I originally started this letter in my lovely Bali home, watching another blazing and promising dawn. Practically sitting on the equator, we don't have seasons per se, it is more of an endless summer, and my particular (not so spring chicken-ish) body revels in the ease and comfort of it all. It is the levels of humidity that change, but give me languidly melting bones and moist skin over chilled joints and cracked lips any time. Nonetheless the cycles of life are, if anything, even more stark there.
When I had my 1st workshop of 2007 back at the beginning of September the men were planting the rice, and as I concluded the last one at the end of November the women were harvesting and threshing. In their earthy, spiritual ways and in full accord with nature... the men plant and the women harvest (in truth I do occasionally see men helping with the harvest, but never women sowing the seedlings).
Like the migratory creature that I have become, I am about to wing my way back across the Pacific - in 4 days. And unlike the "other birds" the only feathers I will get ruffled by the elements will be if I get seated beside someone who talks incessantly (my one and only fear about flying, but a very real one). Okay, I have to stop to remark on the young girl I am watching outside my window right now, she is walking along the tiny narrow rice field paths (between the fields that are now flooded and look like a patchwork of mirrors), she has one of those large blue propane tanks on her head, and is moving with a grace and poise that would leave any cat-walk model completely in the dust.
Bali is a constant visual feast, and also a reminder of what pampered klutzes we westerners can be. I could as soon do what that waif-like beauty is doing as walk a tight-rope with a tea cup on my head. And in-between watching Bali's delights, I get to have fabulous adventures, which takes me to where I was last time I wrote.
And this time, right after the workshop, for some crazy reason I decided to fly to Java with 24 people, and take them to the spectacular Buddhist temple of Borobudur. It was a "maiden voyage", and in truth a highlight for many people. I did find a great hotel, appalling drivers (not in the sense of safety... just not the remotest clue as to where they were going), did way too much in too short a time, and I inadvertently gave everybody a restaurant experience to go down memorably in the annals of "worst ever". I'm not sure if there is any consolation in something being so bad it verges on being funny? And as for the tobacco sponsored karaoke that went on until 1am (followed by the 4am Muslim call to prayer)... well I couldn't do much about that. However seeing the spectacular site at sun-rise is something never to be forgotten, so I believe most other faux pas on my part were forgiven in that moment.
I have learned from these projects that people can be very forgiving. I came home chanting the mantra "never again", only to swallow those words and change them to "simplify, simplify, simplify". It is a once in a lifetime trip for many people, so we are going to keep offering the trip to people as an addendum.
After the workshop and the Borobudur "adventure", I suddenly had some time to myself so I took a shuttle off to the delightful little town of Amed, on the north-east coast of Bali. There is actually a largish area with the name of Amed, but my absolute favourite spot is an isolated beach, with simple bamboo thatched roof huts, outside showers (cold water but nothing more needed), and hammocks on every patio. The fishermen keep their boats along the shoreline, and they are brightly painted with glorious sails, so watching them leave at dawn, bob around out at sea... and then come back with their catch is a soulful meditation all of its own. The hotel is called "Good Karma" and is owned by a rather wild and woolly character named Bubba, who can frankly be a little overwhelming with his loud and endless chatter. But the man has not sold out, lots of little boutique type resorts are popping up all over the place, but this little bay is still pristine and simple, 7 bucks a night includes breakfast, a great slice of no frills heaven, great snorkelling, and a view of Bali life just for Bali.
Mid December I headed for the US, and 2 days after arriving in CA was when my friend slipped away from us. So having just left the tropics I travelled across the US, apparently flying through many storms, I didn't notice I was just hell-bent on making my connections. It took me longer to get from California to the East Coast than from Bali to California. I went to the winter wonderland of Maine, to be by the side of my dearest friend whose husband had died. She was beautiful, strong and grieving, with a heart like a lioness, and the tenderness of an angel. We cried and laughed, were silent and talked endlessly, and I have never in my life felt so honoured at being with someone as I was to be with her during this time.
Then true to the way my life just seems to be, I flew back to CA, and one day later got on another plane to Mexico to see another precious friend for Xmas. So it was great food, margaritas, walks through the arroyo, big family gatherings and listening to fabulous music. And staying in a house full of furry angels... 7 dogs and 3 cats no less... and a crow called Dennis on the roof who likes to taunt the dogs by imitating their barking. So despite the deep sadness that preceded it, this was a life affirming visit, especially because these particular friends have taken a giant leap from the USA to living in Mexico, and all their instincts to do so were perfect for them and how they love to live. And the street dogs of the area are particularly blessed with their presence.
So one would think I could then settle in the lovely little cabin in SY for at least a few weeks? Wrong! Two weeks later I zipped off to France for a week. It might sound romantic, but in truth I got on a plane to Paris, immediately crossed the city (so I did see the Seine and some of the city), got on a train and headed for Brittany. It was a plain and simple reconnaissance trip for a workshop I have planned there in 2010. And the mission was accomplished and most successful. It is a long story, but I met someone who is renovating a hotel there in a tiny town called Huelgoat. It is perfect for what I need, but I just had to see it. Lovely area, full of grottoes and caves that evoke all kinds of visions and imaginings of King Arthur's times (especially for a Celt like myself). It was really cold and damp and drab (Northern Europe in January... duh), but I'm a little weird in that I actually like seeing places at their worst because if I like it then it can only get better.
Now the French themselves are another story, of course some were delightful, but after being in Bali, all I can say is they are completely on the opposite end of the "friendly" scale. Their social and cultural attitudes towards visitors are just much cooler and more detached - was that discreet or what. In truth it was quite shocking for me, but still it is going to work perfectly for what I want, and I stayed at a wonderful B&B owned by a lovely British couple. I had a room overlooking what is called "Chaos" (the irony is not lost on me when I read back what my life sounds like). It is a broad stream, with an ancient working water-wheel full of huge boulders, that the myths claim were thrown down by some giants, a game of monster marbles maybe?
Back to CA, and a rather sobering entry. I had left my car in LA airport, and I was so tired driving back to Santa Ynez I had to stop and have Gatorade and Mars Bars just to stay awake. In all seriousness I realised that I was way too jet-lagged and frazzled to drive, and I will never do that again. I don't think I have ever been behind the wheel and that exhausted, but I couldn't help wondering how many people in that enormous city, on that 5 lane highway were just as tired as me?
Had a birthday (56 and trucking!), saw beautiful daughter (best present ever)... with definite plans to see son Andrew on the next trip. And I say next trip, because I am finishing this letter in Bali, where I have been since February 28th. It is (another) whirlwind jaunt, I came back to work on some workshop / house projects for about 6 weeks (and managed to get back to Amed again). And I was lucky enough to be here for Nyepi this time. Right before the New Moon in Pisces the Balinese build effigies of monster and demonic forces, tempting out all the negative forces on the planet. Then they burn these symbolic effigies and the following day is one of absolute silence (Nyepi), no driving, working, leaving the house, complete peace and quiet to invite the positive forces back into the world. It is an amazing day.
This is why I live in Bali, they want to heal the world, and they believe it is possible. I am just getting over a rather horrid bout of the flu, another friend here in Bali just died very suddenly of pancreatic cancer, and I must admit I've been in a funk for a few days. On top of that I have been getting irritated at myself for not finishing this letter. So this morning I decided that this day would not end without the "send" button being hit. Determination (good and / or bad), is something I do have. So I sat down with lots of mixed feelings and some emotional turmoil, but guess what... just simply making myself do it has burned up some of my "monsters and effigies", and reaching out to friends always gives me a great feeling of peace.
The last few months have been a period when so many different emotions have vied for centre stage that I honestly can't say in simple terms how I feel in general terms (yes that is exactly what I mean). Since my wonderful friend died in December after a long and brave battle with cancer, three other people I've known have also died.The inevitable cycles of life and death are always all around us, and of course I've personally lost many people... but for some reason with this particular friend's transition I felt a threshold being crossed. It is the time when we (and I mean in particular myself and my friends of a similar age), really are starting to leave, and I don't mean in a morose or morbid way (because it doesn't in the least feel that way).
I just remember when we were all having babies and raising families, or starting careers and journeys, almost everything was about beginnings and birth. But really realising that this present chapter will be one of inevitable and continual goodbyes to absolutely everyone changes life's colours for me. In truth a certain anxiety has dissipated, it really feels like this is it, no need to anxiously look for the perfect career, relationship or place. Of course life is forever renewing itself and full of surprises, but if something doesn't happen, it doesn't mean that some boat was missed. I can't/won't look at life that way.