One of the reasons I was most excited about coming to Bali was the chance to better acquaint the kids with animals and plants in their natural state. To date, most of their interactions with animals or nature have been with our pets or animals at the zoo. I think this lack of organic experiences has resulted in Allie wanting to capture every animal she runs across and hold it hostage in an empty, plastic, drinking bottle.
Having lived in LA for most of my life, I always liked “nature.” In fact, I always enjoyed going to visit it (within an hours drive), where I could thoroughly soak it in, then return to my house, shower, and go to sleep in my clean, comfortable bed. “Nature” was best in it’s own neighborhood. But, I always thought –wouldn’t it be great for the kids to experience more “nature”? Of course it would! I’d read about “Nature Deficit Disorder” a term coined by author Richard Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods and I was sure my kids had it in spades. I longed for them to experience the wildness and beauty of nature while remaining safe and more importantly, clean and sanitary.
Right before we left LA, I received an e-mail from the Santa Monica Police Department addressing a pertinent “nature” issue. Perhaps, this gives some insight into how I and, in my opinion, most Angelenos “coexist” with nature. Below is an excerpt from that memo: (I promise this is real)
“Living with Wildlife in Santa Monica”
Coyotes Are Active in This Area
One of the great features of living in an urban area like Santa Monica is the ability to be so close to nature and the local mountains that are full of native species like raccoons, possums, squirrels, and coyotes
Humans can coexist with coyotes by following some of these helpful tips:
· Do not run or turn your back.
· Be as big and loud as possible.
· Wave your arms and throw objects.
· Face the coyote and back away slowly.
· If attacked, fight back.
John Muir is surely spinning in his grave. I think this was taken from an earlier SMPD memo –“Coexisting with Rapists.” But, I digress….
Back to my fantasy….I longed for my kids to chase fireflies, capture frogs and play kick the can… okay, maybe I got a little carried away with that one. Anyway, you get the idea.
Well as the old adage goes: “be careful what you wish for.” I think I mentioned in previous posts that the houses here are mostly open air. We have doors that close up our living space but, they’re only closed at night when we go to bed. In addition, there is a large open area right off the dining room that has no doors or anything that closes so, that part of the house is always wide open. During the day all the doors remain open, mostly for air flow, but it also makes access completely available to whoever wanders in…..or out. But, only after they’ve spent a long, noisy night with us.
So, in my old version of being close to nature, I imagined my children running across a meadow, chasing butterflies in smocked outfits, gleefully playing without even a speck of dirt on them. And it was beautiful. Here’s the problem with my fantasy and what I’ve learned about “nature.” Nature is kind of gross. It’s loud and often smelly. It doesn’t wipe it’s feet or flush and it doesn’t care who or what it poops on. For a city girl from LA, this is taking some getting used to.
Let me take you through an average day and night at our house in Bali. At about 5:00-5:30 AM our neighbors roosters, (yes, roosters with an “s”), begin to make noise (if we’re lucky, it’s not earlier). That myth we’ve all been fed of the polite rooster, patiently waiting until dawn to cock-a-doodle-doo –let me disabuse you of that notion right here, it never happens that way. It is possible that these roosters are either ADD or idiots or both but, they make noise, lots of noise, whenever the impulse strikes them –in fact, I’ve never noticed it being precisely at dawn. And here in Bali, there are chickens EVERYWHERE. They all belong to someone –but, no one has pens or bothers keeping their chickens in their own yard. And for some reason, there seem to be WAY more roosters than hens. The kids, (especially Allie), are fascinated by the chickens — I, on the other hand, am fantasizing about chicken nuggets.
After breakfast the house is opened up and throughout the day we are visited by lots of bugs (nothing too scary), mostly innocuous, flying ones. Lots of butterflies, gnats, dragonflies, and lovely iridescent green flies. Currently, it’s the middle of the summer (technically) so, most of the smarter creatures (of course, this doesn’t apply to our resident idiot chickens), lay low most of the day to avoid the heat and humidity.
Later in the afternoon is when the real fun begins. Around 5:00 pm, it starts to cool off slightly and the first thing to emerge are small, pinkish-brown lizards everyone calls chik- chaks. By late afternoon, there are around 10-15 on the walls inside the house. As abundant as they are, they’re actually quite shy and run away when you approach, so getting good pictures of them is tough. Their name comes from the sound they make which sounds like chik-chak so, that’s what everyone calls them. I’m sure they have a fancier, scientific name, I just didn’t bother looking it up.
Along with the chik chaks, the geckos start to emerge around this time. They share the chik chaks’ shyness but, they’re larger and MUCH louder. They’re also referred to by a name associated with the sound they make — toe-kay. The first time I heard it I thought someone was standing in our living room blowing an airhorn. The booming and startling noise that comes out of this relatively small lizard is astonishing and frankly, awe-inspiring. I think Fletcher must be related to them. We have several that live in our house, mostly behind the pictures hanging on the walls. There is one in particular that Allie has named “big boy” that lives behind the painting over the couch in the living room. I still haven’t gotten used to him darting his head out of the bottom of the frame, just as I’ve just settled down on the couch.
As much as I would like to think the lizards are our personal welcoming committee, they’re actually coming out to feed on the mosquitoes. Yes, the mosquitoes are pretty bad right now. Poor Allie! Her legs look like she has chicken pox! I recently purchased these super-charged, personal bug zappers that look like electric tennis racquets. In the evening, (including the time we’re having dinner), we walk around the house carrying them and competing to see how many mosquitoes we can zap. It’s pitiful. The people who’ve been here a while tell us that eventually your body adjusts and the mosquitoes don’t bite you as much or you stop reacting. And mercifully, when the wet season ends in March/April, the mosquitoes are supposed to subside. I’m praying that day comes soon for my daughter — for some reason, the mosquitoes love her the most.
After the initial siege of lizards and mosquitoes, out come the bats and frogs. The bats generally stay outside, except for one overachiever who finds his way into the house every night and circles over our heads for about an hour – (luckily we have high ceilings). He also leaves us a present wherever he feels like it, (lately, it’s been in the middle of the living room floor). The frogs are even less bold than the lizards and not nearly as agile (at least on land). They tend to hop in, freeze up, and then proceed to just sit there in the middle of the floor waiting to be stepped on (as Marc did one night on the way to the bathroom –yuck!) or discovered by one of the kids who then, happily chase them around the house.
Are you appalled yet? I hope not. It probably sounds worse than it is. I’m actually growing fond of the creatures that inhabit our house. I think of them as little soldiers that protect us from the assault of the evil mosquito army that invades every night. Nothing like a common enemy to bring you together!
That being said, it’s definitely a different way to coexist — we’re all learning a lot. The other night, I watched as the kids ran around outside with flashlights, chasing and catching frogs (almost like I imagined – just with more dirt). And I’m happy to report, it’s been days since Allie trapped anything in a plastic bottle.
Then again, if it gets to be too much, I can always go back to waving my arms, throwing objects and acting as big and loud as possible but, on second thought, that’s actually what brought me here in the first place.