Egrets of the Sacred Grove, Bali
(scroll down for description)
60” x 60”, acrylic, 1999

Through almost all of human history, all of nature was sacred. Trees, rivers and even rocks had spirits. Because the animal world, from mammals to birds to fish, were more lively and intriguing, the spirits of these creatures were the most interesting of all. Various cultures attributed a variety of qualities to the creatures, but they were all treated as brothers, sisters, or at the least, cousins in the great cycle of life. This meant that spiritual belief was an overseer to human behaviour with respect to nature.

Native Americans would say a prayer of apology and appreciation before shooting a deer or felling a tree. This attitude of respect began to disappear in the Middle Ages. In the corporate, market-driven world we find ourselves in today, there seems no place for it at all. This is the basic reason for the disastrous state of affairs in the natural world.

However, there are an increasing number of voices in the environmental movement, speaking on behalf of nature. And, miraculously, there are a few cultures that seem to show signs of a reverence for nature. Traditional Hindu culture is one of them. India is the only place where nature seems to flourish in spite of dense populations, even in cities.

Bali, a Hindu island in the Indonesian Empire, seems to have an even more special relationship with nature. It is a placid land where daily offerings to the gods of flowers and incense and rice may be seen on the threshold of commercial shops. Village life and rural agriculture seems much the same as they have been for centuries. I was told of a sacred grove of trees in a village near the spiritual centre of Ubud. We arrived just before dusk when hundreds, if not thousands, of birds were restlessly rearranging their roosting positions. Most of the birds were egrets of three species: great, intermediate and cattle. As they rose and whirled through the air, they reminded one of spirits -- of the essence of birds.