Thursday, September 29, 2011

between wind and rain

between wind and rain
farmers hurry to harvest
fields of corn and beans

Farmers have been working in the gap in weather, combining and harrowing between bouts of wind and rain, sometimes working all night. It's late afternoon on a perfect weather day. A farmer in a green John Deere combine is harvesting a cornfield, working his way from the outside in. The combine fells the stalks, scoops them up and sends them into the bowels of the machine, where the corn is separated from the stalks, leaves, husks and cobs. When it's full, the combine spews the golden kernels out of a long spout into a red BRENT hopper. The combine-to-hopper exchange happens with both rigs moving side-by-side, the combine still combining and the white CASE tractor with the attached hopper keeping pace. When the hopper is full, the driver pulls alongside a red Ford grain dump truck and transfers the corn through the hopper's spout to the grain dump bed. When the dump truck is full, it moves off the field to transfer the corn to a silo. In a recently harvested field up the road, a yellow CAT tractor is turning up the dirt with a disc harrow, breaking up the dry remains of the soybean plants. The wind is starting to pick up, lifting twisted yellow corn leaves into the air. They hover above the corn tassels, then swoop down and scuttle along the road like something alive.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

balancing gebogan

balancing gebogan
on top of their heads, parading
to the odalan 

The third odalan today is the largest, held at a village pura desa to celebrate the anniversary of the temple. Graceful young women keep filing in, bearing gebogan or banten tegeh, tall offerings. This is not an easy feat, as the offerings are not only tall but heavy, and the women use only one hand to keep the edifice balanced on top of their heads. Ida Ayu directs them where to place the one-meter-high offerings on the central bale, where incense sticks are placed in the gebogan. I am amazed at the amount, size, shape, color and variety of items in the offerings. It's like watching a homecoming parade, each "float" a work of art. Robin tells me that these gebogan can take weeks to make. Each one can cost 500,000 Rp, depending on the ingredients, which much be the finest. 
The tukang banten, usually elderly women belonging to the Brahman caste, collect the ingredients, put them together and ritually purify them. They start with a soft banana trunk placed on a wooden dulang or metal bokor. The ingredients, pinned to the trunk with bamboo skewers, vary widely, but may include fruit such as banana, apple, pear, mandarin or salak, rice crackers, sweet cakes, flowers, grated coconut, roasted peanuts, rice pyramids or cooked chicken. Sampian, plaited coconut leaves, decorate the top. One woman at this odalan has brought a gebogan made of a pile of batik cloth, folded and stacked high. 
A procession of priests dressed in white sangkul putih comes around, carrying sheaves and trays and sprinkling tirtha from narrow glass bottles with tapered metal spouts. To me, these holy water dispensers look like the bottles for oil and vinegar at restaurants back home. The pemangku bless the participants and the gebogan with the tirtha. After the gods have enjoyed the essence of the gebogan, the family will enjoy the offerings at home.
The whole celebration is extremely beautiful and colorful, with everyone dressed in their finest, all the buildings elaborately decorated and piled with mounds of gebogan. The purpose of all this beauty and delicious food is to please the many different gods who have been invited to come from the holy mountain to the temple. Pak Win tells me that the word banten may come from the Sanskrit word bali, which means tribute, obligation or gift. Or it may be derived from enten, which means to wake up or be conscious. An offering is a conscious awareness of the gods. He says offerings also have the purpose of binding communities together. The constant stream of celebrations certainly brings people together to feel the joy of giving gifts to the gods and to enjoy each other's company, surrounded by beauty, music and entertainment.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

gold-green-red serpent

gold-green-red serpent
on a gold penjor reaching
from earth to heaven

          Three odalan in one day! The first is down the street in Made's family compound. Robin is sitting under a penjor which towers over the temple shrines. This decorative banner is an important part of every anniversary temple celebration. The narrow, tapering cloth is attached to a young bamboo pole, perhaps 8-10 meters high. The tall, arching penjor with its dangling streamers is designed to be seen clearly by visiting ancestors and gods from the holy mountain. The banner is decorated with a beautiful undulating design of a serpent with a green and gold body and red crests. His head is at the bottom of the banner, where food offerings are made, and his tail is at the top of the pole, where streamers are attached as another type of offering. The white and yellow material of the banners indicates that they are a holy offering.
          Other penjor are decorated with plaited coconut leaf streamers, called sampian. Offerings are placed in a little bamboo cage, called sanggah cucuk, dangling near the top. This is considered to be a temporary throne for the gods when they come to visit. Tall penjor are typical of Gianyar, the province where Nyuh Kuning is located. At the wedding we attended, there were two penjor, a tall one with a white banner representing the man and a short one with a yellow banner representing the woman.
     Robin leaves to visit Mangku Liyer to have an amulet made to protect her from the leyak sent by the witch. Pak Win sits with me and explains the symbolism of the penjor and its serpent design. The penjor represents the dominance of dharma over adharma, as well as an offering to the gods. The towering banner represents Gunung Agung, the highest and holiest mountain on Bali, and the mountain symbolizes the world, which is divided into three realms. Suarga or heaven is where Ida Sang Hyang Widi Wasa, "Great Almighty Lord," resides. Bhuwah Loka is the realm where humans live. Neraka or the underworld lies below Bhuwah Loka. In the beginning there was nothing but infinite, empty space. Ida Sang Hyang Widi Wasa asked all the other gods to come together on top of Mount Mahameru to create a new island called Bali, where the gods would be worshiped and given offerings until the end. The great world serpent Sang Hyang Ananta Boga supported the island from below, while the turtle god Sang Hyang Kuram Gni became the foundation and Badawang Nala became the underneath layer of earth on the island. This is why Bali is called the island of the gods.

Monday, September 26, 2011

a woodchuck shucking

a woodchuck shucking
acorns under an oak tree,
fattening for winter

     When I stop to visit my son who lives in town, a woodchuck is sitting on its haunches under an oak tree, shucking an acorn held in its paws, using its two sharp incisors to peel off the shell to get at the kernel. It doesn't stop when I get out and take its photo. I can almost hear it saying, "If you want an autograph, you'll have to wait until I'm done chowing down here." I have also observed a woodchuck gnawing the hard-shelled, oily shagbark hickory nuts so plentiful right now in our yard. However, unlike squirrels, they don't squirrel away nuts for the winter. This is because woodchucks don't eat in the winter. Instead, they hibernate from autumn to spring in a burrow dug below the frost line. During this time they can slow their breathing down to one breath per minute and their heart rate to four beats per minute, and they can lower their body temperature to conserve energy. This fellow is gorging on acorns to put on enough fat to last for seven or eight months. When it emerges in the spring, it has enough fat left until warmer weather produces the plant material that forms its main diet.
     With its short ears and legs, the woodchuck looks like a fat squirrel with a short tail or a beaver with a fluffy tail. This large rodent (Marmota monax) is also called groundhog, whistle-pig or land-beaver. It is actually a member of the ground squirrel family known as marmots. Unlike other marmots, who live in the mountains, the woodchuck lives in lowlands. But like its cousins, the groundhog likes to burrow, using its thick, curved claws to excavate tunnels and a burrow for sleeping, rearing young and hibernating. The nest chamber is lined with grasses, and there is another chamber for excrement. They can dig five feet down and thirty feet long, and move an enormous amount of dirt when digging a burrow. 
     We have a running battle with a series of groundhogs who have been undermining the gravel foundations of our house, workshop and garden shed. Catching them is tricky because, being mainly herbivores, they have plenty of food all around. We place a stick at what appears to be the main entrance, a round hole marked by a pile of gravel in front. At nightfall, we go back to see if the stick has been moved, which tells us that the groundhog is in its burrow. Then we cover the hole with the open end of a live trap and stake the wire cage down firmly. We also block any other escape holes we find. In the morning, when the groundhog exits the burrow, it trips the gate and gets caught in the trap. Then we take the woodchuck to Turkey Run, the nearest wildlife preserve, and let it go. 
     Woodchucks are usually solitary animals. The male will visit a female in her burrow for mating, but then return to his own burrow. If the burrow is abandoned, another groundhog may move in, or it may be used by red foxes, raccoons, striped skunks, cottontail rabbits or snakes.
     Like squirrels and prairie dogs, groundhogs will stand on their hind feet to watch for danger. When alarmed they will whistle to alert their fellows, hence the name whistle-pig. They also squeal when frightened and the hair on their tails sticks up, making it look bushier. Their primary foes in this area are coyotes, foxes, raccoons, dogs, hawks, owls and vehicles. To escape, they are able to climb trees or swim, but prefer to dive into their burrow.
     The name woodchuck is derived from wuchak, the Algonquian name for the animal. The similarity to "woodchuck" led to the familiar tongue-twister that I grew up with:
     How much wood would a woodchuck chuck
          if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
     A woodchuck would chuck all the wood he could
          if a woodchuck could chuck wood!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

blue bellied clouds fringed


blue bellied clouds fringed
with rain falling on dry fields
ready for harvest

   Two days past the autumn equinox. It's been so dry all summer that some of the fields are ready for harvest early. Last evening I could hear the low roar of a combine in the cornfield to the east. In the morning the field lies shorn. Cold mist swaddles the swales, coating everything with heavy dew. By noon, a patchwork of blue-bellied cumulus clouds covers the sky. 
     I get out of the pickup truck on a gravel road between cornfields leading to a farm. The pale husks, spotted and streaked with mildew, are pulling away from the ears, which are beginning to drop down on the dark red stalks. The dull brown dirt between the rows is dry and barren. Nothing but corn grows in this soil laced with pesticides and herbicides, except a few gray grasshoppers with yellow wings and one bristling green burr in the row at the edge of the field. Close to the farmhouse a wide swath has been combined, perhaps a test strip to determine the moisture content of the corn, which has to be dry before harvesting. The ground is littered with chopped stalks, shredded leaves, splayed husks, broken brick-red cobs and a few golden yellow kernels. Walking into the field, I am exposing myself to the chemical brew, but our meadow borders a field -- corn one year, soybeans the next -- and when the wind blows toward the house, we inhale toxins.
     In the evening I stop again at the same spot to watch the sunset. In the west the clouds have turned dark blue with a slanting fringe of rain falling through deep pink sky on the horizon. One of the clouds looks like a giant shark with a gaping mouth full of needle sharp teeth about to swallow some small sea creature. While I'm watching the sky show, the farmer turns in, stops and rolls down his window. "It's beautiful," I say, to explain what I'm doing parked on his road. "The cornfield, the clouds, the sunset." He smiles and nods, then asks me where I live, by way of establishing who I am. Since I'm a near neighbor, all is well. I ask him how the harvest is going. "I was going to do the field by the house tomorrow, but it's too wet." 
     Just down the road, a combine is working a field of soybeans. The green and yellow John Deere looks like some kind of gigantic insect with its wide rack of conical teeth combing through the rows. In the dusk, with lights flashing and huge knobby tires kicking up a stream of dust in the dry field, the driver hurries to beat the downpour.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

small cones of white rice

small cones of white rice
shaped with a banana leaf,
offerings to the gods

     The rising sun casts its light across the white marble platform of the communal bale. Ida Ayu has finished cooking the morning meal and now she is preparing canang sari, morning offerings. These will be presented to the gods and demons before anyone eats anything. Balinese believe that food comes from the gods, so eating food before offering a reciprocal gift is considered stealing from the gods and is a sin. The gods and demons enjoy the essence of the offerings and will reciprocate in turn, the gods with favors and the demons by staying away. Ida Ayu places the offerings wherever she feels the gods or demons need attention, such as the ancestral shrines, the shrines of different deities in the family temple, the woodworking shop, the motorcycle, the little shelf above my bed and the bare ground in front of the entry gate. The ones placed on the ground are for demons and are usually snapped up by street dogs, but not before the demons enjoy their essence.
     Ida Ayu shows me how to make little white cones by pressing the cooked rice into a curled up banana leaf with a point at one end. The rice cones represent the holy mountains, especially Gunung Agung, the highest mountain in Bali and the abode of the gods. This mountain connects the upper world with the middle world and the underworld, and provides life-giving streams of water. Ida Ayu places each finished white cone on a bamboo tray. Later she transfers them to small offering trays made of coconut leaf or banana leaf held together with bamboo picks. Each offering is a little work of art and carries with it a deep feeling of devotion born of long practice. Sitting with Ida Ayu on the bale, I sink into the soothing rhythm of making these beautiful offerings together in silence. 

Friday, September 23, 2011

wrinkled green hedge apples

wrinkled green hedge apples
bowing down the spiny boughs
of the Osage Orange

     The cellar of my grandparent's farmhouse was dark, musty and spooky, so of course we liked to go down there, creeping through cobwebs and listening for the sound of things skittering in the darkness. We were fascinated by the hedge apples that looked like green brains lined up along the foundation. Grandma said that ripe hedge apples scared off bugs. My chemist father said that was just an old wive's tale and, sure enough, we saw plenty of spiders, cockroaches and pill bugs in that cellar. But when I grew up and had my own place in the Flint Hills of Kansas, I put hedge apples around the foundation of our 1840s limestone farmhouse.
     Though round and green, the hedge apple is not an apple. It is also not an orange, although the tree is called Osage Orange (Maclura pomifera). The large, dense, wrinkled ball is actually an aggregate fruit composed of many one-seeded druplets. It looks a bit like an overgrown green mulberry, to which it is related. If you smash one on the ground, it splinters into many shards, releasing a milky juice. The tree is native to the Red River Valley area of southeastern Oklahoma and northeastern Texas, home of the Osage tribe. The "orange" part of "Osage Orange" comes from the orange-peel smell of the skin. Another name for the tree is "bowwood." The wood is so strong and dense that it will not rot or succumb to termites for decades. The Osage used it for archery bows and many archers still consider it the finest wood in the world for bows. Early settlers used it for fence posts. The tree transplants easily and tolerates poor soil, extreme heat and strong winds. In the mid-nineteenth century, Midwestern farmers planted the trees as a living fence. The name "hedge apple" comes from the practice of pruning the tree into a hedge so that the thorny branches form a natural livestock barrier that had to be "horse high, bull strong and hog tight." This practice stopped with the introduction of barbed wire in the 1880s, but many of the old trees can still be found in fence rows here in Iowa and others have naturalized in pastures and along gravel roads.
     We live south of a road called Osage, but there are no Osage Orange trees growing along that road. Perhaps they were cut down. I feel fortunate that we have several growing along our boundary line. The female tree bears bounteous hedge apples every year, which are so heavy that the thorny branches bend low. Squirrels love the seeds. They sit patiently on the ground to rip apart the tough, stringy fruit and chew through the slimy husk to get at each individual seed, leaving a messy pile of shredded hedge apple. Only the seeds are edible by humans, but most of us don't have the patience of a squirrel.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

orange milkweed beetles

orange milkweed beetles
on warty gray pods bursting
with tufted brown seeds

    Milkweeds typically grow six to seven feet tall, but they are much shorter this year because of the drought. The plant has a deep root system so it can handle droughts quite well, though some of them did not produce any seed pods and the plants show more insect damage than usual. The orange beetles with black spots congregating on the warty pods are one of many insects that feed on milkweeds. Some eat the leaves and others, like these, pierce the pod to feed on the seeds. Milkweed beetles use the toxins contained in the plants as a chemical defense and their bright coloration advertises their inedibility. Despite the drought and insect damage, the pods are bursting with hundreds of brown seeds, each attached to a silken tuft for distribution by wind. That is, if it can escape getting caught in the bracts of goldenrod growing all around.
     Farmers are not fond of milkweeds. The sticky, hard-to-remove plant can be a nuisance in grain fields. But during World War II, the lowly Common Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa, played an important role as a military commodity. In the days before synthetics, life preservers were stuffed with kapok, the seed floss from the silk-cotton tree, Ceiba pentandra, which grows on the islands of the Philippines and Indonesia. During the 1940s, the Japanese fleet captured Java and the Philippines, and the Allies lost their source of kapok. An ideal local substitute turned out to be milkweed floss. The silken tuft attached to each seed is a hollow, wax-coated, flexible fiber six times lighter than wool. A pound and half of milkweed floss would keep a 150-pound sailor afloat for 10 hours. Sailors fondly called these life vests "Mae Wests," a reference to one of their favorite pinup girls. 
     During the war years, milkweed pods were collected by farmers, church groups, civic clubs and school children. Botanists around the country helped coordinate the collection and shipping of the pods to a processing plant in Petoskey, Michigan. During 1944 and 1945, more than 25 million pounds of wild-collected milkweed pods, enough to fill 700 freight train cars, were collected. The company ended up producing over two million pounds of floss before the war ended, in cotton-sized bales that weighed a scant 200 pounds.
     When the war ended, the resumption of cheap, imported kapok ended the demand for milkweed floss, but interest in milkweed never completely died out. In 1989 Natural Fibers Corp. of Ogallala, Nebraska, began manufacturing hypoallergenic fill for pillows. In 2005 the company received a shipment of dried pods grown on five acres near Macomb, Illinois, by the Western Illinois Agricultural Field Lab. Harvested with a snap bean picker, the milkweeds produced 700 to 900 pounds per acre of floss. 
     Milkweed, sometimes considered a nuisance weed, turns out to be a war hero and an ideal crop for the small farmer.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

rural mailboxes

rural mailboxes
stand in a row before rows
of withered field corn

     Farmers are saying they've lost a third of their crop to the long summer drought. The corn stalks began drying from the ground up way too early and soon withered completely. Now the carefully planted rows wait for the combine to harvest the desiccated crop.
     One thing farmers can be thankful for is Rural Free Delivery (RFD). It's been around for so long that it's hard to imagine what life was like before the US post office began delivering mail directly to farm families in 1896. Before the service was introduced, farmers had to pick up their mail at a distant post office or pay a private company for delivery. Free mail delivery in cities began in 1863 but the National Grange had to lobby for decades to get the service extended to rural areas.
     The 1890s saw the burgeoning of the mail order business, aided by the postal service, which classified their publications as aids in the dissemination of knowledge, entitling catalogs to the postage rate of one cent per pound. The advent of RFD made distribution of the catalog to rural areas economical, opening up a whole new world for isolated farm families. 
     The 1894 Sears Roebuck catalog claimed to be a "Book of Bargains: A Money Saver for Everyone" and the "Cheapest Supply House on Earth." It sold tools, saddles, buggies, bicycles, firearms, sporting goods, sewing machines, musical instruments, baby carriages, ear trumpets, and men's and children's clothing. It was said that farmers only read two books, and you could buy the Bible in the Sears Roebuck catalog. When parcel post delivery was added in 1931, mail order merchandise could be delivered directly to farm families. 
     My grandparents lived on a farm in Southern Illinois and I can still remember the excitement when the thick Sears Roebuck winter catalog was delivered to their mailbox. We kids drooled over the toys, marking our favorites for Christmas. Santa Claus ran the original Rural Free Delivery service, but only once a year.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

sawa terraces

sawa terraces
undulate around the slopes,
sparkling in the sun

Ida Bagus has invited me to go to Tegalalang, northeast of Ubud, to see the beautiful rice terraces. His young daughter joins us for the trip. It has started raining, unusual in mid-July.  Ida Bagus is building another woodcarving shop just below the road on a steep hill overlooking the sawa terraces. The bright green terraces undulate gracefully around the contours of the mountain slopes, the water in the paddies sparkling in the sun. The shop is surrounded by tapioca and sweet potato plants, and tall coconut and mango trees and one tree with fringed leaves. 

As soon as I get out of the car with my camera, two toothless old men carrying baskets of coconuts on shoulder poles ask if I want to take their photo. Ida Bagus warns me that they will ask for money. "How much?" I ask. 20,000 Rp (about $2). They ask for 20,000, then 10,000. I have to borrow small money from Ida Bagus. I also take his photo as he stands in his shop, giving me a thumb's up. "How much you charge me?" I joke. He has me borrow one of the men's palm frond hats to stand in the rain. The old guy tries to sell it to me. I pull out my ratty straw and ask if he wants to trade. We all laugh. Ida Bagus goes to the little warung for cookies and drinks, Fanta orange for me, coffee for the men. He hands out cookies to passing farmers, to make friends. One of the farmers climbs an 80-foot coconut tree like a frog to bring down one baby coconut for a large banten offering. I feel almost guilty taking a photo and not paying, but it is the end of the roll so it might not turn out anyway. 

We sit in the sawdust and his daughter "sands" wood with a scrap of wood while Ida Bagus tells me his story. He is from a poor mountain family, no land, no rice fields, so they had to buy rice and try to find work all over. His father's nephew had no father, so Ida Bagus' father felt obliged to help the boy. He says land is very expensive near Ubud, 300,000 Rp for 1 are, about 30' x 30'. This is about $33, an entire month's earnings. He says the people in the mountains cut down their clove trees when Suharto drove the prices down and planted coffee, but now cloves have gone from 3,000 Rp/k to 85,000 Rp/k. He would like to buy land when his shops do well enough. 

Ida Bagus pulls down a black and white ceremonial sash hanging from a rafter and ties it around his waist over his white shirt. Even though he is casually dressed in blue jeans, the sash allows him to make canang offerings at a crude platform set up in the corner of the foundation. He has to do this every day during construction. His daughter stands nearby, watching carefully. He says she is already good at making offerings. When we get home I give him 20,000 Rp for gas, photo, treats. He tries to refuse, but not very hard.

Monday, September 19, 2011

inside the black box

inside the black box
a woman gazes through books
reflected in glass

My mother met my father when they both worked for their college yearbook. They got married in 1939 and started having kids in 1942. We have lots of black and white pictures of us from those early childhood years, which may have been taken with a Kodak camera like this one.
The Kodak Vigilant Junior Six-20 was a folding camera made in the USA and Canada by Eastman Kodak Company from 1940 to 1948. It took 6x9cm images on 620 roll film. It has a folding frame finder incorporated into its top housing and another optical finder near the shutter. It was similar to the Kodak Vigilant Six-20, but with a simpler lens and shutter. There was also a larger model, the Vigilant Junior Six-16. The camera was equipped with a simple fixed focus, single speed Kodet meniscus lens (approximately 1/100 sec, plus B- and T-settings) in a Dak shutter with f-stops from f/12.5, f/16, f/22 and f/32. It was also made with a better three-element Bimat lens in a Dakon shutter.
My first camera did not look like this cool Kodak. It was a Roy Rogers and Trigger snap shot box camera, made in 1950 by the Herbert George Company of Chicago. The camera used 620 film. It did not have the nifty bellows, but I loved it because Roy Rogers was my hero. He sent me a photo of himself when I was in the hospital in 1948 for third degree burns. This happened when my cowgirl outfit caught on fire while my older sister and I were playing "campfire" near a trash incinerator. The autograph said, "Always be good for Roy Rogers."

Sunday, September 18, 2011

old cars, new cars

old cars, new cars, 
rusted, repainted, remodeled,
running on grease cars

The streets around the town square have been blocked off for Fairfield's annual car show. It's raining, a light, chilly rain, but that hasn't stopped people from wandering around, gawking at the collection of cars and trucks. There are vehicles of many makes and models, most with their hoods open to show off the engines. Some are in original mint condition, like the graceful 1932 Ford with its running boards, the grinning 1939 Mercury (the first year Mercury came out) and the red 1957 Chevy Bel Air 4-door with its famous tail fins. The rusted humpback 1947 Pontiac Streamliner 4-door has not been remodeled, yet somehow it carries a dignity not seen in the 1913 Ford T-bucket with its hotrod remake and flame paint job. One of the remodeled vehicles, a custom batwing, displays originality in design. The Oliver Built "That's How We Roll" car, converted to run on grease, shows originality in function, as well as a sense of humor. "You don't have to be Big to run with the Big Dogs!" is painted above the NNNNFUN license plate and a fake eyeball stuck inside a side window has one young boy pointing and laughing. 

Saturday, September 17, 2011

a trio of motor

a trio of motor
trikes parked under the flag and
peeling paint shadows

On my way to Revelations, I pass my favorite peeling paint shadows under the American flag hanging in a bay window. What to my wondering eyes should appear but a trio of trike motorcycles, like giant red, green and gold toys left by Santa Claus, though nothing like my first little red Christmas trike. I walk over to admire the beautiful machines, each one a customized work of art. The cherry red trike has a black leather seat for one, a steering wheel and an enclosed front wheel. It looks more like a sports car than a motorcycle. The side windshield is plastered with stickers: a traditional American flag, a wavy American flag, an American flag peace symbol, an American flag caduceus, and a red Allstate Insurance symbol. The other two have handlebars like a regular motorcycle. The sparkly gold trike has a low seat for the driver and a back seat for two, both in argyle-patterned black and tan leather, and an eight-ball gear shift knob. The shamrock green trike has a low black leather driver's seat and a single higher seat with a headrest. This one is called "Lucky Trike" and features leprechauns with gold coins painted on each side, plus a four leaf clover design on the roll bar. All three are delta trikes, with a single wheel in front, rather than tadpole trikes with two wheels in front. They've all got Jefferson County license plates, so I figure they're local folks. My Irish luck sends me out of Revelations just in time to catch the owners getting ready to mount their mounts. They're wearing black leather jackets, of course, and look like old hippies. I blurt out, "I love your trikes! We have an electric three-wheel car. It's classified as a motorcycle. We had to take the Zap over to Mt. Pleasant to get a motorcycle license. The guy who gave us the test had a Harley jacket and a POW headscarf. He said, 'What's the world coming to when motorcycles don't make any noise? How are you going to be heard in traffic?' I said, 'Cowbells?' And he rolled his eyes." The three men and one woman listen with straight faces. One of the men says, "We're doing a gig at Jefferson County Park tomorrow night. Come on out and bring your electric car." Then they pull on their black leather gloves and roar off into the night.

Friday, September 16, 2011

a lion Barong guards

a lion Barong guards
the door to the treasures of
Puri Lukisan

As we approach Puri Lukisan, "Palace of Paintings," we are greeted by an ornately carved and gilded wooden doorway, topped by a guardian lion Barong with a Balinese dancer on its head. Robin says the style of the building and gardens is traditional Balinese, with lots of stone, marble, wood, bamboo and sago palm thatch. Inside, the museum houses a collection of modern Balinese paintings and sculpture from 1930 to the present. Lukisan Ratna Wartha Museum was inspired by Dutch artist Rudolf Bonnet (1895-1978), who arrived in Bali in 1927, and his friend Tjokorda Gde Agung Sukawati (1917-1978), the former prince of Ubud. They formed a foundation in 1936 called Pita Maha to collect Balinese art and support Balinese artists. The museum, designed by Bonnet and located in central Ubud, opened in 1956.
          Inside, we look up at a trapezoidal bamboo ceiling with a winged Garuda guardian hovering above our heads. Even though the art in the museum is modern, many of the images and themes are taken from traditional Balinese culture. In one of the rooms, I admire a winged Garuda painting by I Gusti Kobot (1917-1999). Kobot began his career making traditonal Wayang Kulkit, leather puppets, before he started to paint on paper and cloth. Although his style is based on puppet iconography and epic mythology, it is still highly individualistic, with softer colors and less stylized figures, due to the influence of Bonnet.
          Outside, I am drawn to a trio of wood sculptures by I Ketut Muja (b. 1945). Muja began his sculpting career as a child by fashioning souvenirs for tourists from wooden roots. Each root, shaped by nature, creates an impression, which Muja brings out by carving it into a statue. This type of free-form sculpture was also influenced by Bonnet.
          Wherever I go in Bali, I feel like I am walking through an art gallery. The Balinese love of beauty is everywhere, from the smallest ceremonial canang offering to the biggest carved stone puri temple. All of it, even the modern art, reflects a deep connection with the natural and spiritual worlds. I am happy to see that Puri Lukisan preserves the best of this outpouring of Balinese creativity.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

a water-loving

a water-loving
willow spreads branches and roots
toward the river

One of my favorite childhood memories is of a weeping willow that grew on the bank beside an Ozark creek where our family often vacationed in a log cabin that belonged to some friends. The wife was an artist and she painted a watercolor of my older sister and me under the willow. I am sitting cross-legged, reading a book, and my sister is standing, fishing with a bamboo pole. This early memory comes sweeping back whenever I see a willow. So when we arrive at Hruska's Canoe Livery, I am pleased to discover that the campground on the bank of the Oneota River is shaded by many willow trees. However, these are not weeping willows and they don't look like the wild willows with contorted trunks and low, widespread branches that grow along the river. Our shuttle driver tells us it's an Austree, an import from Australia. He calls it a "dirty" tree because it litters the ground with lots of little branches. I find out later that the Austree was widely planted in Australia to control erosion along waterways because they grow quickly with wide-spreading roots. However, it is now considered an invasive weed and is being removed and replaced with native trees. Many homeowners can attest to the problem of aggressive, moisture-seeking willow roots that clog drains and septic systems. Still, they are beautiful trees and they have a very important medicinal use. The leaves and bark of the willow tree have been used for thousands of years for aches and fevers. The active ingredient, salicin, turns into salicylic acid, the precursor of aspirin, in the human body. This brings back another childhood memory. My father always kept a huge bottle of aspirin in the medicine cabinet. He considered it a cure for everything from tummy ache to tantrums.