Sunday, May 24, 2015

BIRD WATCHING AND MORE

A COMPANY-SPONSORED OUTING is always an essential part in developing and strengthening the camaraderie of its employees. Not only that, it helps to release work-related stress among its employees, especially if it is done outdoors like beaches and mountain resorts. It might integrate team-building seminars but it is much better if the employees are free to do their own thing absent of the shackles of its corporate masters.

Nature heals. I am a believer of that and I, a weekend outdoorsman, have regularly felt nature’s power over an individual. The mountains, the trees, the rivers, the birds, the sands, the seas, the air and everything in it conspire in that healing process. All are part of one large organism called Mother Earth. It breathes. It throbs with life. It worships the one true Creator – the God of Zion, of Islam, of Christians, of Buddhists, of Hindus, and of the many divergent indigenous people.

Today, October 4, 2014, I am in a private resort owned by a retired general in Matutinao, Badian, Cebu. I am with twelve of my officemates of Tactical Security Agency for a company outing. The resort is on the vicinity of the mouth of the Matutinao River. I have the option to bathe in either sea or river or brackish water; lukewarm or cold. It is raining and the tide is low. Not a fine moment to cavort with nature yet.


The travel from Mandaue City in the early morning had been smooth, the weather cloudy. Two vehicles are used: the Toyota Hilux and a Suzuki Scrum. I am riding the latter. After a stop-over at Carcar to load our order of roasted pork (Local name: inasal), we proceed to Badian via Barili. It starts to rain lightly when we arrive at Matutinao at 10:15 and I begun to chop half of the the roasted pork into small pieces with my Trailhawk Cleaver while the place is still peaceful.

The rest begins to fill up the closed cottages and cook rice in electric cooker and by firewood. The Toyota arrived at 11:00 and they had bought pork meat and fresh fish at Moalboal to back up our roasted pork. Since all were hungry, we decide to start our late brunch on the inasal leaving the meat and the fish uncooked and condemned as fodder for supper instead. The inasal is limitless and filled up everyone quickly, this despite the absence of condiments.

The first of the many bottles of brandy is opened but some of us preferred coconut wine (tuba) which had been offered for sale along the road. I very well know (and trusted) that this variety of local wines sold in southern towns are pure and freshly harvested from its source. One of us quickly dispatch a local to procure three gallons. On the other hand, two of my officemates with the Toyota was sent forth to look for a videoke machine for rent as our form of entertainment.


When the tuba came, I relish at its sweetness and declined, time and time again, the glasses of brandy which came my way. Everybody sang to their heart’s content while I enjoyed the company of funny tales and non-work-related conversations. Although it is raining lightly, it had not dampened our spirits and some even went out to the beach and took a bath in the middle of the afternoon.

I opt to stay dry and when the sky cleared at 16:00, I slowly set up my Silangan “stealth” hammock between two trunks of Gmelina trees with a matching Apexus taffeta sheet as an overhead shelter which is secured to the ground with cords and wooden stakes. Glass after glass of the organic wine had left me drowsy and tipsy and I walked to the lounge chairs placed on the beachfront. The sounds of the onrushing waves have soothed my mind and I lose awareness.


I woke up in darkness. It is 20:30 and the singing voice behind the microphone of the videoke showed signs that it had a drink too many. Only a few had stayed awake although it is still not late. I join the small company and eat a full dinner. The fish had been cooked on charcoal while the rest had been prepared raw with vinegar (kinilaw). The pork meat had also been cooked the same way with the fish but it is chopped in cubes. The inasal are plenty while some are cooked with vinegar (paksiw).

I washed again my food with the local wine until I am alone with the videoke machine. The last of my awake officemates turned in at 23:00 and I am now the sole steward of the microphone. Eventually, I got tired of singing and programmed the songs instead with MP3 versions and toned down the volume. I choose soothing songs relevant to this late hour. A hundred songs which, I believed, would last through dawn. I slept at last on my hammock at 02:15.


I woke up at 07:30 the following day, October 5. The water had risen and everyone are on the water. Ate my breakfast of soup from freshly-caught fish alone and washed it with local wine again when I noticed two new gallons are on the table. Some of the guys left the water to steel themselves with either tuba or brandy and picked food to chew about. Conversations opened up complemented with hearty laughs. The high tide had beckoned me to take a swim and I left the group for the beach.

I crossed the river mouth going across to a gravelly beach where some mangroves grew. I walked on the beach past the back of a public school and into an old Malabar almond tree (magtalisay). I touched the lower trunk. This is where the heat bounced off from my small campfire on the night of April 23, 2009 and the very place where I sang the songs that my late grandfather had taught me. That night, I was transformed from a leisure hiker into a more useful outdoorsman. Before leaving, I gave thanks to the tree.

I walked near a sandbar protruding out to the sea. I sat on the pebbly bottom with the rest of my body above the surface. I just sat motionless, enjoying the sun at my back, the waves lapping at my knees and on my tummy. A small fish dart between my legs and swam to the shore’s edge. I followed it with my eyes but lost it. I changed to a prone position and slowly crawled towards the sandbar, just enough to keep my chin above water.


I saw a bird on the sandbar. It stared at me and so I froze. I am about eight meters away from the bird. For about 30 seconds, the bird observed me until it sees me harmless and decides to hop and walk around the sandbar looking for something on the ground. It had a long beak, so it must be a marine bird but it is small with short legs. The wings, tail and head are dark while its undersides are light colored. My memory about this bird begins to work and, I think, this is a common kingfisher (tikarol).

It feeds on something from the ground. It hopped and ran all around the small confines of the sandbar. The sunlight caught a flash of its food at its beak from my low angle of sight. It must have plenty of food on that small island as it peck again and again from something moving on the ground, its tail wagging up and down, a sure sign that it is a happy and contented bird until an unexpected arrival of another bird on a nearby mangrove tree caused it to shriek and dragged a wing on the ground as if shielding from an attacker.

The new arrival – a gray wagtail (bangkiyod) – just watched the kingfisher from below its perch. It then flew away. It may have planned to fed on the same food as that of the kingfisher’s but being late at the party caused it to look for another place to feed itself. I am interested with the kingfisher’s diet and I am also interested to read its track on that small sandbar, especially at that spot where it was spooked and had almost gone to flight.


I have enough of bird watching and I will invade the sandbar for study. Before I went, I take note of the most prominent trees in the vicinity. One is a tall mangrove about 15 meters away and another is a leafy Malabar almond tree across the estuary. These are the most likely trees that a bird would fly to should it be threatened by my presence. The kingfisher chose the Malabar almond tree but it skimmed the water’s surface first before changing angle in a wide arc to the safety of the leaves.

With the sun across me, it was not difficult to find the food that the kingfisher had fed itself to contentment. These are arthropods (hipan-hipan) and it begins to populate the drier ground of the sandbar after being displaced by the approach of tide. Their silvery backs flashed in the glorious sunlight but I cannot find the tracks of the kingfisher, especially at the spot where it dragged its wings. The sandbar is not made of pure sand but just a hump of small pebbles mixed with a bit of grainy sand.

Failing that, I walked to the mangrove tree where the gray wagtail perched. I saw the broken branch where it stood for a moment. The outer end showed signs of use and smoothed than the rest of the branch. I looked for a similar branch and I also found where a bird would always perch. I smiled contentedly of these small discoveries. People do not take notice of these things, of slight differences, of reading nature from its palm up.


With a wet hand, I touch a leaf of the mangrove, leaving a wet imprint of my thumb. Similarly, with a wet forearm, I brushed another leaf with it. The wet imprints caused by my hairy forearms on a leaf adhered. I observed my actions on both leaves for 15 seconds, then 30 seconds and then for a minute. The moisture evaporated but the imprints remained. I went back to the sandbar to look for the tracks. I studied it more closely, lying prone at lower angles, but found no traces. Disappointed, I go back to the leaves.

After five minutes, the imprints on the leaves stayed. At a different angle of light it cannot be seen but when you shift at another angle, it is very visible. Satisfied with my study, I cross the estuary back to the resort. I believed I need more drinks and more food to keep my brain working in order to answer the mystery of the kingfisher. The current on the river mouth can be seen by the eyes. The differing temperatures between salty and fresh water can be felt by skin. I swam from halfway to the shore.

After more than an hour, I go back to the sandbar. I finally found the spot where the kingfisher was antagonized by the presence of another bird. Its wings dragged small pebbles loose and the claws scratched the gravelly sand caused by shifting of its weight. I am able to read this only when seen from a new angle and it had given me a sort of a personal victory. Aside that, I saw a recent foot print of a man, at least of size 8. Invisible on a semi-hard surface unless you see it with a different set of eyes.

I walked to the mangroves. My imprints on the leaves stayed. Subtle things can never be noticed by ordinary people and be seen with an ordinary frame of mind. Even with me, trained in the woods at an early age (although for a short time only), there still are things that I cannot catch attention immediately. It slips from my grasp – my memory – and I could not imagine I sometimes walked like a sheep. So unknowing like the rest. So innocent. So full of meat.

I cross once again the river and touched base on shore. My officemates are preparing our lunch and of leaving. Some of them dress up, packing things, running over again in their minds details that might had been overlooked. I take it slow so I would not be distracted by my ongoing connection with nature. I talked to them of the plants when they asked for a name and I loved to share what I learned.

The rest of the morning dragged by until lunch came. We said thanks to our graceful host and leave something for their caretaker’s upkeep. The two vehicles slowly retrace the path to the highway. On convoy, going to Alegria, we returned the videoke machine and made a detour back to Badian. At Barili, rain overtook us. It is a slow ride, visibility impaired by rain on an accident-prone highway bound for Carcar.

Rain stopped at San Fernando but it returned at full intensity in Minglanilla. A flooded highway along Linao gripped traffic to a standstill. Vehicle and motorcycle engines conked out causing more problems to traffic. We decide to park our vehicles at KIA Motors Service Center while the floodwaters are still high and the rain unforgiving. After 90 minutes, the floods subside and traffic begins to flow. We reach Mandaue City at 16:30. I did not stay long. I have a long way to go on a motorcycle under overcast clouds which still pour wispy drops of rain.

That opportunity to wind myself (or perhaps, for my office mates too) closer to nature had opened up windows of some unused knowledge that I had learned so long ago into practice. I was like a child again, reminiscing of lessons taught to me. This time I had retrieved this aspect and it will be used and, ultimately, shared to a few useful outdoorsmen. Because of a company-sponsored outing done without the shackles of its corporate masters.

Document done in LibreOffice 3.3 Writer


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