Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The September trip to Indonesia was a surprise. The intent was to paint another canvas of Bower Bird creations and to reassure the tribe of continued interest in the birds. This time another purpose won over the original.

Two years ago Liza Walsh, author of “Fairy House Handbook” called me. She had seen the Bower Bird show at the Dowling Walsh Gallery in Rockland, Maine (September 2009). She wanted to discuss the possibility of writing a children’s book using my illustrations. For me this would be an opportunity to explain to the children of Hungku just why I was painting the creations and respect for the treasures in their village.
What did I want to tell them, she asked? We put our thoughts together and by the end of July 2012 she had written a nice little book. I felt it should be in the tribal language so I called upon Dan and Barbara Lunow, retired missionaries who had worked in the area.They kindly translated Liza’s words and “Voila”, we had a little book and published thirty copies in early September. I had hoped to have a different cover, hard back, and waterproof paper as this would be a first book for this area. Let’s get this much done, Liza said, and we will work on it later. So off I went to Papua with our little first editions.

Clothes, canvas, paints and camping supplies, were checked to Indonesia but I hand carried the books. The trip was unusually long and difficult, but my dear Balinese driver met me and drove me off to my familiar studio in Ubud. The next day I bought a local telephone and was sad to learn there was a ban on American travel in Indonesia (due to the death of the Libyan Ambassador). I tried to connect often with Yoris, my Papuan guide but conversing was difficult due to severe storms in Manokwari and trouble with the tower. Moses’ hand phone always responded “out of area” (I later discovered he had a new phone; probably lost the old one in a river someplace some suggested).
As the days passed I began to panic. How would I find a dependable address so I could send the books if it became necessary? Nothing I have ever sent to Manokwari has ever gotten there, much less to the mountains. Bali is beautiful but I had some work to do. A couple of little canvas’s helped me try to paint. One morning was spent just watching ants. How very strange they were only interested in the Alizarin crimson paint on my palette. They walked right by the blues, the greens and the yellows and rushed by each other giving high-fives.
Water hens roosted in the frangipani trees. Didn’t know they could fly, but guess it’s better than spending the night ankle deep in water. Each evening white birds flew to the Sacred Village of Petula a couple miles North of Ubud to roost and nest. It’s amazing, flocks of Javan Pond Herons, Cattle Egrets, little Egrets and Short Billed Egrets. The trees become white with hundreds of white birds jostling for a spot on a branch. My driver hates to go there because the car emerges covered with droppings. The villagers capitalize by setting up chairs and selling cold drinks and “Bier Bintang” to on lookers. One Egret often stopped near my studio to fish in the lotus pond. The hens that lay my breakfast eggs get put in baskets at night and are run up the trees to avoid being eaten by dragons.

Finally Yoris said the ambassador had lifted the ban and he was free to help me, so on September 28th I flew from Denpasar to Macassat in the Celebes Islands. I carried only the books as it was too late to consider going into the mountains. By four o’clock the next morning we were on the runway to Manokwari. By four fifteen we were back at the gate with a broken airplane. All morning we waited for a plane part from Djakarta and then there was a discussion of getting another airplane. Passengers from Irian began to get quite upset and food vouchers were passed around. People wondered why I wanted to go to Irian. One gentleman who spoke English said he knew of the Bower Bird and of Moses. He offered to carry some books for me if I had to turn back. Flight personnel escorted me to an office to discuss my dilemma. There I met an interesting man from Spain who was trying to get food to his charter dive boat (diving with whale sharks!). They sent us both to an Executive lounge where we would be informed of any progress. Others went to hotels by bus for a “rest”. Txus was well traveled and said that due to storms Manokwari travel was already backed-up there and if I did get there I might have trouble getting out. He also said if we didn’t take off by three we wouldn’t be able to land as Manokwari has no lights. Three o’clock came and went and I had to make a difficult decision. Txus also offered to carry some books for me.
I quickly wrote out little instructions to go with the books: Yoris phone number, Moses phone number and my Indonesian phone number plus directions to the little village of cement block houses where the mountain people dwell when away from their village.
By late afternoon the notes and books were all in good hands in Macassar hotels and that evening I was on Garuda Airlines flying back to Denpasar. Follow-up phone calls assured the books are in Manokwari. Clever books, clever birds.