Saturday, February 24, 2018

Jungle Rivers

I have spent a lot of time overseas and in varied environments but jungle rivers always fascinated me. When I was working in Venezuela, I had to cross an area where vegetation had grown over a slow moving river. I had to walk on roots while getting swarmed by mosquitoes and ants. The trees had long spines so I had to use a machete to catch myself. If you slipped off a root you plunged into the black water. It inspired me to write a short poem that captured my battle with nature:

Jungle River

The confluence of elements made it known,
That this was a world all onto its own.

No man will pass without our scar,
A vision of hatred to be carried far.

Leave us alone for you cannot prosper,
In the overgrown river we will conquer.


In contrast, there was a time during this Malaysian study when my family was swimming in the Lemanak River in Sarawak, Borneo and I appreciated that it was a perfect time. When my kids wanted to be with me and the brown, jungle river flowed with adventure. Poetry is often where I park my most important memories and this experience prompted me to write the following:

Lemanak River

Vine wrapped ceiling
Giant timbers reach
Palette of greens
Sticking to the sky

Muddy river droning
Current always on
Moving melody
Licorice magma flow

Far from home bed
Sliver of web’s reach
Swimming with the children
They trust my steady legs
Laughter blends with:

Water gushing,
Insect buzzing,
Primordial smells creeping,
Wet air washing,
Sunlight straining.

My arms pull Elayna and steady Eric
And these moments rage
Down the river flowing.

Is this the perfect time?

Traditional Fishing Boats of Malaysia

I have always loved boats. I love sailing them, rowing them, building them, drawing them, and studying them. When I first encountered the strikingly beautiful boats of Southeast Asia over 30 years ago, I was impressed at the use of sail and wood in commerce. Now the sails are largely gone but boatbuilders and fishermen’s intimacy with trees and traditional knowledge remain.

The construction of these boats is fascinating. Traditional Malaysian boats are normally built without drawings and from the shipworm and rot resistant hardwood chengal. The keel, stem, and stern are made from massive timbers into which are carved receiving surfaces for the rest of the framework. The planks are bent either by the simple application of force using clamps or by heating them with fire. The planks are fastened to internal frames. 

On the east coast the planks are connected using trunnels (wooden dowels) typically made from iron wood. This joining technique is also coupled with a traditional method of sealing the planks in which a layer of melaleuca tree bark is pushed over the trunnels. Adjoining planks are hammered over these trunnels. In contrast to this traditional technique, plank sealing is produced on the west coast and some areas of the east coast, by pressing rope between the planks. The boats have distinctive bow and stern features as well as a myriad of delightful idiosyncrasies that make them special.