Some periods, like teen hood, in the lives of many highlanders have stretched trekking vales, hills and mountains of fortress Cordillera highlands because for a little longer then, they have let a promise span the heaven of their souls for the sheer pleasure of chasing after rainbows (bulalayaw), mushrooms (u-ong) and truffles (bu-o).
Mushroom or truffle, pointed long ago as “ food of the gods,” aside from Ambrosia, or in the case of Cordillera, “food of Kabunian,” the super deity of the olden highlanders, are aplenty and calling in a forest when rain season starts.
Finding them, however, particularly to the uninitiated, is tricky. And distinguishing wild edible mushrooms from poison mushrooms can be, to a beginner, a bit perplexing.
For beginners, there is that exhilarating thrill of finding their first-ever edible mushroom carefully plucked from where it is hidden and gazing triumphantly at fungi whose relatives existed one billion years ago.
Long before trees and forest overtook the land, Earth was covered by giant mushrooms like spires of the monsters, poking from the soil.
In 2007, scientists were finally able to unlock a prehistoric 20 meters fossil with tree-like trunk and a cone-shaped head resembling exactly a mushroom that existed 350 million years ago as that of fungi. They dubbed it “Godzilla of fungi.”
Why, in dang tarnation, would fungi grow to be more than 20 meters tall millions of years ago when today, they are barely noticeable on forest floors?
Such an answer my friend, reader, is literally “blowing in the wind.” For scientists discovered evolution created it to be so as a reproductive strategy for fungi spores to be spread over wider distances with the use of the moving wind.
As in childhood days that will not stay forever, mushroom and truffle hunting among these youngsters will forever be embedded in their experience, even as all too soon, the rainbow melts; the dreamers awake to adulthood.
“U-ong” and “bu-o” hunting among rural highlanders and lowlanders is an experience of a lifetime, but like a rainbow of its splendor shorn, its loveliness would fade as the u-ong and bu-o hunters grow to serious adulthood.
Yet, as the memory of mushroom, truffle hunting and chasing rainbow tails, fades from these present daily laborers, these recollection are always at the back of their minds for those who passed the experience whenever rains come a-knocking at the door.
For indeed, reflection and memory are intimately connected and consistent with the experience of anyone who trudged the hills and mountains in search of that elusive fungi while watching a rainbow chase its tail from end to end.
These sweeten their enjoyment and season them with grateful relish. Moreover, reflection affords a lasting comfort, deposited in their memories, as testimony they once and carefully discovered a bunch of wild edible mushrooms cradled by a vanishing rainbow.
It is a treasure-house of the mind wherein the monuments thereof are kept and preserved.
So it was, last week what happened to Manuel Roux, an alumnus of Saint Louis University (SLU), Boys High, Baguio City, when his memory of u-ong and bu-o hunting surfaced, like a purse, so full and over-spilling, it cannot be shut.
Borne on a rainbow’s dewy breast, Roux spoke, during a virtual interview, of his un-meddled, childhood joy of hunting u-ong and more particularly, the luscious bu-o at Camp Henry T. Allen when the military reservation was still heavily forested and flush with rowdy and wild vegetation.
Growing at Camp Henry T. Allen, Roux marshaled his memory, placed at the reposing catacomb of his mind, of the sweet and good ol’ days of the Camp “blessed with various sizes of bu-o which sprouted at the end of a vicious lightning and thunderstorm.”
“Mushrooms were plenty but we went for the rounded ones which were edible of the lot. They sprouted from moistened pine needle mounds. A lush forest of pine trees with not a house on sight,” Roux recollected.
In u-ong and bu-o scouring, Roux and his childhood friends Ruben Basbas, Bernardo Boac, Jr., Jimmy Oribello and Art (Boyet) Ramos found camaraderie, a fusion of freely to giving reproof and thankfully to receive it, an indispensable condition of true friendship.
“Funny one. Remembered vividly when food was scarce. There was no encouraging when foraging for these fungi. Experience told us that these lasted only a couple of days if not harvested early by runts like us. Bu-o was everywhere.” Roux happily harked back.
U-ong and bu-o hunting, perchance, helped these kids to grow beyond their years, for “We collected only what we needed. Our moms were delighted at our find, but not at the way we brought these at home.”
Boys being inventive, Roux and his friends when they gathered u-ong and bu-o deposited these in their shirts with the lapels flipped up to serve as pockets, while their tummies, exposed and their navel, belly buttons or “puseg” peeped out and maliciously grinned at teen lasses that happened to pass by.
If their moms chastised them for their inventiveness for a bag, instead of them procuring a brown paper bag or something of a sort to put into the u-ong or bu-o they gathered, their moms “words went out the other ear,” of Roux, Basbas, Boac, Oribello and Ramos.
Roux remembered a wide grin always plastered his face when his mom prepared the wild fungi. “The taste and aroma comes to mind. Sautéed with the leaves of bitter melon (parya), a reprieve from choko/sayote shoots for once. Oh, yes!”
So for a hearty meal of u-ong and bu-o, Roux remembered having given tribute to a siren Ilocano saying “Malpas mangan, alaen ti pungan, taraknen ti tiyan.”
Such were the fun-filled times of Roux and his childhood friends at Camp Henry T. Allen, a place where Roux revealed, “discipline was honed, youths became officers, and music was learned and used as stepping stone to university.” Most of his friends became band members of SLU.
Camp Henry T. Allen before, aside from being haven of u-ong and bu-o, was the stomping ground of other children growing there. If kids are forever hungry, Camp Henry T. Allen yearlings learned to appreciate the delight of gathering “tarubong,” wild strawberries, chokos and un-tended banana growing at the Camp and also to live with, not against, Mother Nature.
“We kept watch of urbon from migrating birds which lay over and fed on insects in the sanctuary of the Camp henry T. Allen,” Roux reminisced.
With pine trees that abounded, Camp Henry T. Allen boys easily found “pakawan,” a y-shaped twig used to fashion boys sling shots. “The land between the three areas, Motor Pool, Enlisted Men and Rest Centre were thick with blade grass (runo), thatch grass (pan-aw), wild sunflowers, (marapait), vines (lanut or puriket). These we used to build nipa huts,” Roux explained.
And the games they played at the Camp were endless. Often, they placed dry pine needles in tin cans with holes in them, fired them and with smoke belching, they pretended they were astride motorcycles.
But Roux lays his remembrance best on bu-o which he said, “a poor man’s truffle that sustained us during rainy, lean months. Bu-o is a reservoir of strength that sprouts out in times of struggle.”
For those in Cordillera who have gathered u-ong, bu-o, and watched the bulalayaw span the Cordillera wild, mountains, how they whispered to winds, saying, “Oh beauteous Earth, with hills and gentle dales, and mighty mountains and wild waterfalls; the solemn forest and thy quiet vales, and the blue sky hung, lovingly, over all.”
What elegance and luxury! What refinement of every pleasure the imagination can conceive or ingenuity invents to give zest to the life of a forager of u-ong and bu-o.
Here were pictured in the most glowing colors pleasures of the u-ong or bu-o banquet, where such choicest viands were said to be crowned by libations of Mother Nature and every libation enhanced by thanks of family members gathered around the table to taste of the wild mushrooms and truffles.
Nature seemed scarcely to have endowed highland residents with sufficient luck for enjoyment of the pleasures which were here pictured to the imagination of the o-ong and bu-o hunters of before and today.