I recently visited some rice fields, one of the most peaceful place I’ve been in a long, long time. Something spiritual and powerful overtook my senses, perhaps from being surrounded by things that were growing. Not just the rice but the eels digging into the mud, the snails in the water, the grasshoppers eating the leaves, and the birds eating the rice and the bugs. Truly a circle of life. I had no idea that rice fields contained such a beautifully rich eco-system.

During our vacation time we went to visit extended family in Tulungagung, a small area in southern East Java province known for its rich source of marble. It is also the resting place of the fourth wife Sri Rajapatni, who was married to the great Javanese King, Raden Wijaya. Honestly the amount of history this country has just makes me want to bow down in respect. The empire her husband found began in 1293 AD until 1500 AD and if you want to just take a quick dive you can read up on the empire’s rise which includes both clashes, friendship, and treachery with Kublai Khan’s mongol empire. Additionally, the Prime Minister during the Golden Rule of the Majapahit Empire, Gajah Mada, is a playable leader in Sid Meyer’s Civ 5 via the Brave New World expansion pack. I could go on and on but I’ll stop here. History is fascinating. The End.

Gajah Mada from Civ 5
Gajah Mada from Civ 5

My own extended family resides on the outskirts of the area. The town itself is known for its sugar cane production, and still uses a sugar processing mill that was originally owned and operated by the Dutch. My extended family owns a ceramic factory, a farm with chickens and three cattle, a rice field, and more. Despite my lack of language and other worldly look (freckles? What are those) I was warmly received into the compound and exhaustively fed in an overindulgence of hospitality.

Man on motorcycle with a bundle of sugar cane attached in the back
In our travels, we often saw local farmers transporting batches of produce like thus
We borrowed a motorcycle and followed one of the family members to their farm where we were greeted with the sounds of mooing. I felt like a 5 year old visiting a farm for the first time as I stood in awe. I don’t normally come face to face with cows despite my old neighborhood in Florida being surrounded on two sides by hundreds of acres of roaming cow land. Sometimes I would see them as I slipped out of my house for midnight jogs or as we passed our way onto the airport via winding back roads. We picked up som greens to feed them by hand and gawked at the chickens in their wooden coup.

Cow looking straight on at camera on left, while man feeds secondary cow on right
Well hello there
Chickens under a bamboo cage
You’re not going anywhere!

 

Straw for cows piled high
Straw for the cows
After we pet and fed some of the farm animals, we bumbled our way down the dirt road some more on our bike to the local rice field. It is joined by other patches of land growing other vegetables or rice as far as our eyes could see. I could hear the wind rustling the leaves to and fro, while a woman in the distance yelling to keep away the birds in a weird soothing way. No cars, no people talking, just things living, growing, moving forward in time.

Man with arms outstretched in a rice field

Woman sitting on a wooden hut in the middle of a rice field
Simple joys

The sun was warm, the wind made a beautiful sound of swishing leaves as it blew through the rice fields. My husband explained all the scarecrows and noise that the farmers were making were to scare birds away. Some were good for eating the pests but some would eat the rice crop which was no bueno. The farmers used a set of strings help up by poles with various metal cans and bright fabrics or plastic bags to ward off the potential animal invasion from the sky.

A wooden pole holding up an old wafer can is used to produce noise on rice fields
An old wafer can rattles, and old t-shirts are used to keep away the birds

But the rice isn’t just connected to predators in the sky. Similarly a whole swarm of crickets can rest their feet among these leaves and eat themselves happy.

 

Cricket hiding in rice field leaves
Can you find the little bug?

We also found a massive orgy of snails. I felt a little embarrassed photographing them but I suppose if they wanted some intimacy they shouldn’t have chosen to get it on right next to the path.

Large cluster of snails in the watery mud
These guys would have made Caligula proud

While we didn’t see any, you can often find round holes that eels have dug into the soil and made homes out of. You can often “fish” for them. They’re not particularly bright either. Their homes are clearly visible and if you stick a hook and line in and just wiggle it around, they often get irritated and just try to eat the hook. There’s also a really brilliant way to use a hollow bamboo stick to catch eels which I found on YouTube. They use snails as bait in the video and it’s really worth watching!

Woman with back to sun, looking closely at rice plant
Investigating
Man standing by small water channel that serves the farming plots
Irrigation route flows between patches of land

This is the same sort of calm I feel when I pass by rolling hills of grain back in the Mid-West. My paternal family is based out of Ulysses, Kansas as well as Kansas City. You’d be hard to miss a patch of corn or grain a stone’s throw away from the city itself. But rarely have I been able to travel in a field on someone else’s private property with such leisure. Even on patches of agriculture in the town north of Bandung where we’re walked rocky footpaths through chili and tomato gardens, unescorted by family, we were never felt to be unwelcome or come to harm. A far cry from the hostility and pride that Americans are regarded for in a sense of protecting property. Where this self assured openness comes from here in Indonesia… well, I am still Puzzled.

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