Thursday, October 16, 2014

COMPLEAT BUSHCRAFT XI: A Notching Class by the River

AFTER SIX SUNDAYS OF training among the trails of the Babag Mountain Range, the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild shift to low gear and return to the banks of the Cotcot River in Lilo-an on March 9, 2014 for another grassroots bushcraft session. Today, Aljew Frasco will be our gracious host again and he will, this time, do a demonstration and lecture about Notching.

Notching, for those who are not familiar with the word, is actually a carpentry function wherein wood is notched or chiseled away to accommodate another wood in order to create a sturdy connection or union. In carpentry, the tools used are a wooden mallet, a saw and a chisel. In bushcraft, we use just the knife and a piece of wood for batoning.


Anyway, Glenn Pestaño, Nyor Pino, Kulas Damaso, Dominic Sepe and Tope Laugo showed interest and proceed to our meeting place in Mandaue City. We leave at 07:30 and conveyed by public utility jitney for Lilo-an. Christopher Maru met us and we proceed to Aljew’s house for coffee. We chip in money to buy for us the ingredients for our food which we will cook later.

When we had that, we all hop in the Toyota double-cab pickup which Aljew drove from the highway into the village of Mulao. The road is narrow and curving and slowly climb up through lush hillsides dotted with houses in between. The Cotcot River divides Lilo-an from Compostela and both towns have two villages bearing the same names like Mulao and Cabadiangan.

We pass by our old campsite and proceed on farther until the road dip down a river ford. Aljew park the pickup beside an artesian well and we open carry our knives. We walk beside the stream and cross it whenever we have to. We did cross on two points and, up ahead, downstream, I see a ruckus of swifts flying pell-mell above something which could only mean one thing: food.


I had not noticed that there were three egrets on the stream bed and they flew when they notice us from afar and joined the swifts, circling and catching thermals to gain altitude. From out of nowhere, a Philippine hawk dived from treetop level and attempt to catch one of the egrets but the egret made evasive action and then all the birds flee when we are near. Only the hawk remained, unperturbed of our presence and quite confident of its mastery of the skies.

I study the stream to look for something that had caused the birds to go frenzy. I see tiny frogs, a few days older than tadpoles, hopping all around. I see the unmistakable prints of the egrets on the sandy banks but I see no signs of dismembered frogs, which could only mean another thing: there is another source of food that is much palatable to their liking.

I look mid-stream and see a river goby (Local name: bul-a nga bakiki) floating belly up. Then more dead fish downstream. Some people could have used either poison or electricity to catch fish. I did not notice people near this part of the stream and, probably, they could have passed by here hours ago. I cross a stream and I see empty plastic packs which bear the word “Bayer”, a brand that is synonymous with fertilizer and toxic chemicals.


I see a coconut palm and a short piece of a bamboo pole which has a notch lying on the ground. Nearby is a natural rock formation that resembled like that of a bowl with a substance mixing with the water from the stream still in it. I begin to make sense of the clutter and recreate the scene.

A man have used the coco palm to shield himself from the sun with the bamboo propping it up so it would stand erect. It is beside the stream and I see the residue of the chemicals adhering on the rocks. The rock formation was used by the person in washing or mixing the chemical with water and the runoff went to the stream poisoning the fish. He did the unintentional poisoning yesterday morning.

That answers the mystery of the fishkill. We take a high ground and follow a trail until it take us back to the stream. We cross it and approach a copse of mango trees. It is a good place to make a camp since it is shady. As it is already 10:30, it would be a good time to prepare our meal. All over are dry firewood and some stones.


Everyone go to work on the sticks and the fire. Pots of rice are now hanged over two fires while chicken and pork are getting sliced and processed. A metal ewer starts to boil water and soon we will enjoy coffee. Conversations, the serious and the not-so-serious, roll out eliciting heady replies or a laugh. A wooden tripod is propped up to aid in cooking.

When the meal is about to be served, it is placed on a big banana leaf typical of “boodle fight” fashion, popularized by the Philippine military. But, before that, the blade porn, then the prayer before meal. Everyone is hungry and the meal is a worthy challenger to the men’s appetite. After that, the hawk return to the river circling over us many times.

The lecture proper start right after the pots and the cooking utensils are cleaned. Aljew start the discussion about Notching. He emphasized the importance of a knife and a heavy stick to achieve a notch. Aside that, the work should be carried out on a durable surface like a rock or a log and one should be in a very comfortable position.


He start with the most simple of all, which is the Half Notch. The Half Notch is used to accommodate a rope or a cord to be wound around near the end of a stick like a ground peg to hold a corner of a tent or a part of snare mechanism. The knife cuts straight on one part while the other part is cut in an angle that intersect the former. Excess wood are cleared away.

Then there is the Square Notch. This can also be used in conjunction with ropes or cords but it is designed for quick jointing with another piece of wood. The knife is cut straight on two parts while wood is chipped off in between and cleared.

The Hook Notch. This is used mostly to hang items like cooking pots. It does not provide a stable joint and can be removed easily and transferred anywhere anytime. The knife cuts straight on one part while cutting another part is done inward that imitate a hook. The notch is then cleared of unwanted wood.

The Cross Notch. It would provide the most stable joint to another wood provided that a cord or a rope be bound on both. The knife is cut straight twice crossing each other. Only wood found outside of the cross, which are at the outward extremes, are removed and cleared.

Then the last is the Clasp Notch. It joins another wood or another material at its end. Perfect for clasping a ladle, a spear point, an obsidian cutting instrument, etc. Make this union sturdy by binding it with a cord. The knife is slowly chopped on one part at the end of a stick and repeat this on an adjacent part. Wood is removed in between and cleared.

If you have a small folding saw, courtesy of either a Swiss Army Knife or a multitool set (ex. Leatherman, Gerber, SOG), then your notching job will be easy and would disregard the use of a baton. The saw will cut the wood while the small knife would be confined to whittling and clearing of excess wood.

Aljew had discussed Notching thoroughly and clearly. When the Philippine Independence Bushcraft Camp will be convened this June, he will be one of the instructors. He had proven himself to be one of the best products of the PIBC which he participated in 2013. He had accumulated knowledge through his research and study and by his intelligent approach.

After the discussion, everyone do as Aljew had taught. Each individual choose a stick by which this little-known craft will be put to work. The stick will then becomes the canvass by which these strange outdoorsmen would put their art on to. It is a wonderful afternoon as the sound of wood hitting knife reverberated on the river bank.

Everyone, committed to give his best and finished the task. Aljew is satisfied with the result and a smile crossed his face. Then everyone cleared the campsite as the things are packed inside their bags. We go by the same route back to where we came from in the morning. We reach a condemned hanging bridge and I am amused of how three old women balance among stones as they cross the Cotcot River.


We reach Liloan at 17:00 and we stay for a while to market food. I accompany Christopher at the seafront in the hope of meeting fishermen but I see children instead scooping buckets of puffer fish (Local: burereng). This is a different variety from the toxic kind (Local: butete) but they look the same unless you touch the texture of their skin or examine the teeth.

We bought two kilos of these as Christopher facilitated the cooking to his relatives. It is cooked in vinegar and tamarind leaves. We proceed to the public market and secure pork meat and fresh herring (Local: mangsi) and some vegetables.

Dinner is superb. Grilled pork and raw fish are served plus the puffer fish on a separate dish. I challenged everyone not to eat the puffer fish should they found me foaming in the mouth afterwards. It never came and all slowly picked the feared fish.

Document done in LibreOffice 3.3 Writer

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