I’ve identified a unique species of tree that grows in Bali, perhaps unknown elsewhere in the world. It is called pohon layang. Pohon means tree and layang is Indonesian for kite. Pasti (sure!), we have kite trees in Ubud… don’t you?
Slow to get started, once the kite trees bloom, primarily during dry season, they are known to spread their (ahem) wings and take root all over the island.
One unusual characteristic of this particular species is that, unlike elsewhere in nature, the kites don’t actually grow from the limbs and branches; they merely find ways to land on and inhabit the trees. But they do so in such great numbers that I’m convinced that they are meant to weave themselves into their natural surroundings rather than simply provide after-school entertainment for Balinese boys.
While some kites attach themselves to the treetops for a full season, others survive for shorter periods, until they are extricated from great heights. Some lie taut, blending so effortlessly – like chameleons – into the dark greens or blacks of dense brush.
Once in a while, the kites miss their tree-targets altogether, landing instead on rooftops or getting tangled up in power lines and car antennae. But really they seem most at ease fluttering amongst the branches, birds and squirrels.
Recently, Chie, the eccentric Japanese woman who studies Balinese dance and lives in the same family compound as me, displayed a cut on her throat and demonstrated, with great flourish, how close she came to being decapitated. Hence her story unfolded with an abundance of theatrics:
She was tooting around the roads of Lodtunduh (just south of Ubud) on her way back from class in Denpasar, when she suddenly felt something catch and tighten across her throat. She braked quickly, just in time to prevent serious injury. Turns out a string tied to a kite had fallen limply across the road from where a pair of boys was standing, and she, unwittingly, rode right into their (unintentional) trap.
Chie’s story reminded me just how pervasive and pesky this particular species can be.
Yes, the boys of summer are at it again…running through rice paddies, comparing and flying their over-sized kites, dancing them up into the skies, creating a spectacle of brightly colored plastic against the white puffy clouds, aiming them (knowingly or not) into the trees, where they settle onto branches and leaves.
Money might not grow on trees, but in this part of the world, kites surely do. Then again, maybe these kites, sights unique (yes?) to Bali, are sent aloft and lodged into trees to remind us of angels that hover forever among us mere mortals…