I’m surrounded by a colorful menagerie of animals, including each compound’s roosters and chickens that scamper off at the first sign of a maddeningly approaching motorbike, a couple of cows chomping away on tall grass, herons flying overhead, ducks in the fields, oversized butterflies, cats and dogs. I see them all from a distance as I walk to town each day.
But it’s the close-up that gets me every time. Watching them going about their lives, unaware and generally unperturbed by human activity around them.
I saw a bird the other day down in Kuta (yes, the same Kuta, but in a friend’s placid compound that felt a million miles from mayhem central). It was stealthily building a nest. We watched with bated breath, as she came and went, each time carrying a solitary strand, tucking it in between tall leaves.
Or the baby frog. I found it waiting for me when I went to shower the other night. Perched on the side of the bathtub, it froze and seemed to shrink in size. I stepped in slowly and cautiously, angling the shower head away from the edge. The frog’s heart pulsated, perhaps triggered by the sight of me. Hopping backwards, he eventually reached the far edge. I turned away for a moment – and he was gone.
The next morning, I spotted a garden snake. A frog in its fangs. Ouch. I walked in the direction of the snake. Bug-eyed, it sensed my presence, dropped the frog in an instant and slithered away. Poor frog. Bloodied on its head. Disabled in its front left paw. Reaching out for a long dried leaf, I placed it near its body, tried to scoop it up. No go. It hopped off the leaf and with its damaged limbs, limped away into the bushes.
Oh, and those marching ants. Of every size imaginable. There are plenty. Over a few days, they ramped up their activity. Millions of tiny ones marched to and fro right below the threshold of my front door. I knew they were up to something, but I let them be, figuring that I’d eventually wizen up to their M.O. And so it happened that I spotted a crowd of them, and then another, carting off a piece of.. what??.. well, a grain of cooked white rice. And then, another. And another. Ahh, so that’s it.
But where from? I never buy or cook white rice. They were hauling each grain out from a hole in the outer wall, carting it across the terrace and around the corner of my house to some unforeseen ant-party (I guess). This went on for a couple of days. I grabbed my eyeglasses, knelt down and watched their movements for awhile.
When a larger ant invaded their territory, threatening to trample one of their crowd, the host ants flew into a frenzy, fighting the larger ant off the grain with sheer force.
And then, there were ducks. In the muddy, already harvested rice paddy in front of my house. Round and round they went. Like a tone-deaf ambulatory choir, they emitted a monstrous cacophony of sounds. They sensed my presence, and hobbled off – quite muddily – to the far side. Their voices pelted my head with honking sounds throughout the night, occasionally waking me from a light slumber.
But of course, I would remiss to ignore the dogs. The spaniel. The scruffy white mutt. The golden lab. The jet-black Bali dogs, one of which perks up his ears when I’m in range, then follows me home, lets himself in through the gate, curls up on my terrace, aware of a threshold that cannot be crossed. The tiger-striped one that barely lifts his head to acknowledge me most days, then lapping up the love on others.
Living among the animals is, for me at least, a reminder that we are all strangers here, living in their habitat. It reminds me to acknowledge and honor their presence, talk to them, pat their heads and in general (though cockroaches are, to me, an acceptable exception!), leave them be.