Monday, June 30, 2003

River Bathing
by Skald

Grass-stained knees and body glassy with sweat... summer- in Athens, Georgia.

Just finished a game of Ultimate Frisbee and was drenched and dirty. Hopped in the Nissan , with Athena, and drove to Ben Burton Park. Once there, grabbed a towel, a bottle of Dr. Bronner's soap, and a clean pair of shorts.

We bounded out of the car and strolled through the park- made our way to the wooded area in the back where the Broad River widens- shallow- over rocky shaols. Found a little cove off the trail and hopped onto the rocks-- to the middle of the river. Athena followed, then waded in and sat down-- a contented plop.

It was early evening so the worst of the heat was fading. Kicked off the flip-flops, took off my shirt, and walked into the water-- next to a large rock where I put my clean shorts, towel, tevas, and soap.

Sank down and sat on the river bottom- cool water rushed over me. What a sublime sweetness- The Broad flowing over burning-hot body... sighed forcefully.. took a look around. The River spread out in front of me-- a wide green vista... foam rushed over rocks, curled and swirled, bubbled and danced. In the distance a white heron sailed just above the current.... meandered lazily and settled on an outcropping.

No one in sight. I glanced at Athena- neck deep and, seemingly, lost in the same sublime reverie: cool flow... a slight breeze rustled in the trees... leaves tickled by the wind whispered in delight. Blue sky overhead..... sank deeper into brown water... up to my neck.... to chin... and then under.

Came up with a sputter and an exhilerated WOOP. Stood up, grabbed the soap, lathered from head to knees--- rubbed soap into my shorts as well... a bit of laundry accomplished at the same time. Stood with goosebumps and then plunged into the river again.. beat and splashed and scrubbed the soap away.

I felt clean--- much cleaner, in fact, than after a normal shower.... perhaps the natural surroundings... the beauty of the place.. or my freedom...provided for a deeper cleansing-- something more than skin deep. Pondered this thought and sat a while longer-- watched the heron tip-toe among the rocks... watched the water flow.. listened to the gurgling and spitting. Athena panted gently.

Stood up, climbed onto the rock, toweled off, and scanned for passersby. Saw no one, so off with the wet shorts and then hurriedly dried and slipped on a clean pair. Once dressed I wrung out the clothes and towel and bundled them together... slipped on the sandals.. and made my way back to the car- wet dog, a very happy wet dog, in tow.

This is how I bathed that summer: The simplest and most sublime pleasure of that first hobo experiment. And so, when I travelled in India a year later I was thrilled to see hordes of Indians bathing in rivers....
and it seemed to me that they- rather than we- had the right idea.
Take the Leap
by Skald

Imagine what may be possible---
what may be crouching in that long dark alley--- the one not on the map.... where the shuck and jive of the tourist-trade gives way to blank stares... eyes squinting from shuttered windows... the smell of cardamon and hashish...

A hidden shrine, bathed in blood...
annointed with homemade bread, rotting fruit, and a swarm of flies...

Circled by a jangling procession....
a preambulation...
an invitation....
a blessing.

What might await beyond the pages of the books:
brushes with death? unexpected satoris? strange visions? lifelong friends? disappointments? violence? reverie?

Sitting here, reading this, you'll never know.
Debating, insulting, agreeing, defining, arguing, admiring... you'll never know.

Safe, comfortable, confident-- you'll never know.

Monday, June 23, 2003

What is a Hobo?
pirated from CyberHobo

A Quick Definition is:

A Hobo is a person that travels to work
A Tramp is a person that travels and wont work
A Bum is a person that will neither travel or work

The name "Hobo" first started appearing in the 1800's, one book says 1864. A Hobo is an independent and resourceful person who travels around for work. Most people look at the hobos. homeless and tramps, as being the same. That's like saying a Harley and Kawasaki are the same, they are both motorcycles or a BMW and a Yugo are the same!, hopefully you get the picture. A Hobo is a person who travels to work, but due to circumstance and/or desire is not tied to a permanent job or trade. They do what a lot of us wish we could do.

Jefferson Davis, who is believed to have once reigned as King of American Hobos, made his own distinction... "The hobo," he said, "does not believe that society owes him a living, but he does believe that society owes him a chance to care for himself..."

Well a CyberHobo is similar except in modern society instead of trains we have computers and the internet. Since 1992 CyberHobo's travel to work but use the Internet and computers as a trade. Being that trains are more scarce these day we don't always hop a train for transportation. We can travel and develop website while in journey to our new destinations, just as our brothers before us carved their famous "Hobo Nickels" for lodging or food. The work is different but the longing for the road is the same. We are just a much a Hobo's in our hearts as any has ever been.

The New Definition is:

A Hobo is a person that travels to work
A Homeless Person is a person who is at the moment is without a home, and it's not by choice!
A Tramp is a person that travels and won't work - they'd rather beg!
A Bum is still a bum... a person that will neither travel or work.
The Hobo's Boxcar
By Jon Stone

"The hobo's knowledge of the world is restricted by his lack of a television set, a radio, a daily newspaper. Consequently, he has much less to worry about. "

"Most people define themselves by the money they have; the hobo defines himself by the miles he's traveled. "

"All 'boes are different, all are alike - like the rest of humanity. "

Sunday, June 22, 2003

This is some stuff I wrote about my trip to East Africa, last summer.

It's taken me a year to get it to this point, writing in two bursts: one in October, and one last week.

Photos from this trip are on-line at (Click Here)

East African Safari
Summer 2002

On the shore of Lake Nakuru, in Kenya, there dwell millions of flamingoes. The species is officially the "lesser flamingo," but the sight of all those pink feathers, all those skinny necks and pipe-cleaner legs, can hardly be described with the word "less" at all. It was the most amazing concentration of bird life I have ever witnessed. Gabbling and shuffling incessantly, the birds created such a blur with their collective mass that it became difficult to keep any specific one of them in view for any length of time. Mixed with the flamingoes at the north end of the lake were pelicans with yellow snouts and ceres, and the macabre birds known as Marabou storks, which resemble the Addams Family's butler Lurch. Two of these scavengers were battling over a flamingo carcass. The shaking of the corpse was exaggerated by the length of dead bird's neck, which flopped about like a writhing worm.

Among the birds were a family of Defassa waterbuck, a noble beast like a super-deer. Though actually an antelope, like all the hoofed mammals in Africa, the waterbuck has a much hairier appearance than its lithe kin, as though it has evolved in Yellowstone winters rather than in the Rift Valley. It resembles a stocky elk, but with unbranched antlers. The male waterbuck, with his three-foot horns, sat on the ground with his knees folded up underneath, in a pose evoking a housecat. The female and a young calf were grazing in the sparse grass a few meters and a dozen birds away from him.

A white rhinoceros slowly walked out of the acacia scrub, and out towards the open water. The white rhino (not actually white at all, but gray) is the second-largest land animal on Earth, after the African elephant. Yet it must rarely be in conflict with these birds, for they paid no attention to its progress. To make progress, the rhino kept its head down low; the flock cleaved by the stout horn like earth opening before a plow.

Elsewhere in the Nakuru park, we encountered our first rock hyrax. This charming mammal of talus slopes and rocky cliffs resembles a large sleek guinea pig, but a closer inspection of its anatomy demonstrates an affinity with a different group of mammals. Stubby toes with hemispherical round fingernails and a wiggling (but not quite prehensile) nose reveal it to be distant kin to the elephant. One smooth hyrax ignored the alarm chirps of his fellows, and came directly for us. He gladly accepted a banana peel offered to him by our guide, and as he gobbled it, I could see the blunt tusklike teeth in his mouth.

I was touring East Africa with my friend Seth Factor. We had been in Tanzania for most of the past month, and now we were in Kenya's Nakuru National Park, being wowed by animal life in its finest profusion. Seth and I met years ago when we were both doing ornithology research one summer, and a common love of birds persists to the present day.

We stopped the van so that Seth could identify some weavers which were building a nest in a dense acacia tree. Weavers are about the size of a robin, with a great number of similar looking species in Africa: most are variations on the theme of yellow-and-black. They are often colonial birds, and a dozen or more mated pairs will build their nests in the same tree. Though it was the dry season when we visited East Africa, and most birds were finished with nesting, these weavers were busy collecting grass and weaving it together in several different nests. As Seth was scrutinizing the little birds through his binoculars, a massive flier landed atop the same tree. The long pink legs, extended tail, and sharp hooked bill revealed it to be the secretary bird, a unique relative of the eagle that patrols the savannah on foot. Second only to the ostrich in height among African birds, the secretary bird stands four to five feet tall. They are named for the quill-like plumes that hang off the back of the back of the bird's head. This one coughed up a long rope of shiny meat, and bent down. Up from the interior of the acacia came the head of a baby secretary bird. The chick has been invisible to us until called up by its parent. Mother fed child, and inches away the shrieking weavers all hung upside down from the thorny branches, their wings a fantastic golden blur of agitation.

In Hell's Gate, a massive gorge south of Lake Naivasha in Kenya, I rode a mountain bike through one of the few national parks that do not strictly require their visitors to be in cars at all times. It is one of the great frustrations of safari travel for the active tourist that physical exercise on safari is limited to walking from the Land Rover to the tent. It was a divine pleasure, then, to be free and alone and pedaling a rickety two-wheeler on the dirt roads with nothing between me and Africa. My heavy-treaded tires passed over the fresh tracks of leopard in the dust of the track. Impala moved through the dry woodland as I labored uphill on the bike. I rode among herds of zebra, set into stampede by my presence. These striped wild horses were far more skittish when approached by a bicycle than by a car.

Elsewhere in Hell's Gate, browsing giraffe eyed me warily as they finessed leaves from the thorny tree-tops. When a giraffe runs, as a few did when I got too close, they seem to run in slow motion. Though serene when browsing, their exceptionally long legs and neck give them an ungainly appearance when in flight. Like a rickety robot constructed of stovepipes, its looks in danger of falling completely apart if it runs too hard.

We stayed several days in Naivasha, taking turns at being incapacitated with diarrhea and fever. When I was sick, Seth patrolled the escarpments and lakeshore for birds. When Seth was sick, I read David Copperfield in a chair under a tree. A hadada ibis with a deformed bill patrolled the mossy roof of the hotel, squaring off with the resident cats for choice rooftop territory. Across the street were a series of kiosks selling tilapia, the most common of the three species of fish that live in Lake Naivasha. These merchants proudly proclaimed their wares on signs painted in many languages. One used the archaic term "fishmonger" and a blocky rendering of a tilapia; with this Dickinsonian combination, hoped to attract pescivorous clients.

In everything but name, Dar Es Salaam ("Haven of Peace") is capital of Tanzania. A small burg called Dodoma officially is the seat of the federal government, but Dar is definitely where the action is. Dar is cleaner than many third-world cities I've seen, and pleasant enough. Like Windhoek, Namibia, it seems rather bland. A museum and nightlife were the main entertainments to be had. Dar is more run-down than Windhoek, by virtue of its seaside location, and the deleterious effects of salt air and storms from the Indian Ocean.

There is a heavy Arab Muslim influence on the coastal cultures of East Africa, and in fact the lingua franca of the region is a blend of Arabic and native African tribal languages, whose name itself - Swahili - means "coasts." Five times each day there would come a wailing call from the turrets of the city's mosques, the Muslim muezzin making the call to prayer. Some of the callers had beautiful voices, singing Allah's praises in the most graceful and mellifluous way. Others were rough and crass-sounding, and the difference was particularly jarring if the muezzin with the unrefined voice came on duty for the pre-dawn call, when I was usually still asleep.

Perusing markets is one of my favorite pastimes when visiting a new country. I appreciate the opportunity to see what items people want to buy and sell and the style in which the transaction is accomplished. To compare a Thai fruit market with a Mongolian butchery with and American strip mall certainly gives a perspective on some of the inherent differences between these countries. However, I was not able to find a locus of informal commerce in mainland Tanzania. The closest I came was by blundering into the fabric district of Dar Es Salaam. For several square city blocks, the storefronts and the streetside merchants sold only one item, in ten thousand variations: cloth.

Mikumi National Park in Tanzania is the closest protected area to Dar Es Salaam, and hence the most visited "wilderness" by weekend warriors and families. Brushfires, set by the rangers, were burning as we approached. Not far from the grassy blaze, there was a lion sleeping in a roadside ditch. These ditches call to mind the arroyos and miniature canyons of the arid American southwest. They are a favorite haunt of the lions, according to our guide. The narrow defiles provide tunnel-like passages across the savannah, allowing the lion to pop up unexpected in new locations, like a whale surfacing from a dive.

As the first national park that we visited in East Africa, Mikumi gave us our first sightings of many species that would later become common to our experience. We saw elephant for the first time here, a gentle family herd plodding across the savannah. Appearing on low trees at frequent intervals was a gorgeous bird the size of a small crow, but colored in light purples and turquoises, with a sharp eye and a long split tail. The lilac-breasted roller is that rare combination in a bird: both gorgeous and common. Though I would see them again and again over the rest of the summer, they would continue to impress me from every perch.

We saw impala in Mikumi, in scattered small herds. These graceful antelope have a nonchalant manner and delicate markings on tawny skin. Our guide misidentified them as Thompson's gazelles, and scowled when I contradicted him with a definitive photograph in my field guide. This same guide told me that a crocodile laid an egg that hatched into the first bird - somewhat accurate as a metaphor for the evolution of birds, but in no way literally true.

We also met our first yellow baboons, hippos, zebra and wildebeest. The wildebeest are also called gnus, and they are indeed "wild" looking "beasts." Hairy and ungainly, with a lowering forehead and crescent horns and extra fur dangling down towards the brown grass, the wildebeest appears to be an animal constructed of spare parts left over from the creation of more graceful mammals. We saw them in herds that varied in size between a few individuals and a few dozen.

Returning to our hotel from the park after sunset, we slowed to pass among a herd of forty Cape buffalo. The tapetum reflected from their eyes, showed green from the bush. (It was by counting the pairs of green dots that we were able to estimate the number of individuals in the herd.)

From Mikumi, we took a public bus south to the town of Mang'ula, administrative seat for the Udzungwa Mountains National Park. The Udzungwa range is an abrupt series of peaks that are part of a larger system known as the Eastern Arc. (The similarly named Usamabara Mountains, which we would visit in a few weeks in the northern part of Tanzania, are also part of the Eastern Arc.) We stayed for five days in Mang'ula, experiencing the slow pace of village life interspersed with strenuous hikes in the mountains. Along the roads were dozens of new species of birds and two new species of monkey. A fuzzy brown-headed kingfisher maintained a constant position on a telephone wire in the forest across from our hotel.

Our hikes in the forest brought us up into the mountains, which are thickly forested, unlike most regions of East Africa. Silvery-cheeked hornbills graced the canopy, and called with nasal abandon. There were black-and-white colubus monkeys here, too, which are richly maned in (surprise) black and white. Their massive mustaches and leglike tails gave them a heavyset appearance that must have served them well in showdowns with smaller primates, like the common red-capped colubus. The big black-and-whites tried to pee on the hikers below. When that didn't deter us, pebbly turds came raining down. Seth and I were hiking with two Danish women, one of whom gleefully exclaimed, "Look! They're shitting on us!" She sould not have sounded more delighted. We hiked to the lovely Sanje Falls, a cataract that launches a small river right off the edge of the Udzungwas, with a white cascade reaching 300 meters down to the base of the mountains.

Mang'ula the town doesn't have much going for it. There were two phones in the village, and only one of them worked when I was there. Bicycles and dogs and people trod over tarpaulins of drying rice on either side of the main street. There was a small market of used clothing and shoes, and another of vegetables. The stationmaster of the small railway station was absent when we arrived. His underlings told us that he was at lunch, at four in the afternoon. When he showed up an hour later, it was evident that his lunch had mainly consisted of beer. He made out some sloppy tickets for us, and slurred instructions to be there at 4am the next morning for the 5am train.

In the predawn darkness the next day, the Danes, entertained us with birthday songs and Disney tunes. Though we left the hotel at 3:30am, the train didn't come until 8:30, and we boarded together. Tanzania has two train tracks: one runs west from Dar Es Salaam to the "official" capital Dodoma, and from there northwest to Lake Victoria. The line that we rode on, however, came from the Zambian border in the southwest, and angled diagonally northeast to Dar. It passed through the northern part of the Selous Game Reserve, the largest area of protected natural land in Tanzania. Taking a train through the Selous was a safari in itself: visible from our second-class compartment were impala, warthogs, giraffe, wildebeest, and zebra. As we chugged across a bridge over the Rufiji River, I looked down to see twenty-some hippos rafted together in the muddy water. Another watercourse, not so full as the Rufiji, was choked in vegetation. As we slowed to pass through it, partially obscured elephants trumpeted at us from a few meters away.

Zanzibar is an island in the Indian Ocean, offshore from Tanzania, and now the two are one country. Formerly, when the mainland portion was still known as Tanganyika, Zanzibar was an independent nation, comprised of a small archipelago of islands, including Mafia and Pemba islands. All the islands are ringed with pristine beaches and prime fishing, but urbanity and commerce find their focus at the ancient city of Stonetown Zanzibar.

Stonetown is accessible by several ferry lines from Dar Es Salaam, including the incredibly slow one that we took because it was so cheap. Upon arrival, the Zanzibari sense of independence asserts itself in an immigration station, despite the fact that passengers haven't actually crossed any national borders. The Zanzibari touts assert themselves as well, offering to guide new arrivals to their chosen accommodation. Meandering Stonetown was a delight once my valuables were dropped off safely in my room at the hotel. The narrow alleyways wind and twist and diverge and recombine, creating a labyrinth of dusty yellow Arabic-style buildings. Several of the buildings are decrepit and fallen into disrepair, inhabited only by feral cats. A few have trees growing horizontally out of the mortar, a story or more above the street. Many have exquisite carved doors three meters in height, depicting interwoven flowers and vines.

Wandering alone through this maze brought me some fine experiences. Bypassing food vendors brought delicious smells of fried food to my nose. Men in dhotis were hunched over plates of falafal and lentils. Suave young men demonstrated their more Western affinities by strolling around (decidedly un-westernly holding hands with their male friends), often dressed identically in sunglasses and open-necked white shirts, shiny silver belt-buckles at their waists. Amid the chaos of the Creek Street Market, I saw men washing octopus as if it were laundry, on ancient stone tables that may have been there since the days when the market did more business in slaves than fish. Butchers reclined in bloodspattered tee-shirts on the very chopping blocks where they dismembered their meats. Yes, even the spices which have remained Zanzibar's prime export for hundreds of years were arrayed for sale in the market area.

I bypassed a Muslim school where the beautiful sound of hundreds of young voices singing verses from the Qu'ran came drifting out of latticed windows. An old woman swept the cobblestone street with a typical inefficient and back-bending East African "broom." A motorbike rounded a corner with a precautionary blast from the horn to alert pedestrians that it would momentarily appear; a warning to get the hell out of the way. On the beach, fishermen sorted out silvery bait fish in a tray. Dhows sailed by like massive white shark fins, blue sky above and blue water beneath.

In the evening, there is a lively night market at Forodhani Gardens, centrally located on the oceanfront on one of Stonetown's westernmost points. The merchants at the night market have a selection of grilled items available, from which I would make my selection. The food was then regrilled (to kill germs) and served over shaved cabbage and chips (French fries), and drizzled in a tangy chili sauce. The choices were numerous, and included staples like falafel and chapatti as well as seafood. In general, the food in East Africa was pretty uninspiring to my palate, but the Forodhani night market on Zanzibar was the exception to the rule. I feasted on tuna kebabs, kingfish, octopus, prawns, and snails (called "shells"). After the uninspiring fare in Mang'ula, I went ballistic on Zanzibar, and stuffed myself each evening. To Seth's naysaying about the potential to get sick off of such street food, I replied that it was so tasty as to be utterly worth it.

The Usambara mountains are in the northeastern corner of Tanzania, with sheer cliffs and forested tops giving them a reputation for excellent hiking. Like all the hiking in Tanzania, tourists must be accompanied by a guide - for reasons of both navigation and safety. The Usambaras are no strangers to tourists, but the mountain towns are remote enough to have been spared the full onslaught of tourism that perils places such as, say, Ngorongoro. We took a bus as far as the roadside town of Mombo, where a branch road climbed rapidly into the mountains. We rode up in a decrepit van which belched its exhaust up through the back door into the interior. Seth and I sat in the back seat, wedged in firmly and without escape by the presence of 26 other people crammed into the same car. We coughed and sputtered our way to the top. I shifted my weight by the few inches possible every ten minutes to keep my legs from falling asleep. It was easily the most uncomfortable vehicle ride I have ever been exposed to (beating out even an hour stuffed with 16 others in a Mongolian jeep, where at least the only fumes I had to breath were the Vodka-laced breaths of my companions).

Once to the town of Lushoto, we registered at the cheapest hotel we could find, a pit with the improbable name "The New Sarafina Teacher's Club." $1.50 a night bought us dank beds with dirty blankets in a concrete cell. All night long people charged up and down the hallway, shouting drunken accusations at each other. Seth became sick after staying here for the two nights that we spent in Lushoto. In retrospect, it seems incredibly cheap that we would opt for a hovel like the Teacher's Club when a few dollars more would have gotten us a very comfortable room in an adjacent lodging.

Our first Lushoto hike went to a densely forested area where the sharp eyes of our guide picked out chameleons by the bushel from the surrounding foliage. The lizards whose most famed attribute is the ability to change colors have a distinctive visage. Two serrated tabs project forward from the reptilian face, earning them the designation "two-horned chameleon." Their eyes are tiny, but set in a massive bulging ball of orbiting flesh. These "eyeballs" may rotate independent of one another - one can look forward while the other looks backwards, or up, or down, or forward also. It's an oddly endearing look for the lizards, diminishing any draconian menace they may once have exhibited.

On the next morning, we took a daybreak hike out to the Irente Viewpoint, a scarp of rock projecting from the edge of the mountain range granting the observer a wide vista over the Maasai Plain. As we arrived, a stratum of cloud cloaked the landscape thousands of feet below. It parted in places to reveal the scrubby acacia trees and tiny baobabs that, two days previously, we had been driving through on our way to the Usambaras from Dar. From my uplifted vantage, I looked down on the back of a augur buzzard, gliding above the clouds, many hundreds of feet lower than me.

In our time in Dar Es Salaam, Seth and I were introduced to many people. One of these social introductions was to a German woman who represented Teutonic chicken farming interests in Tanzania. We talked over dinner our second evening on the continent, and she gave us the telephone number of some people who she described as "very passionate birdwatchers." This tip, this minor conveyance of information in the course of polite dinner conversation would affect our trip vastly. It turned out that by calling that number, we found ourselves in the enviable position of being invited to Kifufu Estate.

Neil and Liz Baker grow coffee on Kifufu, an agricultural ranch located on the western slope of Mount Kilimanjaro's Shira Plateau. The property is one of the most amazing spots one could ever hope to see, much less live on. It provides a transition between the arid Maasai Plain below and the forested slopes further up the great mountain. The blend of forest, coffee plantation, and open fields make the estate an ideal home for birds. It is because the property is so attractive to birds that Neil and Liz bought it. They are the premier birders in Tanzania, so enraptured by the activity that it has far surpassed being a hobby and become more a way of life. Together, Neil and Liz publish an annual census of Tanzania's birds, called a Bird Atlas. It requires an incredible amount of effort, but is an essential task for conservation.

One part of their effort is the methodical keeping of a "garden list," a list of birds species they have personally seen on their property. Many birders keep such lists; in American parlance, they're referred to as "yard lists." Most American birders would be pleased to count 40 or 50 species on their yard lists. It will serve as some indication of the extraordinary bird habitat at Kifufu to point out that their garden list comprises some 430 species.

Another element of birding at Kifufu is a banding program that they have initiated. Bird-banding (or "ringing," as those of British extraction - like Liz and Neil - refer to it) is the practice of harmlessly catching birds, measuring them, and then fitting them with a tiny identifying ankle-band. When the bird dies, the band may be recovered, and sent in to a central station, where data will be compiled. Essentially only two data are provided by this technique - where the bird was when it was banded, and where the bird was when it died. But these two pieces of information, when multiplied by thousands and thousands of birds, have yielded valid and essential scientific information that has helped ornithologists to understand how birds migrate. Birds banded in Alaska could easily show up in Costa Rica a month later. Likewise, a migratory bird banded at Kifufu in December could be nesting in Scotland by April. Bird migration is one of the most fascinating large-scale phenomena yet to be fully explained by biology. A bird-banding ornithologist captured a hawk in Patagonia, Argentina, that he himself had banded in Michigan two years previously!

Neil and Liz had invited us to stay with them, and they fed us extraordinarily well on vegetarian food of the healthiest sort: lots of beans and grains, pumpkin soup, fresh mango and banana, and of course their own delicious coffee to drink.

Our first morning at Kifufu, Seth and I went down to join the "lads" at the bird-banding station. The lads are the male youth of a local Tanzanian family that the Bakers have supported over many years. The boys get free lodging in the banding station exchange for their skilled labor each morning and evening - setting the nets, extracting the birds, measuring their weight, wing length, body fat, etc., banding them, and releasing them. It seemed an idyllic life to me, to live in ornithological Eden, and have first-hand contact with the birds many times a day. To boot, they are receiving a valuable scientific education that may serve them well if they choose to pursue studies in biology someday. Neil and Liz have already helped to send two of the family's eldest to college, and several of the lads seem eager to follow suit.

We were delayed in arriving at the banding station because of all the new species of birds to see along the way. Neil and Liz's house lies a good kilometer distant from the small cabin that is the banding station. Seth spotted a turaco in a tall tree, a maroon crested bird like a parrot stretched out vertically. It was a lifetime bird for someone like me, but here it was as routine as a blue jay.

Later that day, I took some of the Baker's dogs for a walk, attempting to get a good view of Kilimanjaro, but the mountain is so tall it creates its own weather. Perpetually, it is swaddled in cloud. The dogs and I had a good time, though, and I climbed a tree just to prove to myself that I still could. However, from the front yard at Kifufu, there was a tremendous view of Tanzania's second-highest peak, Mt. Meru. For the moment, I marveled at this lesser peak, and was content.

That afternoon, Liz piled some kids in the Land Rover, and gave a shout for Seth and I to join her. We went to a small alkaline lake where we first saw flamingos. Poking up from the whitish lake were black boulders of vesicular basalt, presumably from Meru's most recent eruption. Above the lake's high-water mark were several classic Maasai bomas: round thatch huts that have developed in the western mind to be emblematic of tribal housing.

"The kids" who had joined us for this jaunt in the countryside were younger than "the lads" running the banding station back at Kifufu. They were amazing young naturalists - after we Americans had given up trying to identify a given bird, they would obligingly name it for us, pronouncing each syllable carefully in English.

On the vast expanse of West Kili Ranch we saw a solo ostrich, sprinting like a velociraptor in the distance. Thompson's and Grant's gazelles were also in evidence, and black-faced vervet monkeys in the trees. There was a phantasmagoric landscape of whistling-thorn acacias: plants with three-inch spikes and bulbous galls in which defensive ants dwell. When the wind blows through such an area, it creates whistling noises as it passes over the ants' entrance holes. I stood on top of the Land Rover and was stunned at the beauty: 76,000 acres of public land, with Mt. Meru blotting out the sunset on one side, and Mt. Kilimanjaro hidden in its cumulus garments on the other side.

As the savannah darkened, we drove back to Kifufu. The Land Rover flushed a half-dozen nightjars with glowing red eyes from the road as we climbed uphill.

While that trip was truly incredible, the next day was even better. Again, the Land Rover was our vehicle. Neil was at the helm today. We brought along Furaha, the master birder. Though only twelve years old, this diminutive Tanzanian kid in a South Park tee-shirt could identify and name in English and Swahili almost every bird that we would encounter over the course of the day's peregrinations. As it would turn out, we saw more than 100 species of bird that day, and Furaha nailed all but one of them.

On our way out of Kifufu, we were a vehicle full of birders black and white, young and old. We passed a dozen locals dressed in their Sunday best, on their way to services. Liz make a crack about whether we might not rather spend our day in church, instead of going birding. I replied that such a change of plan would be the worst form of blasphemy I could think of.

It was a gorgeous day of rolling through the open country, paying no park fees, subject to no one's rules but our own conservation ethics. We searched for cheetah, found elephant, found secretary birds, ostriches, and dozens of smaller species in the trees, grasses, air, and ponds. The two giant mountains framed our motions all day. Such a sublime day in itself made the entire trip worthwhile: I am indebted to the Bakers for shepherding us to such a wonderful area, so far off the beaten track.

We stayed a few days in the town of Arusha. Arusha is the de facto jumping-off point for most safaris in the region. It's also the site of the UN's Tribunal for the Rwandan Genocide. The genocide tribunal is housed in a massive building on the fringe of downtown Arusha, and the UN lawyers and staff were frequent supporters of the CafÈ Bamboo and the local pizzeria. Neil had recommended a tour guide to us, who was already booked and therefore referred us to a friend of his. We arranged with this new tour guide to make a safari trip of five nights, six days.

Lake Manyara is in the crack between a horst and a graben. A graben is a block of the Earth's crust that has dropped down relative to another piece (the horst). These relative motions are by the spreading of the Great Rift Valley: East Africa is slowly being ripped asunder by upwelling currents in the mantle. The lake has formed where rainwater has pooled up against the cliff escarpment. It has no outflow, and has grown increasingly soda and salty with the passage of time and continued influx of minerals. Where there is water, there is life, and it was here we saw our first massive accumulations of water birds. The pelicans in particular seemed to enjoy the lake. Manyara is also home to tree-climbing lions, but of these we saw not a trace. We did however, get terrific looks at ten other mammal species - elephants and giraffes and the usual menagerie of stunning African megafauna. I was most enraptured, though, by a huge bird - the southern ground hornbill, which is black-feathered and red-skinned. It has a turkey-like wattle and eyes like a novelist who has been up all night hacking at a typewriter. In total, the bird resembled a cadaverous parrot, but it had a noble dignity as it strolled through the tall grass, hunting lizards and mice.

The following morning at sunrise I was eagerly perched on the lip of the Rift escarpment. I relished my position: to be at a site of such geologic significance. The dawn broke: purples and pinks spilled out of the night, swelled, depleted, and became morning. Someday, a final earthquake will open up the mouth of the whole rift valley, and seawater will flood in, past Olduvai Gorge and over Lake Manyara. My position at sunrise will be the shore of a new Africa: smaller than before, but by far the larger piece of the continent. A few miles offshore will be a massive new island. Abbysinia might be a good name for it: it will consist of Ethiopia, Eritrea, part of the Sudan, most of Kenya, and the better part of Tanzania. Between the two landmasses, in this valley which was just being lit by the sun's first rays, would be a straight, similar in form and geological history to the narrow bights to the north: the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. Tuna will swim where marabou storks once nested.

"Serengeti" is a word charged with imagination in my mind. For a lifetime, the word had symbolized the unattainable wilds to me. Now, after 27 years, I was actually visiting. As we descended from the forested rim of Ngorongoro Crater, the land became drier and sparer. Ungulates were evident: petite Thompson's gazelle, bulky Grant's gazelle, giraffe, and the diminutive dik-dik.

We crossed Olduvai Gorge, a ditch full of the stiff-leafed plant known in the US as "mother-in-law's tongue." The Swahili word for this plant is oldupai, which has been mutated into "olduvai" as it passed from one language to the next. Olduvai Gorge is the site of some of the more important fossil finds in human history: our most distant ancestors walked here, and their bones preserve their visit immemorial. Near Olduvai were adolescent Maasai on their transition to manhood. Once Maasai boys reach a certain age, they are circumcised and sent off to live two months in the bush. When they return, they will be full-fledged morani (warriors). As such, they will be permitted to wear the red garment that distinguishes morani from normal men. In the meantime, though, they look positively creepy. Dressed entirely in black, with faces painted white like a skull, and two long antennae-like ostrich plumes undulating atop their scalps, these circumcised adolescents stood by the side of the dirt road. They jumped up and down and sang a wailing song: perhaps about the death of their boyish selves on the road to manhood.

This macabre image was fresh in my mind when we rolled out into the open Serengeti Plain. Vast herds of antelope appeared, neared, disappeared behind. Seth said, "No wonder there's so many big predators out here." The landscape was incredibly open, flat as a pancake, studded with rock outcroppings called kopjes.

We saw a leopard in a tree, hyenas, topi, and hartebeest. There were fat flatulent hippos floating in a pond. In the morning, another game drive netted our first pride of Serengeti lions. More importantly, the morning was sublime for just the act of being out in the matinal Serengeti, cool breeze in the air, Africa waking up all around.

We headed north in search of the big wildebeest migration. The hilly country up in the northern part of the Tanzanian Serengeti is called Lobo, and we stayed a night there. It was hilly country, much more convoluted than the southern Serengeti. With all its nooks and crannies, the land was rich with animals. We encountered elephants, lions, gigantic lappet-faced vultures, zebra, and wildebeest. We found the tail-end of the great migration: thousands of wildebeest and zebras moving north in search of greener pasture. It was an incredible sight to be there at dawn, with the huge clots of wildebeest snorting and chuffing, stirring up the dust with their hooves. In strings they would head north to the Kenyan border, up to Maasai Mara, where some of them would certainly be eaten by crocodiles in their attempts to ford the Mara River.

A day later, we were back on the lip of Ngorongoro Crater. This volcanic caldera forms a natural fence of mountains, 30 miles in circumference - the largest unbroken and unflooded caldera in the world. It is a circular Garden of Eden containing the full menagerie of East African wildlife. In a day of driving around there, we saw three rhinoceros, two cheetah, several novel birds, and copious numbers of wildebeest, jackals, buffalo, zebra, elephant, gazelles of both stripes, Coke's hartebeest, topi, and spotted hyena. Every pond was clogged with muddy hippopotami. Camping on the rim of the crater, we slept to the tune of bush-pigs and Cape buffalo grazing a few feet away, separated from us by a thin nylon tent-wall.

Back in Arusha, I slept poorly: plagued by feelings of fever, and hearing a thousand sounds. In my ears entered the buzz of mosquitoes, the yowling of territorial alley cats, the gurgling of Seth's stomach convulsing with its latest ailment, the crowing of a rooster, the bellowing muezzin of the mosque, and then it was daylight, and I got up and took a hot shower.

We went north to Kenya from there, crossing at a sketchy border-town that was only loosely controlled. In Nairobi, we were taken in by relatives of friends. They fed us and housed us and let us play with their smart children.

The city itself was an utter hell-hole: the worst city by far that I have ever been to, and I don't say that lightly. It's true that I haven't visited India's legendary slums, but I have visited more third-world countries than most Americans. For instance, I have been to Manila, and Nairobi is at least twice as far down the Scale of Wretchedness as the capital of the Philippines. The omnipresent garbage in the streets was swept into heaps and set ablaze: smoldering piles of plastic, shit, paper, leaves, bones that created dense cumuli of noxious smoke. Shacks were set among the piles of waste: people's homes. Children grow up in Nairobi surrounded by this stinking material blight. The waterways were likewise profaned with effluent and detritus. Millions of people walked barefoot through this nasty scene, screeching at each other, battling vehicles for space. The cars and trucks pumped out seething bundles of unfiltered diesel fumes. To be stuck in a Nairobi traffic jam is to take a year off your life expectancy. Staring out the windows of a matatu in just such a clot of traffic, I saw some desperate people. I was glad to be behind glass, but still didn't feel safe: It is not for nothing that the city is nicknamed "Nai-robbery."

It is no wonder whatsoever that people living in conditions as squalid as those would feel resentment at comfortable Americans, and seek to even the score when possible. Al Qaeda detonated a bomb in Nairobi in 1998 that destroyed the US embassy and killed 200 people. Living conditions like those will continue to serve as a "have-nots" breeding ground of hatred against the Western "haves." So long as people are forced to live like this, I'm sure explosive terrorism of the Al Qaeda variety will happen there again.

Quickly enough, we left Nairobi, and headed north to Naivasha and Nakuru. The solace of the quiet Rift Valley Lakes more than made up for the melee of Nairobi. There were still crowds, but the crowds on the shore of Lake Nakuru were a new sort: not shabby, poor, black, and angry, but pink and leggy and gabbling through crooked beaks. While the urban nightmare of the capital is a recent permutation of social circumstance, the flamingo multitudes have been filtering these shallow waters for millions of years. Seeing something so natural and so bizarre is a balm for the mind bruised by its encounter with demeaning urban squalor. Leaning back against our pop-top van, I was astounded by the millions of skinny birds. Surreal, I thought. No, not surreal; real.

Code of the Open Road
As inscribed in the Annual Convention Congress of the Hoboes of America held on August 8, 1894 at the Hotel Alden, 917 Market St., Chicago Illinois;

1.-Decide your own life, don't let another person run or rule you.

2.-When in town, always respect the local law and officials, and try to be a gentleman at all times.

3.-Don't take advantage of someone who is in a vulnerable situation, locals or other hobos.

4.-Always try to find work, even if temporary, and always seek out jobs nobody wants. By doing so you not only help a business along, but insure employment should you return to that town again.

5.-When no employment is available, make your own work by using your added talents at crafts.

6.-Do not allow yourself to become a stupid drunk and set a bad example for locals treatment of other hobos.

7.-When jungling in town, respect handouts, do not wear them out, another hobo will be coming along who will need them as bad, if not worse than you.

8.-Always respect nature, do not leave garbage where you are jungling.

9.-If in a community jungle, always pitch in and help.

10.-Try to stay clean, and boil up wherever possible.

11.-When traveling, ride your train respectfully, take no personal chances, cause no problems with the operating crew or host railroad, act like an extra crew member.

12.-Do not cause problems in a train yard, Another hobo will be coming along who will need passage thru that yard.

13.-Do not allow other hobos to molest children, expose to authorities all molesters, they are the worst garbage to infest any society.

14.-Help all runaway children, and try to induce them to return home.

15.-Help your fellow hobos whenever and wherever needed, you may need their help someday.

16.-If present at a hobo court and you have testimony, give it, whether for or against the accused, your voice counts!

Whatís the appeal of Hobo Life?
pirated from The Texas Madman, Grand Duke of Hobos

So what appeal to this kind of life is there really?, to the neo-phyte, imagine a way of life where you are not bound by time schedules, home owner bill, job expectations, the IRS, you can live where you want, sleep where you want, travel wherever you want as long as itsí in the continental US and Canada. Never pay a travel fare unless you want to, never pay rent, electric, gas, water, or cable bills, never pay taxes, and see places in the US and Canada others only see in the movies, or in a magazine. Sound like the
lifestyle of Bill Gates, or Donald Trump?, well hundreds of folks live that kind of life every day, in fact that kind of life/culture has been going on since just after Americasí Civil War. A lifestyle/culture so sweet, so addictive, so seductive, so intoxicating, that those of us who retire after 20, 30, even 40 years of are never really free of it. Because Lady Freedom has gotten too far in our blood to gotten rid of her completely. Freedom, complete freedom, and the ability to pursue that ultimate free life, and the vehicle to propel you ion such a quest, and a constitutionally base right to free movement.

Friday, June 20, 2003

by Jen T

It hasnt changed much since i last walked here numb, bewildered and unbearably alone sixteen years ago.
ghostly companions cannot ease anything

Funny though, I dont remember the jail block for special prisoners.
those tiny rooms with their fake heaters must have been a luxury
compared to the barracks built for 200 and holding smashed and oozing up to 2000 living skeltons

details and information abound
i could write horror upon horror and soon we would be immune

never again. why not write inevitably again?
Now we just incinerate without the torture, the slow death by starvation, the disease dripping down from top tier to middle to bottom
is this progress?

work is freedom
death is freedom
solitude is freedom

slavery is freedom.
Oh Orwell, how did you know?
Why wont we know?

Dachau, Aushwitz (no i cant spell), Bergen Belson...

In the rain, in the sun, in the fresh spring breeze
where we all speak in whispers and i know finality and deadly folly

and there are neither tears nor sorrow nor shame enough to wash this carnage away

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

A Cup of Coffee in the Rain
Madison, Virginia

Today, the omnipresent rain botches a field trip. At 6:15am, I am at home drinking coffee. At 6:45, I am showered and dressed. At 7am, another graduate student in my geology program calls me on the phone. ìGood morning, itís Brooke,î she says. ìIím in front of your house.î

I look out the window. Her silver car isnít visible. ìAre you sure?î

ìYes. Maybe not. Whatís your number?î


ìOh. I think Iím up the block.î

I haul my gear out to the car.

We drive out of DC. Brooke greets the Kennedy Center as we pass it on our way over the Potomac. In Virginia, we roll smoothly west along the pavement, while inbound traffic is stalled for miles. It starts raining as we cross the Fairfax County line.

The dayís destination is the field site where Brooke will be doing her thesis work, the Quaker Run shear zone. We near it after close to three hours of driving. The rain is coming down thick and steady. I look up from my National Geographic and make the suggestion that it might be a nice time to get a cup of coffee and wait for the weather to pass.

We turn and drive to the town of Madison, Virginia. At the recommendation of two construction workers, we find a small pharmacy and lunch counter. Painted on the glass door is MADISON DRUG. When we push open the door, a piece of paper taped to it flares upwards. It says ìFORD F-150 GREAT DEAL CHEAP.î

Inside on one of the lunch counterís stools, there is a stack of The Madison Eagle's latest edition. Headline: ìMCHS Takes Academic Cup for 7th Year.î Madison is on its twenty-second continuous day of precipitation. We sit at one of two square tables, surrounded by Hallmark cards, Dr. Schollís inserts, and candy bars. The tables are topped in green Formica, and edged in a chrome strip with four raised ridges. Between the ridges, there is an encrustation of dry ketchup. On top of the table are: a battered salt shaker, a dusty pepper shaker, a napkin dispenser, a sugar canister, and a menu with the lamination peeling off.

ìHelp yaíll?î

ìCup of coffee; is that possible?î

ìIt is possible.î

We sit. The waitress brings two ceramic mugs of hot coffee. A little stainless steel carafe of cold milk is set between them. I pick up the menu. Coffee is only 10¢. So is a Coke! They offer a pimento cheese sandwich for $1.95, chips for 45¢, and ìnabsî for 40¢.

ìBrooke, whatís a ënabí?î

Tootsie pops are another item on the menu: a quarter each. A cup of ice water would cost you another dime.

The front of the drugstore faces Main Street. Four plate glass windows show the continually falling rain. By my reckoning, each window measures four feet by six feet. Each one presents twenty-four square feet of the same grey skies, the same vertical dashes of rain. There is a building of brown bricks across Main Street. Next to it is a telephone pole, heavy with plaits of cable coming from four directions. Beyond the wires is an Ailanthus tree, its fronds drooping under the weight of droplets. The inside of the windows displays a butterfly collection in stained glass: each insect sculpture hanging by a gold braid to a transparent suction cup. Below them: a green plastic watering can, with a magic marker inscription that reads MADISON DRUG.

I read about Indiaís Untouchable caste in National Geographic. Brooke reads a historical novel called Maya. I sneak peeks at my surroundings. Above the lunch counter is a white sign with black plastic letters. SANDWICHES. HOT SOUPS. ICE CREAM SPECIALS. Below the last is the cryptic message ìGive your tongue a sleigh ride.î

Three customers come in. A child pokes around behind the counter, asks what each cabinet holds. One woman discusses the effect of the rain on her husbandís employment.

ìHeís worked one day in the past week.î

ìIs that so?î

ìThe tractor keeps keeping bogged down in the mud.î

I look up at the window; the clouds are still shedding. Brooke is edgy. Iíd be happy to sit here all day, but itís her project. Grey dashes in the air. We decide to head for the field regardless. We drove all this way, after all. Then we decide to bag it all and head back to the university. Weíd be soaked before we even reached the outcrop, after all. Despite wasting six hours of gasoline, it would be wiser to wait for better weather.

We stand at the counter to pay for our coffee. The total bill is 22¢.

Monday, June 16, 2003

Summer Thunderstorm
Eastern Shore, Maryland

Picture this: in the dark, four twentysomething eastcoast whitekids hunched in shelter. The shelter consists of two tarps and a 1990 Jeep Cherokee. The Cherokee is a dark gold color, and its trunk is open. The front and rear passenger seats are full of equipment, luggage, and a borrowed six-string guitar. Roles being reversed, the hatchback area of the vehicle is not occupied by gear, but by two of the people. The remaining two are crouched on the ground a few feet away. The tarps each measure 9í x 12í and are royal blue. The first tarp rises from the ground, where it is pinned to a carpet of loblolly pine needles by a massive log of the same species. The second tarp is sutured to the first, but oriented horizontally, rising tangential to the raised backdoor of the Jeep. It is an improvised bivouac, open on two sides, closed on four.

The tarps whip as sails will, snapping in a gale. Were this a sloop rather than a Jeep, that would not be metaphorical, but simply accurate. Wind is screaming through the loblollies; encountering Tarp #1 head-on. Rain is gushing over the tarps and the car. Rain is fragmenting in spray as it falls. Rain is gunneling along the seam between the tarps, working its way around the doorframe of the car, pooling around the tires and the feet of the two people on the ground. Every few seconds, the horizontal tarp disgorges a bolus of pooled rain. It fills, flexes, and then ñas a trampoline will ñ rebounds. A terrific splash results, gouging the soil at the corner of the lean-to.

I am one of the people. As the thunderstorm nears its crescendo, I am telling my joke. I only know one joke; and I save it for last in situations like this. To pass time in a thunderstorm, you can ogle the lightning, point out thrashing tree limbs to each other, or you can chat. After we had run through a round of weather conversation, Kathryn told a joke. Then Chris told a joke and Rachel told a joke. It was my turn. My joke is a long joke: one whose humor derives from the fact that it takes five minutes to tell, chock full of details, and ends with a non sequitor unrelated to the whole story. Ostensibly, itís about horses. Really, itís about tricking people into listening to a pointless tale. If you ever go camping with me, you may hear it over a crackling fire, or to pass the time as we shelter from a storm. As I speak, the rain courses down in convex rivulets and forms images of distortion on the windows of the Jeep. In an instant, everything is bathed in pink light. Tree branches are revealed on the ground in their shadows. Individual moving droplets are strobe-lit into apparent stasis; lightning showing their instantaneous position on the tie-lines. Darkness, ìone one-thousand, two one-thous-î, ka-blam. Thunder shakes the campground, reverberates in the woods and glass and plastic sheeting, dissipates, is absorbed by the layer of wet brown fascicles.

From the two open sides of our shelter, we can observe the pitch of the falling drops. The rain describes a trajectory of 45∫ from the horizontal. 45∫ from the horizontal is the same as 45∫ from the vertical. In this storm, the force of the wind is equal to the force of gravity.

Weíd been camping for not quite 24 hours now, in Janeís Island State Park in Maryland. We finished a dinner of roasted cob corn and burritos of black beans, white rice, crimson salsa, and guacamole the luminous color of a nuclear byproduct. As we masticated our meal, thunder sounded from the east at increasing intervals. Birds stopped singing. We battened down our hatches. Chris zipped up his tent. Rachel put food in the Jeep. Kathryn pulled drying clothes off of a line. I hurriedly carved stakes to pin a third tarp to the earth around my tent.

When all preparations had been made, we walked a short distance from site C-85, and stood on the bank of Daugherty Creek Canal, which separates Janeís Island from the Delmarva Peninsula. Over the salt marshes, the storm approached. A varicose vein of a million watts traveled from terrestrial electron source to atmospheric cloud recipient. The jagged bolt inscribed a false-color memory on my retina: it waggled in my eyeball as I jogged back to the site; thunder chased me down the path.

The tempest hit with a blitzkrieg of wind, followed by a barrage of high-yield droplets. After the initial bombardment, the strategy of the storm shifted to an embargo based on fluid dynamics, pinning the besieged campers to their shelter. After twenty minutes of this (culminating in the telling of my horse joke) came seriatim a barrage of new electrical discharges, each louder than the last. It was the stormís second wind, and we watched the world get wet. When this too had passed, the four of us turned our attention to the campsite.

A lake had formed in the site, and regardless of the efficacy of our tarp shelters and polycoated rain-flies, we had problems. When the water falls faster than the ground can absorb it, a flood occurs. I unzipped my tent: the sleeping bag was afloat on an inch of standing water, not a drop of which had leaked through the roof. Like a prairie dog, it had come from below: a chthonic upwelling, a Trojan horse bypassing my best defenses by coming through where least expected. I had been prepared for rain; but this spreading lake had caught me off guard.

The four twentysomething eastcoast whitekids discussed, and opted to break camp and depart. To do so, we waded through our campsite, and snorkeled to find submerged tent stakes. Despite immersion, our headlamps blazed like lighthouses off Cape Cod. We wadded our wet nylon into a ball and tied it to the roof. As Rachel drove us back to her house near St. Michaelís, Maryland, I slept soundly to the susurrus of windshield wipers and tires humming on wet asphalt.

Saturday, June 14, 2003

Swampiní it in Malaysia
An Educated Redneck Let Loose in Tasek Bera
by Matt Salleh

Every night when I lay my head down in the constructed comfort of my Kuala Lumpur apartment mysterious things happen outside. Tigers, tapir, mouse deer and cobras conduct their nightly rituals, invisible in the dense vegetation known as the Malaysian rainforest. Birds and bats flit about catching moths en route to chase the moon. Bird, bat and moth alike spread the germ of life from stamen to pistil. So it occurs, witnessed by few human eyes and largely unheeded in human thought, an endless cycle, night after night.

The events of the natural world take place without our permission and most often without our knowledge. We have to make special efforts to get out of our cities and into forests to witness these things. Malaysia offers an abundance of opportunities to visit wild places and see things that few have seen. That is one of the reasons I came to live here, to witness the miracles firsthand, to see local flora and fauna act out their daily dramas.

Tropical rainforests, coral reefs, mountains, wetlands, rivers, lakes and caves comprise the physical geography of Malaysia, one of the 10 most biologically diverse areas in the world. Each ecosystem is important and unique in its life sustaining capabilities. Each one should be experienced intimately in the deepest sense by every one of us if we are to truly appreciate the profound importance and mesmerizing beauty they effortlessly possess.

My passport tells me I am a foreigner in this country. My heart tells me otherwise. Deep inside I know I am a citizen of the world. Consequently, itís important to me to feel as at home in the rainforests of South East Asia as I do in the piedmont plateau of Georgia, USA. Wherever I go, I consider home. I belong here as much as I belong in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains or the backwoods of the Okeefenokee Swamp. As a citizen of the Earth, the places of natural beauty in Malaysia are in my care. So I go out seeking, reconnoitring for adventures of experience to reinforce my sense of stewardship. Today will find my friend Badrul and I in a wetland a few hours outside Kuala Lumpur.

I met Badrul a couple of months previous during a snorkelling trip off the island of Pulau Lalang. The trip was organized by the Malaysian Nature Society, which I had recently joined. While relaxing and eating, between the rise and fall of the tides, we chatted about our mutual interests. It was then he invited me to accompany him to a remote place in Malaysia where he was to begin work on an eco-tourism project. He spoke of native people living in traditional houses, mysterious wetlands and exotic wildlife. I was intrigued. He didnít have to ask twice!

We met around 8 a.m. at a Petronas station in Sri Hartamas and made a short visit to his office before we hit the road. Badrul works for Wetlands International, a team of folks working to conserve wetlands in various countries around the world. His office is typical of those dedicated to the preservation of natural places. Decorated with posters of fish and plants on the walls, it exudes a more casual feel than offices dedicated to business. Iíve been in many such offices, even entire buildings dedicated to ecological research, but I still havenít gotten over the irony of buildings with air conditioned offices full of computers and fantastic technologies dedicated to conserving things outside.

Shortly, we were on the road to Tasek Bera, Malaysiaís only protected wetlands and home to the Orang Asli Semelai, an indigenous people who have lived around the swamp for nearly 600 years. The trip held promises of adventure, exotic plants and animals as well as conversations with Semelai people.

Tasek Bera is a slow moving, alluvial black-water swamp in the state of Pahang, a few hours southeast of Kuala Lumpur (KL). Flowing northward through a wide channel at an almost imperceptible rate it eventually joins the River Pahang and empties into the South China Sea. The wetland encompasses 25km x 35 km. Its sheer size makes it an important asset to Malaysia. The people that live there and their way of life are disappearing as modern society encroaches upon their world.

We bounced down the highway in a squeaky Mitsubishi Pajero through small town Malaysia. The sights and sounds were tantalizing. The pungent odor of fish-head curry simmering in a street stall and cili padi frying in a blackened wok blanketed the streets and flooded our vehicle. The diversity of people hobbling around chaotically buying the wide array of colorful products on the streets awakened my senses.

As we drove, Badrul and I chatted about world affairs and how people could become ìcitizens of the worldî ignoring race, nationality, politics, and religion in terms of relating to each other and focus on the fact that we are all human with human needs. We decided humans have more in common than different.

Around noon we stopped at a roadside stall for lunch. We ordered nasi goreng pattaya and limau ais to take away. We didnít linger to eat. Tasek Bera was within spittiní distance. The swamp was calling us.

We stopped in Pos Iskandar, a tiny settlement drowning in a sea of palm oil and rubber plantations, a stark contrast to the riparian flora of Tasek Bera. When we arrived, Badrul introduced me to our guides Yohanif and Rashim. They were short, lanky, and were clad in deep brown skin. They exuded backwoods experience. My first impressions were that they knew what they were doing and I could trust them to lead me into the swamp. Large smiles plastered their faces. They were eager to show us around and share their knowledge. Theyíd lived on the banks of Tasek Bera most of their lives. They knew this place. To them it was not an exotic locale; it was home.

Pos Iskandar is home to the Orang Asli ìofficeî for eco-tourism. The office itself is a fusion of traditional construction methods and modern materials. A tin roof rests on thin plywood walls. A traditional woven mat blankets the floor. With four rooms: a kitchen, bedroom, toilet and main living room, itís small, no bigger than 500 square feet. A perfectly efficient design. It reminded me of cabins I had seen in the mountains of north Georgia. Not really an ìofficeî by modern standards with only a crude desk marred with candle wax, a half painted chair, and a computer screen for which Badrul brought the rest of the hardware from home, the place is cozy. It is aptly described as the cradle for the Orang Asliís newborn eco-tourism project. I felt at ease.

After we swallowed our lunch, Badrul and I were itchiní to get to the swamp. Yohanif handed us our paddles and we carried them down to meet the canoe. We followed a freshly cut dirt trail and I noticed a little girl sitting near shore. I guessed her to be about eight years old. She was working on something of utmost importance. A large parang dangled from her side, at least half as long as she was. I thought it necessary to learn how to use such a knife at an early age if you live near the swamp. I wondered what else she might know that I had yet to learn in my 32 years of existence. She focused on her project to the extent that we walked by unnoticed.

Already, I could tell I was gonna learn heaps from these fellas. My thoughts were confirmed when I saw the canoe. A 12-foot tree had been hollowed using fire and adze and carved to a point on both ends a little wider than my hips. It reminded me of a blade of grass.

The paddles were a treat as sweet. They measured an arms length and 2-hand widths with sharp tips. Their detail exceeded that of the canoe with intricate designs engraved on the body. The handle fit neatly into the palm of my hand with indentations for the fingers. I suddenly realized I was holding six hundred years of ergonomic design evolved in the swamps of Malaysia. I was elated.

Back home in the States I had been a canoe instructor for several summers. I taught teens how to paddle flat water on Lake Chapman in Athens, Georgia. Once in a while we ventured into the realm of kayaking. I was familiar with watercraft, but this canoe was a different animal.

The canoe itself sat less than an inch above the water when loaded, at least partially due to the fact that they werenít built for the likes of me. In general, Orang Asli are much smaller in stature than I. Most of them rise to my shoulders when standing side by side. I am not large by U.S. standards at five foot ten inches. I hoped I could demonstrate a modicum of competence and not appear as a total dummy to Yohanif.
We pushed off and floated out. Yohanif guided us on the canoe trip while Rashim departed and returned up the bank.

A few basket-like fish traps floated near the surface with lines dangling in the water. Obviously, the Semelai use the swamp for food and fishing is one of the main sources.

We paddled upstream towards a kampung Badrul wanted to show me. Tasek Bera has a very mild current that flows ever so slowly and gives minimal resistance. Even so, it had been months since I had paddled and I could feel the demands on my shoulders and back.

The canoe trail was severely overgrown. In some parts we had to lie down in the canoe so we could pass under fallen logs.

As we paddled we passed impressive stands of pandanu whose sturdy leaves reminded me of yucca. They were pointed and thorny on the edge. More than once I was jabbed by a pandanu leaf in the shoulder or leg as we drifted near shore or crossed under the overgrown canoe trail. Later I learned that pandanu is an important plant for the Orang Asli. I recalled seeing a pandanu mat on the floor of the eco-tourism office.

Not only is pandanu important to the Orang Asli, but is also an ecologically important species at Tasek Bera. It co-dominates the landscape with sedge known as Lepironia. Turtles and fish breed within the maze of pandanu and Lepironia roots safely hidden away from most predators. Birds and insects nest in the upper branches of pandanu. Both species provide camouflage for predators and prey such as water monitors and mouse deer. A complex web of life has developed in the swamp based around the pandanu and Lepironia. The Semelai are part of the web as they depend on the swamp for their livelihood.

As we floated, my mind drifted around thoughts of the complexity of ecosystems, the delicate balance of life in the world and the subtle beauty surrounding me.

Shortly, Badrul told me the kampung, a Semelai village, was nearby.

As we rounded a corner we encountered a tree that had fallen across the stream. It was too low for us to go under. The water was too deep and the banks too overgrown to portage the canoe. We made our way to the tangled mass of weeds, pandanu and tree trunk. In succession, we each perched precariously on the prostrate tree and slid delicately back down as the canoe passed underneath. Any slight movement in the wrong direction would mean a flipped vessel. I had to be extremely careful. I figured a wet mat salleh ainít a pretty picture and I didnít want to find out.

Badrul went first with no complications. I was next. Yohanif, of course, hopped over like a civet leaping after prey. Success! We smiled as we paddled away and continued upstream another 50 meters. I figured I had proven my worth to Yohanif. Something he never asked for and probably never thought of although it was of utmost importance to my male ego.

You can imagine our dismay when we saw another log in the same position squatting lower in the water with more tangled mess and fewer places to step over! We crossed again, with more confidence, one such obstacle already conquered.

We landed on shore and sauntered up a dirt road towards the kampung. As we approached I could see traditional houses with motorcycle parts strewn about the yard. Having grown up in semi-rural Georgia, I was used to seeing car parts in the yard. I immediately felt at home.

A wiry old man with beautiful bronze skin greeted us. Badrul spoke in Bahasa Malaysia and the man smiled, baring his teeth. Most were missing and the few dangling in his mouth were stained red.

He welcomed us into his home. A young woman began preparing coffee in the house while the men walked around the yard.

A homemade musical instrument, a gambang, stuck upright from the ground. It looked somewhat like a xylophone permanently held in place by the soil. Short wooden stobs poked out of the ground with string pulled taught between them. In between each stob were pieces of wood of varying lengths arranged from shortest to longest from left to right. The man picked up what looked like a xylophone mallet and lightly tapped the suspended pieces of wood. A beautiful sound resonated from the gambang. His bronze body convulsed like James Brown as he played a little tune. He proceeded to pick up 2 hollow pieces of bamboo and tap them on a stump. They resonated with a warm hollow percussive sound.

How sounds of different pitch and volume entrance us is a mystery I do not claim to understand. I am only a lucky witness to the miracle. Itís innate. We identify with it. Just as we need food as nourishment for our bodies, we need music as sustenance for our souls. Perhaps, deep within us lies a connection to the natural rhythms and cycles of the Earth. The ebb and tide of cycles constantly rising up and down, like a lung inflating and collapsing, seem to be embedded within our collective unconscious. Maybe that rhythm flows through our veins and music reminds us of our connection to the world in which we sometimes forget we are immersed. If we listen, if we remain silent long enough, we feel those cycles and become captured by the pulse of the Earth. It is grand indeed! We are part of the music. We are part of the magical orchestra of creation. So few of us know it and even fewer of us slow down long enough to truly connect. Being outdoors surrounded by wildness gently reminds us of the feeling of peace and belonging we often loose touch with.

Our host gave a brief speech about Semelai music, none of which I understood but listened intently the same. It was a treat to hear the melody coming from the instruments of the Earth. I imagined a whole chorus of instruments singing and twanging through the humid forest air during a ceremony or celebration. That would be the feast of which I had only been afforded a taste.

Yohanif, standing off to the side, picked up a stick about 10 feet long with a trident of metal secured to the tip. Badrul informed me it was a spear for fishing. I had imagined such. It looked like a frog gig I had possessed as a child. I had bought mine at K-Mart in the fishing section and dreamed of spearing fish with it. I never learned to use it properly but had imagined its use. Like so many things from childhood my frog gig disappeared into a void during a move from house to house. Or perhaps, I lost it out in the yard buried in the soil by now, an artefact to be discovered by a future archaeologist. Even so, the fact that I had owned one connected to me to the Orang Asli kampung further. I was at home and could feel it.

He used the trident to knock down a few round green nuts from a tree that was leaning like a red faced Englishman. About ten or twelve dropped quickly to the ground and rolled around like weebles wobbling. He quickly gathered them up.

A light rain darkened its attitude and pushed us to shelter. As the water pissed down like it was poured from a boot, the girl served coffee. We sat cross-legged on the porch while she placed a jug and a platter of crackers in the center of our circle. She sat off to the side with an older lady, I presumed to be the mother. Neither said a total of three words during my stay. I could only catch occasional glimpses of their smiles and heads nodding, as I quickly glanced, not wanting to stare out of fear of appearing rude.

The men were talking about things of which I had no idea in Bahasa Malaysia. Once in a while, our host rolled a cigarette on dried leaf. He had two types of tobacco, a green type, which I was informed, was more traditional, and a dried brown type, more like the tobacco Iíd seen before. He rolled a cigarette with the green tobacco and offered it to me. I accepted. Iím not a smoker but I figured I would give it a shot. I pulled a Clinton and didnít inhale. The flavor was surprisingly mellow, not offensive at all, even to a non-smoker.

Once in a while, one of the other men would take a pair of wire-cutter-like pliers and cut sections from the nuts that had just been harvested. He would take the nut and wrap it in a leaf and chew on it. I finally recognized it as betel nut, which I had been fortunate enough to try at a Malay wedding. I had told Badrul about that experience on our drive to Pos Iskandar. He informed the guys that I would like a taste. They smiled as the old man cut off a bit and wrapped it in leaf. Everyone, including the women, watched intensively as I popped it into my mouth and chewed for a while. The taste was very bitter, rich in tannins. A mild tingling effect hit my tongue and throat as I swallowed. Chewing betel nut is something they do regularly here, especially with a tree 10 feet away. Which explains the missing and red stained teeth on many of the people. It wasnít the most pleasant taste I had ever had, but it also wasnít the worst. The physical effects were mild and not especially intoxicating. But a different sort of euphoria was taking hold. I was sitting on the porch in an Orang Asli kampung, drinking coffee, smoking hand rolled cigarettes on dried leaf, and chewing betel nut after paddling through a swamp in a hand carved canoe. I knew it was the stuff of dreams and I was living it! I was exhilarated, excited, and thankful to be living this life.

When locals ask me to try something new they are usually delighted and surprised when I accept. Itís fun and works to my advantage, meaning that I am readily and quickly accepted. Chewing betel nut was one of those experiences.

Many travellers, especially Americans, have the reputation of staying within a realm of ìsafetyî and comfort when travelling abroad. Often, Iíve witnessed Americans go to foreign countries only to eat at American food chains and stay in American hotel chains, getting rude and angry when things are different in a foreign place. What are they thinking?

As we chewed our betel nut and drank our coffee, one of the men displayed hand carved replicas of the canoe I had just paddled. It was in their plan to sell handicrafts as part of their eco-tourism venture. They were as exquisite and detailed as the real thing, beautifully simple. I bought two of them.

The rain subsided and Badrul, Yohanif and I reluctantly found our way back to the canoe. They informed me of plans to erect camouflage blinds and salt licks so tourists might see mouse deer or tapir if theyíre lucky and patient.

Night engulfed us as we paddled. The forest began to take on the mystical, eerie feeling that escorts twilight. The time of mysterious events when people see things they donít normally see was upon us. I felt my body slow down and settle into the magic as darkness crept in.

Yohanif whispered that two tigers had recently been spotted on the bank in the area through which we were paddling. That sent an electric sensation through my spine and put me on a cautious alert. I dreamed of spotting a tiger. Being in a place where you are no longer top carnivore can scare you out of your wits and send you running or put you in touch with a side of yourself that lies deep within your psyche, a place we modern folk rarely venture. It depends on your experiences and state of mind whether you flee at such moments or settle into the calm gentle waters of your mind, breathing deeply, thankful to be truly in touch with the experience of being alive.

After a silent float, we arrived at the rustic ìofficeî sad we hadnít seen a tiger. We collected a small pail and a bar of soap and went to a staircase that was built into the swamp where we proceeded to bathe.

For millennia people have bathed in rivers and lakes. Nowadays we hardly do at all. We prefer running, heated water in a safe sterile environment. Thereís something to be said for cleansing out in the open in a natural body of water. Water symbolizes the unconscious and by immersing yourself in it you are surrendering yourself to your fears, thereby making peace with them. I donít know about that, but I do know I somehow feel cleaner and my spirit feels freer when I submerge myself in a river and come up gasping for air after a good soaking. That night was no different. It felt good. I was more in touch with myself than I had been in ages. Those were the healing powers of nature that Badrul and I had come to experience and ultimately protect and conserve.

After our bath we walked up the hill to the office and changed into dry shorts. We hadnít eaten in quite a while, save a few crackers, and were famished. We possessed the kind of hunger you have after a good days physical labor, the kind that transcends your body and punches a hole in your stomach. We jumped in the squeaky Pajero and blazed down the dirt roads. I didnít know where we were going. About 20 minutes later, we pulled up to a house with a sign and a few tables and chairs. I guessed it to be a restaurant of sorts. They served nasi goreng, mee goreng, limau ais and milo ais. That was it, the totality of the menu. I ordered the mee and limau ais. Badrul ordered the nasi and milo.

A couple of minutes later the proprietor turned up the karaoke machine. Wait a minute!? The karaoke machine? We were sitting smack dab in the boon docks of Malaysia at a restaurant that only served two dishes and they had a karaoke machine? Not only that, but a damn fancy karaoke machine! It took a few minutes for that to register in my brain. I couldnít believe it, but it proved my point about music being sustenance for the soul, didnít it? Badrul said the music was Javanese. He disliked it greatly. It sounded a bit whiney to me, but what did I know? I was simply amazed that I was looking at a karaoke machine in the middle of hick-ville Malaysia. I would be less surprised to see an outdoor ice hockey rink in the Mojave Desert of Barstow, California.

Soon the restaurant was flooded with locals. Most of them walked up, a few rode in on scooters. I was the only mat salleh for miles, a novelty for sure. I was stared at, something Iíve gotten a little more used to since I moved to Malaysia. Itís not that I wasnít stared at before because of my super model looks, itís just that these were different kinds of stares.

The cook brought out fried tit-bits. I was anxious to give them a try. I didnít know what they were but I am certain that anytime you deep-fry something itís gonna be yummy. I wasnít wrong. There was a spicy dipping sauce on the side.

Turns out that the tit-bits were tapioca and the sauce was a chilli, garlic, soy-sauce. Man-o-man, I in heaven! I tossed down 2 slices before our food arrived and I had already finished my limau ais. I decided to do the unthinkable and order the other half of the drink menu, so I ordered milo ais. They asked me if I wanted my mee pedas and the vigorous shake of my head up and down inspired them to see how much the mat salleh could take. We both broke a sweat while eating. Meanwhile, the stares were not subsiding.

After we finished, we paid and saddled the squeaky Pajero, for yet another harrowing ride down a pothole-ridden road. Badrul drove at unthinkable speeds in the pitch-black Malaysian night while bird-sized moths flapped spastically in the headlights. As we pulled off, I mentioned that for the first time since I arrived in Malaysia I had felt uncomfortable. I had been stared at more than usual. He casually said ìOh, theyíre all Indonesians. They work here on the plantation.î

What?! No wonder. I was an American surrounded by Indonesians! Since the events of September 11th and the protests by Indonesians worldwide against America, I was leery and cautious. Right about now, I figured, theyíre plotting on how to rip my eyes out! Not really, but for a brief moment my CNN induced paranoia kicked in and made me feel like it. Despite the current state of affairs none of the Indonesians Iíve met harbor any ill feeling towards America or me. Theyíre just like the rest of us, trying to get by, earn a living and put food on the table. I never felt threatened at all. Now at least I knew why they were staring at me so curiously. They were wondering why Brad Pitt was eating at a restaurant in the middle of nowhere.

The next morning I awoke at daybreak as Badrul slept in. I didnít want to wake him so I sneaked out of the room. I boiled water and scraped one last spoonful of Nescafe from the jar. I was wide-awake with nowhere to go in the middle of a Malaysian wetland. It took a few minutes to come to terms with the fact that I had nowhere to go and nothing to do.

Itís amazing how we are so geared toward constantly busying ourselves that we have to make a conscious effort to slow down and live life as it comes.

I remembered my binoculars. I pulled them out and sat on the front porch to watch birds and sip coffee in the cool Malaysian morning. I was elated when a Racket-Tailed Drongo scooted by.

Shortly, Badrul awoke and we breakfasted on crackers and peanut butter. Hashim showed up an hour later and we followed him down to the staircase where we had bathed the night before. A motorboat was idling. We loaded up.

Today would reveal another part of the swamp. Badrul wanted to show me huts for eco-tourism because I was interested in bringing high school students down for a visit. On the way we discussed the possibility of refurbishing an old building at Pos Iskandar and converting it into a nature center. I was excited and honored to be a part of the plans for Tasek Bera.

We motored through the swamp gawking at lotus, lily, pandanu, and Lepironia. We managed to spot a cobra swimming curly-Q, parting water like Moses in its path. A giant catfish rolled in front of the boat prompting Hashim to spring forward, spear in hand, with a futile jab at the murky depths.

We toured the huts and talked of the endless possibilities Tasek Bera offers to students and tourists interested in the outdoors. The day was growing old and we still had a drive back to KL. We decided it was time to get back to Pos Iskandar and the squeaky Pajero. Barn swallows raced and dipped in front of the boat as we skimmed back to our vehicle. A raptor carved itís way through effervescent clouds high in the sky. It felt incredible to be out of the city where swallows, cobras, raptors and pandanu replaced taxis, sidewalks and skyscrapers.

Our tour lasted several hours in the direct sun and I was now the proud owner of lobster pink legs. Hashim noticed and giggled. He looked at his bronze thighs and with a few gestures we both laughed out loud.

We arrived back too quickly, exhilarated and energized as well as exhausted. A contrasting state of affairs only achieved if mind, body and spirit have all been engaged simultaneously and exercised to their fullest capacity.

Our adventure concluded with a lightning speed trip to K.L. As Badrul and I parted we decided that we would do it again sometime, sometime real soon.

Friday, June 13, 2003

In Malaysia at the Start of the War
by Matt Salleh

The day was a bit weird. It started off OK.. We've been writing and practicing a puppet show about sea turtle nesting in my 1st grade ESL class.

About noon we got word that the war had started.

During my recess duty I scanned the rooftops and windows of nearby apartments. Halfway expecting a sniper. Paranoid, I know... but everyone is a little tense.

Guards patrolled recess.. where there were none before. Our last staff meeting dealt with security issues and our response to potential media.

A jet buzzed our school somewhere in there... oiling the wings, fleexing their muscles? Who knows.. it was unnerving.

You can imagine the thoughts in my head..

The day was normal aside from that. But I saw the kids running around, playing soccer, playing chase... and the background chatter in my mind.. and me scanning rooftops.... it's crazy to think about.. so I'll try not to..

a car just backfired and I jumped... a lot more skittish these days!

In the vein of normalcy...

I am including a list of birds I saw this past weekend up in Fraser's Hill.. a less crowded and developed version of Cameron Highlands.. It was an incredible trip I took with the birdwatching group of the Malaysian Nature Society... we only had a bout 2 hours of birding due to foggy weather.. nonetheless we saw a LOT of birds including the semi-rare Sultan's Tit and Crimson Oriole... about 20-something species total of which about 15 I had never seen before!

I will carry on with everyday life.. and I hope you can too.. but it is a bit weird here.. strange.. not dangerous.. just nervous tension in the air...

Thinking of you all!

-Matt Salleh

March 15th
Telekom Apartments
6-7 p.m.

1) Fire Tufted Barbet
2) Black Browed Barbet
3) Orange Bellied Leafbird
4) Crimson Oriole
5) Lesser Raquet Tailed Drongo
6) Bronze Drongo
7) Silver-Eared Mesia
8) Long Tailed Sibia
9) White Bellied Swiftlet
10) Streaked Spider Hunter
11) Sultan Tit
12) Abbotís Babbler
13) Orange Breasted Leafbird
14) Grey Chinned Minivet
15) White Throated Wagtail
16) Asian Flycatcher

March 16th
Road to Sultanís Palace
10-11 a.m.

1) Chestnut Capped Laughing Thrush
2) Grey Chinned Minivet
3) Golden Babbler
4) Grey Wagtail
5) Brown Shrike
6) Ferrunginous Flycatcher
7) Golden Babbler
8) Magpie Robin
9) Large Billed Crow
10) Long tailed Sibia
11) Fire Tufted Barbet
12) Bronze Drongo
Jack Kerouac's Rules for Writing

1. Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy
2. Submissive to everything, open, listening
3. Try never get drunk outside yr own house
4. Be in love with yr life
5. Something that you feel will find its own form
6. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
7. Blow as deep as you want to blow
8. Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind
9. The unspeakable visions of the individual
10. No time for poetry but exactly what is
11. Visionary tics shivering in the chest
12. In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you
13. Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition
14. Like Proust be an old teahead of time
15. Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog
16. The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye
17. Write in recollection and amazement for yourself
18. Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea
19. Accept loss forever
20. Believe in the holy contour of life
21. Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind
22. Dont think of words when you stop but to see picture better
23. Keep track of every day the date emblazoned in yr morning
24. No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge
25. Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it
26. Bookmovie is the movie in words, the visual American form
27. In praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness
28. Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better
29. You're a Genius all the time
30. Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven

I love Kerouac's rules for writing.... because they are rules for living as well. From every direction we are told that our experience is unimportant and that we are not good enough. The newscasters and movie makers and advertisers want us to be afraid, insecure and discontented. They feed us stories of celebrities, rock stars, the rich and the famous. They define beauty and sell it to us. They define genius and sell it to us. They define art and sell it to us. They define music and sell it to us.

But Hakim Bey is right: The artist is NOT a special kind of person; every person is a special kind of artist. So "Be in love with yr life", however bold, magnificent, or wretched it is.... have "no fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge". For artists, poets, and nomads in America, this can be tough-- but it is vital. We must reclaim the dignity of our own lives. "Write in recollection and amazement for yourself".... WRITE FOR YOURSELF! Not to be discovered. Not to make money. Not to show everyone how cool you are. Do it for yourself-- in celebration and in mourning for your own experience.

And most of all, no matter what those uptight bastards say, never forget that "You're a Genius all the time".

Write. Write. Write.

Monday, June 09, 2003

Homeless Essentials
by Skald

I'm an avid backpacker and have been drawing a lot of parallels between lightweight hiking and homelessness. It occurred to me that I must carry everything I need into the woods with me. Because I have to CARRY it, there is a natural tendency to reduce what I need to the barest essentials. This approach applies to homelessness as well. So I decided to make a list for Urban Backpacking (aka, homelessness). Note that this is a "three season" list. A cold winter would require the addition of gloves, a warm hat, a scarf, a sweater or two, and a warm coat (none cotton)... and probably a good sleeping bag (expensive and bulky). Here's my list:

1 bookbag(A normal bookbag won't draw any sort of attention, as a bigger pack might)
1 pair mid/heavy weight hermal underwear (NOT cotton, preferably thermax or something similiar)
2 shirts (NOT cotton, preferably nylon or another quick-dry fabric)
2 convertible pants(NOT cotton, again nylon or something similiar is best. Convertible pants have a zipper on the leg and can be converted between shorts and pants)
3-4 sox(NOT cotton. Wool/synthetic blends are good, as are hiking or running sox)
6 ziploc freezer bags(To store clothes and things and to keep them dry)
Compact umbrella

Multi-purpose soap(Such as liquid Dr Bronner's... can be used as body soap, shampoo, even laundry. Must be in a sealable container).
Toothbrush(and floss if you are good! Dr. Bronner's can be diluted and used as toothpaste too!)
2 quick dry towels(for sponge baths, one to scrup with, one to dry with)
Deoderant "stone"(available at health food shops, one stone will last a whole year!)

For sleeping/camping:
8x8ft plastic sheeting (2-4mil)(This is the clear kind, used as drop cloth by painters.... we use it to make a tarp).
7x3ft plastic sheeting(As above, used as a ground cloth to sleep on)
20ft rope(Used for the ridgeline and four corners of the tarp. Sticks can be used for stakes and trees/limbs can be used as support poles
3ft "Z rest"(Used to sleep on- provides insulation and padding between the hips and shoulders. Leaves, clothes, bookbag, cardboard, etc... can be used under the legs and head. "Z rests" are very compact and thus ideal, though any sort of closed cell foam would do)

For cooking:
Soda can alcohol stove(Super small and compact and cheap. See here,Pepsi Can Stove, for how to make a stove. )
Denatured alcohol(available at hardware stores, this is the fuel for the can stove. Store in a sealable, completely air-tight container).

To keep things compact, all clothes should be rolled up tight prior to packing. By using a small bookbag, you remain stealthy. It's easy to take it into a bathroom (that can be locked); then quickly take a sponge bath with the soap and quick dry towels. When finished, wring out the towels and put them into a ziploc and then back in the bookbag. Put on clean clothes, clean up the bathroom with paper towels, and then exit. No one will notice. I've done this many times and it works great. Dry your towels at a different location.

The above method is great for laundry too. Nylon and other quick dry clothes are easy to sink wash. Plug the sink with a paper towel, quickly wash your clothes, rinse them, and then wring them out thoroughly. Put everything back in the bookbag and be sure to clean up after yourself. Dry the clothes out at a separate location.

One last note, I recommend doing only one of the above things at a time. If you spend too much time in any one bathroom, you will draw attention. So bathe and do laundry on different days, and at different locations. Of course, in the summer a river or creek is also an option. One of my greatest joys last summer was bathing in the river. Truly a wonderful experience!

Finally, a note to volunteers, advocates, and the like. Any of the items on the above list would make great gifts for homeless folks. Often people get caught up in the trappings of middle-class ideals, and don't realize how such simple things could help. In fact, the above items could be assembled, stuffed in a bookbag, and given as a care package. Please note-- never give cotton clothes to a homeless person, cotton holds moisture and sucks away warmth. The backpackers adage is "cotton kills" as many people have died of hypothermia as a result of wearing cotton in cold and wet conditions.