Wednesday, November 30, 2011

rice barn house built of

rice barn house built of 
bamboo, wood, sago palm and
many memories

After an exhausting afternoon following the girls around Ubud shopping, we return to find a worried Robin, back from the printer's shop hours earlier. She shows us sample books with beautiful handmade paper, for the poetry books she and I are both publishing here. She says the printer will give us price quotes tomorrow. I wonder if "tomorrow" is a relative a term, meaning anywhere from tomorrow to two morrows to many morrows.
          Robin takes us to their family house in a compound up the road from where we're staying in Nyuh Kuning. It is absolutely gorgeous, built in the style of a Lumbung, a traditional rice barn, with a wide ladder to the first floor. It's made with all natural materials -- bamboo, wood, sago palm thatched roof -- though the carved and gilded doors would not be found in a real rice barn. The kitchen is in a separate two-story building and the bathroom in another one-story structure. They are renting the house to an Italian woman who has a boyfriend living with her, so we can't stay there. It sure would be nice, but not sure it would be good for Robin anyway, with the witch next door. We peak in the storage shed and Robin picks through the piles of stuff, filled with memories.
          I take a cold water bucket bath and meditate before supper. Then we take Robin back to the Thai restaurant where we had lunch. Baby Z crashes before the food is served. D's long-haired male friend from Sai-Sai Bar shows up and the three girls go off to another bar. I carry baby Z halfway to C's car parked down by Monkey Forest and she carries her the other half. That kid is heavy when she's out! 
          Robin wakes me up after midnight, crying out, "Who's there?" Then she goes out to chat with the girls when they come in at 1. I manage to sleep until 3, despite the sounds of laughter outside the door, dogs barking, cicadas chirping, frogs croaking and one confused rooster crowing long before dawn. I wonder how long it will take for my circadian rhythm to adjust to this equatorial, other-side-of-the-world cycle.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

fried coconut rice

fried coconut rice
and yellow bananas served 
with spicy stories

On my first morning in Bali, I wake up at 4:30. Robin and I walk to the corner store to buy breakfast: fried coconut rice and small yellow bananas. I learn the words for three of the most ubiquitous foods in Bali: nasi, rice, kuning, coconut, and pisang, banana. And I am charmed to discover that the name of our village, Nyuh Kuning, means golden coconut. On the way there and back, Robin is greeted by everyone she sees. Each time she says, "I caught her baby," and oohs and aahs over the children.
          We are invited into one family compound and afterwards she tells me the story of the "walking stick man." She was called in by the family because the man was dying. "What's wrong?" she asked. No one would say. "Pull down his pants." If they won't say, she explains, it's regarding their privates. The man's penis was infected, his testicles the size of a melon and hard as a rock. The man, a Hindu, had gone to a Muslim doctor for a urinary infection and the doctor told him he needed to be circumcised. But in the process he cut off the tip of the man's penis. Robin pumped him full of antibiotics and the man lived.
          Robin has many stories, but if she's telling one while we're walking, I don't always hear the end because we're interrupted by a new, long-lost embrace. She always introduces me as "guru meditation Hindu America." This seems to impress a lot of people. Her granddaughter wants to learn Transcendental Meditation.
          We stop to look around her clinic. Everything is deteriorating. Only one room shows signs of use. Her car is a junk heap, every window broken, the tires sunk into the dirt. Robin doesn't drive, so she asked me to get an international driver's license so I could drive her around. After seeing the traffic and road conditions, I'm glad I don't have to do that. 
          Robin says the trashed car is connected with a woman who had been her "best friend," who lived next door to their house in the same family compound. She was a Brahmin who married a Shudra, reputedly killed her husband with black magic (he drowned mysteriously) and then had many affairs with married men. Yesterday, Robin went back to visit their house, rented out since they left Bali to return to the US. The widow greeted Robin with a hug. Others in the compound came in tears, asking if Robin wanted them to throw the woman out. She said no, but she is very upset by the encounter and the flood of emotions wrapped around the past.
          I am quickly learning that Bali is not paradise. They have the same problems and traumas as anyone else. Perhaps the difference is that they are very open about situations (except anything having to do with privates) as well as their feelings.

Monday, November 28, 2011

crossing meridians

crossing meridians,
unraveled consciousness slow
to pick up stitches

Indira's huge smile outside Bali Ngurah Rai International Airport above the sign with the big letters spelling my name is a big relief. I had been waiting for my ride for over an hour, longer than was comfortable. At least the taxi drivers were not persistent. I am hot and sweaty and in that thin consciousness after 40 hours traveling, losing track of the comforting regularity of day and night, sleeping when they turn down the lights, eating when served.
          I spend the last "night" on a carpeted window ledge in the Singapore Airport, blessing my earplugs. When I wake and take them out at 6 am (their time), it is to hear the gruesome details of a manhunt for a serial murderer of young, long-haired women. I flee the transit lounge. 
          Actually, I manage to sleep on the plane 4 hours at a stretch, thanks to getting a seat by the exit with room to stretch my legs and only one person next to me, a nice young girl who didn't snore. I made the seat change in San Francisco, with two Malaysian girls who were new and a supercilious French supervisor, but he did give me what I asked for. I sit next to a history professor from North Carolina going to Bali for R&R between research on 17th century Portuguese in Macao, India and the Philippines. He talks the whole way. I mention my sister's Fulbright Scholarship to Russia, working with alcohol prevention. He tells me he's a recovered alcoholic, has a list of meetings for all over the world, does Hatha Yoga, is interested in meditation, separated, shows photos of his kids.
          Going through customs, they make me open my small suitcase, looking for CDs. I should have changed money in the airport: 11,500/1 for $100s. I do change $20 before looking for a phone to call Robin. Fortunately, I turn left and see my sign at last. An hour ride to Nyuh Kuning, four lane for awhile. We get pulled over by the police and I catch the driver slipping money to the cop while he is looking at the driver's license. "How much did you have to give him?" I ask. "Normal," about $1. Of course, like India in more ways than religion. The roads get narrower as we go, past endless stone carving shops, then wood carving shops. Everything is very ornate and orange.
          At Pondok Frog, the family compound of of wood carvers, I meet Ida Bagus, the village priest, his wife and their sons and grandchildren. We're staying in three rooms, each with a squat toilet and cold water faucet on the other side of a partition from the bamboo bed. Robin and I are in one room, the girls in the other two. Robin gives me the bed, over which I put my pop-up mosquito net. She puts my inflatable Camprest mat on the floor, with no mosquito net. One bare compact florescent bulb and a nice flower arrangement in a little niche. So much like other places I have visited, Senegal, the Philippines, Nepal, India.
          We walk through the Monkey Forest Sanctuary on a narrow, slanting road. No monkeys, only a line of women going to a ceremony in a temple, carrying towering fruit offerings, expensive and showy. Robin says they get to take one home, though not their own. At the other end in Ubud, we wait half an hour until G. picks us up for supper at a Japanese restaurant. G's husband, S., picks up the tab. They are the American couple who paid for Robin to come back from the US to deliver their baby. I order sashimi and a glass of beer and, on top of travel fatigue, I almost pass out. Back at our room, I crash at 9, sleep until 2 am. My inner clock thinks it's daytime. I sit up, meditate, fall asleep again, unraveled consciousness slow to pick up dropped stitches. 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

near Avebury Manor

near Avebury Manor
walking through a crop circle
as it starts to rain 

Last night we went to the Crop Circle Gallery just south of the train tracks to watch a documentary: "Thrive: What on Earth Will It Take?" Part of the sleuthing producer Forest Gamble takes us on includes crop circles. We are sitting in a small room surrounded by photographs of the beautiful graphics that appear in crops all over the world, especially in England. While we wait for the video to play, I scan the aerial photographs, arranged by year, until my eyes come to rest on one that appeared near Avebury Manor in July 2008. It's actually two circles, created about a week apart, that appear to depict our solar system and another planet. And then I remember; I was there.
          We have just finished walking around the amazing Avebury ring, the oldest stone ring known to be in existence anywhere in the world. Created between 2600 and 2500 BC, it is older than Stonehenge. As we are driving away, I spot some people out in the middle of a wheat field and I immediately think it must be a crop circle. Sure enough, when we join the people in one of the flattened areas, we see circles and lines running off in all directions. The circle is so huge that it's hard to figure out what the design is from ground level. The area feels charged with energy, yet serene at the same time. I want to sit on the carefully laid-down wheat and meditate, but It's starting to rain and we have miles to go to our next stop. Reluctantly, I leave the magic space, carrying with me the memory of my first and only experience of a crop circle.
          As we drive away, I ponder the conjunction of the ancient stone circle and the out-of-this-world crop circle, both created by who knows who, and I wonder, what on Earth will it take for us to fathom these mysteries?

misty gray morning

misty gray morning --
wild turkey flying overhead, 
barred wings and tail outspread

Driving down the gravel hill, I nearly hit a wild tom turkey when he flies up over the truck at a low angle. I just have time to take a mental snapshot of white barred wing feathers outspread, chestnut tufted tail fanned out, long tuft of feathers on his chest hanging down, legs bent, toes curled up, bumpy red head craning forward.
      Wild turkeys will fly to escape danger and also to roost in trees, often over water for added protection. Amazing that anything that big (2.5-11 kg or 5-24 lbs and 76-125 cm or 30"-49") can fly at all, but they are actually fantastic fliers for short distances. They can take-off like helicopters, going almost straight up. And when they fly straight ahead, they go fast. A wild turkey was clocked at 55 miles per hour. It's an inspiration for those of us who yearn to fly, not in some contraption but under our own power. In addition to their flying skills, wild turkeys can dash up to 18 miles per hour for a short sprint, faster than an Olympic runner. 
          After the Great Seal was adopted by Congress in 1782, with the Bald Eagle in the center, Benjamin Franklin expressed his opinion in a letter to his daughter that "the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America." Native Americans refer to the Wild Turkey as the Southern Eagle and it played a large part in their culture. It was a favorite food (eggs and meat) of Eastern tribes, who also wore turkey feather headdresses and cloaks. Whenever I find a turkey feather lying beside the path in the woods, I imagine Benjamin Franklin, stationed in France, writing that letter to his daughter in Pennsylvania with a turkey quill pen.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

riding in a wagon

riding in a wagon
lit up for Christmas, drawn by 
a pair of Clydesdales

The day after Thanksgiving, the town square gets all lit up for Christmas. The whole place looks like fairyland and everyone is in a festive mood. People wait in line for a free ride around the square in a big red wagon decorated with colored lights, drawn by a pair of Clydesdale horses. A little boy counts the reindeer pulling Santa's sleigh going round and round in the bandstand. Young children with their parents line up outside a little red hut for their turn to sit on Santa's lap and whisper what they want for Christmas. The days grow shorter, the nights longer and the weather colder, but holiday cheer warms the heart.

Friday, November 25, 2011

curling paper sheets

curling paper sheets
on a peeling river birch
growing by the Kaw

The cinnamon-colored, exfoliating bark of the River Birch is spectacular in the winter, after its spade-shaped, double-toothed leaves have turned yellow and fallen. Long reddish-brown male catkins dangle from the bare branches. They will stay on the tree all winter and will pollinate the plump green female catkins that grow in the spring. The fruit is a tiny cone filled with winged seeds that travel by wind and water. As the name suggests, the River Birch usually grows near water, on sandbars and islands, stream banks, lake shores, swamps and floodplains. This 80-foot double-trunk specimen is growing in the rich, moist, alluvial floodplain of the Kaw River. 
          Although the soft wood is not useful for timber, the tree has many other uses. Many different birds eat the seeds, Whitetail Deer eat the leaves and twigs, Cottontail Rabbits eat the saplings, North American Beavers eat the bark, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, tree squirrels and insects drink the sap. Native Americans boiled the sap into a syrup and used the inner bark as a survival food. The River Birch does not live long, but it grows fast, up to 25 m (80 feet) tall, and its beautiful bark makes it a popular ornamental tree.  

two orange wheelbarrows

two orange wheelbarrows
a pair of old wagon wheels
maple leaves turning

The garden has been put to bed. Maple leaves, turning orange, are falling to the ground around twin wheelbarrows propped against the fence, their labor of hauling seedlings, mulch and harvest finished for the season. 
          A pair of antique wagon wheels lean against the trunk of the maple tree. Perhaps they once turned under a mid-nineteenth-century Prairie Schooner as part of a wagon train bringing pioneers west. Also known as a Conestoga wagon, the covered wagon was designed like a boat, to help it cross rivers and streams, with a white cover that resembled a sail as the wagon moved through waves of tall grass. 
          A yellow Caution sign on the shed next door warns: MINIMUM MAINTENANCE TRAVEL AT YOUR OWN RISK. Certainly the emigrants traveled at their own risk as they followed the deeply rutted Santa Fe Trail from the Missouri River across the plains. The covered wagons, used for transporting household goods, farm equipment and food stores, had no suspension, so most people walked. The pioneers were challenged by lack of food and water, lack of shelter during lightning storms that might spook the livestock, wagons that leaked during river crossings or got stuck in the mud, fatal rattlesnake bites, and raids by Comanches and Apaches in their territories. 
          Now this pair of old wagon wheels, no longer turning along the trail, are slowly turning to rust, while the upturned wheelbarrows rest their black rubber tires for a long winter's break.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

passing the turkey

passing the turkey
dancing to an old favorite
reading the paper

"Every day should be a day of thanksgiving for the gifts of life; sunshine, water, and the luscious fruits and greens that are indirect gifts of the Great Giver."
          ~ Paramahansa Yogananda

Once a year we gather to celebrate these gifts and more; the love and companionship of family and friends, eating together, singing and dancing together, sitting quietly together.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

golden heartstrings

golden heartstrings
in a butternut heart cave
protect the ripe seeds

For Thanksgiving dinner I am preparing a casserole with layers of Butternut squash, Gala apples and cranberries. With a cleaver I slice open the squash from stem to stern, exposing the firm orange-gold flesh. I notice, for the first time it seems, that the seed-filled cavity is shaped like a heart. 
          The American tradition of Thanksgiving is a wonderful celebration of the heart. Family and friends gather together for a feast commemorating the first Thanksgiving, when the Pilgrims gave thanks to God for their safe arrival in the New World. The first feast provided food for 13 Pilgrims and 90 Native Americans and lasted three days. Perhaps this is why the official holiday, proclaimed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, was set for a Thursday, conveniently providing us with a long weekend to consume the leftovers. 
          The first feast consisted of fish, shellfish, wild fowl (including our traditional turkey), venison, vegetables, berries and fruit, grains, and the Three Sisters: dried Indian maize (or corn), beans and squash. My casserole includes squash, apples and cranberries, called sassamanash by Native Americans, who may have introduced them to the Pilgrims. 
         In addition to the squash, I am baking pinto beans and tomorrow I will pop some Chief Appanoose popcorn. This tiny, hull-less popcorn is named for the chief of the Sauk tribe in the early 19th century. Appanoose means "a chief when a child," indicating that his position was inherited. He was one of the "peace chiefs" sent to Washington, D.C. in 1837. The Sauk ("yellow earth people") and their relatives the Meskwaki ("red earth people") shared this heirloom variety of popcorn with a pioneer family in Iowa in the 1850s, and it was grown on the family farm for generations. The last quart of this flavorful popcorn was nearly lost in the 1970s, but enough was saved for planting. One more thing to be thankful for!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

near Osceola

near Osceola
a nest in a cherry tree with
one broken blue egg

Late November, Cornelian cherries hang on the tree, attracting birds with their bright red color. I, too, am drawn to the clusters of vermilion fruit. And so I spot, through the branches bare of leaves, an old Robin's nest. In the bottom, nestled in the grass lining, one blue egg, pecked open, the remains of yolk lacquering the inside of the shell. Winter winds will blow the nest to the ground. Its crumbling contents -- mud, grass, egg shell, dried yolk -- will become mulch for the grass that will line another nest in the spring.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

out in the wopwops

out in the wopwops
walking the white sand beach of
Manapouri Lake

South of Te Anau, we stop at Manapouri, the second-deepest lake in New Zealand, surrounded by blue mountains. The lake is deserted, not a house or boat in sight, no sign of human presence anywhere. It feels like we are out in the wopwops, the middle of nowhere, but our guide tells us that Frasers Beach close to town is a popular tourist attraction and the lake is used to generate hydroelectricity. I am glad we are the only humans wandering this remote white sand beach.

kekeno sleeping

kekeno sleeping
on the sun-warm rocks, diving
deep in dreams for fish

Kekeno is the Maori name for the southern fur seal, a hardy animal that dives deeper and longer than any other fur seal. Strong swimmers, they love to explore and from a young age will venture all around New Zealand and as far as Australia. The fur seal was once hunted by Europeans in the 1900s but is now protected.

During our boat tour of Milford Sound, we are fortunate to observe a group of kekeno sunning on a large boulder. The one in the middle with her flippers spread wide looks like she's flying, and indeed these seals are graceful both in and out of the water.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

at Koekohe beach

at Koekohe beach
round Moeraki boulders
huddle in the sand

On the Otago coast we visit the astonishing and beautiful Moeraki Boulders. 

They look like giant grey turtles resting on the sand. 

Our geologist guide explains that the large boulders are septarian concretions that took 4 to 5.5 million years to grow on the Paleocene sea floor as mud, silt and clay were cemented together with calcite into spheres as large as 3 meters (10 feet). Large cracks called septaria that formed in the boulders were filled in my brown and yellow cacite, dolomite and quartz. Eons later, erosion of the mudstone exposed the boulders, leaving them high but not quite dry on the beach.

I have seen similar boulders at Rock City in Ottawa County, Kansas, although the American cousins are much bigger, 3-6 meters (10-20 feet), and formed from sandstone on what was then a coastal plain. I wonder if one of these will fit in my backpack.

          The Māori, the first humans to behold these marvelous boulders, have a different explanation for their origin. Their legend tells of a large sailing canoe, an Arai-te-uru, which wrecked on the rocks. The boulders are the eel baskets, calabashes and kumara (sweet potatoes) that washed ashore. The nearby rocky shoals and promontory are the petrified hull of the canoe and the body of the canoe captain.
          I have my own theory about how these septarian concretions came to be. They were built out of concrete by gnomes, each one taking 70 years to construct, and were abandoned when the beach became a tourist attraction.

kundow books

kundow books and
collectables, all prices firm, 
no offers taken

Everything a collector could possibly want: from a Grant Wood's "American Gothic" poster, books by children's writer Enid Blyton, ceramic and metal teapots, crochet dolls, WW II trucks, to the kitchen sink. A handwritten sign lays out the ground rules: all prices firm, no offers taken. Browsing through the amazing collection, I find a pair of Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus salt and pepper shakers, which I buy for my sister and her husband who dress up as Mr. & Mrs. Claus every Christmas. It's going to be a challenge to get them back to Iowa (where Grant Wood painted "American Gothic") in my stuffed backpack, all that I brought on this New Zealand camping adventure, but I couldn't pass them up. A find is a find, especially if you find it halfway around the world.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

boys playing outside

boys playing outside
the kori agung guarded by
barong and dragons

Three boys dressed in jeans and T-shirts are playing outside the kori agung, the roofed tower gate of a Balinese pura, a walled, open-air temple. The casual dress of the boys contrasts with the formality and intricate design of the gate with its guardian barong above the carved and gilded double wooden doors, the undulating stone dragons flowing up the pyramidal sides, and the two guardian statues dressed in red, white and black checkered cloth on either side of the steps.

Monday, November 14, 2011

in a small pasture

in a small pasture
young bull and little black horse
grazing side by side

The miniature black horse and one of the twin bulls are cropping the long grass right by the fence, so I stop to say hello. The other bull retreats behind the brush pile when I get out of the truck, but the two by the fence continue grazing. They look up when I approach. The young bull backs off a little when I get closer, but the little black horse stands still, sniffing the air. She is shorter than the fence, so I reach over and down to scratch behind her ears where the halter rubs. Her forelock is matted with a strand of burrs. I pull some long grass and feed it to her, wishing I'd brought some apples. She consumes the grass, snuffles my hand, and then rubs the side of her head against the wire fence. The young bull, less wary now, turns his head down and licks a spot on his side. When I turn to go, they put their heads together, perhaps discussing the stranger who came by. I look back in time to catch the other bull emerging cautiously from behind the brush pile.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

an old unmoving

an old unmoving
threshing machine serves to hold
an empty bird nest

Twelve blind men are standing around a big contraption on the edge of a cornfield. Each one puts out his hands to identify the object. The first blind man says, "It's a bird's nest."

The second blind man says, "It's a metal pail with a lid."

The third blind man says, "It's a pair of spur gears."

The fourth blind man says, "It's a wooden latch on a wooden door."

The fifth blind man says, "It's a metal plaque with some letters and numbers, but not in Braille, so I can't read it."

The sixth blind man says, "It's a wheel with a handle sticking out from it."

The seventh blind man says, "It's a spool wrapped with thick cord wire."

The eighth blind man says, "It's a pair of wing nuts on a metal wall."

The ninth blind man says, "It's a wide wheel with four curved spokes on a metal chute."

The tenth blind man says, "It's a really old brake pad."

The eleventh blind man says, "It's a chain with rectangular links connecting two gears."

The twelfth man says, "It's a pitchfork."

A sighted person reads a plaque that says, "Nichols & Shepard Co. The Red River Special Line," looks at the nearby corn field and pronounces: "It's an old thresher."