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A "Fascination" with Bamboo

After decades of service in the teaching profession, my father retired and started a small-scale poultry business. He constructed the chicken houses himself without much help from others, except a little from us, his young sons. He used mostly bamboo for the structure. I remember him sourcing bamboo from groves in a barrio a couple of kilometers away, choosing and cutting them down himself.

Dad used the largest part of the bamboo, about 5-6 inches in diameter, for posts. The rest was for the joists, roof framing, and flooring. He also used whole bamboo split lengthwise into half for the feeding troughs. He also made furniture out of bamboo and even beds (called "papag"), which he put in a rest house he had also built in our backyard.

Observing and helping my father working with bamboo -- cutting and dividing them, and smoothening the pieces --, I was fascinated with the material’s versatility. I learned to make kites, playthings that boys my age (middle school and early high school) crafted and enjoyed. Kites have a light frame made of bamboo sticks shaved thin over which we pasted thin pieces of paper. I also made a couple of ukuleles with bamboo ribs and even made one for my best friend. The ukuleles sounded much like the wooden ones! In the early 1800s, an Augustinian priest designed and built a huge church organ made of a thousand pieces of whole bamboo for pipes. As far as I know, this is the only church organ in the world made almost entirely of bamboo.

Later in America, I found a bamboo grove in my brother-in-law's backyard and I cut a piece of rhizome and planted it at the far end of my own backyard. It was not the same species used as a building material in my old country. This one, called Chinese bamboo, was slim, only about an inch in diameter. I meant to use the slim bamboo poles as stakes and trellises for my plants. In a few years, I had a flourishing bamboo grove in my backyard and had harvested an abundance of poles for my vegetable garden, much more than I needed. I offered some to others for free, but nobody wanted them. I was surprised. They sell bamboo stakes in the Garden Department of Home Depot and Lowe’s at a good price.

Today, I have lots of long bamboo poles stacked against a tree in my yard and a lot more lying on the ground. There are still many more standing and multiplying in the grove. I do not know what to do with them. Worse, the roots have crawled into my neighbors’ yards and invaded them. It surprised me that one of my neighbors let the shoots grow to maturity. Later, I saw bamboo poles supporting his heavily fruit-laden persimmon trees (he gave me some of the fruit). The other neighbor did not complain about the shoots rising in his yard but was content mowing his grass in that area near our common fence, leveling down the shoots in the process. It’s hard to kill this plant; botanically, it is classified as a weed or grass. And they grow incredibly fast!

My early fascination, you might call it, with bamboo has turned into regret. My advice to others is: don’t plant bamboo in your city yard; it grows uncontrollably wild. It’s invasive and problematic to get rid of. If you really want a few, just plant them in pots.

But having planted bamboo in my little backyard did not have all unwelcome consequences. One thing I found out was that neighbors can be kind and understanding even if you expected they would mind something you yourself would be bothered by. Regarding the bamboo poles lying around, I can probably try to build a bamboo gazebo using the handyman skills I learned from my father. I can also try to learn how to make bamboo flutes for my grandkids, just like I made bamboo ukuleles when I was a young boy. As to the bamboo roots creeping to take over my backyard, I will not tire cutting them off as soon as new shoots appear, just like I will not get tired fighting temptations against growing in virtue and holiness. While we may have a fascination for many things in this life, the fascination with a life of goodness and virtue is the best kind of fascination because it can never end in regret, but in eternal fulfillment and joy with Him Who made everything, including bamboos. #


"Great are the works of the LORD; They are studied by all who delight in them." Psalm 111:2-9

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