The 32-foot ketch Tosca is careened for a coat of bottom paint in Benoa Harber, Bali.
Date: January 1999
Place: Bali to Borneo (Indonesia)
Dawn in Borneo. Fat drops of rain, blessed rain, splatter on the deck of our ketch, Tosca. A blanket of clouds hangs low overhead, rose-petal pink to the east and gun-metal blue to the west. The swelling Kumai River slips silently beneath the hull. Its tannin-stained waters carry dead leaves and fallen limbs.
Anchored along the eastern bank, Tosca lies at the edge of a dark green labyrinth where our water world vanishes. The shoreline reveals a thin patch of spongy peat quickly consumed by a nipa palm swamp. Beyond the palms, mountainous lumps of impenetrable hardwood hammocks belie the region’s irrefutable flatness. Every green thing seems engaged in mortal combat. Branches and roots crawl with successively smaller biota competing for whatever light penetrates this place. The air, thick with the smell of honey-scented flowers and filled with the constant whining buzz of cicadas, rests heavy in the palm of my hand. Each bird’s cry sounds to me like a plea for help. Welcome to Kumai, Kalimantan, in Indonesian Borneo. The heart of darkness, indeed. Continue reading →
The signs arrive days before
the first scent of land—
a sooty tern flying west (manutara, as the island people say),
first one, and then another
and more as evening falls.
In the still morning before the trades
rise again, the smell of wet earth,
heart-rot, and green life growing
knocks you down.
You strain your eyes toward the horizon Continue reading →
At 13,000 feet, up there, somewhere
in a cave
a man . . .
and a woman (you won’t see her)
who will bless your ascent
for the equivalent of two dollars
to cover the cost of spiced oil
that he drips in your hair.
Bring a kata with you,
silky white in your pocket.
The lama will say a blessing
and then lay it gently around your neck.
He will sprinkle the scented oil
and something else in your hair.
It won’t wash out (the smell never goes away).
Don’t smoke or
light any candles
for several days. Continue reading →