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Students in a long tail boat in Indonesia. Photo by Aaron Slosberg, Indonesia Semester.

Thoughts from Ketambe Jungle


Today, I walked passed an enormous, majestic tree, with a myriad of intertwining branches sprouting in every direction, like a Hindu goddess stretching her abundance of arms in a serene yawn under the glow of the nascent morning sun. She’s lived and grown here for 400 years, my guide enchantedly explained.

I climbed down toward one of her thick, tentacle-esque branches, basking in the golden energy percolating from her luscious canopy above, and shared a minuscule — yet profound — moment of her life under her protective gaze. Later, I trekked past a delicate, unassuming leaf cluster with three red berries glistening at the center that, if consumed, the guide sombrely warned, would kill the fateful scavenger within the hour.

The beauty of nature’s juxtapositions never ceases to enthral me. The indomitable life it holds; the instant, senseless death that lurks.

How in a hushed moment by the river’s edge, I feel as though I’m the only living, thinking entity in existence. As though the rushing water mirrors my thoughts. It’s lustrous light refracting them. Every noise around me, mother nature’s deliberate accompaniment to my symphony of being.

But then the tropical mountain top unfolds to an interminable view of climbing vines atop gargantuan trees, with slivers of expansive water sources oozing through, like delicate veins upon the palm of the world outstretched before me.

And the sobering enormity of the universe suddenly confronts me, embraces me, shakes me with a different tenor of peace. The peace of realizing the blissful irrelevance of my own existence and, even more so, of my trifling fears and anxieties. The ripple of my laugh or the squeak of my cry, in the formidable face of roaring rivers and empires of orangutans perched on treetops, may as well be the philosophically mute drop of a tree in an uninhabited forest.

Now, I lie here in the middle of the dense Indonesian jungle, under a flimsy, transparent tarp, while a barrage of heavy raindrops pelts dramatically like a crescendoing drumroll. Alone, yet so acutely embraced by nature, I feel myself rest at the center of the world and the center of nothing. I smile. This is peace.