In Death as in Life

DSCN3275I’m at his bedside, an onlooker and a participant. Day melds into night into day into night as time loses definition. Hours are counted by breaths, weaker, weaker, but still he lingers between worlds. He’s back in the Army, Germany, World War II. He stretches out his arm to an unseen stranger, straining, reaching, “Grab hold, I’ll get you up!” I gasp, hold my breath spellbound as he pulls some soldier from long past to safety. The sting of tears barely subsides before the raspy, ravaged voice cries out again, “He’s going up the hill!”

“Who?” I ask wondering what his dream state will offer up.

“Robert,” he says without hesitation, then, “Oh wait. They’re calling him back.”

For hours it’s like this as he revisits his life, sometimes familiar scenes, sometimes places only he has been. “1969,” he says with the ring of authority. “1969 was a good year for blackberries.”

Dying. My dad is dying and I get to be here to experience this once-in-a-lifetime event as he leaves his out-worn body, shedding the earth-bound shell.  In death as in life he sets the example, fearless, patient, kind. I adore him, always have. He’s the best man I’ve ever known, my rock, my hero…my dad.

Suncatcher! Time Stops in Jimbaran


January 6th I woke up to an email from my 87 year old mother. Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear Sherry, happy birthday to you! We love you, Mom and Dad. Ever since I can remember, and wherever I am in the world, my parents have called me to sing this song on my birthday. So there was no way I was going to let her off the hook with an email version. I punched in their number on Skype.

“Hi Mom. Thanks for the email, but I want you and Dad to sing to me like you always do.”

“Sherry?! Oh honey, your Dad just, well, he’ll be back in about 5 minutes.”

“I’ll call back in 15!” And so I did.

Dad (93) was quite a star in his day, playing guitar and singing with the Northwoods Opry. His voice is more whispery now, but together they did a fine job. Emotion welled up as I cherished, perhaps for the last time, that intimate moment

Nostalgic memories persisted as I bypassed the usual heaping breakfast bowl of papaya for a more delicate serving of mouthwatering mango and ate in a shady corner pondering life. My new bamboo blinds kept the blistering morning rays at bay.

P1100961The rest of the day there wasn’t time to think, just play! The Bali wife next door had plans for me! Nina passed newborn Nola to her husband, gave me a death-grip hug and trotted me to the new restaurant down the street. Watercress, she told me, had a kombucha bar and I was about to be initiated.


Refreshing apple turmeric and a ruby mixed berry had the astringent tang of vinegar, a healthy, virtuous drink! But those would be finished long before we’d had enough chatter time so, lunch? Why not!


A towering tempe burger and fat little fried potatoes with aioli dipping sauce seemed a perfect nursing mama’s meal. But I wouldn’t have traded roasted pumpkin salad with sundried tomatoes, walnut pesto and feta cheese for all the tempe in Bali. Oh, those flavors! The beautiful harmony of colors! My first bite was proof that the dish was a serious palette pleaser, not just another pretty face.

P1100982 - Copy

Babbling for three or four hours has never been a problem for Nina and me, but Bapak Sudi, in charge of hungry baby Nola, can’t keep her happy forever. Another bone crushing hug and I was back at home in time to prepare for dinner!

I’ve heard tales of ocean-side dining in Jimbaran, but I’ve never been. A romantic, sunset dinner for one doesn’t do it for me. Ketut is willing to take me just about anywhere, but dining out with a beach full of foreigners is not his idea of a good time. And if the strolling minstrels came to our table singing love songs, I can only imagine the look of abject horror that would cross his face!

So that’s where I’m going tonight! The car arrives and I pile in with Steve, Bayu, Janet, Carol, Oni and Princess Rina for an hour’s ride to the south.

When we arrive I’m sucked in by the party atmosphere and cooking smells as saliva dribbles down my chin. Seafood being charred to perfect done-ness wafts from doorways of restaurants lining the street along the beach. Steve heads straight for one of them. I notice the sign, Jimbaran Cafe. As we enter, flat bins of ice bristle with fins, tails, and great buggy eyed heads. The fish man with gleaming tongs, pulls out granddaddy red snappers, slime covered calamari, and prawns that look prehistoric. He plops them in a pan and weighs them. “That’s too much!” we mutter among ourselves, but we’re ignored as Steve gives the nod and our dinner disappears into the kitchen.

“A table in front,” Steve says to a waiter in a red bib apron.

“Nothing available by the water,” he’s told.

I scan over the heads of diners, thousands it seems, digging into heaping plates. I don’t see an open table anywhere.

“I think there’s one coming,” Steve says and we shuffle after him toward the steady roll of waves breaking on the beach.

P1100988There’s a huge expanse of wasted sand here where tables could be. The thought passes through my mind as I instruct my friends to line up. They pose for a photo and then…

P1100985 Like magic, a table appears! Of course! Prime real estate comes at a price. “How much?” I ask Steve and he smiles that saintly smile.

A tablecloth and chairs follow. Then the purpose of the green thing that has been passed between Steve and Bayu on the trek from the car to the beach comes clear. Out of it appears a bottle of white, a bottle of red, and iced glasses. You thought of everything, you darling man! Let the party begin!

We toast and pose for pictures enjoying the music and the innovative guitar strap!

A platter of snapper arrives followed by calamari, salads, veggies, rice, and it just keeps coming! There’s no more room but still it comes, piles of prawns and more snapper. The table is too painfully small for the abundance, but we don’t care!


That’s when the Suncatcher stops time.

sun captured

Our world is touched by Midas. We dine bathed in gold.

I’m deep in calamari heaven when I hear them:  “She was just sevente-en, you know what I me-an, and the way she looked was way beyond compare…” The minstrels are singing to me in the candlelight, years melt away and I’m 17 again!



That’s what happens when the Suncatcher stops time in Jimbaran!

Aussies…pick your battles

Australians are people. I’ll have to admit, my first encounters with that unique breed left me unconvinced. All I knew about Australia I learned in 9th grade history class, and I wasn’t impressed then either. When I came to Bali they were everywhere, loud, behaving badly, at frightful odds with my Victorian morality and Scandinavian reticence.

A lot of things got shaken up when I moved to Bali, and any people group clumped together and referred to as they, tend to bring surprises when they grow individual faces with real names. It wasn’t long before I met Steve, the organizer of the Ubud Writers Group, an Aussie. Suddenly one of them had a face, and even though he was loud, behaved badly, twirled my moral compass and trampled my Norwegian sensitivities, I LIKED him. Then I met Janet, his sister, a milder version, and I knew there was hope.

It’s a process, warming up to these undiluted characters who seem to revel in the discomfort of others. It’s all in good fun and harmless if you have serious rhino skin and know how to pick your battles. But underneath the gruff and bluster, there’s generosity and a loyalty that forms deep attachments.

So when Steve and Janet invited me to accompany them, and Steve’s poodle, Princess Rina, for a pre New Year’s getaway to Sidemen, I was equal parts surprised and delighted.

From the moment we arrived and settled in, conversation flowed around and through every conceivable topic. I alternated between straining to bridge the language barrier and blushing crimson when I did. There were many occasions when I had to stop them and beg a translation of their repurposed English!

Fluffy clouds lazed across the sky all afternoon as we moved from the pool to Janet’s terrace, to the dining area, and back to Janet’s terrace accompanied by attentive staff bearing trays of alcohol. That’s another thing I noted: these Aussies can out drink me five to one, and it’s a little sad because they’re not the ones who need loosening up!

At first there was no hint of Mt. Agung, just the sweeping view of rice terraces. But as cooler air pushed up over the ridge it appeared, the highest holiest peak in Bali, through a necklace of clouds.

Somehow I’d snagged a deluxe upstairs room with an unobstructed panorama from a deck larger than my entire Ubud apartment!

Although slightly less sticky that the lower altitudes of Ubud, the refreshing gurgle of the infinity pool beckoned so we stationed ourselves for deep relaxation and more liquid refreshments.

After cocktails, liquors, and nighttime chocolates (we did eat dinner at some point) it was lights out with the plan to meet for breakfast at no specified time.

I’m an early riser. Catching the view of sunrise over Mt. Agung was ample inspiration to set my alarm for 5 a.m. just to make certain I was fully awake by showtime. I’m also directionally challenged, so as I fixated on the emerging purple outline of the giant mountain, the sun quietly rose somewhere to my right. Orientation miscalculations aside, the reverence and awe inspired by the early morning vigil stuck to me for hours.

It would be easy to develop an obsessive fascination with Mt. Agung. At six in the morning it was crystal clear. By midday the clouds so enshrouded it there was no hint it ever existed.

Sometime later we hiked through the village seeking a more palatable lunch than the options available at our place. Our stroll produced new photo ops and a group of schoolboys who showered the Princess with proper devotion.

Like homing pigeons with a bead on eats, my Australian friends sussed out an exquisite site for dining pleasure at Sawah Indah Villa.

I might add at this juncture that Australian dogs, unlike their owners, adopt the cultural norms that resonate with my comfort level. They’re seen but not heard and speak only when spoken to. Princess Rina excels in the social graces and her dining etiquette epitomizes perfection. That’s why she’s allowed a seat at most establishments and we don’t patronize those that fail to appreciate her advanced evolution.

The walk back was blistering. As a hint of chlorine tickled our noses, Steve shed his shirt and shoes leaving a trail of cast off clothing on the path to the pool and plunged. Janet and I weren’t far behind. Oh delicious clear blue water!

A little nap sparked renewed appetites and we ended the day at a pizza warung. I didn’t have high hopes. The tablecloths had seen more meals than ours and were still wearing some of them. The neon green walls did nothing for our aging complexions. But hailmaryfullofgrace – omg – the PIZZA! It was far and away the best I’ve ever eaten anywhere. A N Y W H E R E !!! Three very happy bellies said good-night and sweet dreams as we trundled off to our beds.

Next morning, packed and ready to return to the crazy bustle of Ubud, I bid goodbye to the magic mountain and the peace and pleasure of a unique escape with my outrageous Aussie friends. Thanks, Steve, Janet, and Princess Rina for this stimulating cross-cultural experience in a setting of unparalleled splendor.


And a very Happy New Year to family, friends, and all the other beautiful Australians I’ve met and learned to love here in the paradise down under!

Shelter from the Solstice

Before, in the dim short days of northern winter, I lighted candles, burned incense, and drowned myself in the comforts of mulled wine to warm my body and dull my mind. Night stretched on forever. I got up and went to work in the dark and came home in the dark after work was finished.

For this sun worshiper, the approach of winter solstice was a time of celebration and ritual almost superseding Christmas because it meant the tide had turned and each day would bring a minute or two more of delicious light.

Here in Bali, 8 degrees south of the equator, I’m in my happy place. December 21st marks the longest day of the year, and in my house of east-facing windows, morning enters with a blaze of light and heat. For two hours I move from one small shaded area to the next, avoiding the oven-baked brilliance pouring in and reflecting on my shiny tile floors.

I knew I needed coverings for all that glass, so Ketut and I spent many hours debating the wisdom of curtains or shades. Curtains, when pulled back and stacked would decrease my view, and when the volcanoes erupt and the house fills with dust for days on end, they would be filthy in no time. But the romance of pristine white draperies billowing in the breeze, despite their impracticality, was hard to let go. Serviceable bamboo blinds, however, could be raised to completely maintain the expanse of panorama and would be easy to whisk clean with the stiff, long-fibered brooms that grace every household on this island.

In the end, practicality and economy won out. The quote for draperies came in at around $300 so we proceeded to the place a little farther long the road that sells blinds. I sat on the floor of the shop with the animated owner shouting at me in rat-a-tat-tat Indonesian while Ketut stood by grinning, knowing that I understood maybe half of what was being said. When the man took a breath I shouted back at him, “Please speak slowly!” His startled look was followed by peals of laughter. “Where did you study Indonesian? You should get your money back!” he scolded, speaking slowly, one word at a time. After that the jokes flowed incessantly and the three of us laughed with tears rolling out of our eyes.

Somehow the business was transacted, what color, what size, how many, varnish or not, and a price established. “Does price include delivery and installation?” Ketut asked. To my utter astonishment, $60 US dollars would cover my 20′ run of 10′ high windows and that included everything. I asked when they would be ready, steeling myself for a wait of one month, maybe two.

“Today,” said my new friend.

“Today!” I squawked. “How is that even possible?” It was already 1:00 in the afternoon. “Can you do it tomorrow?” For the first time ever in my experience of ordering a custom product here in Bali, I negotiated more time.

We settled on 2:00 the following day depending upon rain. As luck would have it, the downpour began around noon. At one o’clock I heard “Hallooo? Hallooo?” And there he was, an hour early, drenched from dripping hair to water-logged jeans.

“You could have waited until later, maybe the rain will stop.”

“Maybe later I want to sleep,” he said in that same gruff, scolding voice. “For you, boss, I come now.” Okay, still joking. Ketut appeared and the measuring, eyeballing, and a flow of alternative solutions began. It’s the culture of group-think, and I’m always amazed at the creative ideas that emerge from these exchanges.

The next morning I awoke at sunrise to watch dawn filter through the new blinds. The transformation was sheer magic and I gazed enchanted as the sun gained intensity and heat but my space remained cool, serene, and 100% inhabitable.

How I love my nest in the clouds. What a thrill it is to awaken 365 days a year to the utter joy of place. Every piece of furniture, every decorative yet functional object, each color and finish delights me, and nothing, nothing at all has to be survived, endured through dark months of waiting for the light.

Some unexpected firsts at 30,000 feet

I’ve logged a few airline miles in my time, but on this trip back home to Bali I experienced some firsts.

It wasn’t the chaos of the Minneapolis airport. That’s a given. LAX was a zoo, but I’ve been to that particular animal house before. No surprises there. The airport in Brisbane, Australia, was a delightful surprise. It’s small, spotlessly clean, well-run, a civilized dream!

When I boarded the Virgin Australia flight from Brisbane for the final lap home I found my aisle seat next to a leggy blonde in camouflage jeans. She was glued to a male torso occupying the window seat. My eyes stuck for longer than appropriate on his tattoos. You couldn’t just glance and look away. There were far too many of them. The only tattoo-less skin was his face and it was pleasant enough.

I smiled, I’m not sure they noticed, and buckled myself in.

Although her type doesn’t usually fly economy, across the aisle on my left looking out of place sat Trophy Wife. Trophy 2Maybe she was a wannabe trophy wife or an ex-trophy wife. The crepe wrinkles on her arms and legs put her in my age bracket, but her face was twenty years younger. Enhanced? Probably. It had that too-tight look.

She kept glancing back at me and quite obviously was not with the man and little boy sitting next to her. She had rings on every finger, two on some of them, and she worried them continually. Her French manicure was professionally done. I know my do-it-yourself Target Press-on Nails and these were not those. Her shoulder length blonde hair had that maintained look that can only be achieved with regular visits to the salon and the form-fitting black sheath dress stood out in the otherwise casually attired airplane crowd. She seemed ill at ease, uncomfortable in her own skin.

After the in-flight meal was served and my seat mates had polished off two glasses of wine each, we all settled in for a nap. Somehow my neighbor’s exceedingly long camo legs were able to wrap themselves around his tats and a bit of heavy, pre-nap nuzzling commenced. When they nodded off, she was V-shaped with her butt snuggled up to and overlapping our shared armrest with the remainder of her body entangled with his.

I’m thinking, Okay, so they aren’t familiar with airline etiquette, the subtle recognition of personal space and the necessity of not transgressing those nearly imaginary boundaries. I rested but didn’t sleep and in less than thirty minutes their call light was on. A flight attendant appeared. Mr. Tat ordered a whiskey and coke and Ms. Camo requested a vodka tonic. The drinks disappeared with surprising speed and the call light was on again. By the time they were on their 5th round their ipod was blasting tunes (no earbuds for these lovers) and they were rockin’ out in their seats, arms doing strange, jerky movements, one of which connected with the full glass of ice-water on Camo’s tray and sent it hurling toward me. The seat and my right leg and buttocks were thoroughly drenched.

“Oh! Sorry!” she said, giggling. As I struggled to unlock the seat belt and escape the icy dampness, a look of polite distaste passed between myself and Trophy Wife.

The flight attendant appeared with a handful of napkins in an attempt to dry out the seat and my saturated clothing. Meanwhile, Ms. Camo mopped the floor with a raggedy length of yellow batik fabric. “You understand,” the attendant addressed the couple. “The affect of alcohol is doubled at this altitude. I’m afraid you’ve had your limit and we won’t be serving you any more drinks.” She left and Mr. Tat muttered something inappropriate to which Ms. Camo replied, “She’s just doing her job.”

I’d soaked up as much of the moisture as possible and resumed my seat when the couple indicated that they needed to visit the toilet. Each returned with two more drinks in hand. Really? Trophy Wife, who was now looking backward more than forward, mouthed, “OMG,” and shook her perfectly coiffed head.

I’d put the armrest up when they exited, but upon their return, Camo sat down in her inebriated state taking up all of her seat and half of mine. What had been heavy nuzzling before took on new life and heated up several notches. Girl kissing tattooThe sucking and smacking, licking and clenching was no longer cute. As Camo wriggled and squirmed on my half of the seat, I felt irritation rising up to a agitated simmer. At that precise moment, Camo leaned in toward Tat creating a nanosecond of opportunity. I gripped the armrest and slammed it down between us grazing her butt just a little. “Oh! Sorry!” she said, then returned to the business at hand.

The flight attendant reappeared to mention to the couple that they would probably be feeling significantly ill as we made the descent into Bali. Oh great! Will I exit the plane wearing their vomit? I actually worried about that for a while. But they held their liquor and upon departing the plane I distanced myself as far as possible from them. Then sure enough, at the baggage carousel there they were, still entwined, directly in my path. Rather than pass them, I did an about-face and went around the other way. Enough, after all, is quite enough.

This experience made up for all the benign, event-less flights of the past. Maybe it happened so I would appreciate the excellent manners and flight savvy of most passengers. Or maybe it happened so I’d have a good story. I do love a good story! And by the way, it’s great to be home!

Thanksgiving on the Tundra!

Minnesota is a long way from Bali, geographically, aesthetically, climatically, and philosophically. But it’s Thanksgiving, and my family made plans to come from the east coast, west coast, and Midwest to gather in Palisade, 150 miles (240 kilometers) south of the Canadian border, to be together.

I couldn’t miss that. Even though I made a vow never to return to Minnesota in the winter, Dad’s 93 and Mom’s 87 and there may not be too many more opportunities like this one.

I was the first to land in Minneapolis. Jessa and Dan’s cozy apartment felt like an oasis of comfort after thirty hours of travel. The next day Jenny and Kennen arrived from San Fransisco, and fast on their heels Joy and Kellen flew in from New York. We caravaned in two cars and converged at The Farm, my sister and brother-in-law’s home that is no longer a working farm, just a big house surrounded by nothing, thirty miles from nowhere, to bask in the warmth of family love.

Sis and bro had outfitted their huge loft, bunkhouse style, so the couples and I could all sleep comfortably, and somewhat privately, in that space. By the third night we knew the breathing patterns and little animal sounds of each sleeper. We also knew to stop the pendulum on the obnoxious clock at the bottom of the stairs.

By the time we rolled out of bed Thanksgiving morning, sis and bro were already into their 3rd cups of coffee and half-way through the New York Times crossword puzzle. A quick pow-wow and we received our marching orders. Joy had promised to make her from scratch French Onion Soup for lunch. P1100644

P1100643 The Gruyere, browned to perfection, the chunks of baguette dripping with rich broth, and onions sliced and sauteed to a transparent gold, set the stage for a day of feasting excellence.

Jenny had grandma time.

P1100659Then grandma, Jessa, and Jenny helped grandpa get settled at the table for lunch.

P1100640Mid afternoon someone suggested that we should have pie and coffee now. “We’re always too full after the big meal,” he said…I’m sure it was a he. At around 3 p.m. Gwen’s pumpkin, apple, and French silk pies appeared and we ate melt-in-your-mouth tender crusts with gooey fillings, groaning with pleasure.

After pie, everyone pitched in: many hands make light work! There was a harried hour of napkin folding, the artichoke, the pocket, the turkey tail until sis stepped in and said, “It’s like this…” and so it was, exactly like that, perfect pockets for lunch and perfect turkey tails for Thanksgiving dinner.


THANKSGIVINGMy sister and my daughters are blessed with the cooking gene that skipped me. It was a gourmet Thanksgiving, Jenny’s beet salad with grapefruit, fresh basil, and feta cheese, Joy’s Butternut squash with sage hazelnut pesto, Jessa’s pureed cauliflower with garlic as a savory mashed potato substitute, and sis with three kinds of cranberries, traditional roast turkey and stuffing. Of course there were all the wines, beers, ales, and ciders to enhance the mood (that didn’t need enhancing) and accompany whatever food was being served.

And then it was over, too soon.

P1100670The girls and their guys loaded the cars and headed back to Minneapolis leaving me behind to spend a few more days with my parents, sis, and bro-in-law in the frozen tundra of the far north country.


Bali’s Well Fed Dark Spirits

If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it too many times to count: The energy of Bali is different from anywhere else. If you’re tuned to her frequency, she will draw you back again and again until your power to resist is gone. The island is magic, and the people of Bali live equally in two worlds: the seen, and the unseen.

Rucina Balinger is a legend in Ubud. She came to Bali from the U.S. in 1974, and forty years later she’s still here. Marrying into the Ubud royal family, she became what she was required to become as the wife of a Cokorda. Needless to say, she’s a reliable fount of information. So when invited by email to hear her speak on Bali magic, I signed on. For two hours she talked and answered questions about the dark arts as practiced here with a slide show to emphasize her points.


I came away with one sentence burning in my brain, Black magic only works if you believe it does. I’m a guest on this island where probably close to 100% of the locals believe in magic. Therefore, on Bali it works, and chances are fairly high that, whether I believe it or not, I’ll be affected by it in some way. So it behooves me to learn as much as I can. Forewarned is forearmed, right? There’s just one small problem with that: The more I learn, and the more I see, the more I believe. So I’ll fill you in on a little of what I’ve gathered, both from Rucina and from Ketut, my ‘go to’ for all things Balinese. I preface this with a profuse apology to the people of Bali for my very small knowledge of this subject. Mohon maafkan saya untuk pengetahuan saya kecil dari subjek ini.

The Balians, who are the healers, magicians, and soothsayers, must learn both the white and black arts so they can counteract the effect of one with the other. These powerful people are chosen by spirit and declining the invitation to become a Balian is not an option. Those who refuse, die. But there are also initiates who, in the course of study, become mentally deranged and are institutionalized, some temporarily, some permanently. And others wander about their villages sometimes babbling incoherently, sometimes more lucid than I. I’ve met one of those and it’s unnerving. This is not a coveted occupation.


Any Balinese person will be quick to tell you that jealousy is a big problem here. In a family compound there may be as many as 15 to 20 people piled, quite literally, on top of one another. There’s a communal kitchen, a room for the grandparents, possibly another one for the parents, and another for everyone else. The sons live here with their wives and children and as things go, little grievances form across family ties. Pretty soon somebody is visiting the Balian to get a potion to wreak havoc with his neighbor. When the wronged party realizes he’s been zapped, it’s his turn to visit the Balian to get the remedy and perhaps a little something for the other guy. Illness may be the result of natural causes, or it may be black magic induced, but a visit to the local Balian will clarify the matter.

Both men and women can become Balians and in Rucina’s words, unmarried women are the best practitioners of black magic. Hair, or fingernail clippings make effective amulets for casting spells. For years Rucina collected her own hair every time she brushed it and buried it somewhere outside so no one could grab it and use it against her.

Food, too, can be tainted by a person wishing ill will. To be polite, you always accept food when it’s offered. But if you’re suspicious of the bringer of this gift, don’t eat it. According to Rucina, take the food to the bedroom after the person leaves and pass it under the bed three times. This will undo the magic. Then you can eat it. Ketut laughed when I told him that. “Maybe if very small magic,” he said. Perhaps the conjuring in his village isn’t so easy to unravel.

But they are in agreement when it comes to the times when people are most vulnerable. During the first three months before their feet are allowed to touch the ground, babies are extremely susceptible. At this tender age they’re considered divine and are in danger of being stolen and having their entrails eaten by Rangda, the embodiment of black magic, so she can access their power.

In the Bali pantheon of the paranormal, there are gods, goddesses, spirits, and witches. The Leyak witches take many forms, some beautiful, some terrifying some funny looking or unusual. These humans who transform themselves are evil and throw fireballs or lightning bolts and steal babies. Parents put a shallot on the soft spot of a baby’s head since that is another point of entry for black magic and the Leyaks don’t like shallots. One Leyak in the form of a particularly beautiful woman likes to climb on behind the driver of a motorbike. He thinks he’s scored a hot one until he sees that her lower torso isn’t there, and her upper parts don’t resemble anything human.


Other times of vulnerability occur during the ceremonies marking rites of passage. At tooth filings and weddings, a person is distracted and makes an easy target for the black arts. Performers of traditional dances are especially susceptible. They pray before dancing but still often fall into trance during their performance. Even the masks worn by the dancers have powerful magic. Places, too, can invite mischief. Graveyards, crossroads, bridges, the edge of the village, are littered with offerings to maintain a peaceful balance and ensure that the spirits are content.

Every fifteen days Kajeng Kliwon rolls around, Bali’s own Friday the 13th, and that requires offerings only for the dark spirits. The segehan have boiled rice in five different colors signifying the five elements. These form a five-pointed star in the bottom of the coconut leaf basket. Then the usual flowers, cigarettes, and snacks are piled atop the rice.


When I arrived in Bali it appeared to be the island of smiles. Everybody wore a happy face and I couldn’t believe that so many people could be so joyful all the time. Then Rucina burst my bubble. There are antidotes to black magic and one of them is, you guessed it, happiness! A smiling face rejects evil. Even at cremations people smile and joke. That end of life ceremony does not in any way resemble the Christian funeral where solemnity and tears mark the day.


Symbolic objects like rings, bracelets, special spirit drawings, or the kris (Balinese sword), are powerful anit-evil talismans. Ketut has a ring that’s been blessed and imbued with protective powers. “I don’t like,” he said. “Maybe enough just pray and make offering.” But, oh! The offerings! Spirits love to eat, symbolically of course, and the Balinese go to unbelievable lengths to feed them. Ancestral spirits are protectors and advice givers so they must be kept well nourished. The spirits of all the gods and goddesses, the trees and animals, cars and computers and mechanical things, and the opposing dark spirits, all need to be honored to keep the balance between good and evil.

Widi WasaThe great god Sanghyang Widhi Wasa (the All-in-One God) is honored everywhere in Bali with offerings placed in open shrines. The Balinese are monotheistic, but there are hundreds of lesser deities, manifestations of this god-of-the-enormous-penis who is said to be genderless. The closed shrines are only for rivers, known to be thoroughfares for dark energies and those, too, must have their quota of gifts.

As I write this a curtain of overwhelm descends. The inadequacy of what I’ve said here is titanic. Even with the help of Rucina and Ketut, it doesn’t cover as much of the topic as a flea on the surface of a mastodon. So I’m going back to what I said at the beginning: The energy of Bali is different from anywhere else. The Balinese believe in magic. They believe that their ceremonies, rituals, offerings, and prayers strike a balance between good and evil, and so do I.

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