NALUOY ang mga usbong na bumulas sa pagitan ng biyas ng kawayan na bitbit hanggang bahay mula liblib na dawag ng kabundukan sa Montalban, Rizal. That’s reason for me to go back to those parts. To obtain two or three internodes with offshoots and try another tack at growing this particular bamboo specimen—sports thin-walled green culms of 4”-5” diameter that ought to be a suitable cookery vessel for in situ boiled rice or culm-stewed chicken binakol; no prickly spines; no lengthy branching offshoots, just a six to10-meter tall, upright pole-spear of growth.
There are more than 20 native bamboos thriving in the country— over 1,000 species are scattered throughout the world—and I guess the lovely specimen I’ve come across is one of our true-brown varieties. And these days, even the gargantuan chrome-and-glass cages of Makati’s posh precincts have doled out as alms-givers do some meager patches of land for dumping a few clumps of the giant grass; ah, bamboo is simply grass hardly down-trodden and oft-manicured as a spread of Bermuda greensward on lawns. Kawayan, hindi kawawa ‘yan.
While Bermuda grass might be an unconscious concession to the rapine powers of the celestial dragon’s head—the demonic caput draconis—bamboo is a down-to-earth giant that can, if properly planted in auspicious directions, make fondest wishes and wet dreams come true. Or haul in and dump on the household good fortune by truckloads, if we’re to believe feng shui lore. Or cause undue pressure plus parboiling (say, kawayan rhymes with kawa ‘yan or that’s a huge wide-mouthed cast-iron pot), inexplicable plague, and deliciously slow mayhem upon adversaries and secret enemies. Maybe, we ought to believe native folklore or a TV advertisement that featured beer-guzzling bandleader Bamboo Mañalac churning charnel out of a loudmouth fart with a blast of spontaneous combustion.
Taxonomists the world over are discouraging identification of bamboo species with common or local names—there’s a flurry of names for a particular species in various localities, so I’ll stick it out with descriptions, maybe keep at heart the more colorful tabs like bayog which isn’t the opposite gender of bayag; or langkawi, laak, anos, bukawe, even kiling on which Mt. Makiling got its name.
Nakapagbitbit din mula sa dinayong liblib ng pandagdag sa imbak ng mga salita. Buringring o guppy, the colorful wee scavenger fishes that feed on detritus and water-borne tidbits of organic matter. It’s been doing such a clean-up job in our rivers and waterways before some smartass decided dumping obnoxious janitor fishes in guppy territories. But it took me decades before stumbling upon a Tagalog word equivalent for the fish I’ve always played with and known as guppy.
Just one word skimmed out of the landscape. That’s not much of an addition to the sprinkling that have been dug and turned up from far-flung parts in previous visits, like, kabatiti or fragrant native loofah; balbatino or stems of water lily flower stalks that are peeled and cooked with tamarind sauce; parda, a wild legume that looks like habitchuelas or Baguio beans that goes into such Iluko staple fare as dinengdeng or pinakbet… Or-ormot is seaweed that can be cooked into tart soup. (Ah, it’s a hunger that can’t be chucked; it’s this appetite for new words that residents of a locality may likely have chewed through or spat out for ages.)
Out of over a dozen strains of upland rice that a long-time resident assured me these are still grown in those forbidding parts of Montalban, she could only turn up three names. Kinaw-itan. Bayuyo. Binernal.
Then again, the words gleaned thus far are labels on the living. Each one provides edible morsels for sustenance. Uh, even buringring or guppies scooped out of unpolluted waters can be wrapped in tender banana leaves and stewed in ginger, onions, and chopped tomatoes—a tad bitter-tasting but is still a delicacy.
Maybe, the gray matter is an insatiable gourmand that must be fed and plied with tidbits of the landscape...