The water was green. Not a sickly, unhealthy green but a rich, nourishing, affirming green. There was a faint blue cast to it, from the sky, a reflection of the day. Not a cloud. I thought of the water as being the color of jade or emerald, a gemstone’s hue, lighter by degrees. Which was it: jade for self-healing beyond the physical or emerald a symbol of hope and thought to heal the heart?
Ranong Canyon is a local attraction, a local gem, sitting three and a half kilometers above my village. A few of the guide books refer to Ranong Canyon as a natural beauty, but it was created after early tin mining took all it could from this lode. The abandoned mine is now a small lake a couple acres in size. It’s ringed by the jagged cliffs left by the open-cast mining operations and the lower reaches of those black and gray walls of stone have ferns and pitcher plants growing in the breaches. Less than half of the lake’s shoreline is accessible. Two small wooden docks extend out into the lake and house covered shelters. The lake is filled with fish although there is no fishing here. The fish are to be fed and respected. People come to feed the fish. I come to feed the fish and my spirit.
There’s only one road that climbs out of my village and I walk it occasionally to visit the Canyon and to sit. I walked up one recent Saturday. It was hot, nearing 100. I had done my shopping down in Ranong the day before so this day with nothing to do I decided to climb rather than coast back downhill to the bustle. The road is twisty and steep in parts and the traffic is sparse. A small community of a hundred families or so lives a kilometer or two beyond the Canyon. Most of the people who pass me have seen me take this trek before and know I will refuse their offers for a ride. I enjoy the walk. I pass stands of oil palms harvested now of their fruit. I pass rubber trees and notice the white sap overflowing the black cups that collect the latex. I pass steep embankments covered thickly with ferns. There are bananas up and down the shoulder of the road and betel palms and coconuts. Further into the jungle I would likely find small stands of coffee and cashews (not enough to market), cassia and jackfruit, Parkia and Acacia.
There are fewer than a dozen dwellings along the road between my village and the Canyon, shacks outfitted with spirit houses and satellite dishes, with chickens and protective dogs. I passed one young father sitting in the doorway to his home, a baby lying on his lap. He was feeding her some gruel from a small bowl. He pinched off some rice between his fingers and fed the hungry mouth. He flicked the remnants that stuck to his fingers out toward the chickens scratching the ground in front of him.
A few families that live near the lake set up stands on the side of the road to sell drinks and snacks. They sit there all day chatting amongst themselves, sharing meals and stories. The children play. Visitors are sporadic and when they do arrive the children rush to offer bags of bread, torn slices of white bread for sale to feed the fish. They also sell small bags of fish food, sealed bags of kibble. Two bags for 20 baht.
When I reached the lake, sweating from the hike, I stopped in the shade to drink some needed water and was approached by one of the young girls selling food. She stuck out her hands and offered me two bags. I dug out a 20 baht bill, handed it to her and walked along the shore to the farthest dock. There was a small wooden bench under the shade of the gazebo and I settled in. I poked a hole in the bag, emptied a palmful of kibble into my hand and flung the food into the water. Hundreds of fish broke the surface to gobble it up and eagerly looked my way for more. Fish were on all sides of the dock waiting, sensing my presence, swimming in circles. There were catfish and carp. There were freshwater fish with rounded silver tails and ones with V-shaped red tails; there were goldfish and koi all hungry for anything tossed their way. I played with them, tossing one kernel of food at a time and watching them muscle their way in for it, the water roiling, the fish a blur. I threw the nuggets far to the right and far to the left and watched them swim. I tried to favor the smaller fish in the outer reaches of the swarming circles, the underdogs in this feast. I settled into the moment and my time then and there. A light breeze came up. It teased me and fed me and made its presence known just as I was doing with the fish. When the first bag of food was gone I waited and watched the fish circle the dock a few times while a few slowly abandoned their watch and swam off. There were other people around the lake who would oblige them in the meantime.
While I was sitting and watching and contemplating the fish, the feeding, the heat, the breeze, the green of the water, the green of the ferns and the surrounding jungle I heard a tittering of laughter. A small group of young Muslim women were making their way out onto the dock a hundred feet away from me. They were bundled in traditional long skirts and hijabs (head coverings) and they giggled and fed the fish. They snapped photos with their phones. They didn’t stay long. I opened my second bag of food and began sprinkling the kibble in the water again. I lost myself in the act of tossing food to the fish, this time thinking only of the fish and what I was doing. I watched as the koi fish, the gold, orange and white giants, stayed beneath the swarming smaller fish. One white monster reflected the bright sun, a blinding beacon shined upward through the jade water. Before I knew it the food was gone and I was left to watch the fish circle and abandon me.
Another group of people came to the dock next to mine carrying a 50-pound sack of fish pellets dumping bowl after bowl of food into the water all around them all at once. A feeding frenzy took place, the water foaming. By then my peace had swum off and it was time for me to leave. The sun was high overhead and I had the walk back home to think about, gently; and the heat, coolly; and the beauty of the jade-colored water, preciously.