. And that was an amazing afternoon walk — a once in a lifetime kind of walk that mirrors a metaphorical journey I am currently undergoing.

Oh, by the way, I am not sure when or whether I will see him again. But it does not matter. I have already frozen the moments of that wonderful walk like these zen rocks on the beach. Living rocks of memories that I’ll treasure forever.

Timeless. Beautiful. Priceless.

My Christmas wish has come true!

Photos: Alma P. Gamil
Bulusan, Sorsogon, Philippines

Bulusan Volcano Natural Park (BVNP) flora gallery 2

Natural adornments dangle along the forest path.

Natural adornments dangle along the forest path.

One of the most common fern at the park (BVNP, Bulusan, 2014 December 4).

Leaflet of a giant fern displays its dainty curls.

Bulusan Volcano Natural Park flora photo December 4, 2014

Wild fruits of an uncommon species.

Bulusan Volcano Natural Park flora photo, December 4, 2014

Brown dots neatly arranged on this fern frond

Bulusan Volcano Natural Park flora photo, December 4, 2014

Minute berries shift colors from yellow to red as it ripens.

An approaching calamity such as this recent typhoon has a way of hurrying up things undone to be prioritized at once. Typhoon Ruby (international name Hagupit) made my long-delayed plan of a mountain hike to BVNP (Bulusan Volcano Natural Park) for some photos of native trees to be done soonest before it made the trees and flora at the park unrecognizable. So off I went December 4 to the park. The weather was fine that day and most visitors and tourists were still oblivious of the coming typhoon.  To my delight my mountain hike at the park resulted to wonderful finds some of which I have never seen before such as the photos of the red and yellow wild fruits (photos).

The above gallery is just a few of my assorted collection of photos gathered that day.

Fortunately, typhoon Ruby inflicted negligible damage to our town. A miracle considering that Hagupit peaked its strength as a category 5 typhoon– a super typhoon in the Pacific Ocean.

Photos: Alma P. Gamil

Bulusan, Sorsogon, Philippines

A walk in the forest

Fallen wild flowers dot the the trail near Bulusan Lake in BVNP (Bulusan Volcano Natural Park, Deceem 2, 2014)

Fallen wild flowers dot the the trail near Bulusan Lake in BVNP (Bulusan Volcano Natural Park, December 2, 2014)

Dense forest along the road to Bulusan Lake

Dense forest along the road to Bulusan Lake

Whenever I hit the road for some purpose in mind like finding some trees to photograph, something unexpected happens along the way. Take for example my forest trek last Tuesday (December 2, 2014). I never imagined that I will be hiking the 1.7 km road of BVNP (Bulusan Volcano Natural Park) to reach the road junction  where tricycles and jeepneys pass by with a Frenchman who was on that day a tourist of the park.

The walk was a breeze. The canopy of the tall tropical forest trees protected us against the bright sunny rays of the sun. The view was like a forest scene straight from the movie Avatar minus the action. The greenery in both sides of the road is great for botanical photo shoots.

For sure I will be back to cover some not-yet-photographed specimens along this stretch. At the road junction Jean was lucky to catch a tricycle bound for Irosin, this means no need of waiting for the Bulusan jeepney that take hours in between trips. From Irosin, he will be on his way to one of the hotels in Sorsogon City where he is currently staying while I rode a passenger tricycle to  Bulusan’s poblacion. Nice meeting you, Jean. Welcome to the Philippines!

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.

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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 is 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