Drew T. Noll © 2023, all rights reserved

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Flying into the Sunrise (Part 2)

We then flew over more volcanoes stabbing through cloud-cover to Medan, Sumatra. We eventually arrived at a town far from civilization, Bukit Lawang, an eco-tourist hotspot because of the repatriated-into-the-wild orangutans that populate an ever-shrinking nature reserve there. Farmers have been consuming nature for decades and centuries, an ongoing economically driven problem around the globe, to provide arable land for growing crops and feeding cows for meat and hubris. Rescue elephants that we later encountered in northern Sumatra had rampaged and flattened villages in Banda Aceh, further to the north, the same place that was flattened by a tsunami in 2004, leaving it bare with only extreme-faith to sooth-over the population remaining. The elephants we encountered were rescued from 'death by government decree,' and made to live sporting a tourist-makeover in a land near Bukit Lawang, and distant from elephant ancestor memories. Eco-tourism was able to expose the cruelty of lapses by humans judging, but also caused problems of its own. Like in Komodo and Flores, Bukit Lawang had no landfills near enough to make a difference, and no way to dispose of the plastic water bottles we drank from and used to brush our teeth with. There were signs along the paths saying, “SAY NO TO PLASTIC.” The bottles piled up there, too. In hindsight, the only thing I can think of that would clean away the debris left by eco-tourism … might be a flood that could wash it all out to sea, a sea unseen.

In Bukit Lawang, in 2003, a flood did occur, scraping away everything with logs felled and water awash. Our first guide spoke of it as we passed the cement toilet cubicles that ‘still stood’ on our way to orientation at the lodge. His father was washed away, along with the sister of the guide that tramped with us up and down jungle hillsides to see semi-wild orangutans in the reserve. But the toilet cubes used by tourists still stood, now as a memorial to lost souls and lost lives. The government hadn’t checked upstream in many years, and a logjam exploding downstream during the rainy season unleashed a mabul that scraped away the entire village, including hundreds of people. 

After the fact, some attention was paid by the powers that be, since some of the people washed away were eco-tourists from the West. It is said that some relief was offered, as an outcry went out, and that the local government is now monitoring the possibility of another flood in the future. The waters didn’t touch the orangutans, it is also said. I imagine the majestic witnesses to our folly looking on, amused at the sounds, possibly frightened as a deep rumble rattled down the river basin, felled trees grinding away homes and lives, and the orangutans swaying above it all, possibly remembering the cigarettes and booze they were once encouraged to consume, and also curiously frightened from the absence of human presence in the days and weeks following. Many of these orangutans were rescued into the wild from wealthy homes, having been taught to entertain human guests with various vices, making faces, and sacrificing their wild, innocent souls for 'our' grins and social worth. They’d be missing their masters, I thought…

Maybe that’s what we all do, sacrifice our wild, innocent souls for worth and immediate reward. Jakarta, Indonesia, might beg to differ. But, it wouldn’t be worth the ink written. The last stop on our journey through dark enlightenment was less than it made out to be. The capital of Indonesia has been a broken relic since it began, no one actually knowing where the name even originated. There are stories, I’ve read and heard, but my theory is that the city of Batavia, started by Dutch mariners and entrepreneurs at the expense of local culture and civilization, polluted beyond recognition the innocence that had once evolved independent of western influence … and its overwhelming effluence. Batavia collapsed, as is so graphically depicted in Jakarta’s cultural institutions, and the birth of a decapitated cultural revolution manifested itself in its place.

The people that I witnessed in Jakarta were broken, even the oh-so pleasant guide that toured us through the Chinese market and the ‘slum.’ Not so different from ‘touring’ the improvised settlements of South Africa, economics were stripped bare and laid plain. I bring this irrelevant point into our story to make a point; in the third world humanity survives, merely, as opposed to thrives. But, the real problem is the philosophy lived by. In Bali offerings were made for the day, giving a proportionate amount of the day’s consumptive activities to a god of choice, usually one with business in mind and tusks to prove it. In Flores offerings were infected with Catholicism, marking crosses at death sites and living arrangements in conjunction with the old ways, the Animism of the ancestors. But, in Jakarta there was apparent a sort of last ditch effort to make the world whole again, to bring back the head missing. The colonial structures remained in the town square as museums and restaurants, and patrons we became. Ignorance and misinformation elevated each establishment to a sublime sublimation of reality, to the locals and wannabes alike. In Jakarta I experienced a hollow wanting as I traversed its institutional byways, its hallways filled with branding, inadequate explanation for its empty places, and, of course, the pageantry of its own lost-soul cover-up.

Walking through the Chinese market in Jakarta, our guide saying, “Salam Aleikhem” to Afghani immigrants with jalabiyas and unibrows just prior, we were assaulted with the extremities of living. A young boy with a body deformed skateboarded on his belly for money down the street next to intent motorcycle traffic – a seller of the popular Indonesian stink-bean looked askance as I avoided taking his picture – skinned frogs and split sea cucumbers awaited consumers to acquire them, finally ending their bare exposure to the naked street – a crack of a thud emanating out from within the cavernous market stalls, the muscly fishmonger giving a spiritual shrug as a giant sea turtle squirmed in midair after being thrown to the fates, flying down to the concrete floor, upside down, its shell smacking with a sonic boom to my social/spiritual well-being … to make soup from for gluttonous Chinese consumers. What’s the chance of that turtle being the same turtle I swam behind while it stretched its neck out to unrealistically breathe in ‘our’ world? That’s where my mind went. It’d been more than a week, maybe two. It was the same exact size…

Without haste I looked up and realized I had been left behind in my own wanderings. I had to run down the street to catch up with the guide, and with my beloved. They weren’t worried about me, I noticed, when I caught their eye.’ We ended our flight through the market at a Chinese temple, my mind and stomach still racing. Trying to breathe in meditation, I noticed that I had entered a meticulous process oriented system designed to give purpose and path to those that followed. People were in deep trance, and going through the motions, like everyday life intersected this place every day. In a chance observation I realized that it was a system to gamble for your future. There was one talisman on one side of a can of choosing sticks, and one talisman on the other. There were numbers on the sticks inside the choosing can, and, depending upon the … whatever, you got to pick a drawer on the opposite wall with fortunes inside. It was so alien to me, and so interesting at the same time. I immediately thought of wishing someone “good luck.” From my recently acquired perspective of Chinese temple mechanics, and from my own knowledge’s perspective, it would be a curse to wish such. What if the world had no meaning? What if it was all about choosing and not losing? Yes, could be, maybe it is … but, to throw all maters to fate (or not)?! I guess I just prefer to live in a world where meaning defines more than just character: it defines path.

Two young closeted (in Indonesia especially) Jewish lawyer-to-be women traveled with us while visiting the repatriated orangutans in northern Sumatra. We shared a compatriot illegal religious status and, amazingly, they confided to us in Hebrew, and then placed themselves on the front-line of eminent persecution by being gay. I felt guilty after I had had the realization that I had stepped back from that line once we spoke of it. As we 'eco-tourists' traveled together we spoke of many things politic. They had a friend back in DC that was into it, you see. Their friend knew how to talk her way through stuff, they almost seemed to say. Then we really spoke, like an informal summit on the summit of a jungle hill waiting for fruit and snacks while searching for orangutans; yes, just like that. Sharing a banana and some yellow watermelon, our guides attending us and then retreating to smoke cigarettes together away from their eco-tourists, the crux of our new friends' friend's position became expressed: “How can a persecuted people from a foreign land be re-assigned to another land that belongs to another people?” Holocaust survivors should be repatriated, after the horror of being targeted for their religious and cultural heritage, to their ‘own’ land, they seemed to be saying. And, what about the native residents?! What about Palestine and its people?

I wanted to reply with, “What people?” What people had been living there? Turks? Egyptians? Jordanians? I wanted to reply with: what, exactly, is a Palestinian? The name Palestine was coined by ancient Romans that had conquered Israel (the people and the land) over 2,000 years in the past. Future conquerors, multiple empires of Turks, and in modern times – the European conquerors – the Brits, had only populated the land sparsely, as multiple historical sources attest to. And ... the Jews had gone on living in their land, even though ancient Rome had tried to expunge them from history, an ongoing story of attempted exile or extinction of the Jews by ruling powers that we continue to bear witness to today. But, I didn’t say those things. My mind left me in the moment. I forgot the history I’d learned. I forgot. I wanted to illustrate how, currently, a majority of Israeli Jews' ancestors had been living in dhimmis status in Arab lands, and had been forced to flee their homes only a year after the State of Israel was founded, without a penny, without loved ones, and without the world’s care. I wanted to, but I forgot. 

What I did reply with was: There 'should' be a political state for a people that insist upon its existence. There 'should' be a Palestine, a modern state built upon this very foundation ... even though there is only one historical precedent I've ever heard of, where an ancient people returned to their historical and ancestral homeland ... like how the Jews manifested a modern state of their own, having reoccupied ‘their’ homeland after being expelled from it by conquerors, in the Land of Israel. Then silence broke the tension across the jungle hill's summit. We all understood that there was nothing else to say. We all understood that the only chance that a Palestinian state had for existence was the historical precedent that an ancient displaced people, the Jews, could have returned to their own historical homeland, setting the stage for any and all displaced peoples across the globe. Then, as our guides began to regroup us to search more for semi-wild repatriated orangutans, we all shuffled to our feet and began to break-down into small-talk, conversing upon the Media’s unworthiness, and how each pop-insta-in your face institution promotes only its own agenda, opening its wallet to be filled with our ignorance blissfully, and that ALL of the ‘News’ outlets are false and should be ignored, utterly. 

We left Sumatra and flew to Jakarta, then flew into the sunrise. I watched the light glowing murkily outside the windows of the plane. I couldn’t understand how we could be matching the airspeed of the earth as it spun, as the sun rotated around our perception of day and night. How could the sun have stopped its descent over the horizon? How could it just hover, waiting for my mind to catch up? Then the night fell and I told myself that we had finally fallen behind. I watched movies edited for content. I read a book I bought in Bali about its history and development. I stared out the window and watched the clouds disappear into darkness ... last, as the earth below became blurry and dotted with lights from ships, from buildings, from cars. Then there was desert, once again. I looked through the round portal of a window out onto the darkness and noticed that there was no screen to slide down, and that there were only two buttons decorating the surface of the window’s mounting. I pressed one of the unlabeled buttons and nothing happened. I pressed the other … and, the same. The buttons had to be for something, so I held one down for seconds longer to see what might occur. We were still over the desert, I could just see, and then the light outside the plane again began to glow. It became brighter and brighter, inside and out. I quickly let go of the button and pushed the other, to be sure, and my window became darker … then darker. I knew that I would be landing in Tel Aviv, sometime in the wee hours of the night, but, in hindsight, didn’t have a clue as to how that knowledge would taint my own future, my vision of who and what I was to become in the world to be. Because of irrefutable proof, of what my eyes had shown me point blank, I had been matching in my mind the speed of the spin of the earth and its rotation around the sun. But, I was wrong. A technological magic trick had fooled me, and, like ancients and ancestors before me, I had simply stepped across a threshold into the future unknown with my own supreme knowledge, gained from a lifetime of experience. I had merely stepped through a doorway into a future that was created in my mind ... and so very loved.

The Mediterranean Sea from Ramat Hanadiv Nature Reserve in Israel
I wanted to upload here the profile pic in front of the Temple Mount that I deleted while in Bajawa, but it seems that it's gone forever... having been wiped from the world in delusional fear. We are home again, thank God, safe, happy, and proud. Blessings to all from the Promised Land!

For more pics, click here

Please contact me, if you so wish, here: doronoll.com

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Bali and the Last Wave

When I was younger, the world was a much smaller place. There were neighbors, parents, friends, and my little brother. We lived inside the Green Belt, in Laguna Beach, California. Laguna had a local reputation as an artist’s colony, with festivals and happenings all around town, which was separated from the commercial hubbub to the north, and from the orange grove dotted developments and track-homes to the east, by a vast land of rolling hills and sagebrush. The Green Belt was sanctified as untouchable open-space, even when it was owned by one of the largest development companies in the world, the Irvine Company. My dad worked for them as an urban planner, designing living environments for people moving to California in droves. 

My dad was born in California, as was his father, as was I. My first born son was also born in California, but because of instabilities produced by over crowding and commercialization with no end in sight, we left the Pacific Ocean to move far inland to Colorado. After facing first-hand the Rodney King riots in LA, we felt more comfortable raising a family without the fear of random violence, as well as the unsolicited brainwashing of a generation we saw around us, to consume, and to replace consumables in order to consume again. Things were once prized for years, back in the space and time I grew up in; or, they were prized at least until they were grown out of. Then they were passed on to another generation and used again, possibly even prized for more years to come. 

Laguna Beach started as a prehistoric paleo-Indian civilization, but once the European conquerors took over, the area was named in Spanish as Cañada de las Lagunas, or in English: Glen of the Lagoons. Then, in 1848, the area was ceded to the USA after the Mexican-American War. In 1927, the city of Laguna Beach was incorporated, upon which time urban planners from New York City overlaid a grid from afar and called their map a street map, which is why there are so many steep hills in Laguna ... and why Laguna became a skateboarding capital in my time, which led directly to surfing for most of the kids growing up inside the Green Belt. 

I was born in 1962, and have a vague memory of the moon landing, and an even more vague memory of traumatized parents from the assassination of JFK. My mom sometimes sported the look of Jacky O., hairdos, sunglasses, and all. I guess the beginning of rampant commercialization began way back then, maybe even before, in the 1950’s. It’s a strange transient life we inhabit. The world keeps turning, the continents keep drifting, and we keep thinking we run the world ... uhh 

Just now, while sitting here on the Balinese island of Lembongan writing this piece, another earthquake shook the continental plate beneath my feet. Like the first quake I experienced last week on the mainland of Bali, I felt two distinct waves. The first wave was a wake up call with a back and forth motion, indicating that something might not be quite right with the world, then, about one second later, the larger motion of an up and down wave struck, the last wave, confirming my suspicions. Quiet descended upon the beach-bar around me. I ran out onto the open sand and turned to look back at my neighbors, still sitting there. They all stopped what they were doing and looked up, finally paying attention to our world for the briefest of moments. Then we all went back to what we were doing before the ground woke us from our slumber, as if we actually ran the world. 

Growing up in California helped a lot to understand what was happening to the Earth’s crust during the earthquakes I’ve been experiencing in Indonesia, and so did that college geology elective I took as an undergrad. Indonesia is a card carrying member of the Ring of Fire, a region surrounding the Pacific Plate and home to 75% of the world's volcanoes and 90% of its earthquakes. California is on the opposite side of the Ring of Fire from Indonesia. I’ve experienced many large earthquakes, once as a child even getting tossed from the top bunk of a bunk bed, only waking once impacting the hardwood bedroom floor. Occasionally there were aftershocks, but, regardless, for at least a half an hour, my parents always huddled with my brother and I in the hallway under a main arch. My dad, who had grown up with earthquakes his whole life, and understood architecture professionally, said it was the safest place to be during an earthquake. 

The buildings usually survived in California, if the epicenter was far enough away, due, I suspect, to stringent building codes and proper urban planning. However, the death toll in Lombok, an Indonesian island where the quakes I experienced had their epicenters, keeps on rising. The structures in Indonesia are often built poorly, with economics driving construction parameters instead of safety. The poorest neighborhoods seem to get hit the hardest, even to the point that the epicenters may regularly fall smack in the middle of lower economic areas; maybe because older areas in a city are older because they tend to survive earthquakes better, and as a result older residents and land owners tend to be situated in the older areas. Regardless, it’s policy here in Indonesia to exit a building during an earthquake, no matter where you are ... uhh 

Sitting here, just now, while writing this piece on the porch of a little bungalow I rented, I realized that I have a perfect view out to Shipwrecks, one of the biggest and scariest surf breaks in the world, and I noticed because the waves look about double overhead, stormy frothing beasts that glow turquoise when the sun is able to stab through a rain clouded sky. The line-up is crowded, which means every few waves a desperate soul drops in and slams face first into the shallow waters above a sucked-out reef. I came to this island in order to try and relive some of my glory days spent surfing on the other side of the Ring of Fire, in California. I was rarely able to surf once I left the Pacific Ocean behind, so it wasn’t until leaving Colorado and moving to Israel that the surf-bug was able to ignite again, but the Mediterranean Sea just doesn’t have the same kind of raw soul that the Pacific did. 

That raw soul lives here, on Lembongan Island. Over the last two days I’ve taken a beating riding Razors, named for the sticks and metal poles that once peppered the water’s surface for harvesting kelp. The first surfers here rode waves through the spikes, which gave the break it’s name. The spikes are now gone, but the reef is nearly as deadly. The break is primarily a left, but because of the crowds on the waves, and because I’m regular foot (left foot in front), the guide I hired said I could try the right, a short, fast, sometimes close-out wall that shot down the reef directly towards another break called Lacerations. My local guide was a thin and muscular surf-Hindu, with long, dark, sea-soaked hair and sun blackened skin, named Thabu. When he caught a wave he appeared to fly over its surface, like a demon butterfly, carving and streaking, momentarily fluttering, then disappearing behind the whitewash, only to reemerge in order to check on me in an encouraging, even a beautifully, loving kind of way.

Having been land-locked for so many years, my surfing skills and abilities have faded considerably. In hindsight, it could be that my wave knowledge and comfort with rough waters may have given my guide the wrong impression of my abilities and strength as a surfer. It’s quite possible that my bravado recalling the good old days mislead him as well. To position for the right, I needed to stay just inside of where the outside sets broke, an error in math that didn’t escape me at the time. After catching a few nice rights, each one riding alone on the wave, without getting shinned by loose boards emerging from the tourist washing machine rinse cycle, one of the day’s monster sets loomed above the sea-calm in dark turquoise lines. I began to paddle, hard, digging into the waters below me. The first wave of the set arched up and slammed down in front of me. I managed to stay on my board, diving beneath each of the oncoming mountains of foaming whitewater and emerging from beneath each wave’s broken back, already digging towards the next Goliath bearing down over the reef. 

Fear didn’t bite until my strength was sapped, and even then it didn’t compare to getting shoved violently in the back while trying to exit a restaurant as the first Lombok quake hit us and the first taste of panic bit. It was back on the mainland of Bali, in Ubud, a place that has been commercialized almost beyond recognition from my last visit just five years ago. Upon first arriving in Ubud, my wife and I began to reconsider spending ‘any’ time there; it was once our favorite place in all of Bali. Traffic came to a standstill almost every day, for hours at a time, and the sidewalks were so full of people that pedestrian traffic flowed into the rain-soaked streets. The same cavernous sidewalk holes were present, something I didn’t mind the last time I visited, but because of the crowds, they became treacherous as everyone jostled about for position, gawked at the latest Bali-fashions, and admired each other’s consumption of yuppie yoga plumage and skin ink. And, the beaches of Lembongan Island were not much different. 

As I paddled back to the boat that had dropped us at Razors to surf, my arms barely rising above the surface of the water, I realized what must have happened to the world. I was too tired to think about anything besides my arms moving in the direction of the boat, and my lips kissing the sea as I attempted to inhale air. The last wave of the day I rode on my belly ... as far as I could go, the other tourists doing cartwheels to each side of me like swans in a bird show. As I slid across the water, if only to get that much closer to the boat-ride back to shore, I realized that our species could very well be riding the last wave, after an exhausting run of it. But, even if that is so, I also realized that it could still be the best wave of the day. 

And, blessings to the families of lost loved ones on the Indonesian island of Lombok; it has been a real tragedy in our midst. 

For more photographs of Bali and Nusa Lembongan, click here.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

The Promised Land

Aliyah Shirts outside Dinah's in LA - 

Looking down at the Swiss Alps while flying over, seeing the jagged peaks and crags that jutted from pristine valleys dotted with alpine chalets and winding roads perfect for cycling, I thought briefly upon my adventures over the last 12 years as a new immigrant to the Middle East. I had visited Switzerland many years ago with a backpack and a Eurorail Train Pass, so I imagined my hike navigating the distance around the Matterhorn as I flew overhead, on my way back to Paradise. I was heading to Boulder, Colorado, a place I lived in with my budding family for 15 years before making Aliyah to Israel. We pulled up stakes as soon as my wife said to herself that, “I could live out my life and be buried here… in Boulder.” It was a sign from above, or maybe just the warning siren that life is only what you make of it. We may never know. But, what we do know is that life in the Promised Land has been undeviating in its own rambling kind of way, rough and tough, and that it’s been more rewarding than can ever be adequately expressed. We had left paradise for the Promised Land, and had put all of our expectations on hold while we jetlagged across foreign ideologies and straight through day-to-day life. Even though we knew we would always be a member of the ‘desert generation,’ we also knew that life moving forward needed to be something more than the so-called perfection that we had been experiencing. We didn’t know what it was at the time, but in time we knew that the more experience we gained, the more life we produced. Life was all about taking the turns with grace and speed, with love and with abandonment. We were going up, growing up, making Aliyah. It meant more than just ideology, and it meant more than seeking a better life. It meant shedding our skins and blossoming into something new, like a molting moth, a snake shaking off its old skin, or giving birth to a new generation that could waltz with ease into a land promised from above. It felt as if we were finally becoming immortal, finally coming home.

Moving Halfway around the World Day
Once we got home, we began to fear drowning in the amniotic fluid that we had revered only days before. How would we survive financially? How would we survive…? My woodworking business was a sure flop. We couldn’t speak the local language. I wasn’t even Jewish according to the official religious State establishment. We had landed on the surface of Luna, Yahre'akh, the moon, and we had to pick: to have faith and let the past go, or … to fight for what we had built before, living in paradise, living with challenges developing from a foreign realm, maybe even without any real potential. Faith won. It’s a kind of placebo effect phenomenon, faith is. It builds potential, as much as it nullifies perceived reality. I’m not talking about blind faith, but rather … an informed faith. When I decided to make Aliyah with my family, I was sold on the concept from a place deep inside, a place that I rarely, but inevitably, have the opportunity to visit with. I spent late nights contemplating the nature of the Universe while painting in my studio. I would read my kids to bed, then kiss my beautiful, gorgeous, awe-inspiring wife to sleep, and disappear into the basement or garage with a primal hope to commune. Faith was something that had to be built with sweat and with tears, and with love. Faith was making art and then standing behind the process. Faith was, and is, all about building a better ‘real’ world. And, the world was about to change, forevermore…

Last Visit to Boulder with my Eldest in 08
My eldest son ran, from the taxicab at the curb, directly at me with glee in his eyes. His smile eclipsed all the pointless worries I brought with me from the old country, across the Americas and the Atlantic, over the Mediterranean, and all the way to the Promised Land. I smiled ear-to-ear with him as we embraced, my son telling me that we were going to move half-way ‘round the world … and that we were ‘now’ home. I landed in Israel carrying with me my own perceived stresses, my own hot air balloon stuffed full of my own exasperations. And, the smiles I received while sitting in a taxicab with my family, who had come to collect me at the airport, flipped a switch in my mind that drilled into my consciousness. We had all entered a realm uncharted, together, and we were all riding an insane kind of faith-engine. Reality became irrelevant, and the truth of the world eclipsed the self and all of its stresses like the moon covering the sun. With glee and wonder emanating in streams and sparklers from a taxicab up to Jerusalem, we giggled together as we went up, chortling in secret and out-loud … harmonizing in unison. We all knew that we were going home, however foreign and obtuse it might become. We were on a mighty adventure, and we were coming home.

Me and my Youngest hiking Bear Peak
I sit now in Boulder, writing this, and I’ve had a chance to visit with my old designs from a life gone by. Living was shocking upon reentry here, like crossing into a foreign land. I’ve felt similar feelings visiting Dubrovnik, Kuching, Acumal, or Tana, Langa, and even Daliyat haCarmel back in my ancestral homeland, in Israel. It was always surreal and real at the same time. I met my younger son at the airport upon arrival here in Colorado, who graciously offered to help upkeep and paint our old home with me. He was at the tail end of eight months of personal investment traveling thoroughly throughout the Americas; and, he came to visit with me in the place he was born, at the home of his birth. Funnily, while we visited with family here, we shared stories of his birth and laughed together. From the very beginning he did things his own way, regardless of his deep connection to his roots, and his family. Actually, he brought us all with him, just like my eldest did when he saw the truth of our world and smiled ear-to-ear while shouting out to me, his father, from the backseat of a taxicab careening up hwy 1 to Jerusalem. My family arrived in the Old City, and we settled for a time into a view down onto the Temple Mount. It was a vision from the heavens above, a view onto how my soul could tap into both an ancient ideal, and to a modern vision. I was later married to my beautiful beloved for the second time upon that rooftop, gazing down upon my own ancient history … and gazing into a vortex of a spiritual space-elevator for ‘all’ of time. I was home, swimming through the cosmos, both as a passenger and as the driver, and I was finally (though, not forevermore), One.

Love you all,
My Youngest arriving Back in Israel

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Bongo, My Right Hand

Cow Secrets — 
Abandoned on the streets of Israel as a puppy, our new arrival peered through the neighbor-lady’s fence slats. She worked with the local humane society, placing animals in homes from a nearby shelter. His eyes lit up when he saw Dude, our black Canaani-mix, on our way into the nature reserve for one of our daily walks. I could have sworn I heard him giggle as we passed, like he knew his fate, even before we did. We weren’t looking for another dog, but after moving into a house that could house another dog, and also noticing a general sense of depression from Dude, we found ourselves standing at the neighbor’s fence saying hello to this strange, lanky, white dog with floppy ears and a slovenly loving grin. We talked it over then brought him home for a trial run, which really means that we were all hook, line, and sinker. We named him Bongo after we saw him fly into the air every time he met another friend. “Doing helicopters” became the terminology as he spun 180, 360, and 270 degrees’ in his airborne excitement. Bongo grew into a dog larger than Dude, but still did helicopters in such a surprising way for all that witnessed it. It just felt unnatural, like breaking the laws of physics, as he launched into the air, spun, and created his own energetic eddies that washed over us all. Bongo was here to stay, even though his ground time was somewhat limited. We took him into our family and into our hearts. Bongo became my right hand dog, incessantly pulling and tugging to smell and to be, exploring the emotions of the world through sense and experience. Bongo attached himself, with every family member’s blessing, to our souls.

Dogs were always part of our family life, having raised dogs growing up, and having included dogs while raising-up our babies into fine young men. Cats were another story altogether. I always loved cats, but because of family-others’ allergies and strange fears from childhood traumas, cats were a no-go zone. However, walking our dogs in the evening, one evening, changed this paradigm forever. I had witnessed a birthing of kittens within a construction dumpster around the corner. They were as loud as ever as I passed on my daily walks with our black and white dogs, Dude and Bongo. Bongo became the lover of most other things, but Dude was a cat-chaser by design. Pursuing felines was so ingrained into Dude’s psyche that he wouldn’t hesitate to stick his head into a hole filled with cats, and actually did once, only to remove it quickly with a mother cat stuck to his face … hissing. After a month or two of passing the dumpster, the metal debris-filled incubator became silent and then disappeared altogether. The building that had been built was done, and the kittens had all grown into cats perusing the neighborhood. One night, as we strolled down the streetlight lit street, I saw a gray blur shoot from the other side in an ark straight at us. My wife saw it too, and jumped towards me. She grabbed my arm and said quickly that the cat must have had a brain injury; it ran right up to Bongo, then Dude. They both had a start, but even Dude didn’t care once escape was beyond trying for the mad cat. Mad Max followed us home and we have been feeding him ever since, so much so that he has since become Fat Max, and now … just The Fat.

The Fat even joined us once on our walks into the nature reserve. He followed us down through the tiny orchard that joins our house to the street at the entrance to the reserve. He followed us through the gate in the fence that had been built to keep out the wild boars from entering neighborhood gardens. And he followed us all the way around a loop trail that only just touches the edge of the reserve and all of its wonders. We walked and visited these wonders, and we walked the trails, Bongo and Dude, me and my dogs. We visited jackal dens, with dark entrances strewn with gnawed bones, and we hiked to the bat cave, encrusted with guano, which once housed a Neanderthal and his family, now all entombed within scaffolding and barbed wire fencing to keep out the riffraff. We were enthralled by fur and scat left by hyenas, and we lolloped about in the Bone Yard, a graveyard for cows that features skulls and bones littering a hillside perpetually perched above the Mediterranean Sea. On hot summer days we descended into the shade of a spring emerging from under ancient rocks and ruins and enjoyed the cool lapping of fresh water under our feet and over our tongues. And in the spring we breathed in the vast space of a view to the south, from a Canaanite graveyard covered with wildflowers, all the way to Jaffa and the towers of Tel Aviv. Bongo was a special dog, with a special life. He loved all who came to call. Bongo loved the tortoise that found its way into our garden. Bongo loved the moles that dug holes in the soft earth, digging also with glee at the first sign of motion. Bongo loved everything. Bongo loved from his essence. It was hardwired into his existence … loving. He knew when someone needed his administrations. He knew when someone was hurting.

I sat on a plastic chair at our veterinarian’s office. There was a magnificent view of the sea, but I was grappling with the fine print and failed to notice. Bongo stood next to me, in front of me, tight against my leg. He weighed in under par. He was sick, from ingesting the eggs of tiny red worms. Dung beetles also abound in the reserve. They lay their eggs upon grass and dung, and Bongo became a connoisseur of grass, and of cow-pies, and he guiltily consumed eggs from beetles locked in evolutionary symbiosis: cow, dung, beetle, dog. He had been treated for months to overcome the growth of a cocoon embedded upon his esophagus, but to no avail. Bongo eventually, suffering from the start, succumbed. My right hand dog sat, and then laid down on the floor in front of me, as I spoke to my son traveling throughout South America on his post-army trip. We videoed together and said our goodbyes, together. My wife and I spoke. We called our son studying at Tel Aviv University, working hard to build his mind with electrical engineering. He called us back, but just as the injection began to flow through Bongo’s veins. My phone rang, over and over, sitting on the counter, over and over; I had to let it ring and knew my son would understand. I pet Bongo’s head and chest, hugging him, loving him as I was able. I felt his heart beating, then stop. I felt his breathing, then not. His eyes were open when he passed; looking into the void of what once had been the wall of the veterinarian’s office. Bongo was gone. Then a sound emitted from outside the room - a siren. At first I thought it was an incoming missile warning, and then I thought it must just be the wind; then, later, realized it was only a test of the emergency warning siren system. Bongo went out with full fanfare, as was deserved for such a wonderful companion in so many adventures, and in so many ways.

We will miss you Bongo. Love, love, love…