“Nature is, above all, profligate. Don’t believe them when they tell you how economical and thrifty nature is, whose leaves return to the soil. Wouldn’t it be cheaper to leave them on the tree in the first place? This deciduous business alone is a radical scheme, the brainchild of a deranged manic-depressive with limitless capital. Extravagance! Nature will try anything once.” – Annie Dillard
A friend once pointed out to me that lighters do not exist in the singular: either you have five, or you have none. There are three lighters in front of me right now, but the other day I searched and I searched for one in vain, only to give up smoking all together for want of fire. Lighters travel in pairs, and more often in packs.
In Bali, I’ve found the same is true of ants. Some mornings my bathroom looks like something you’d see in a catalogue. Everything is immaculately clean, orderly, and in its right place: in spite of living alone, I’ve even managed to maintain the habit of keeping the seat down. On these days, there is not a single ant to be seen.
Other mornings are not only different, but completely antithetical. There have been mornings here in Bali where I awake to the sound of ants marching. The first time this happened, I thought I was still dreaming. I rubbed my eyes, and turned on the bathroom’s hard white light. I could not see the surface of my toilet for all the ants; while the commode retained its shape, it was a millimeter taller, wider, and deeper than I’d remembered, meticulously painted with a thick lacquer of ants—a throbbing, and frantic black throne.
While the toilet is the main terminus point for the river of ants funneling from the small crack in the ceiling, it is not the only. If there is a can of Coke lying about, a living tributary breaks off from the main stream to consume the smaller receptacle with a terrifyingly systematic collective force. These tributaries are not akin to creeks. They do not wind leisurely along preordained valleys. Rather, ant streams flow in perfect, straight lines comprised of two tightly packed lanes: one heading toward the destination, and the other retreating from it.
Ants are known for their strength, but it is taken for granted that their already impressive singular strength exponentiates in the swarm. I have given up reading on the toilet since moving here as I find it infinitely more entertaining to look on as whole durians, tree branches, mammals, and tables defy gravity, and float up my bathroom wall in a perfectly straight line. I miss the ants when there are none; it’s one or the other, remember.
Money, like ants and lighters, is a mystery to me: I’m either flush, or I am broke. Though I’d planned to travel East since last fall, the beginning of this trip was more akin to a leap of a cliff than a carefully planned switchback down a mountain. My parents were kind enough to lend me some money towards my $600 one-way flight out here, and a friend graciously lent me some to get situated. I’d have starved long ago without the kindness and generosity of those I love.
I will pay them back soon, of course. I filed my taxes online this weekend, and I’m getting a sizeable return. One of the few advantages of earning very little money is that Revenue Canada rewards those who are on the cusp of homelessness with annual monetary manna from.
I traditionally live high on the hog for the month of March, literally so if I am making sausage. Instead of putting money into an RSP for my future self, or an ESP for my geriatric sperm, I’ve always preferred to have fun with the money, which is usually gone by month’s end.
This year, I shall derive from my usual course completely since I, like so many ants, am a creature of extremes. I am fortunate to find myself in a place where I can live well for next to nothing. My existence here, much like my existence in Cochrane in late 2016, is frugal to the point of monastic. I drink only water, cheap Balinese Coffee, and the occasional Coca Cola. I subsist almost exclusively upon ramen, rice, and cheap local fish. My goal is to make the return last for the next six months. I will devote this time to reading, writing, communing with the monkeys, and walking the earth.
I’ll see y’all again when the money runs out.