Thursday, November 1, 2012
READING A TRAIL SIGN is one of the skills that a plain outdoorsman should recognize and develop. Comprehension and common sense are the only tools by which to successfully interpret a sign left behind either by an animal or by a human. Likewise, stalking is another ability that is perfected by a hunter but can be used almost effectively by a common drifter in his search for food.
These two compliment each other and so, this blogger organized another free outdoor activity which discuss about Basic Trailsigns and Stalking on August 26, 2012. This is a series of teach-ins under the Grassroots Bushcraft Teaching Series of the Warrior Pilgrimage Blog. Attending are Silver Cueva, Jhurds Neo, Dominikus Sepe, Eli Bryn Tambiga and Edwina Marie Intud. Also around are Ernie Salomon, Nyor Pino, Anthony Espinosa and the father-and-daughter team of Benjie and Jerii Echavez.
As usual, everything has its beginning at the parking area of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish where we assemble, take breakfast and buy food provisions for our lunch, which we will later prepare inside the wilderness of the Babag Mountain Range. We follow Bebut’s Trail and we leave at 8:45 AM. We climb Heartbreak Ridge very late already and I fear that the sun and the heat will torment us.
I intentionally slowed my pace so Benjie and Jerii will not be stressed and get fatigued so early in our hike. I just need to get all out of this stretch and go straight into the cool refuge of the tree cover which is about five hundred meters up the trail. I notice the blades of grasses still retain moisture and dew at this late hour where, I know, the sun would have scorched the leaves dry and cause disappointment to a lot of hikers. The sun did come out but, surprisingly, it is a degree cooler.
We reach the Portal and my original itinerary will have to be altered because I found it too demanding for the new attendees. So, we will go instead to Kilat Spring to cook our food there and, at the same time, do my lecture. I notice four fully-grown and one juvenile mahogany trees were brazenly cut by cockroaches with chainsaws. Hidden from my view but very audible is the hum of chainsaw. Oh God, I hate that sound!
I document the stumps with my Samsung camera and proceed to Kilat Spring with a heavy heart. There is a path through there and it is called Kilat Trail. It is a wild trail that I discovered in September 2010 while contemplating of exploring another part of the Buhisan. Few locals go there and the trail then teem with a thousand butterflies, some snakes and lizards and a Malayan palm civet.
Today, it is now used by cockroaches with chainsaws and they leave trail signs like tree stumps, felled trees, cut branches and dried leaves. I have counted NINETEEN stumps of mahogany trees and TWO stumps of teak trees. They trample everywhere and alter the trail that leave me and my party getting lost. I walk in circles and use a compass to no avail until I have to use the high ground to analyze better the location of the natural spring.
How could people cut trees so easily inside of a protected area? How could people that were supposed to protect these trees are not around to enforce environmental laws? The Buhisan is the last one wild place of Metro Cebu that is wide and is thick enough to shelter wildlife and endemic plants and it is already threatened by the near location of an upscale housing project known as the Monterazzas de Cebu. Now, cockroaches with chainsaws pierce this piece of wilderness with a lot of trees cut down and getting away with it.
I hear a kukuk1 calling and I answer it with a poor – nay, throaty - imitation of its birdcall. Then I thought I hear a monkey screaming somewhere deep in the jungle. I dismiss it yet Anthony heard it also and he told me that he and some friends once released seven Philippine macaques into the Buhisan a few years ago. Wow, I didn’t know that and that answered my curiosity of hearing a mammal-like cry in a different part of Buhisan last May.
I expect sunbathing reptiles along the trail but they are not there anymore. Too many people, I mean cockroaches, might have disturbed their habitat with all those sounds they make or they may have been hunted down for food by these same folks during their illegal logging operations. Small clearings made by these cockroaches have disoriented me no end and contributed to my boiling agitation.
I reach the high ground and walk towards a faraway mango tree that marked the trail to Kilat so we could take rest under its shady branches. I am stressed but I insist that I will go to the natural spring to fetch water for our cooking for everyone have used up their water reserves during the search for the true trail to Kilat. Silver, Dom and Eli volunteer to go down with me. The hard part will be bringing all that water up.
When everyone got settled with plenty of drinking water, I start the informal lecture. I start with trail signs and “trailsigns” over a cup of coffee. I let them recall of what unusual items they have seen along the trails that we have passed. All agreed that it was caused by humans. Of course, it could not be denied that humans alter and disturb the trails like those resulting from cutting of trees and those telltale signs of plastic waste strewn all along the length of the route.
There are, however, small things that you see which are ordinary and do not demand your keen attention while there are those invisible to the sight which only the trained eye could only notice. Everything you see, smell, feel, taste and hear that is not in its natural state should be analyzed and studied. It could be a disturbed pebble, a bent grass, an offensive smell, a dent in the ground, a coarse texture on a smooth rock, a cotton fiber caught by a thorn, etc. All these things tell a story.
Animals leave their signs unintentionally and by instinct. Usual places where animals leave their signs are at water sources when foraging for food and on boulders and trunks to mark their territory. Humans leave signs unintentionally and by purpose. The aim of leaving a sign is to mark a trail for directions and to leave a clue such as that made by signatures. Signatures tell something genuine or just ego-releasing graffiti.
Trailsigns can be made from simple items like stones or sticks or hash marks on trunks. The latter is considered by others as graffiti and cruelty to trees. Hack marks could also be left on rocks, especially on limestone, to aid local travellers at night and outdoor ethics are out of the question. Just the same, all these processes tell a story.
On the other hand, there are certain procedures for stalking either an animal or a human being in the wilderness. The most basic rule is to never let yourself get skylined. You have to use cover and land contours to your advantage. Camouflage is essential here and, where there is none, stick to the shadows or keep yourself as small as possible from observation.
Another important technique is to use the wind as your ally. The wind drowns out your movement sounds and blow away your odor, provided you are facing the wind. If you’re in the other direction, your stalking is no good and useless for surely the wind will carry sound and smell to your prey. The rain also aids your stalking for it covers the sounds you make and neutralizes any man-smell you emit.
Stalking also demands certain rules when observing a prey. Avoid standing. Stalked animals and people instinctively use their field of vision at a level where big predators like humans are most likely to be seen. Watch your prey instead with chin very close to the ground to prevent yourself getting silhouetted. Avoid exposing straight-line patterns and man-made items. Cover these or leave it behind.
Follow movements with peripheral vision. In much the same way, do not get caught by the peripheral vision of your prey. Lessen your movements by approaching cautiously. When prey turns head at your direction, do not move jerkily as if to hide from detection. Freeze and move in slow motion. Imitate the dance of the chameleon and the measured crawl of a cat. Jerky moves catch attention and make lots of noise.
Lastly, do not fight nature. Let nature do the work for you. Consider all the natural elements as your ally and brother. If prey follows a certain pattern, use common sense to get to the place first before your prey does. That way, you make yourself unexpected as the prey is preoccupied with its backtrail.
By the time I finish my short instructions, Ernie snuff out the flame of the last stove that simmered the last pot of milled corn. Ernie has a certain flair when preparing and cooking food in the outdoors which make him valuable. Such skills are hard to master in an outdoors setting with few resources like my proclivity to exclude MSG in all my activities.
Ernie, by his own power and creativity, is able to cook mixed-vegetable soup and pork adobao with a side dish of raw cucumber-and-tomato-in-vinegar in masterful fashion. All take several digs at the delicious food and are quite refreshed after that. Their morale and their strength soon returned to replace the wrinkles on their faces.
We wrap up the session by going down to Kilat Spring. The going is easy and all are now in a relaxed mood compared to the agitated tense they have felt in the morning. From the spring box, the trail is now easy to follow and we reach the Portal in no time. We did not rest and we pursue Bebut’s Trail back to Guadalupe where we arrive at 3:45 PM. Everyone transfer to the Red Hours Convenience Store for the Camp Red ritual of post-activity discussions over ice-cold beer and Glenn Pestaño is already there to enjoy the company.
Document done in LibreOffice 3.3 Writer
1Philippine coucal. Sp. Centropus viridis.