Saturday, May 20, 2023

Flying Coconut

Coming home from Sanur this evening, darkness having already fallen, a coconut somehow falls off a motorbike somewhere ahead and starts erratically bouncing around on the highway. Just when you thought it was going one way, it would bounce back the other way. This made trying to drive like being trapped inside a pinball machine. And this is not the sort of little round hairy coconut one is accustomed to seeing in America. No, this is a big, green, basketball sized thing heavy enough to knock over a bike or two like bowling pins. Luckily, everyone was able to swerve around it without swerving into anyone else, nor did anyone appear fearful or surprised. Eh, business as usual. 

Friday, May 19, 2023

The Final Time

 My cousin wrote today of being aware some seventeen years ago, standing in a high place in the High Sierras, that he would be seeing the place, experiencing the place for the last time. Never again would he find himself beneath "the wonders of sky filled days and bottomless starry nights."

There is a certain comfort in this, however sharp the regret--like being at the bedside of a dying loved one, perhaps. There is closure, there are words of farewell. 

I enjoyed no such fond departure, because the last time I stood in my beloved mountains I had no idea it would be the last time. I'm not even sure now what year it was. It was 2006, or perhaps 2007. There seemed at the time no need to mark the date in my personal history. 

I had simply decided to take a day trip with my stepson, because I longed to see the place, as always, and because I thought it would surely be a high point of his own young experience. He had never been in the forest, in the mountains and was certain to be dazzled and amazed.

Except that he wasn't. All the way there, he asked glumly 'How much farther?' He did not like the bumpy dirt road that stretches the last 30 miles, objecting to every jarring dip and rise. He did not like the dust, the wind, the mosquitoes, the long grass of the meadow, the ice cold of the lake.  

It was early in the season and the meadow where I had so often pitched my tent was an inch deep in water, making it necessary to skirt the meadow through the woods, which themselves were pocked with puddles. Eventually though we were able to make it to the lake, though my stepson rode the last half of the journey on my back. 

We got in a swim in the icy lake and then I set about to cook some hotdogs I had brought along for a picnic. I had forgotten however to bring a knife, and so I bought one at a little store in Government Camp. 

Who knew that this knife was going to be so sharp? It was just a cheap little thing, and I needed it only to shave the bark off a couple small branches so that we could spear the hotdogs and roast them over the fire. As I stripped the bark off the first branch, I managed to plunge the knife into the side of my thumb, creating a deep cut that pumped out blood like a faucet. 

I tried to continue with our hotdogs but the ridiculous finger just kept gushing blood. How to stop it? 

Well, what I ended up doing was to take off my underwear, wrap the fabric around my thumb and then stretch the elastic, tightly tying it around my elbow. 

Our trip was done. 

Back in Portland, in the Emergency Room of the hospital I worked at, the examining doctor pronounced my bandage/tourniquet "really neat". Quite an inventive idea. 

And that, for one reason and another and another, turned out to be my last trip to my beloved mountains. I don't even count it now in my mind, in my memory. It was a do-over that will never be done over. Sometimes I imagine somehow going there again, and yet must admit that any circumstance that would find me there is perfectly unimaginable. And so I remember only. I remember the feel of the forest floor on the bottoms of my feet, the smell of the pine and fir trees, the glitter of the water when the sun strikes the ripples, the gentle seam that my fishing line makes as I cast the fly one more time just beyond the ridge where the deeper water begins. My final journey never arrives yet never ends. 

Friday, May 12, 2023

Temporarily Disabled

 My apologies for being absent for an extended period of late. I actually had some things I wanted to write down, but was suddenly experiencing pain that was worse than usual in my right shoulder and back--a longstanding problem, but somehow exacerbated. This made the 'typing position' particularly uncomfortable, such that I really couldn't concentrate on composing anything (not that concentration brings such good results even on my good days, but you know what I mean). 

I ended up using a combination of icepacks and Advil to gradually get the pain under control, and I am now feeling pretty much back to 'normal'. Normal for a decrepit old man with various decrepit old issues.

Unfortunately, I have essentially forgotten the things that I wanted to write during this downtime, or if not forgotten, at least lost interest in. 

I did have the chance to read a number of books-- 

In English: The Book of Form and Emptiness, Ruth Ozeki; The Secret History, Donna Tartt; Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, Haruki Murakami. 

In Indonesian: The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald; Who Is Maud Dixon, Alexandrea Andrews. I've also started Les Miserables, which I expect will take some time to read through, for it is difficult enough in English, all the more challenging in a second language. 

Of course, I meant to say something about each of these, but my shoulder is beginning to hurt, so never mind. 

Hopefully, you'll be hearing more from me soon. 

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Islands in the Stream

 At Pantai Karang, just off the beach, three little manmade islands have been raised atop a naturally rocky rise on the ocean floor, three oblong temple-like mounds of roughly square-cut foreign rock, and on top of the little islands small huts have been erected, open on all sides beneath umbrella-shaped wooden rooves. These serve as sheltering spots for the local fishermen. Alternatively, they serve well as the subject of tourist photos, and on any given day, if the sun is out, one can see the tourists taking the photos.

Generally, a quiet expanse of water intercedes between the beach and the islands, just deep enough for swimming, but this evening the ocean has receded and naked, puddly land stretches from the sand to the islands, exposing shale-like rocks and mucky looking dips and green patches of seaweed, the unseen revealed, stripped of lovely facade.

I've put my book face down on the table and looked up for a time, thinking about the three islands, watching children and adults alike splash about in the moonscape of this new-found no-man's land. It's breezy, wonderfully so after a scorching day, and the wind folds back the covers of my paperback and shuffles through the pages like a deck of cards. I'm wondering if the story will be all mixed up when I return.

Saturday, April 15, 2023

Some Things

 Some things are too terrible to grasp at once. Other things--naked, sputtering, indelible in their horror--are too terrible to really ever grasp at all. It is only later, in solitude, in memory, that the realization dawns: when the ashes are cold; when the mourners have departed; when one looks around and finds oneself--quite to one's surprise--in an entirely different world. 

--The Secret History, Donna Tartt

It is summer and we are at the Metolius River, camping, I, my father, my mother, and my first wife. It is the last summer she and I will be together and it is already showing. It is night, not late, but already full darkness has fallen, and I have come away from the campsite for a walk around the immediate area, alone because my wife doesn't want to walk, preferring to hide in the tent from the mosquitoes. Or that's what she says. To be honest, no one has felt like doing much. We are just all trying to do what we used to do. It's not easy. And it is never-ending. I have seen my father, instead of fishing, several times simply sitting at the base of a tree, head down. It was very hot in the daytime, but that was not the reason. The darkness whispers with the chirping of crickets and the occasional buzz of a bullbat's wings overhead and is barred by the thick trunks of the tall Ponderosa Pine trees. I can smell the fragrant sap as I walk between the trees, like vanilla, we always said, when there were two of us. Vanilla trees, we called them. And he was Iron Man. And I was Green Lantern. A long time ago. But nothing now was a long time ago. Everything was less than a half year ago. When I reach the road, I stop. On the other side the land rises softly for perhaps a quarter mile and then plateaus and from up there in the light of day you can see the river snaking bluely and serene and silent along the shores of the camp. But it is night now and no one can see the blue river from up there in the night. I turn back from where I stand on the side of the road. I can still see the campfire winking between the trees, a cold orange light more like something from October than August and I walk back that way, wanting warmth. About halfway, where the campsites begin, little red lava driveways marked by wooden posts bearing the number of each site, I see my father walking toward me, the light from the fire burning at the edges of his figure. He has taken off his fishing jacket and replaced it with a flannel shirt but his hat is still on his head. He is smoking his pipe. The aroma reaches my nostrils and that is how I know it is him. He comes on, looking at the ground, and we are but several paces distant when he looks up. He sees me and stops suddenly, as if he had run into a wall. Gary? he says.

Some things are too terrible to grasp at once. Sometimes the dead are more alive than the living. Sometimes, in the night, when everything is quiet and nothing quite clearly seen, the impossible seems for a moment possible. It has to be, dear God please let it be. But this is not Gary. Would that it were. This is Richard. I am Richard. Father, this is Richard, your son. And the other, the first, who you had hoped was me, will not, will never, be found again among the living. 

Some things are too terrible to grasp at once. It takes time for things to stop ending, time to sort through the ashes, and faith to find the flickering coal. 

Friday, April 14, 2023

Gempa Bumi

 Earthquake this evening, 6.3, I am told, and it seemed to last a fair long time, although the passage of time takes on a different character when something like this happens. I think that the duration is not really very long, but just seems long because you have it in your mind that it should be ending straightaway, but it doesn't. I was sitting at the Indonesian Specialty Coffee cafe when the earthquake occurred and it felt to me like being on a rocking boat. one of those boats that go the short distance from the island of Bali to Nusa Penida. Everyone came to attention in the cafe, frozen that way for a moment, then some rise from their chairs, hurry out to the street for some reason. Some shriek in surprise, or fear, and some look up into the sky. In the Indomart parking lot across the street people mill about, looking up, or clinging to a friend. And there in the lot I see, of all people, my Aunt Anna Margaret, dead these many years. That, to me, was the most shocking thing about this. How in the world did my aunt get here. Why? Had the shaking of the earth shaken up the heavens just a bit too, jarred something loose from time? Well, I looked away to speak to someone else, and when I looked back, Anna Margaret was gone. And so was the earthquake. 

Friday, April 7, 2023

Tensions Arising

Simmering discord has been rising lately between foreigners and Indonesian citizens on the island of Bali, a very strange development the like of which I've not previously seen in my 12 years here. 

The problem seems to be a combination of the influx of foreign tourists and immigrants to the island since the lifting of COVID travel restrictions and a decreasing local tolerance for the same. For some reason, many of these post-COVID visitors and guests (and lest we forget, foreign residents are still merely guests here) have come with the idea that they are free to behave in whatever way they choose, not subject to Indonesian law, unmindful of the need for cultural sensitivity. 

As always, it is a minority that is causing these problems, but it's a loud, minority, ignoring traffic laws, arguing with police when caught, abusive to those who dare to criticize their behavior, disrespectful of local religious sites and temples, and so on. They are the arrogant, privileged representatives of the contentious poison of the West. And the locals are fed up with them. 

To be honest, I don't blame them. It seems that when these folks are not disputing with local authorities, they are bickering with each other, even in the formerly peaceful little community of Sanur. I had previously mentioned here, for example, the outrage among some in the foreign community about the little electric bikes that had been running on the beachfront paths, daily registering their frantic, and wholly unrealistic complaints against foreigners and locals alike who were having too much fun on these little two wheelers. 

Well, they finally got their way, along with the ownership of the western oceanfront hotels, and the bikes have been removed by order of the Balinese government, putting an abrupt end to a lucrative little business for the locals, who I am sure are rather more in need of money than are the wealthy tourists. 

But Karens must always have a complaint, and so with the victory over the recreational bikes, they moved on to outrage at a new nationwide stress on the need to wear a helmet, shirt, and shoes when driving a motor bike, and to be able to present an actual driver's license and registration document. These commonsense laws seems clearly an infringement on their rights (the right to the ignore the law, I guess). If I don't want to wear a helmet, that's my business! My safety is my own concern, my health is my own concern! Why are you interfering with my freedom? 

And the most common excuse? Many of the locals don't wear helmets. I see them all the time without a helmet. Why should I wear a helmet if they don't wear a helmet? 

Do you remember when you complained to your mother that you ought to be able to do a particular thing because all your friends were doing it? Of course you do. And do you remember what she said? That's right, she said, If Bobby goes and jumps off a cliff, does that mean you have to follow him?

An Indonesian fellow on the Facebook Sanur community page expressed the same idea in a slightly more contemporary manner. If you pass by a warung and see a bunch of locals eating big plates of steaming shit, does that mean you should rush in and order a plate for yourself? (Unfortunately, this was written in Indonesian and so likely lost on most readers). 

Point well taken, by this reader anyway. 

Honestly, I have not in twelve years driven my motorbike without a helmet on. Why in the world would I? Do you know that some years ago an Indonesian woman was driving her bike on the small street through the center of Sanur when she got into a minor accident, and yet died instantly when her bike tipped over and her helmet-less head cracked against the concrete curbing?

No, the helmet is not impinging on your freedom, it is protecting your life. 

So as the temperature rises, as foreigners snap naked photos of themselves at a holy site, as they rampage through Kuta coming from loud afterhours parties, as they contend with police for doing their job and wail at the unfairness, the local government begins to consider laws restricting the of stay for tourists in Bali, prohibiting the rental of motorbikes to tourists, beefing up deportations, and so on. 

When COVID began, an idea was often expressed to the effect that people would begin to reevaluate the way they were living, that the pandemic would give people time to reflect and bring them closer together, and as COVID ended, it was thought that people might rejoin society in a thankful, more communal manner.

Such sanguine imaginings have proven quite misplaced, have they not?