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.

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