The air is alive here.
A few weeks ago, I wandered through the Walking Street market in Chiang Mai, scanning clothes and fabrics with my eyes, picking up mango wood bowls to rub my hand over them. But mostly I watched the insects. They were some kind of flying ant-like thing, enormous, with long wings. For a week they came, it was after some strong rains, and they lived for a short time and while they did, they threw themselves against all the hanging lightbulbs in the market. People swatted them away from their faces, I picked them out of my hair. I wondered how anyone could focus on buying anything. When I stood and looked all down the long street, a thick layer of bugs swarmed at head level and just a bit higher. It was a bug market.
When I got back to the guesthouse, late that night, the bull frogs started up, in a procreation frenzy. Lay eggs, lay eggs, they said, in their deep cow-like voices, shouting in different keys. They were so loud that it sounded as though they were bunking with us, but they were only outside, downstairs, in the pools and puddles caused by the rain, all along the alley. One sounded particularly like a sick, off-key frog. I wondered if the other frogs made fun of him sometimes, or if he was dynamic enough as a frog to pull it off. Maybe he was the frog that all the girl frogs loved, because he had that combination of humility, awkwardness and sense of humor that girl frogs tend to love.
I put my pillow over my head and tried to go to sleep. In the morning, all the puddles were filled with frog eggs. Just another successful night of multiplication. And there were drifts of wings everywhere. All the flying things had lost their wings and just left them behind, carelessly.
On the way back to Pai, all the flying ant-things swarmed around the street lights, gossiping. There were so many that you couldn't help but shudder, seeing them. They sat in the road, they flew toward our headlights. We wiped them off the door handles to get into the car.
Passing one street light on the curvy highway in the mountains, I saw a family of hilltribe people in the circle of light underneath, darting around and picking up the bugs that had hit the ground, then stuffing them into plastic bags. This strange plague of insects was a culinary opportunity. I felt a little bit jealous. I wouldn't even know how to cook bugs if I wanted to.
When I wake up in the morning, there is usually a little nature show going on in the kitchen. A moth has died, or has left a wing behind, or a beetle has bitten the dust, and hundreds of ants are at work, carrying it away. They cluster together, give a big heave ho. They pull and amazingly, these giant things that are fifty times their size, move. Until I sweep them up, however. I have to sweep them, but I do apologize to the ants who have been working so hard.
Yesterday, two things in the kitchen. YaYa discovered them both. A tail that a gecko must have left behind in a panic, with ants busy bringing it back to their home. I swept them all away. And then, not inside the kitchen, but just outside, in the courtyard, a moth, a huge, dusty, green moth. Beautiful, but half eaten, like something had just taken a gigantic bite of his back end. He was still alive, and YaYa busied herself with making a little hospice for him. Just a comfortable place for him to die, with a twig, and a leaf. Out of the heavy rain that started and continued all morning long.
The air is alive here, and it is not always comfortable.
I'm used to it, from India, and I'm still surprised at the sheer quantities of life that this place can support. Beetles so large and impressive that you could never squash one. You just couldn't do it. Instead you try to keep them out of the fruit salad. Shoo them back into the foliage.
When I got back to Pai during the crazed frog and winged insect time, the insects were after me. Me in my outdoor kitchen, washing dishes with the light on in the twilight. I listened to the frogs that say "Uh oh," and scrubbed at the insides of pots, pausing to pull bugs out of my hair. Just me and the dishes and a hundred insects banging themselves against my forehead.