Tadpoles, Caterpillars, and a Naked Tree

There is a lesson here. I’m sure of it. The Tree, rounded and lush, was home to a pair of cooing doves. Many times daily they sought cover in  her protective branches and rustled around copiously completely hidden from prying eyes. Mine.

The Tree

That morning I spied a ladder propped against the trunk. Look closely…it’s there. Being unfamiliar with the species of Tree or the possible nature of her fruit, my first guess assumed harvest. The Tree had produced something delectable that Ketut would gather. I parked myself on the balcony in a position affording the most advantageous view and waited. My patience was rewarded. Ketut climbed the ladder with a wicked-looking curved knife in hand. On his way up he chopped at a few stray branches and sent them crashing through the vegetation below. Next thing I knew, the ladder was below him. He was scaling the trunk and hoisting himself into the thick crown of leaves above him.

Ketut in The Tree

In the next instant he was hacking off branches at an alarming rate. Well, I mused, maybe this is a pruning rather than a harvest. What if the doves have a nest in there? What if he upsets it and they can’t go home? Anxiety was setting in. At the onset I had feigned nonchalance, observing but trying not to be obvious about it. Now I was fully engaged, horrified, not wanting to believe my eyes. Hack, hack, hack. More and more branches crashed through the palms and frangipani below. I had to bite my tongue to keep from shouting Stop! Please stop! Ketut, after all, is the gardener and the garden, after all, is not mine. With each loud whack of the knife and each crashing fall of a branch my heart sank a little deeper into grief. I turned away and busied myself with distractions not wanting to see what I feared.

Later, after all had been silent in the garden for some time, curiosity compelled me. I had to look. Mon Dieu! Butchered! Denuded! The Tree stood naked and grotesque against the sky. This was abominable! I needed an explanation. My thoughts were stormy…Where is he? Where is that Ketut…that butcher! He’d better have a good story because I an not happy.

Naked Tree

I found him, of course. Summoning as much composure as possible I inquired, politely, about the tree. It was for safety, he said. Too much wind, tree fall on house. What about the birds? I needed to know. Was there a nest? Many nest, Ketut smiled, but no egg. He further explained that he was not finished. The whole top of the tree would be cut off but his knife had broken. The whole top of the tree. Then what? I asked. He smiled that angelic smile…Then, one month maybe, new tree!

I’m sensing a theme here…first the frog, now the tree. Death and rebirth. Transformation. For my last visit to Bali I lived at the edge of a rice paddy. I arrived when the new shoots were tender green rows against the muddy earth. I left just before harvest. The paddy was a golden field, ripe, mature, and I had grown as well. This time I live at eye-level with the treetops. My neighbors are the birds. I am in mid-heaven, halfway between the sacred and the mundane. And I know why I’m here. Yes, to rewrite the manuscript…yes, to hold a workshop…but the greater purpose, wrapped all around in this beautiful cocoon of my home, is to liquefy. I’ve already felt the beginning of it. I could be terrified, or I could yield into acceptance. What choice does the caterpillar have? What choice do I?

A lone dove sits on a naked branch of The Tree. One month, little friend, I tell her, one month.


I took a photo from my balcony that first morning in Bali. The tender young shoots of rice plants in the paddy below spoke of new beginnings, possibility, unlimited potential. They were like pre-schoolers marching in obedient rows, drinking deep of the nourishing mud at their roots.

Every morning since then I have eaten breakfast overlooking that same paddy, observing the subtle changes, drinking in the green of it, the succulence. I have seen it tended by barefoot women, bent all day over their task, mindfully pulling away what doesn’t nurture, what doesn’t belong.

And this morning when I sat down to breakfast and drank in the view it was like looking in a mirror I could so clearly see my reflection there. The seed of self planted here in the healing climate of Ubud has taken root. Things that do not belong to my truth, that do not nurture my growth, are being pulled away. I have met someone that I vaguely remember from a long, long time ago, a simple girl with poetry and passion in her soul. She got left behind when she didn’t fit the image I created for myself, the person I thought I ‘should’ be. We’re getting reacquainted. She’s a grown-up version with life-grit in her pores, not very pretty but very, very real. I am falling in love for the first time…with myself.

The rice paddy, too, has matured. She is a vibrant maiden now, full-grown but not quite ripe. I may not be here for the harvest of the rice. It’s not a plant whose growth I can predict with familiarity like tomatoes or corn. I’ve heard it has to turn golden before its time. I don’t need to know. It has fulfilled its purpose for me. Others will enjoy the fruits of its yield. My job is to show up for the reaping of my own late-sown crop.

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