It's 6am…and, as every morning here in Ubud, I am wide awake in my open-air room, listening to the orchestral masterpiece that surrounds me. The soundscape is complex…the gentle whir of a ceiling fan layered with falling rain and chattering roosters…chirping crickets and buzzing cicadas…gentle mutterings of birds and frogs and geckos…distant, beautiful chanting and gamelan mingled with the hum of far off motorbikes. And, for the last few days, a new sound…far less pleasing, like an insistent drumbeat…or…water, dripping from a desperately leaky faucet onto the bottom of a plastic bowl…starting slowly, then rapidly increasing to a paradiddle that lasts a while before slowing again to silence. This sound needled its way into my perception a couple days ago…making itself more and more apparent as the hours passed. As I sat, sketching on our back patio, my mind reached to place the sound. Amidst all others, whose sources I could easily identify, this one eluded me. At first, I thought it might be the metered swing of hammers against wood, but the beat was too sustained for that to be true. Then, I assumed it must be water, dripping off the roof of the house nearest ours, onto…what was that…a tin pot? But dripping water would never fall in such erratic, unpredictable patterns. Finding no explanation that made any sense, I ventured towards the sound, quickly finding the culprit.
Instigated by wind, driven by a propeller that, once spinning, triggers a little paddle that beats against a rusted tin can, these contraptions are used in rice fields during harvest to frighten off birds. I discovered two of them, catching wind from different directions, each at a slightly different pitch, subtly dissonant with one another...just enough to unsettle the nerves. They are bound to the end of bamboo poles and fastened to nearby trees right above a neighboring guest-house…a reactionary 'offering' installed by the disgruntled father of a local girl who was denied employment by them.
I am fascinated by the truth of this scenario. As annoying as it may be when it wakes me at all hours of the night driven by the whimsical wind, I can't help but admit that the logic behind it is rather clever and even a bit hilarious! The point was to so irritate the guests that they'd pack up and set out to find alternative accommodations. Unfortunately, the disturbance has reached beyond its intended aim, but…none-the-less, it worked. Every room is now unoccupied.
What I find most intriguing is the fact that these devices were set in place and LEFT there. Those working at the guesthouse in question were incredibly apologetic when I went to investigate, but they made no motion to remove the nuisance. Everyone, it seems, is waiting for someone with more respected authority to take care of it. As was explained to me by their staff (non-locals), it becomes a question of respect between villages…no one wants to upset the locals.
And so…the sound continues. And I…do my best to find some meaning in it so that its presence in my perception does not drive me absolutely insane. I exercise my ability to transform it...into a metronome, measuring some haphazard swing of an offset pendulum. I defer to my Vipassana training...practicing equanimity…allowing the sound to simply 'be'…to 'just observe' without reacting to it. And…I try to receive the sound as a gift…reminding me to be grateful for my capacity to hear it…for the fact that I am HERE…NOW…experiencing the beautiful strangeness of this.
Slowly…slowly…I am learning to accept it as simply another voice in the chorus, weaving itself between those sweeter sounds it accompanies, offering value contrast, making this Bali canvas that much more vibrant and rich.
Who knows…perhaps I'll even grow to enjoy the odd time it keeps. Perhaps you'll find me dancing across our kitchen, pulled by its awkward rhythm, finding grace in its temperamental beat...