Survival = Free-Range, Low-Calorie, News-Light

The nightmare that unfolded at the U.S. Capitol on the afternoon of January 6th was almost a relief in the grimmest of ways. I’ve been holding my breath for four years wondering when something unspeakable – more unspeakable than everything that’s already transpired – would happen.

Because of the time difference in Bali, I awoke early the morning of the 7th, clicked on the news, and caught my breath. There it was. That forbidden thing, so dark that even my Pluto soul was horrified.

Since then, I’ve only been able to watch the news through the lens of late show hosts. Those born comedians handled their reporting of the insurrection brilliantly – there were no jokes that night. Seth Meyers’ scathing rebuke gave me chills. Stephen Colbert’s outrage mirrored my own. Even Jimmy Fallon, that spotlight-loving, delectable hunk of eye-candy, delivered a compassionate message that went straight to my heart. James Cordon and Jimmy Kimmel – all of them dropped the funny-man persona and rose to the occasion.

In the days following that one-time needful deviation from their norms, the news delivered by those comedic commentators has come through more solemnly than usual but with a sprinkle of humor. It’s just enough to make me – not laugh, not yet. But I’ve managed a grunt of appreciation.

I confess I watch all of them. Every night. Sometimes in the morning too, if clouds threaten a rainy day. It’s that season in Bali – wet, wet, and wetter.

We cope with the devastating events of 2020 that have now spilled over into 2021 in our own ways. For me, the process has evolved from numbing with food and alcohol, to making myself feel the fear, grief, loss, uncertainty, and loneliness, acknowledging the pain of those emotions, and allowing them to pass through me.

I don’t do it perfectly. I don’t even do it well. It’s sloppy and prone to sinkholes. Sometimes I feel like I’m caught in one of those cartoon scenes where I’m dangling over the side of a cliff, clinging to a rope that is fraying strand by strand. But there are good days too.

What I’m finding is this:

There’s no right way to manage the un-imagine-able. There’s no guidebook. Nothing before prepared us for now. We’re all flying by the seat of our pants trying as best we can to simply survive. But the more we can tune in to what our bodies need and (safely) give ourselves that, the more loving and gentle we can be with our nervous systems, the more space and acceptance we can offer our emotions while grabbing every opportunity we can to laugh – that’s what will get us through.

Oh! And meanwhile…or quarantinewhile as Stephen Colbert would say…if you haven’t tried the lighter approach to the news, maybe give it a go. There’s nothing much to lose.

Bali Beaches and an Un-Planned Christmas

I’m sold on the un-planned Christmas.

I told people I wasn’t doing anything. Wasn’t going anywhere. Would stay home and think happy thoughts and that was absolutely my intention. Then a get-together scheduled for December 21st had to be moved. How about the morning of the 24th? Christmas Eve Day? Does that work?

Well..I wasnt’ going to…but…sure. That works.

It turned into a psuedo white-elephant-gift-exchange, great coffee, and lots of laughs. Santa appeared out of nowhere, and carols played non-stop.

Warm and fuzzy inside I walked home with a gentle breeze cooling my face – one of Bali’s stellar-weather days – glad that I’d had Christmas Eve morning with good friends.

I’d barely gotten inside the house when my phone beeped a Whatsapp message. It was my neighbor next door inviting me to an impromptu lunch – if I didn’t already have plans for Christmas tomorrow. The complexion of my solitary holiday was changing fast.

I’d love to!

The high-octane energy of a family with a young child is a whole different ball game from the gray-haired gatherings I’m used to. But who can resist a five-year-old dynamo on pink roller skates?

We were well entertained and the meal of four-hour Balinese green beans, chicken betutu, cream-cheese mashed potatoes, and homemade frosted Christmas cookies was magnificent. The wine didn’t hurt either.

All that and a mystery guest. I finally got to meet a person I’ve been hearing about for years and if anything, the glowing reports were too humble. He’s one of those down-to-earth, funny, sincere, fascinating VIPs that you just wouldn’t expect to run into at your neighbor’s spur-of-the-moment Christmas lunch.

After two celebratory days I didn’t want the fun to end. I suggested to Ketut that it was time for another motorbike adventure. My back took weeks to recover from the marathon ordeal I put it through three months ago, but a visit to the beaches south of Ubud wouldn’t be a taxing trip. I wanted to check out the rumors that there are actually people down there – visitors – domestic tourists – because in Ubud they’re rare as unicorns.

As with most outings, eating figures in at some point. For this trip I wanted to stop at Cantina Warung. It’s on a dirt road that dead-ends somewhere between Seminyak and Canggu, and it’s so close to the ocean you almost feel the salt-spray on your skin. We’d check out Sanur and Kuta beaches on the way and easily be back in Ubud before the predicted afternoon downpour.

There was no traffic as we approached Sanur. The bodies standing in the water were fishermen, not tourists. Ketut thought he saw one family that probably came from another part of Indonesia but the few people enjoying the sun and sand were local. I’d expected that. Sanur isn’t the hotspot for vacationing party-ers who want a nightlife.

We hopped back on the bike and continued our search. Traffic by the Mall Galleria was almost non-existent.

In Kuta and Seminyak the story was the same with a slightly different twist. Here there were no locals, just a smattering of visitors and miles of empty lounge chairs on the deserted beach. Were we too early? Were the partying people still in bed nursing hangovers? It was getting on toward noon – surely they’d be up by now – if indeed they were here at all.

On the bike again I hollered through my mask at the back of Ketut’s helmet. “This adventure’s making me hungry. Let’s get lunch.”

There are several restaurants in Bali that are so enchanting I just want to keep eating so I can sit there for hours guilt-free. Cantina Warung is one of those. A constant ocean breeze, the rumble of breakers rolling in, comfortable chairs…don’t ever underestimate the importance of cushy seating – it’s huge…and today there were people sunbathing. People swimming. People walking dogs. We’d finally found PEOPLE!

We settled in and ordered lunch. Ketut is predictible – fried chicken and coca-cola. I had the BBQ chicken burrito with fries and a mojito. Not sure why the french fries came garnished with herby greens. They were easy to remove. But I have to say, that chicken burrito with chunks of avocado, crunchy lettuce, a sweet-and-spicy barbecue sauce on the melt-in-your-mouth grilled poultry – oh my! I’m drooling just remembering.

We’d whiled away about an hour and a half when Ketut pointed to a sign that I’d ignored and said, “Look. Our table is reserved for eight people at four o’clock. We can stay three more hours.”

That’s when I ordered two cups with a scoop of vanilla ice cream in each, and a pot of coffee to pour over it. We stretched that out until about two o’clock when all of a sudden Ketut said, “Mungkin hujan di Ubud sekarang.” Whoops! In my idyllic reverie I’d completely forgotten about the afternoon rain I’d been hoping to avoid.

The ride home took us through Canggu. There was a lot more traffic there than we’d seen anywhere else. Shops and cafes were open. Perhaps what I’d heard was true, that Canggu is the hot spot right now. Hot may be too optimistic a word. A warm spot.

As we approached Ubud the road was wet. “Maybe rain is already finished,” Ketut said. Three minutes later we were pelted with huge sloppy drops.

“Do you have your plastic, Ketut?”

“Ya. You?”

“Ya.”

“You want to stop?”

“No.”

“Good.” He laughed.

How precious, memorable, and unexpectedly rich this holiday has been. I could have sat home and survived. I would have called it a fitting end for a year during which many of us have done little other than sit at home and survive. So I’m going to see my unplanned Christmas as a positive energetic shift, a vital lurch propelling us toward a brighter 2021.

May it be so.

Bali: Before and After

My love for this island hasn’t wavered. I’ve written poems and posts praising her wondrous landscapes and warm-hearted people. My taste buds have acclimated to chilies and fish sauce. I can’t imagine going back to canned-soup casseroles after thriving on fresh-off-the-tree dragon fruit, papaya, mango, and the magnificent red banana.

Here’s what I wrote in June, 2013, a word-picture of the old Bali that put all her eggs in the tourist basket. And the last verse, the Bali now, is a much different scene. As you read it, the word Bule means foreigner and is pronounced Boo-lay, accent on Boo.

Bali Beats

  • Kuta Beach, braid your hair?
  • Won’t take long…buy sarong?
  • Maybe two…good price…
  • Kuta Cowboy nice, you want
  • Mushroom? Weed? Speed?
  • What you need, Bule?
  • Bali beats, Bali beats, Bali beats…
  • Gamelan in the streets, cremation tower
  • Dodging power lines, three times
  • Black bull circles
  • Dizzy spirits flee
  • Can you see it, Bule?
  • Bali beats, Bali beats, Bali beats…
  • Kecak chorus, chant, trance
  • Women dancing
  • Golden deer and Hanoman
  • In the night by firelight,
  • Are you frightened, Bule?
  • Bali beats, Bali beats, Bali beats…
  • Rubbish smoking
  • Choking when you breathe it in…
  • The din of tourist bus
  • Clogs narrow streets
  • Defeats the purpose, Bule…
  • Bali beats, Bali beats, Bali beats…
  • Trash in ocean, river, piling up
  • While Bali smiling for you, Bule…
  • Taxi, yes? Today? Tomorrow, maybe…
  • Where you stay?
  • What you pay, Bule?
  • Bali beats, Bali beats, Bali bleeds…
  • Covid came and Bule fled
  • Business dead, no smiles here
  • Just fear, uncertainty
  • And empty streets
  • So quiet I can hear
  • The beats…of Bali’s…heart

The situation is bleak, and it’s a stern wake-up call. An economy based almost solely on tourism is fragile indeed. But the Balinese are resilient and creative. They will adapt. Many have already gone back to resurrect their paddies and vegetable gardens. But those who no longer have land, those taxi drivers, hotel staff, and restaurant owners who depended upon a steady stream of tourism for survival, are suffering.

I’m a Bule who is still here, and while I grieve for my Balinese friends, I also watch wildlife return. Birds and butterflies I haven’t seen for years twitter and flutter about the garden. Fumes from the exhaust of too many cars, buses, and motorbikes, jammed in gridlock, have faded away. The air sparkles clear.

They say it’s like Bali twenty years ago…before the Bule stole her heart.

When It All Comes Crashing Down

Hibernating gets old. Just ask any grumpy she-bear who’s been holed up in a cave all winter in a state of suspended animation…

Does this sound familiar?

Of course Bali doesn’t have cold weather…or bears. But it has more than its share of expats who are feeling the effects of confinement. For the past few days I’ve barely stuck my nose out of the house. I meant to, but it was easier not to.

This morning, for some inexplicable reason, I woke up at 5:30 supercharged. The sky was brightening but the sun wouldn’t rise for another half hour. I made my bed, certain this was a fluke and the jolt of energy was just that, a jolt, and would quickly pass.

It remained.

The voice I’ve come to recognize as my stern grandmother (if you’ve never had a Norwegian grandmother you’ll have no idea what I mean) pulled me up short. Skam på du! she said. I think that’s the only Norsk phrase I ever learned. Shame on you!

She washed my hair once. I was about 4. My scalp was raw from her vigorous suds-ing. When she dumped buckets of water over my head to rinse out the soap, I came up spluttering and choking. That’s my most vivid memory of her.

I threw on yesterday’s clothes, masked up, and bolted out the door.

At 6 a.m. the air was cool and sweet. A brisk pace took me to Ubud Palace. Across the street the traditional market was already bustling. I don’t blend into the crowd very well, so I didn’t stop and shoot a photo straight into the market area where bodies moved shoulder to shoulder in a dense sea of commerce. Had I done so, my actions may have been misinterpreted, or at the very least, unwelcome. I don’t want to be the Ugly American.

But a few paces farther along, I captured the motorbikes lined up in front.

I stuffed my phone back in my bag and continued past the glistening Arjuna statue that marks Jalan Raya’s east end. For probably the 2,578th time in my nine years in Bali, I stopped, backed up, fished my phone out again, got the perfect angle, and took the photo. I’m still awes-struck at the elegance, the intricate detail, and the sheer size of these artistic works depicting scenes from the epic Hindu texts, the Mahabharata and Ramayana.

Still brimming with energy and smiling under my mask, I continued to Delta Dewata, one of two major grocery stores in Ubud.

I assumed it would be open. There was a patch of shade on the flight of steps leading up to…locked doors. I sat on the stairs and checked the time. 6:35 a.m. Their website said they were open every day, 8 – 10.

It wasn’t that I’d intended to shop. But I’d have browsed and found something I didn’t know I needed before resuming my jaunt.

I sat there, plotting my next move only semi-aware of the person working in the shrubs beside me. When a cracking sound caught my attention, I looked up – just in time.

WHACK! A huge penjor crashed onto the pavement, almost taking my nose with it.

I jumped. Probably squeaked a bit.

Then the ah-ha moment. Today is the day for removing these elegant, graceful tokens that are erected every six months during the celebration of Galungan-Kuningan. They invite the spirits of the ancestors back to their family homes to be remembered and honored. It suddenly made sense: That’s why the offerings I’d been seeing were more extravagant than usual.

Now I had a mission. I continued my meandering journey photographing the bountiful offerings and the women making their way to the temple.

Throughout the day, thousands of penjors will be removed. Their splendor has faded. The once-brilliant fabrics adorning them are now washed-out pastels. The spirits of the ancestors left weeks ago.

The penjor crashing down in front of me woke me up. It’s as though Grandma Rakel was scolding again. “Pay attention!” she said. “Don’t walk through your life asleep. Be present for the small things – they are your reality. They are right now.”

Wise and terrifying Norwegian Grandmother Rakel, thank you.

Ramping It Up To Highly Contagious Joy

Time passes. Covid remains. I adjust.

For thirty years I’ve been digging around in my psyche, excavating fascinating beliefs about myself lodged there, some true, many not.

By my 70th birthday, in my opinion, I’d achieved a decent level of awareness, had banished the more bothersome demons, and was living my dream life in paradise.

Then Covid hit. I quickly discovered what I didn’t know that I didn’t know about me. I didn’t know that overnight, trauma would erase the progress I’d made and send me careening back thirty-plus years to my un-awakened past.

In that state, I made impulsive decisions based on fears I thought I’d overcome.

Now, seven months later, the more progressed me has been restored and I’m in awe of human resilience – our ability to adapt to bizarre circumstances that defy imagination.

  • I automatically don the mask when I leave my house and have gotten accustomed, here in Bali, to seeing almost everyone’s nose and mouth covered, some more creatively than others.
  • I think twice before I meet with a friend if I’ve been in contact with anyone other than Ketut whose village still has no cases of the virus. I don’t want to be the one responsible for spreading this plague.
  • Even in my own house compulsive hand-washing has become second-nature.

I’ve reached a level of contentment just to be in the present with the way things are because the way things are isn’t 100% bad.

This was recently made clear to me during meditation – that I must accept and unify the dualities in life. Every circumstance has it’s positives and negatives, pros and cons, gifts and challenges.

Acceptance. Allowing what is to just be, without judging it as bad or good, without assigning blame, without getting attached to one outcome or another. Acceptance without expectation. Acceptance with gratitude.

Adopting that attitude creates a peaceful heart.

But for me, there’s a ramp-up mechanism that goes beyond peace and takes me straight to the next level – joy. I heard it in operation this morning.

Hack.

Hack.

Hack.

I ignored it for a while, then curiosity got the best of me and I looked out the window toward the back garden. In the far righthand corner I could see the shivering tops of a two-story cluster of bamboo.

I dashed downstairs, picked my way through stacks of downed trees, and there it was. There HE was. Ketut. The ramp-up mechanism himself,

Uh-huh. See what I mean? What man, woman, or beast could resist THAT FACE? He radiates pure joy and it’s highly contagious, especially without a mask.

Do You Remember The ‘Fuller Brush Man’?

After three days of solitary confinement I was teetering on the brink. I don’t even have to say the brink of what because you’ve all been there and YOU KNOW.

As a result of my two rather extensive motorbike adventures, my back was telling me in no uncertain terms to give it a rest. So that’s what I’d been doing for the past sixty-two hours – seeing nobody, hearing nobody, speaking to nobody – I was over it.

There’s a Japanese bakery two miles (3.3 km) from my house, Kakiang Garden & Cafe. Pizza is on their menu and for some reason I’d been craving a deep dive into dairy and carbs. Such an indulgence is justifiable after walking two miles, wouldn’t you agree?

I set out.

Photography doesn’t come naturally. I don’t like the camera between me and what I’m looking at. It’s a degree of separation that feels invasive, like I’m robbed of the intimacy of that moment. On the other hand, I believe the old adage: A picture’s worth a thousand words. So when I want to communicate what I’m experiencing with others, I try to remember to take photos.

It didn’t occur to me there would be much worth sharing on this walk until I happened upon a roofless graffiti gallery and suddenly remembered my phone had a camera.

Within a few steps there was another work of art. This rice field abuts one of the busiest streets in Ubud, Jalan Andong.

So many paddies were left fallow for years while money poured in from tourism. Now they’re being revived and what a feast for the eyes.

Once started, photo ops popped up everywhere. Do you remember door-to-door salesmen? One used to come to our house in the 1950’s. Mom knew the sound of his car and she’d say, “It’s the Fuller Brush Man.” He sold pots, plates, brooms – not brushes – yet I never thought to question why she called him that. So I asked Google, What’s a Fuller Brush Man, and found a fascinating story.

This is the Bali version.

Most of Jl. Andong is a serious shopper’s paradise. Many businesses export their goods but they’re always willing to sell to walk-in customers. I haunted this stretch of roadway when I was buying pieces for my house.

As I strolled past a virtual cornucopia of visual delights, I almost wished I could start the treasure hunt for furnishings all over again.

And then…I arrived.

It was too early for lunch and I’d already eaten breakfast, but there’s always room for dessert. I ordered an avocado coffee. And, yes. It is absolutely as decadent as it looks, avocado blended with ice cream poured over espresso with a squirt of chocolate and another scoop of ice cream. Pure heaven.

For a couple of hours I kept company with my thoughts, scribbled ideas in a notebook, watched butterflies flutter their mating dance, listened to chatter in the kitchen punctuated by frequent laughter, and absorbed the energy of life going on around me.

I still wasn’t in the least hungry, but I’d come for pizza and no way was I leaving without it. I managed to eat one piece. The rest is in my fridge.

More than delicious food, the day refueled me. It smoothed my frayed edges, loosened my knotted muscles, quieted my buzzing nerves. I was reminded that there’s still a world beyond my four walls and it beats with a strong heart.

Just Turn Your Pillow Over

This is Ketut’s helmet. It looms directly in front of my face as we race through the countryside.

When you see the occasional white moon at the bottom of an otherwise spectacular shot, that, too, is Ketut’s helmet.

For example, here…

And again here…

It’s only on steep downward inclines that I can actually see what’s in front of us, which happened several times today.

Wanderlust has bitten hard.

You might have thought after the grueling 170 km (105 mile) journey a week ago I’d have had my fill of the road for a good while. It seems to have worked the opposite.

I love the coastlines of Bali but terraced mountain paddies long ago stole my heart. A motorbike adventure is one of the safest, most gratifying pass times during this era of Covid. Sidemen was calling.

Tell-tale sounds of a damp morning woke me. By time to leave the rain had stopped but serious-looking clouds threatened. We took precautions, suiting up in water-resistant gear.

A friend who’d heard about our trip to Rumah Gemuk let us know she was available for future events. We invited her along and the three of us set out.

For a while we followed a garden that was following an ambulance.

Can you guess what captured the attention of these guys so completely that they totally ignored the road ahead? I have to admit, she was a stunner…

Truck art. I wonder if the driver knows…

Finally the traffic and bustle of village life lay behind us and we started the climb. Soon paddy-magic was everywhere.

In no time we’d reached our destination. Warung Uma Anyar is a local eating spot occupying a lofty perch with a spectacular view of Mount Agung…sometimes.

But not today.

Those same moody morning clouds obscured that majestic mountain. But rolling foothills and surrounding peaks provided a more-than-sufficient visual feast.

And speaking of feasts, this is not your average roadside stand. The presentation, the flavors, the damask tablecloths set a tone in keeping with something much more refined. I love to bring unsuspecting guests here. Our friend made appreciative noises as we settled in for a leisurely afternoon.

Roasted peanuts and spring roll appetizers were followed by heaping plates of local fare and somehow we started talking about dreams. I told them I’d had a very strange experience a few nights ago. I’d awakened around one a.m. with a poem in my head. It was an odd little ditty that I’d never heard before. I grabbed my phone and wrote it down so I wouldn’t forget by morning.

Ketut and our friend listened attentively as I rehearsed the words:

  • Lit I a moon so big and bright
  • That all could see it day and night
  • Lit I a sun so faint and small
  • That none could barely see at all

They frowned at me in silence for a few long seconds, then my friend asked, “What does it mean?”

I shrugged. “I have no idea.”

“Is there more?” Ketut wanted to know. “Maybe there’s more. You should have turned your pillow over so the dream would continue.”

We stared at him, fascinated. “Really, Ketut? That’s what you do? Turn your pillow over then go to sleep and you’re back in the dream?”

“Yes. But only good dreams. For bad dreams, don’t turn your pillow over.”

Breath-defying views, wonderful food, humid warmth with a just-right breeze – a perfect day. But nothing compared to that nugget of Ketut’s folk wisdom that left us howling with laughter.

The Secret ‘Fat House’ of Bali

It was a bold move. The prospect of six-plus hours on the back of a motorbike at any age is a long day. But neither Ketut nor I had explored the northwest quadrant of Bali. We plotted our route and made plans.

The corridor along the coast from Singaraja to Denpasar is a thoroughfare for industrial trucks barreling their goods from Java to Bali through the port of entry at Gilimanuk. Those drivers are notorious for passing motorbikes within a hair’s breadth of contact. But the deserted back roads are potholed and tend to disappear in the most inconvenient places – like at the bank of a river that has no bridge. With corona protocol requiring an expensive test before truckers are admitted to the island, I thought there might be significantly fewer of them on the road. Ketut agreed that now would be a good time to go.

We set out at 8:00 a.m. The weather app showed pure sunshine for our entire route.

“Ayo!” I whooped as we left our narrow gang. And we were off.

By 9:30 we’d reached the western coast of the island. I was ready to stretch my legs and fill my lungs with the humid saltiness of sea breezes. Ketut swerved off the highway at a sign that said Soka Beach. With the exception of two fishermen and a group of men landing a boat, we had the place to ourselves. After a short stroll we bought coffee at a tiny warung and contemplated the next leg of the trip.

My first long outing on the back of Ketut’s motorbike nine years ago took us to Balian Beach. It was a hidden stretch of sand with interesting rock formations and cows grazing in the background. I was eager to revisit that enchanted spot.

“Do you think you can find it again? Remember that old sign and the rocky path to the water?” Ketut remembered and assured me he could find it.

What a difference nine years makes. An entire town had sprung up where none used to be.

“Where’s the beach, Ketut?” I kept asking and he finally spoke my fears.

“No more beach, only hotels.”

I processed for a while, wistfully, as we sped along beside the water. Progress. Growth. Change. I’ve changed, too. The whole world has changed.

With that I let it go.

Everything ahead of us was new territory. The flat land rolling past alternated between groves of stately palms and glistening paddy fields. Mesmerized, I drifted into a meditative trance and was jerked awake when the bike stopped. “Famous statue,” Ketut said.

Towering over us was Patung Makepung depicting the water buffalo races held every year in this area of Bali. Winter surf broiled onto the rocky stretch as far as the eye could see.

“Where are we?” The wind grabbed the name he spoke and blew it away. “What?” I shouted. He pointed to a row of rocks behind me. Red paint spelled out Pantai YEHLEH. Yehleh Beach. I checked Google maps. At 10:30 we were barely one-quarter of the way into our journey. I did the math. What was supposed to take a total of under seven hours, according to Google, by my calculations added up to ten. With no stops.

I sorted through a flurry of thoughts. Could my back, neck and bottom take another 7.5 hours on the motorbike? Would Ketut’s energy hold through the mountains still ahead? With the COVID shutdowns, would we be able to find lodging for the night if that was necessary? Should we alter our route while we still could? By now we were back at the bike, putting on our helmets.

“It’s still far, Ketut. Do you think we can do this?”

“You okay?” he asked, trying to peer through my sunglasses, mask, visor…

“I’m okay. You?”

“Ya. Good. No trucks.”

“That’s great! Okay! Let’s go!”

I have to admit, there was a driving force beyond my insatiable desire for adventure. That morning I’d been reading Indonesian news and up popped an ad for Rumah Gemuk. Translated that means Fat House. But the picture was a piece of enchantment so tantalizing it cancelled out my negative response to the name. Rumah Gemuk, I discovered, was a restaurant on the side of the mountain overlooking Lake Beratan. It offered picnics on the grounds or you could dine inside a glass mansion amid the clouds. It had amassed five stars. The reviews were inspiring and the pictures, magical. I was hooked.

And it was directly on our path home.

At Bubunan village we took a sharp right and started climbing. I’d never seen the mountainous area around Munduk, home of one of Bali’s famous waterfalls. Nor had Ketut. Nor had his aging motorbike. We labored up the switchbacks, higher and higher. When we reached a plateau Ketut breathed a sigh. “Already the top,” he said. Around the next curve the road went into a near vertical incline. “Whaaaat?”

Ketut can make that word sound funnier than any joke. As we continued to climb I lost track of the times the scene was repeated. Already the top…Whaaaat?…Now the top…Whaaaaat? I don’t love heights and there were moments, looking over an unprotected edge to the bottomless plunge below, that were gasp-worthy.

I can’t even begin to describe the views. The images I did capture were embarrassingly inadequate. We caught glimpses of Lakes Tamblingan and Buyan as we traveled the northern ridge above them.

I’d been tracking our progress on my phone but service kept dropping out. I wanted to save enough juice for a few more photos. I knew we were getting close.

“My battery’s almost dead, Ketut. If I turn my phone off can you watch for a sign for Rumah Gemuk? It’s before – you know that water temple – Ulun Danu Beratan?”

He knew.

We slowed to a crawl, both of us straining to read the litter of signage lining the street. Suddenly he took a hard right onto a strip of blacktop that wasn’t much more than a path.

“Where are you going?”

“This is it,” he said.

“How do you know?” I couldn’t believe a grand glass mansion would have such an understated approach.

“The sign,” he said. I hadn’t seen a sign. I was primed to argue when right in front of us, towering over a huge parking area, was THE crystal palace.

“It’s there! There it is! Wow Ketut! How did you know?”

“The sign,” he said – again.

Bless Ketut. Bless, bless, bless, Ketut. Every day. Every hour. What a gem.

I took a minute to comb the snarls out of 8 ½ hours of helmet hair, twisted it up in a topknot, and hoped I looked less wildebeest than I felt. “Salon,” Ketut said, and laughed.

After the host introduced us to the dining options available, I snapped his photo and accepted his offer to do the same for us.

I was being silly – so relieved to be off that motorbike!

We proceeded up the outside stairway to the second floor and entered dreamland. Why had I never heard of this place? For the next thirty minutes my mouth hung open and my camera clicked.

There were only a few people there, domestic tourists I guessed, from other parts of Indonesia. “All young,” Ketut observed and I realized that he was probably older at thirty-seven, than any of them, the wait staff included.

I finally calmed down enough to look at the menu. There was something for everyone. Ketut ordered fried rice with chicken and I had the vegan burger and fries. The subtly sweet sauce on the tempe gave extra pizzaz to the mouthwatering meal.

It was one of those exquisite moments that I never wanted to end. But Ketut, the voice of reason, said we had 2 ½ hours of riding to get home and the sun would set long before then. It was time to go.

From Bedugul it was all downhill to Ubud – or so it seemed. Time flew and so did we. Twice Ketut did his, Whaaaat? reversed the bike, and retraced to where he’d made a wrong turn. How anyone can find their way on unmarked roads in the ink-blackness of Bali nighttime, I don’t know. Even with a couple of backtracks, the 2 1/2 hour trip took two hours.

We pulled into the yard. I hauled myself off the bike, thanked Ketut, told him to sleep all day tomorrow because I intended to, and dragged myself upstairs to my cozy nest. I shed the helmet, mask, scarf, and checked the time. 7:08. We’d been gone eleven hours. At least nine of those had been on the motorbike.

In the bathroom I found the hotter-than-sin Kapak oil and massaged it into my body from the base of my skull to the bottom of my butt cheeks. As the hot/cold sting seeped into my muscles I smiled. Even if I can’t walk tomorrow, this day was perfect. It was the last thought before I drifted off to sleep.

HOLES

I feel like I’m trying to stitch up the holes in this new reality with old thread. It’s weak. The colors don’t match and it breaks when I pull it tight to close the gap. I have the sense that the holes aren’t meant to be stitched. That this is different cloth designed to expose what’s been ignored and wants to be seen.

It seems the whole of humanity is wearing this same cloth. Some are clawing at it, trying to tear it off. Some are gazing through the holes seeing parts of themselves they’ve never seen before, awakening to new passions with purpose and zeal. Others, like me, are slowly relinquishing the needle and thread and opening our eyes.

I think it’s begun to sink in that what once was will never be again. There’s no going back, and the way ahead is as obscure as San Francisco when the fog rolls in. There’s no new normal – only new.

We have a window of time, right now, to prepare.

At least some of us do. Others are rushing out every day, exhausted and sleep-deprived, to care for the sick. Some are running herd on children who would otherwise be in school, possibly trying to squeeze in a full-time job that also has to be managed from home. Many others have lost jobs and are homeless, struggling to survive.

The rest of us wallow in an abundance of time that arranges itself differently than before. I’ve become accustomed to Bali’s ‘rubber time.’ I’m used to losing track of days. Sometimes entire months go missing. But COVID has brought an additional level of strangeness to the equation. Now there’s an absence of time. We’ve been sucked into a vacuum that feels endless and motivation stagnates.

So when I say we have a window of time to prepare, it’s prudent to ask, ‘Prepare for what?’ No one can answer that question. It’s the HOW that’s important. HOW do we prepare ourselves for the unknown ahead?

Raw material is plentiful. We’re it.

Our minds, bodies, and emotions are ripe for new management. We can’t approach a paradigm shift with old expectations and worn-out patterns. In many cases, even our dreams must be revised or replaced.

It’s an opportunity to reflect on the past and assess what we want to carry with us into the future and to determine what is excess baggage and has to go. The current chaos is calling us to center and conserve our energy – to form a sea of tranquility in the eye of the hurricane and that’s no easy task.

I’m paying far more attention to intuition than ever before, heeding subtle nudges, seeking to increase awareness and strengthen deeper ways of knowing. By so doing, I’m creating a version of myself that will survive the challenges of this unparalleled time. I’m revising hopes and rewriting responses. I’m seeing that NEVER was yesterday and no longer applies. Options I wouldn’t have considered a week ago are now viable. I’m studying this unfamiliar person with befuddled curiosity.

Under pressure, rigidity breaks. Flexibility bends.

I want to learn this lesson the first time. I know a bit about lessons: if we don’t nail it, the next will strike with force so brutal there may be nothing left to salvage.

This reality that covers us with a strange cloth full of mystifying holes is urging us to take stock of ourselves. To view this as opportunity rather than disaster.

I, too, have lost a dear one to the virus. I’m on the other side of the world from my children and grandchildren and all plans to visit are cancelled for the unforeseeable future. Thankfully, my home here is secure. But there is a deep sense of grief and loss every day.

And yet, another part of me sits in awe at what I’m being allowed to experience in this lifetime and I’m determined to make the most of it.

The Corona Effect – Can you explain it in eight words or less?

Clouds pile up like mounds of gray wool on a shearing floor. Staring into them, half meditating, half daydreaming, I’m reminded my lesson today is presence. Take time. Be in the moment. Feel the breeze. Smell the incense. In the distance, wind chimes clunk their hollowed-out happiness.

And there’s that other sound.

When I first moved to Bali I blew up a hair dryer. It gave me a healthy respect for 230 voltage – a bit different from 110, standard in the US. I assumed the buzzing sound I heard throughout the day, all day, every day, was that powerful current ripping through the tangle of wires festooned overhead.

Several months passed and I was visiting a mountain village. There were no wires yet the humming persisted. I asked a local, “What’s that sound?”

Jangkrik,” he said.

“Electric?” I asked, thinking I’d heard wrong.

He repeated it very slowly, “Jaaaangkriiiik,” opening his mouth long and narrow for the first syllable, then wide and toothy for the second, looking at me in a way that communicated his sympathy for my obvious mental inadequacies.

I had him write the word.

When I got home I typed jangkrik into Google Translate and hooted.

Cicada.

All this time those humming wires of my imagination were simply thousands of little bugs singing their lungs out.

So back to the sights, smells, and sounds of this morning…

I wanted to add cicadas to my opening paragraph and say they sounded like the buzz of overloaded electrical wires. But it dawned on me there might be an actual name for that occurrence.

Google to the rescue – and I kid you not. That high-voltage phenomenon is called the Corona Effect.

This kind of thing happens to me all the time. What are the chances I’d google that today, or ever for that matter? But I did, and when I read this part of the definition, I knew why.

Corona discharge from high voltage electric power transmission lines constitutes an economically significant waste of energy…

The corona discharge of this pandemic is:

  • Uncertainty
  • Misinformation
  • Restriction
  • Loss of income
  • Depression
  • Illness
  • Death

Its effect is a significant waste of energy, and managing the reality and the fear around so much negativity requires conservation of resources. The only action that seems to accomplish that is to be fully in the present.

If you were inside my head today, you’d have heard my new mantra:

This is a precious moment of life. Don’t waste it worrying about the future or regretting the past. Engage fully with this moment and be grateful for all that’s good, right here, right now. That’s enough.

Until now my nervous system has been a victim of the Corona Effect, twanging away on overload, leaving me permanently exhausted. Today was different.

I love this teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh –

If while washing dishes, we think only of the cup of tea that awaits us, thus hurrying to get the dishes out of the way as if they were a nuisance, then we are not “washing the dishes to wash the dishes.” What’s more, we are not alive during the time we are washing the dishes. In fact we are completely incapable of realizing the miracle of life while standing at the sink. If we can’t wash the dishes, chances are we won’t be able to drink our tea either. While thinking of other things we are barely aware of the cup in our hands. Thus, we are sucked away into the future — and we are incapable of actually living one minute of life.

Today I washed the dishes to wash the dishes.

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