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Down On The Farm

Being a seventh generation Texan, it just wouldn't be right if I didn't have a farm, even living on the far side of the Universe from home.

A while back, I bought 7 hectare (~17 acres) up in the mountains.  Beautiful place on the side of a hill with a view of three volcanoes and a couple of distant cities.  The previous owner had quite a spread, and for whatever reason, decided to break it up into parcels of 3.5 hectare and sell it off.  He even cleared the land down to the money-trees (fruit and jati, or mahogany).

When I first went up there, the land was cleared down to the dirt with a couple hundred jati trees, some avacado trees, several durian, and a metric ton of bananas.  This past weekend, it was already overrun with chili peppers, corn and cassava bushes.

The volcanic soil here is amazing.  I tell folks that if a woman stands in one place too long, she'll get in the family way pretty darned quick.  I've seen this type of thing down in Cental America, as well.  You can clear a patch down to dirt, and in about three months, it's overrun again.

Getting to the place is quite an adventure in itself.  Once you get to the end of the line, then keep going about another 8 miles and you'll be there.  You have to walk the last kilometer or so, because the road stops at the neighbor's horse barn.

As usual, everyone in Jakarta bails out into the country on the weekends, so the road up the mountains was at a dead stand-still starting just before the foothills.  We didn't want to wait, so we paid an ojek $5 to lead us up the hill on the back-roads.  Great investment!  Not only did we blow past all the traffic, but got a rather scenic tour of small villages, as well.

When we rejoined the main road, it was just in time to see two tour buses run into each other.  They had jumped into the opposing lane to try and run around the last bit of jam, but the one in front locked up to avoid killing a motorcyclist, and the second one smacked square into the first right next to us.  Rather exciting.  Keep in mind this is a tiny two-lane blacktop that puts the word "switch-back" to shame.  Everyone runs that road like they are Mario Andretti, passing on blind turns and cutting across hair-pins.  It's truly frightening, so I concentrate on the scenery and pray like it's the Second Coming.  So good.

After about an hour or so, we came to a medium-size village on the main drag.  At that point, we turned off and started down a road that makes driving on the Moon look like a picnic in Kansas.  We drove through half a dozen smaller villages full of rice fields, strawberry patches and flowers.  It reminded me a bit of the back roads in Holland, only not as flat and a lot more gritty.

After a while, we came to a turn-off that lead up the mountain.  If the road we turned off was the Moon, then this one made the Moon look smooth.  The pavement ended after an hour or so, and it actually got smoother at that point.

We passed tiny villages, a lumber mill, and scenery that makes me gasp every time I see it.  Driving within inches of the mountain's edge, you can look down into a vast valley covered in dense jungle.  Occasionally, you see some monkeys, if you look sharp.  Up the hill in the opposite direction, there are mahogany trees six feet in diameter and nearly 200 feet tall, and an undergrowth of smaller trees covered in orchids.

Finally, the road just ends.

The neighbor has a beautiful spread with orchards, a horse barn, a couple of houses, and a bunch of ducks.  we parked here and talked with the caretaker for a bit while we waited for the motorcycles to show up.  When they got there, we mounted up for the last leg of the journey.

The footpath was slick as a weasel.  It had just rained an hour before we got there.  We managed to get up the hill and level off on the path to the farm.  Finally, none the worse for wear, we rounded the bend and came onto our land.

After the engines cut off, you realize just how far you are from anything.  It's so quiet, you can hear your blood cells bumping into each other.  Just some birdsong and the hum of hornets the size of sparrows, and a light breeze in the leaves.

I stood for a minute, sucking in the clean, cool air.  You can't find a spot anywhere in Jakarta like this.  And with the recent rain, the earthy smell and flower scents were overwhelming.

The caretaker had planted corn, so there were rows upon rows of it down the side of the hill.  The jati trees stood tall and straight as arrows, with their strange puffs of leaves way up at the top.  They were nearing 20 cm in diameter, and would be ready for harvest early next year.  There are about 150 of them.  There's also five golden jati trees.  They're protected and you have to have a government permit to cut them commercially, but you can cut and use them on your own land.

I picked up a good walking stick and started off down the hill.  At the first banana tree, I stopped and picked a hand of pisang ambon which are little suckers just bigger than my thumb, and really sweet.  They were warm from the sun and perfectly ripe.

A little further and I checked the durian.  Wasn't ready yet.  Maybe another two months.  Curious fruit, too.  It can get to the size of a rugby ball, covered in a very thick, hard shell covered with large, mean spines.  It smells like a pair of old gym socks full of rotten onions, and it's delicious.

When it's ripe, the husk splits open, giving you a fighting chance to get at the goodies inside.  If you don't end up in the hospital, then what you find is about four or five flesh, pale-yellow, worm-like things inside.  Each one has a singe, large brown seed in it.  You peel the worms out and start snacking!  It has the consistency of a thick custard and a similar flavor, though it's completely unique, like nothing I've ever eaten before.  If it's overripe, it has a slightly bitter taste and will get you drunk.  In fact, it's unseemly for unmarried couples to be seen eating it together in public.

Next stop was the avocado trees.  The fruit was still small and green, and hard as rocks.  By September, they'll be the size of softballs and rather good, though the flavor is not the same as the black Hass variety back home.  Still, they make pretty good guacamole.  From the looks of things, I'll be making guacamole for the entire neighborhood, come the time.

At the bottom of the hill is a river with ice-cold, clear water.  It has plenty of lele, which are small catfish.  Very popular around these parts.  There are a couple of other varieties of fish, but I haven't learned the names of them yet.

Later, I plunked down in the shade with my bananas and ate my fill.  For good measure, I added a mango and part of a papaya, as well.  I just relaxed and let the wind caress me with its chilly tendrils.  Through the trees, I could see the outlines of the mountains in the distance, and the large valley stretching out into the haze.  I drank in the smell of sweet Earth and listened to the birds I couldn't find, and whose songs I have never heard before.

I dreamed of the house I will build at the top of the hill.  The top will be level with the footpath, and the house will sink three stories into the ground, with the entire downhill side being nothing but glass.  From the top, I will have an elevated walkway that will run out to a landing in the tree tops.  At the base will be a fish pond and swimming hole.  The view will face the rising Sun and offer a commanding perch over the surrounding jungle.  There will be chickens and goats, and a horse, of course.

Since there's no grid there, everything will be solar-powered, and water will come from a well down by the river.  I'll put up a four-foot stone wall around the living area, but the rest will be a controlled kind of wild.  The chickens will eat the bugs and the goats will clear the undergrowth, and both will be on the menu, as well as good home-made goat cheese.

I mapped it all out in my head, while my wife took photos so I could design the place.

As the sun set and the air cooled quickly, we saddled up the motorcycles again.  Back down the horse barn.  There we sat with the caretaker, who loaded us up with all kinds of strange and interesting fruit.  I also bought five macadamia saplings from him for $2 (all together).  We ate and joked and hung out until dark, then it was back down the mountain and back to the crazy rat race that is Jakarta.  At the tea plantation, the air warmed up again, and soon the fog of bus exhaust and the roar of motorcycles were assaulting us again.

Won't be long, though, and I'll have my house on the farm, and later, my retirement home.  With any luck, I'll be buried there, too.

You can take the boy off the farm, but you can't take the farm out of the boy.

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