Thursday, April 23, 2009
The nine-day rosary just down our hill ends today. The tiny house, recently surrounded by great, white swaths of coral gravel and its attendant dust, is owned by reticent islanders who eked out a promise to fill in the deep and narrow reverse speed bumps they dug into the road to keep the water trucks from barreling around the bend. (The water factory behind our building is another story altogether.)
My tires and I sigh as we sink into the set of ruts, sending white dust across the burned piles of brush, into the tagan-tagan trees, into tired dogs’ eyes.
I don’t walk this road anymore. Between the dust and dogs, I’d rather drive north to Marpi. There, the road is lined with lush green crab grass and the horizontal boughs of bright orange flame trees.
But today, I can’t walk there. They have closed the north end of the island to detonate the unexploded remnants of WWII munitions. I wonder if this was inspired by a recent fire. Friends of ours live on the back of the island. When a small fire came close, they weren’t worried about it so much as the latent landmines it might ignite. Sure enough, they said it sounded like the 4th of July when the flames sent rusted elements of war exploding.
I am told that I am a fire sign, but I love the water. I’ve learned to put out my own fires. But as figurative fires race through the forests of my life, I’m trying to brace myself for AND embrace the possible detonation of rusty and forgotten pasts. In the silence afterwards, I can hear so clearly.
Recently, in Australia, I was traipsing through the Daintree Rainforest. I’d rented a car and was proud of myself for getting the hang of entering roundabouts on the left side and crossing the crocodile-infested Daintree River on the cable-drawn car ferry. (The latter honestly posing zero danger of crocodile contact, but it sounds good.) I had just descended from an incredible canopy walk through the tops of trees in one of most biodiverse corners of the earth. But I hadn’t seen any wildlife. Yes, I had seen hoards of kangaroos the day before on the Mareeba golf course, which had been a treat. But here I was, hearing all manner of crazy screeches, slithers, squawks and other onomatopoeia, and I wasn’t seeing any of it.
As I headed back down and along the ground path, I remembered something my father said once: “A season when you don’t see anything sets you up to hear everything.” I laughed. And then an endangered cassowary bird just walked out of the jungle, tilted his mohawked head at me, and led his ostrich-like body by his brilliant turquoise neck back into the forest.
I kept laughing.
Back on Saipan, the annual Flame Tree Festival has begun. As the only art event on island, it gets a pretty good turnout. All along the beach beneath the cadmium blossoms of the tree that gives the festival its name, people gather to dance, eat, and buy island art.
Teaching literature, I should have appreciated sooner that flames can be figurative. When literal, they ravage and detonate or cleanse and warm. When figurative, they can be the flames of Hades or a gorgeous orange the color and scent of blossoms.
Happy Flame Tree Festival to all.