Souls who refuse to be restrained by bodies designed to stay in one space.
We are poetic bastards, the children of vanity and curiosity, cheating on stability and small mindedness to pursue our affair with the unknown.
And oh what a glorious affair it is, unrestrained by “shoulds” as our kisses of hope pull us further into this being we can’t understand.
This past week I have sincerely missed home. Not just people there, but Visalia, California. I miss the river and oak trees. I miss the citrus and Mexican food. I miss my Quaker community and the lovely downtown. I miss my cat. At one point I considered that I could simply go home. The thing is, going home means…what? I have all of those things that I long for. I have family who love and accept me. I have my cat.
But then I find a job. I start classes at COS. I struggle as I build another friend group from the ground up. I try find my place in the world.
When I think about that fact, I take a deep breath and remind myself that things are changing for me soon.
I leave National Park in one week. I go north to Rotorua to visit a lovely friend. At some point after that, I return to National Park to do a 4-5 day trek around Ruapehu before heading south to Wellington. From there I venture to the South Island. There is no timeline on this and when I reach the South Island, I have no plans, I know no one, and I will be going where the wind takes me. After all, I came here to wing it.
I have the option of making this a new year post. Happy 2018 and whatnot. I could share my goals and thoughts, what this year is going to mean for me and the fact that I have no clue where I am going to be one year from now. I could share memories that I love from these past 12 months and gush about how SO much has happened and I’m SO thankful for everything I’ve learned.
And all those things would be true and I would make them come from a real place. But I have stories I would rather tell. I’m just going to trust that 2018 will be shaped by moments like the following
“Walking at 0230”
I had the pleasure of watching 2018’s first sunrise from the top of the Tongariro Crossing. Pushing myself up hundreds of steps beneath moonlit clouds and sparkling stars, I thought of the insignificance of my very big problem: my camera was soaked by a leaking water bottle and refused to turn on. I did my best not to be worried, (even when I lost my instant camera and my phone ran out of storage space). I was wandering through Mordor to watch the sky paint itself red, orange, and pink in the chilled morning air. Truly a camera can’t be that important.
(Okay it can and if it hadn’t started working after being left in a bag of rice for two days, there would have been tears and some very upset cussing. All is well now. I’m still leaving it in the bag of rice for two more days though.)
We huddled into a soft shell shelter waiting for the sun to peer over the horizon. My hands defrosted slightly when I stuck them in a small culvert that spewed warm steaming air. Volcanoes definitely have their uses. I had no profound moments standing at the top. No overwhelming “oh my gosh. Life. It makes sense” kinda feeling. Just one big smile.
As my friend said on the way back down, “Better than a hangover.”
“You’re sure you don’t want a beer?”
Pretty sure. Yeah. Thank you though. However, I’ll definitely take the hamburger. I’m starting to really appreciate the philosophy “Laugh louder and eat more.”
A Filipino group pulled me into their dinner of barbecued meat and vegetables. I let myself be carried by the conversations that overlapped and circled each other, punctuated by echoing bursts of laughter.
“Hey when you’re in Welly, hit us up. We’ll show you around.”
Topics ranged from vegetarianism to the German pronunciation of Volkswagen to how much snoring took place in the guys’ room. I didn’t necessarily understand every comment, nor could I hear about a third of it. But I really didn’t have to. We were really just there to laugh.
“I’m thinking about being a kindergarten teacher.”
It’s crazy the people who happen to waltz into conversations with you. Or maybe it’s not crazy because I talk to everyone. But I’m still amazed by it.
You can tell when people know how to talk. I’m not referring to those who simply destroy silences with words. I mean the ones who ask questions, tell stories, supply facts, experiences, and thoughts to a conversation, creating an entity that is able to move all its own because of the people who care about it. They make eye contact as they learn about and from you, all the while teaching about themselves and their world. I love when I meet people like that.
A mathematics major with bright blue eyes and a consideration for being a kindergarten teacher happened to walk in as we made dinner, beginning a discussion that quickly outgrew us and became its own curiosity of politics, country comparisons, and New Zealand experiences.
The next morning brought about a discussion of long distance friendships. While backpacking, you are surrounded by fascinating people. You soon have to understand you cannot stay in contact with all of them, but one of the hardest feelings is finding a person who you would love to keep knowing, but doesn’t seem to want to know you back. Messaging them makes you feel like a bother and you begin to wonder if it’s even worth keeping up with some of these people.
Long distance friendships are effort. They require a desire to know someone, a willingness to continue contact, and a certain amount of diligence. In some ways, long distance is the fastest way to weed out real friends. Who do you choose to text when you’re far away? Whose life interests you when you don’t have to see them?
Basically backpacking shows us time doesn’t rule friendships and technology shows us space no longer has to either…
So long as you’re willing to put in the effort to know and be known.
“You made the list of people I want to stay in contact with.”
When I first arrived at Howard’s Mountain Lodge, there was a grand total of three people here.
And I was one of them.
The other two were our boss and a dignified English woman who sort of intimidated me at first.
“Everything comes with a cup of tea.”
I shouldn’t have been in the slightest deterred.
I have often thought how lucky I’ve been to have had Rachel as my first coworker in my first job. Her enthusiastic spiels, knowledge of theater, love for Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Disney were always delightful. I gleaned new music, trivia, and films from her love for these arts. She sang and began to learn ukulele. She danced better than all of us and happily told stories of students she’d taught, concerts she’d attended, and places she loved.
I’ve watched her work hard and grow happier as we shared cookies, cups of tea, cooking duties, and nice walks. We hitchhiked together, singing along to “Life is a Highway” with our thumbs out. I was always thankful for the research she never failed to do on the locations we chose to visit. Basically she’s just absolutely bloody amazing.
And today she left.
I’m not quite sure how to properly express my disappointment at her absence. And I doubt I will figure out how to. But we will miss you, Rachel. You’ve left a print here at Howard’s Mountain Lodge. (Seriously. I’m going to be saying “can do,” “go on then,” and commenting on the improper geography of Harry Potter’s London routes for a very long while.)
As any person with an ounce of sense and a family member they dislike will tell you, the holidays can be anything but happy. They can be full of stress, unfulfilled expectations, and a desire to hideaway from all those f***ing commercials that say “BE JOYFUL.”
The holidays are supposed to represent something though. Family. Friends. Food. Goodwill. Etc.
The trouble with being told that something represents good things, is that then we start to expect that this thing will bring good times. It doesn’t fix things. It just. Is.
I listened to a coworker outline what Christmas meant back home. He spoke of traditions that had lasted years, of friends attending Christmas parties, and grandparents who helped spread the holiday across multiple days. The smile was genuine.
To listen to another friend talk of Christmas, they practically spit venomous feelings. And honestly.
I join them.
We hiss at people who have asked us to make a day something better than it was. We tear apart traditions that have been kept for the sake of saving face or expectation. I flicker with glimpses of envy at those who hold the time of year in sincere happiness and magic.
After pain fades, I remember the things I love. I love giving gifts. Creating, searching, finding the things that will show people I love them and see them and care for them. I love curling up with hot chocolate in a pile with my two best friends. I love food and how it makes people happy. I love what the season represents. I’m just waiting to find how I make it represent that for me.
This Christmas didn’t feel like Christmas. But I don’t think I needed it to. I found myself missing people deeply. I miss my little brother, Asher, with all my heart. I miss Ella and Judah. And maybe that was because of the holiday. But I didn’t want to be home either. My mind felt muddied, but appreciative of the Christmas we created here at Howard’s Mountain Lodge.
Our Christmas dinner was thrown together from what groceries the four of us had. I believe the total tally was three kinds of sausages, burgers, salad, roasted potatoes, and apples. There were gingerbread cookies for dessert. We watched slept in late and watched Moana. We told each other Merry Christmas and fell into bed early, tired after calls home and busy weeks.
There is a certain kind of feel to overseas holidays. Mainly in the fact that when you are moving so frequently, traditions cannot thrive. They can pound out existences in the care of the stubborn, but it is difficult. Many of us simply sink into a wish for something comfortable. After all that’s why people stay home. The fuzzy blanket of “this is familiar” wraps around us and holds us captive.
And then the rest of the goddamned year hits, popping and fizzling with its insane passage of time. Burning us, entertaining us, exploding in our faces. And we can’t do a thing to stop it.
So. Might as well spend a Christmas in New Zealand, far from home and the familiar. I’ve heard stories of happy holidays. I’ve had several. I’ll continue to be realistic and I wish you all a wonderful New Year’s.
Just. Don’t force anyone to have a good time. None of us want to be told that because of this particular rotation of the earth, we should feel a certain way.
I am exactly one week away from having been in New Zealand for three months. As is typical with such things, it feels much longer and much shorter than the time it has been.
Before I left, my mom told me that the first three months is where you sit there going “What the hell am I doing?”
She was right. As usual.
About two weeks ago, I felt myself settle. Things aren’t feeling quite so urgent. My ideas and plans are stretching themselves to fit into the flow I have created around me. My overarching state of mind is no longer bent on relating my present to the past, but on deciding how I could associate it with my future.
The other day, someone asked me about my plans after New Zealand. I was rattling off four or five ideas I had, when my coworker informed me of a totally new option in a place I had been considering. “That is also something I might do.”
As one of my favorite people here has been telling me “You have time.”
I’m finally getting myself to believe it.
Some days it feels like I tumble head over heels into all the possibilities or places I create in my mind. I lay on my bed and curl up with a pillow, doing exactly nothing, thinking about how I could be learning to do this or that or walking here or practicing this. My mind propels me as I lean against it, wondering if perhaps I’m alright without all this ambitious desire to be, in some cases, superfluously multifaceted.
You know all in all I just get to laugh. I have time. I have the moment. I have a sometimes ridiculously poetic brain, framing my experiences in words that sound nice when typed out.
And I get to make more cookies this afternoon! Gingerbread. It’s my Christmas contribution for the summer.
I’ve watched a lot of people float through National Park. They come for the skiing in winter and the Tongariro Crossing in the summer. It’s a wee town. Nine streets. Maybe ten. Full of vacation homes and the small collection of people who hold this place closely.
The guests who catch my eye at Howard’s Mountain Lodge are the ones who choose to stay longer than two nights. What drew them here? What caught their eye or inspired a split second decision to choose the place I love?
“I don’t like staying in one place for only a few nights. I wanted to see what else is around here, besides the Crossing.”
If only more saw it that way.
Three lovely Germans happened to make their way into my world all due to a curiosity of a beautiful place and a love for Lord of the Rings. Having Mt. Doom at our doorstep helped.
Adam, Moritz, and Sören had known each other less than a week when their small blue car pulled into the lodge. As many of my favorite stories start, I offered them cookies.
I’m liking this whole “feed them” philosophy. The older generation really has it down in that area.
Anyways, I mentioned I was going to hitchhike to Whakapapa the next day and received an offer for a ride.
To be completely honest, I would have left a good 2.5 hours earlier than we did the next day, but as usual with such things, it was much better that I didn’t.
With smiles as big as my own, they followed trails and sought places for good photos. And we talked.
As all of my introvert friends know, extroverts can keep their mouths going for far longer than is necessary. It will please or horrify you to know that all four of us were able to keep up with the others, finding stories, comments, thoughts, exclamations, and jokes to fill the air with the whirling atmosphere of youthful adventures.
This is the first time since I left home that I have spent any long amount of time with people my own age. I’m understanding a bit more the feel of my age group. We are earnest in our search for life. Relishing, or perhaps wasting, our desire for beautiful things gone too fast or picture perfect bodies in Instagram worthy moments.
Most of us are not so stupid as to think it will last forever. I am just thankful I came across Adam, Moritz, and Soeren, three young men able to show me that the age I am is not defined by a drowning in the silliness of shallow addiction-driven experiences. It is the chance to grow wings after your cliff jump, back flipping and taking iPhone pics all the way down.
I’m not sure yet what the essence of youth may be, but if it is anything similar to what the last three days entailed, than I’m determined to live every moment of it.
To Soeren, Moritz, and Adam: Being young certainly isn’t everything, and I hope the transition to a different season isn’t painful for you, but in the meantime, keep being yourselves. The world holds many more burgers, free climbs, poses, photographers, sunsets, volcanoes, foggy evenings, beautiful hikes, starry skies, and interesting people.
This is for all of those lovely individuals born into the female expectations of the world, especially those I have had the pleasure of knowing at ERCLC.
You are brilliantly worthy of being yourself in whatever form that may take.
As I find myself surrounded by many different cultures and even more individual ways of seeing life, I am ever more grateful for the community I have had at ERCLC, my old school.
Create. Keep creating. Keep taking the opportunity to learn something new.
And give yourself grace for all those moments where you feel anything but good at what you are doing.
I was recently told that perhaps I am intimidating. I asked why. I’m surrounded by people doing the things that I thought made me intimidating at home. Firefighters, rock climbers, hitchhikers, guides, travellers, multi-talented women and individuals of all sorts of badass kinds.
“Actually I think it’s because of how curious you are.”
I had told this person that pretty much everyone I come in contact with is peppered with questions. Could they teach me? What does this mean? What do they know about the area? How likely is it for me to be able to do this?
ERCLC is a place where that is encouraged. You want to learn how to use a laser cutter? You want to learn about the biology of a horse hoof? You want to learn how to code games, sew, cook, act, run a country, travel the world, fence, or pretty much anything you can think of? We will get you the books, point you in the right direction, find someone who knows, figure it out with you, or answer your questions.
Go for it.
So what happens when you put someone who has lived that for most of their life into a place where asking so incessantly isn’t necessarily normal?
You know I’m still trying to figure it out.
I’ve sat on my bed many afternoons wondering if I’m somehow throwing myself way too far out there. Maybe I ought to back off. Maybe I ought to somehow make myself more manageable. I’m louder, more easily excited, younger, and less experienced than many around me.
I’ve had a lot of “ah crap. Maybe I ought to have kept my mouth shut.”
I’m finding the lovely people who listen to me, but perhaps I am more thankful for those who let me listen to them.
All this to say, if you are brave enough to do anything, start by being brave enough to ask a question. Because I am spending a good portion of my days looking like I don’t know much so that I can learn a heck of a lot more.
For those little girls and individuals in general who are finding themselves caught in an expectant tangle of gender or society expectations, I have some encouragement.
There is nothing more beautiful to a real person than another real person.
I am taking up space. I have shaved sides and blue hair. I am asking questions. I am announcing my presence with echoing barefooted footsteps in the halls. I am laughing loudly, excitedly introducing myself to people, sheepishly running off a longboard when I go too fast, watching people with wide eyes as they tell stories, and happily proclaiming my personal favourite accomplishment of the day.
And it certainly isn’t always accepted or encouraged.
“There really are no rules. Smile in a big cheesy way. If they shrug it means no room in the car. Carry a sock full of stones. I’ve never had a bad hitch though.”
Sweet as. Let’s do this.
Whakapapa Village is about a four or five hour walk away from where I live/work. It has lots of hikes and is at the base of Mt. Ruapehu, the large volcano. I don’t have my own car, so getting there is a bit difficult unless I hitch.
I figured it was high time we gave it a try.
Rachel, my English coworker, joined me as we set out for the junction that would put us in the right direction.
“We’ll give it 20 minutes before we head back. It isn’t the best time of day.”
Five minutes later, a Frenchman with long hair and California tan pulled his car onto the gravel shoulder.
I mean he also ended up taking us too far, but all good. We were a bit amused by the fact that we were on a stretch of road less likely than before to have people who would pick us up and was frequently without traffic.
I put the Disney playlist on shuffle.
“LIFE IS A HIGHWAYYYYYY. IM GONNA RIDE IT ALL NIGHT LOOOOONG.”
Eventually another sweet Frenchman picked us up. He was also headed to Whakapapa Village and we were able to begin our actual hike to Taranaki Falls.
It’s a lovely waterfall. If you ever head this way, be sure to take a look. I was able to scramble along behind it and you have beautiful alpine views for the whole way back.
“I’d like to be back by six so I can go climbing with a couple of the firefighters. But that depends on whether or not we can get a ride huh?”
We stood on the edge of the street watching the empty lane stretch up the mountain.
So what we were learning from this at that point is the nicer cars are less likely to pick us up, camper vans have converted seats, and obviously don’t bother with the shuttles unless it’s Tracy, our lodge’s shuttle provider. We figured she’d probably stop for us.
“Someone will stop eventually. We aren’t stuck here.”
“Unless there is no one to stop.”
Before too long, a Polish couple pulled up. They were ultimately headed the other direction, but we got to the crossroads, saving ourselves at least 7km of walking.
“It should be pretty easy to get a ride from here.”
15 minutes later: “YOU HAD THREE SEATS IN YOUR CAR, ARE LITERALLY GOING DIRECTLY TO OUR HOME, AND ARE CLEARLY A BACKPACKER. We’re two females for crying out loud. We can’t do anything to you culturally speaking! I swear to God I’m picking up hitchhikers whenever I can.”
Then a nice Canadian couple, who were headed to accommodation down the street from Howard’s Mountain Lodge, slowed for two ladies with their thumbs up and somewhat desperate smiles.
“Thank you so so so much!”
We swapped stories about the North Island, passed on advice about the Tongariro Crossing, and expressed deep gratitude for their willingness to give us a lift.
“Ahhh. You’re a proper nomad. You live seasonally.”
Oh. Perhaps I am.
As usual I find myself slipping between the groups that surround me at the moment.
I am not quite backpacker. I choose to stay in one place longer, I move slowly through the country. I am looking to make my homes seasonal.
I am not moving here though. I am not permanent. I am creating and finding communities, putting down roots that ground me, but still support my transitions to elsewhere.
When I was younger, I wanted to belong everywhere. I wanted to continually move and not have to stop. I thought that had changed. I left California confident that it would always be just my home. No matter what, I would make it a place to come back to.
But as I live here, my world is shifting to see new possibilities, the possibility of being nomadic. Someone who designs their communities and is truly home in a place for as long or as short as they choose. It is not belonging nowhere. It is belonging everywhere.
California is where I am from. It is one of my homes. I have people and loves and opportunities and memories that thrive within its borders. New Zealand is where I live. It is one of my homes. I have people and loves and opportunities and memories that thrive within its borders.
I wouldn’t trade either for the world, but I will likely leave them for a different part of it.
A Swede, Nederlander, Frenchman, Australian, and American walk into a bar to solve the world’s problems…
Whoever can come up with a punchline wins a high five sent from New Zealand.
Living at a hostel presents a lot of interesting challenges. It is basically one giant sociology experiment.
To be a backpacker means you are alone. You may be constantly surrounded by people. You may be in the middle of nowhere and completely without human contact.
Guess which one often feels the loneliest?
To be a backpacker means you are being shoved in and out of friendships that may span two hours total. Time becomes both everything and nothing in your relationships. You have listened to yourself say where you are from, where you are heading, how long you have been here, what you are doing, and why you’re here over and over. You say goodbye to people by saying “have a nice life,” often certain you will never speak to them again. You are constantly surrounded by the interesting so many degenerate into finding nothing interesting. Life becomes “life” again. Even as they are in amazing places, I have met individuals who somehow manage to sound as though they are in a terribly boring situation.
How you see the world is everything.
So how do you find the people who sound like the start of a bad joke when you go out to eat? How do you find the people to kiss under the stars and talk deep without drink? How do you find the ones who you walk into a conversation with them and think “I am going to make sure our friendship lasts longer than a moment”?
I’m not entirely sure.
But I’m determined to keep making it happen.
This post is dedicated to Stuart, George, Sonja, Viktor, and Pierre. I wish you all the homemade cookies you can find.