Monday, November 20, 2006

Pandagaran, Java

On the southern coast of Java, we stayed at a local fishing village. Everyone goes to the beach at sunset to watch the thousands of fruit bats (flying foxes) fly from the forest to the fruit plantations across the bay.

These young men were fishing in traditional ways. They walked chest deep into the sea and seined. This time they came in with two small fish, a collection of plastic bottles, a shoe, and other debris. Someone told us they used to fill their nets and sell to the big cities inland.

Fishing and tourism have been important in this area. However, Pandagaran was heavily damaged in the May 2006 earthquake that hit nearby Yogajakarta. I call this photo, "Two Fish" to honor the catch of that day.

Bogor, Indonesia

This morning I listened to the BBC news report on George Bush's visit to Indonesia. My initial reaction was to apologize to the Indonesians (and the world). The global community and America desperately need better-than-Bush. Now!

But beyond politics, I was drawn to the report because I have been to Bogor. In February and March 2001, Barry and I visited our good friend who was teaching at the Jakarta International School. It was my first time in Asia and the experiences changed me forever.

Here's the Bogor I remember: We saw flying foxes (tropical fruit bats) hanging in huge trees. The Presidential Palace is a large white mansion, a remnent of colonial rule. There is a wide main thoroughfare, vast lawns, high fences, and roe deer roaming the grounds. We walked through botanical gardens and saw a raffesia (corpse flower) well beyond its bloom.

We were the only people from a western country in the gardens that day. Two men approached us, one selling postcards and one selling small silver spoons with figures from Indonesian puppetry. The two men spoke English and we spent the next few hours with them as they became our guides.

One man had been a teacher and the other, an engineer. When the Asian markets crashed in the late 90's, these men lost their jobs and like so many others now sold souvenirs. They told us few tourists came to Bogor those days, especially after Suharto was driven out and the American businesses fled.

We rode back to Jakarta on smooth highways. As we approached the city center, there were tall, western-style skyscrapers, emblazoned with the names and logos of American banks and insurance companies -- and all were abandoned. There's a river/ canal that also runs through the center and along its banks were cardboard huts where families lived and ate and washed. I watched an elderly woman dip water from that brown sludge that carried the refuse of 12 million people to the harbor and on to the Java Sea.

It wasn't all poverty and stereotypic images -- not at all. There were trees and vibrant markets and everywhere, families together. We visited museums along with multiple school groups, all dressed in different uniforms. We visited the largest mosque in Southeast Asia. We were a great curiosity and that created so many memorable, thoughtful conversations.

My credo is: We are all just people. This is what I learned in Asia, across the length of Java and Bali, in the botanical gardens of Bogor.

I still have those tiny silver spoons. I wonder what George Bush will bring back from Indonesia?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


This is one of the best election nights I have ever had! New Hampshire has elected Paul Hodes over Charlie Bass... and Carol Shea-Porter over Jeb Bradley. John Lynch is our Democratic Governor, and for once, I am very proud to be a New Hampshire Democrat.

Now, let's go after those miserable hypocrites in the White House.

Merry Hell, indeed!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Full Moon in November

It was a full beaver moon this past weekend and the night landscape was gorgeous -- and eerie. It was a dark silvery light, like a kind of parallel universe glimpsed only at times like these.

I often write about November. It's a transition time, before the holidays and Winter Solstice, yet beyond the brilliance and abundance of October and the harvest. I see brown fields, bare trees, and a pause between seasons.

One of my first stories, "The Goat Woman", was all about that November sense of time and mortality. This led me back to 1986, when this story was published. Twenty years ago. Guess I thought life would be different, somehow, twenty years hence.

Here are bits and pieces of that story. It's still one of my favorites.

"She awoke with the fire in her bones. Her Granny had called such pains, miseries. But Natty knew she suffered more than a misery. The devil himself poked at her spine. Every morning he tested to see if she were ripe, ready for the stewpot."...

"Outside, the morning sun crept over the brown weeds in her yard. She counted the twenty-five paces it now took her to reach the barn. She slid the door to the right and stepped into the cool, dark cavern. She closed her eyes, as she did each morning, and slipped back forty years."...

"A low bleat broke into her daydream. She opened her eyes. Gerta, the last of her French Alpine-Toggenburg cross, called. The doe pointed her long ears at Natty and tilted her head as if to say, Well now, old woman."...

"....hard to figure, said Natty. You came back alive, but Tom was dead. Cut down by his own heart right in the middle of sugaring season. Thin year that was."...

"Will Dove shook his head. 'I saw a goat. A big silver goat, mind you, running with the deer on Bridgewater Mountain. I had it in my sights, mind you. She looked just like that big doe of yours. Never saw anything like it, a goat running with deer...'."

"The Count had been Tom's idea. Natty never liked it, but she understood. So even with Tom dead she did the Count, year by year. She tucked the book under her arm and went to the barn, repeating Tom's charge:

"Count the hay. Count the goats. Count the grain. Count the goats. Count one winter's worth."...

"Your November light cuts right to the bone."...

"For supper she cooked a soup of onions, oatmeal, carrots and dried beans. She wished she had a piece of bread to sop up the broth, but things like fresh bread belonged to the days when Tom was alive."...

" ....she opened the fire and laid on chunks of maple. She washed with warm water from the bucket. She stroked her feet, legs, arms and face. She put on clean longjohns and fresh socks. She tucked dried fruit and nuts into the pouches of Tom's hunting coat. She combed her white hair and pulled on the purple hat. She checked herself for gloves, scarf, extra socks. Before she left, she blew out the lamps.

"Outside her breath showed in little white gusts. The full Beaver Moon had risen, bathing her yard with silver light."...

"Gerta bounced like a kid. She kicked her heels sideways and tugged at Natty's sleeve. Now, old woman, she seemed to say.

"Natty leaned on her walking stick, a smooth piece of hornbeam Tom had cut for her years ago. Under the light of the full moon, she pushed off and slowly followed Gerta past the maples and through the overgrown orchard. Ahead she saw the silver line where a well-trodden deer track led up Bridgewater Mountain.

"She was certain Gerta knew the way."