Friday, November 16, 2012

Winter sleep

Most people prefer winter scenes that include snow. The purity of the white blanket hides the undesired look of death beneath it. We don't generally associate winter with beauty, or life. Admittedly, one must look a bit closer during winter if searching for beauty. It's as if nature has shriveled up and left skeletons in her wake. Yet, I find that there is a simple beauty in the remains of the living, a serenity that beckons one to slow down and just wait. Wait for the spring that is months away. Get used to it, look at what will ultimately give new life in the next season.

Recently, I wandered around a friend's property in upstate New York during a warm spell that kept the snows at bay. Granted, there were few living things to photograph as there are in other seasons, but the calm of winter had settled in and invited me to have a look around. These are the scenes I captured on my walkabout.

Decorative milk cans from a bygone era lend a bit of color.

Winter's approach reminds folks to stock up on the fire wood.

How many winters has this wagon seen?

The death stare of a deer, the sky reflected in the milky eye.

In spring, this pond will come alive with the trills of hundreds of frogs, now sleeping under the mud.

Puffs of seeds that will ride winter winds and find a place to sprout in spring.

Dried leaves on a vine that has grown inside the barn.

A nest patiently awaits the return of phoebes.

The wasps have gone to rest during winter and find new places to build next summer.

Barn pattern detail

Winter sunset

Saturday, October 27, 2012


One of the rooms at our hotel, the Tjampuhan. The restaurant is at left. A gorgeous setting.
My first visit to Bali will, I hope, not be my last. I had a certain image of the tropical isle in my mind, and the reality was better...and worse. The famous Indonesian island is a lush tropical paradise, once you get beyond Denpasar. Coming from Thailand, I had no desire to sample the beach scene, so we went north to the artist village of Ubud. We were fortunate to pick a hotel online that turned out to be the nicest place either of us has ever stayed in our many decades of global travel. Ubud has maintained a modicum of tranquility, but it is no longer the sleepy artist colony it once was. Tourists, mostly from Europe and Australia, clog the streets in search of genuine Balinese art or cloths. Once again, I had to admit to being part of the problem. Unfortunately, the shops and restaurants are geared to those of means, so prices are steep. One has to search hard to find a bargain, or even a reasonably priced item. It is much more expensive than Bangkok. After a thorough search, I was able to find a very few unique carvings and artwork without exhausting my bank account.

The view from our balcony

Nature is the template for the design of Tjampuhan

One of the spring-fed swimming pools

Despite the economic drawbacks of being a tourist, Bali is a charming place. The jungle is always nearby, rushing streams run through the middle of Ubud at the base of cliffs with lush vegetation clinging to the rocks; brilliant butterflies, swooping swallows and bats flit through the garden-like village. 

A hotel worker ceremoniously places incense, holy water and flowers on a shrine.
Everywhere in Bali, one sees a continuous display of devotion from its Hindu inhabitants. On every shrine in every temple, including house temples (all houses in Bali have one), in doorways, even on the sidewalks, one encounters the small baskets made of bamboo and banana leaves, filled with flowers, an incense stick smoldering. These are replaced daily.

Every day a fresh offering is placed on a special box beside each door of the hotel rooms.
This was ours.

Placing offerings on a shrine at a shop in town.

This woman spent an hour placing flowers and incense around one of Ubud's temples.

Baskets are found everywhere, hundreds on the sidewalks of Ubud.

It is common to see people taking huge baskets of fruit to the temples at all hours.
Offerings at a shrine in Ubud
15th century cave temple, Goa Gajah (Elephant Cave).

Entrance to Goa Gajah

Many Eastern religions include worship of Lingam (male ) and Yoni (female) genitalia. Here in Goa  Gajah are lingams which still today receive alms. It's refreshing to see a society that is not ashamed of sexuality; indeed, they openly worship it.

The meditation room of the royal family from the Majahapit Empire.

Outside of town, villages, with temples at their centers, remain the cultural fiber of Bali. Each Balinese village has three temples, one for each of the main Hindu gods: Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the preserver), and Shiva (the destroyer). To see Balinese life, one must venture beyond the tourist centers. We spent a full day touring the countryside, visiting ancient temples, dining at the base of an active volcano, and observing everyday life of villagers and farmers.

Entrance to a village temple.

Holy springs at temple in Sebatu Village. 

Altar detail

Everyone must wear a sarong at temples. There are always sarongs to borrow as you enter.
Water is not always abundant in Bali, as there are, as in Thailand, several months of dry season. Because farming is so important to the Balinese economy, a sophisticated water system has been developed. In addition to the irrigation canals, the Balinese have established a cooperative system between northern villages, where water originates, and southern villages, which need the water. All Balinese farmers belong to a subak (cooperative) that decides who will grow which crops and when. It keeps the agricultural economy strong and thriving. The government tried to instill a different system with imported crops, but it was a failure, and BAli returned to the subak system which exists today.

Part of Bali's vast irrigation system. 

Bali's famous rice paddy terraces

Roadside fruit stand

Winnowing rice at harvest time
Mt Batur. The damage from the 1963 eruption can still be seen on its slopes and in the tongue of the lava flow in middle of the photo.

A selection of Balinese coffees. The white cup in the middle contains luwak coffee, the beans of which have traveled through the digestive tract of a civet cat.

Returning to Ubud, we took time to stroll the streets, take in some cultural events, and relax in the beauty of the lush surroundings.

An artist captures the beauty and grace of the Balinese

There's that phallic obsession again. This time, it is a wooden call bell on our balcony.
Each room has one.

Balinese women carry a variety of things on their heads.
Men never do: they use their shoulders to bear the weight.

Some of the loads are quite imposing.

Recess time at a local school

Even the macaques at Monkey Forest let it all hang out!

A gamalan band performs at the palace in Ubud.

Traditional Balinese dancers.

From a version of the Ramayana legend, performed at the palace.

School entrance

Palace wall carvings

Traditional Balinese figures

Lush sanctuaries are tucked away inside courtyards.

Mythical demon carvings beautifully rendered on a cow skull